Intel A/NZ general manager, Kate Burleigh, has been in the role for eight months. ARN spoke to her about the company, job, and her path to the top.
For one of the top women in IT, the path to success began, believe it or not, in an ice cream shop. According to Intel A/NZ general manager, Kate Burleigh, the path that led her to a technology role came about, in part, as result of her early days in retail - and a first-job encounter that was less than ideal.
“My first job was in an ice-cream shop. I lasted for two weekends. I ended up with a bruise on my hand because I had never done any manual labour – and to me scooping ice cream was manual labour,” Burleigh said. “That was when I was 15 and still in school. At that stage, I decided I better get a degree so I don’t end up working in an ice cream shop for the rest of my life.”
Not only did Burleigh get a degree (Bachelor of Arts degree and a Masters of Business in Marketing), but she successfully climbed the corporate ladder to clinch the A/NZ general manager role at Intel.
But before her rise to the top in the corporate space, she dipped her toe in the not-for profit world – an experience that shaped her work ethic and finely-tuned her organisational skills.
“My first job after university was working in the non-profit sector at the Red Cross Society. Like all good new graduates I wanted to go and save the world. I was really interested in doing something that was compassionate. I enjoyed it. Like lots of people working in not-for-profit, you’re thrown in the deep end. They are under-resourced so you get a tremendous amount of experience early on.
“I think about what I used to do at the age of 21 and 22. I was given so much responsibility for someone that had so little experience, which is quite amazing. I was lucky as I got to fast-track my experience through that. I didn’t earn a lot of money in non-profit and so after a while I realised there were other ways to contribute and save the world, but also earn a little bit of money.”
Burleigh said she always wanted to work for an American multinational company. “That was always in the back of my mind, primarily based on the fact I had an uncle that was always travelling to America for business. He worked for IBM and he was always coming back with really cool toys for his kids. It is funny how you get these little kernels in your mind – and I thought that was a good thing to be, a business person working for a multinational company.”
Once she moved from non-profit, Burleigh’s first job 18 years ago was working in the channel at Dick Smith as the internal PR and marcoms manager for four years. “I got lots of good experience, learnt how to deal with the buying team. I ran the computer club as part of my job description. We were at a stage where we only sold desktops and when someone bought a desktop they would get signed up to the Dick Smith VIP club. They got someone to go to their house and install it and a tutorial.”
It was from that role at Dick Smith and her subsequent contacts in the IT industry that Burleigh was approached by Intel to come and work for the company as the PR manager – a pivotal move that would see her wear many hats and where she would recognise the importance of taking risks.
“I would say whenever Intel was going into a new direction I put my hand up to lead that division through the marketing transition,” she said.
Asked about her experience as a woman working in IT, she said many doors had opened for her in terms of promotions and career advancement, but she has been bold and confident along the way – a trait not always adopted by women in business.
“I have had a fair amount of bravado in spite of the fact I’m a woman - bravado and confidence in my own ability. I’ve never really been shy in putting my best foot forward. I would say an early lesson I learned at Intel, wasn’t a ‘male-female’ thing, it had much more to do with American culture versus Australian culture.
“A manager of mine, back in my early days at Intel, told me what good work I was doing, but no one knew. And he gave me this lecture about how I needed to blow my own trumpet. I remember saying to him, ‘That’s really un-Australian because we don’t brag about what we do; we just get on and do it.’
“Everyone in the channel knows that – you’re only as good as your last results. But he sat me down and said, ‘Intel is such a big organisation that people need to know and you don’t have to brag about it, but you have to find a way to let people know what you’re doing so they can learn from it.’ It was very good advice. I think I’ve still maintained my humble Aussie attitude as well, but within large companies you do have to be prepared to beat your own drum a bit.”
Burleigh said she had been fortunate in that Intel corporate management principles along with supportive mentors had helped shape her career, and encouraged her to work towards the next level of advancement.
“You need to have people who are singing your praises and articulate the good work you are doing because you can’t always just be blowing your own trumpet,” she said. “They were not sponsors, but people who were on the same wavelength as me, and we all felt like we were building something together and on the same page and very supportive of each other.”
A few lessons
And there have been a few lessons along the way. She learned early on that you have to communicate your intentions – and don’t assume your managers know your career development plan.
“I was quite overt when I came back from maternity leave. I was really conscious, especially with Australian laws, that my managers couldn’t necessarily ask me if I was planning on having more children,” she said.
“So I sat down with my manager and said, ‘I’m not having any more children and that I’m in the race so please keep me in mind for any career development opportunities - anything that involves travel, I’m up for it. People make their own mind up, so if you let them make their own mind up, you can’t really blame them. There is nothing to stop you from setting the picture straight.”
Without a doubt, Burleigh had a development plan – and her eyes firmly cast on clinching the general manager post.
“I have worked across a large breadth of the business. More recently, I was the director of marketing and then over the last couple of years have been the director of channel sales as well. The marketing role has always had retail channel so all of the large format retailers have always sat within marketing in Intel.
“The channel sales and distribution used to be a separate function, but three years ago we decided it was more rational to have all the channels together in one organisation and it all rolled under me and I became the director of marketing and channel sales. That was part of my development plan to move into the country manager role.”
Indeed, Burleigh was very strategic in capturing the channel role. “I never wanted anyone to turn around and say you haven’t run channels so you can’t do the country manager role. So I spoke to my then-manager and also got some advice from a few people in the organisation and I said, ‘What do I need to do to get channel sales under me because I don’t want that to be a reason why I couldn’t be considered for the role.’ So it was closing off a potential perception gap.”
And while it is a challenging year for the IT industry, and still fairly new for Burleigh sitting in the general manager role, she said she is up for the task of taking over the reins.
“Needless to say it is a challenging year for the IT industry and for many companies working in it. It is a challenging time for Intel as well. It is a time of transition so there’s been a lot of strategy to navigate through and that’s probably one of my strengths so I feel the timing has been good from that point of view.
“Building teams and getting my own succession plan in place and getting the right management team in place has been really exciting to do. It is really rewarding to look around and know that we have the right people internally to move into those roles.”
Certainly, there’s never a dull moment in the day in the life of Burleigh. She’s already been talking a lot about Big Data and BYOD – and expects that to continue for some time.
“It is such an exciting opportunity for the industry, in general, at present because we’re in a time of transition with IT transcending, just meaning computers and servers and now transcending to all sorts of devices that have a role to play in our work and home life,” she said.
“It opens up discussions to not just talking with the CIO or the CTO, but also talking to the line of business managers around what role IT can play for them and in the importance of having rich computing available to people at home, at work and in between.”
Kate Burleigh says her biggest learning curve has been the political or government relations side of the role.
“Within two weeks of the job I was invited to dinner with the Prime Minister and economic summits and I really had to get my head around what role I have to play in that capacity. I’ve worked it out. Intel is such an influential company,” she said.
“We get to be the voice a lot of the time on behalf of the broader channel. We seek to play a responsible role in that position in talking on behalf of the IT industry in the channel in Australia and supporting the future growth.”
The general manager role couldn’t come at a better time given the massive shifts and transformative trends in the IT industry. “IT cuts across everything. There is no segment in the industry that IT doesn’t have a role in. So you could be part of every single discussion. You have to pick and choose what makes sense to get involved in.”