Do it your way. Earlier in my career, I remember being faced with the conscious choice: am I going to do this the way a man would do it or am I going to do this the way that I would do it? I can really allow myself to come through, or I can get my testosterone levels up and do it like a man would do it. But I can remember thinking, I’m not going to go that way. As women in tech, we are put in the position to make that choice again and again: Do it your way.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Julie Purves, CEO and founder of B2M Solutions
Julie Purves is the founder and CEO of B2M Solutions, the foremost specialist in enterprise mobility. A business visionary and international entrepreneur with 25 years of leadership success, Purves founded B2M Solutions in 2002 to help enterprise customers around the world manage mobile performance and improve operational intelligence in real-time.
Julie’s early career was spent at Fujitsu ICL, including 2 years living in Finland to manage the transition of Nokia Data’s software business. She started her involvement with enterprise mobility when she joined Intermec (now Honeywell) in 1999 as the architect of the company’s European solutions business. At Intermec, Julie executed the largest mobile contract in the world at that time, resulting in a 20% delivery efficiency improvement. This experience gave Julie an understanding of the importance of providing insights into how people are using their devices to optimize mission-critical business processes, ultimately leading to her founding of B2M.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Iactually began my university training as a social worker before switching over to computer science! Ever since an early age, I have had aspirations to save the world. But I quickly realized that math and computer science was a better fit for my skill set and a more effective way for me to pursue that ambition.
Almost at the very start of my tech career, I started taking on people and team-centric roles. My motivation has always been to build and work with teams to help them perform and deliver outstanding value. It likely goes back to my early training as a social worker and understanding a little bit about the psychology of how people work, and being able to relate that to how you get the very best out of people in the working environment, and indeed, in every aspect of life.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
My answer is not a specific story, but more of my experience building B2M Solutions with different types of investors. I started the company back in 2002 as one of the first vendors in the world of mobile device management, so it has been a long, really interesting journey with all different types of investors.
Our first serious investor was a property company called Dolphin Head, who is still an investor to this day. Early to market can sometimes be a painful position to be in, because people don’t yet understand the clear customer need that you can see and it takes a while for the market to catch up. Working with Dolphin Head was all about establishing a strong relationship of trust and being really open and honest with each other. As both the company and the market has grown and matured, we’ve brought in all different types of investment — high net worths (HNWs), trade investors, VC’s — and obviously they all have different qualities and the whole dynamic changes. But to me, the really fascinating thing is the wealth of experience they all bring, and how you tap into that and get everyone to work together. I’ve met some of the most interesting people I know through building our investor network, and it all comes down to that same culture of trust and determination we established back in 2002 with Dolphin Head.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I always like to tell people that I’ve kissed a lot of toads. And what I mean by that, is that we decided fairly early on that we were going to work with partners and sell through channels. And so there were lots of companies that we engaged with and the initial meetings were always incredibly positive. But then, when it came down to it, the companies just weren’t ready to be the partners we needed.
Some were very small organizations where there was just one charismatic individual, and he was the toad, or she was the toad. And other bigger organizations where they’re seemingly on board, but they just can’t make that organizational change. So loads of lessons learned there about how to recognize when a company is really ready to work with us. I was just overly enthusiastic perhaps. When you talk to a CEO, and he or she comes out and says, “Yes, we think you’re doing the right thing. This is what we need to do,” you believe them. But then actually, the delivery of that doesn’t always come through. So definitely some toads along the way!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Well, firstly, in terms of what we do and our products, partly because I was very early to market, we now have the advantage that we’re first-in-market in providing our type of solution, which is real-time mobile device analytics, particularly for business-critical mobile devices. That gives us a real advantage.
But when I think about what makes our company stand out, it’s really our team. Most important to me is that everyone in the company really cares. All of our employees have a share in the company. Employees need to see that you care if they’re going to care back. And I think because we’ve built that culture, it spills over to the customers and the partners that we work with, and they want to work with us for that reason.
For example, Panasonic is an important partner of ours, both in Europe and in the US; they use our software to deliver their smart services on their rugged devices. For this year’s B2M Christmas party, our sales team asked Panasonic to produce a video for us to play. This was our partner and they were talking about B2M, and they were making jokes about us, and talking about us like we were all just one big family. It’s the sort of thing that you couldn’t really put money on. I was incredibly moved by it and proud of it. And I think it is a sign of the company that we are, that our partners feel they can have that close relationship with us.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Before I started B2M, I was really frustrated with the way I saw teams of people working very hard and achieving little. That’s why I created a mobile device management company because I saw that the market was evolving and knew that solutions were needed. And likewise, I think the next wave of growth and the next real need in the industry is going to be to go beyond MDM to have a real-time view on the health and utilization of enterprise mobile devices. Our newest software product, Elemez, helps businesses to actually predict and prevent mobile device failures proactively, before problems set in.
Beyond helping teams to be more productive, what’s maybe even more exciting to me is seeing how our software can improve the quality of life for the people whose jobs are reliant on those mobile devices. These are delivery people, retail workers, utility field operations teams — every time the device they rely on to do their job fails, their emotional wellbeing is negatively affected. Our annual State of Enterprise Mobility Survey found that two-thirds (66%) of employees are reporting anxiety or increasing levels of stress when issues with their mobile devices prevent them from doing their job, an increase from 39% of workers in last year’s survey. Predictive analytics can change all that. So our product is improving both the quality of life for the individuals using the devices and the people supporting them. And I think that’s a good thing to be doing.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
We need more role models. This is not to say there’s not already some fantastic women out there leading the charge. As an example, I know a woman who is working with VCs to get more women-led investments for women-led businesses. And I think all those things gradually help to improve the situation, but they take time. And it requires those of us who are currently out there to really stand up and become role models for the next generation.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
I think one of the biggest issues is self-perception. You see men who are generally very full of confidence, sometimes even when they can’t do the job. [laughs] Whereas women always want to be a hundred percent sure they can do everything required before they’ll put themselves forward.
I’ve been guilty of this myself. Years ago, I was on the board of a company, and in preparation for a leadership training, we all did the 360 feedback exercise with members of our team and then completed one for ourselves. All the feedback from the men showed that they were perceived by their employees to be less able than they saw themselves. And mine was the exact opposite. And I don’t think that’s a good thing. The fact that I put myself down in that way is not right and it’s true of so many women. It needs to be talked about. For that reason, I will always encourage other women to put themselves forward even when they don’t have all the answers.
Another challenge we face as women in tech is not being really listened to. I was in a meeting with a female product manager and other members of the team. And she put forward an idea. And five minutes later, a male in the team put forward the same idea as if it was his idea. And I asked him, “Did you realize that this woman just said that?” And it had totally been missed. When these things happen the onus is on us as senior leaders to call it out in the moment so that we can do better going forward.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?
One of the biggest myths about women in tech is that they can’t do the job because of personal commitments. This misconception is incredibly short-sighted of companies and it means they’re missing out on valuable opportunities to secure top talent. Companies need to make this work for women.
For example, one of B2M’s top performers has been with the company for over 12 years. On her second day of work, her little boy was sick. And she sent me a note saying, “I’m bringing my laptop back. I can’t do this job.” And so she came in, and luckily, I managed to make her laugh, and help her see that this was actually quite funny, and of course she needed to put her little boy first. And she’s still with us today as a result of just that bit of encouragement at that time when she was feeling very vulnerable coming back into the workplace. So there is a real need for companies to work with women and give that encouragement. You will more than get your return on that investment.
Another myth is that soft skills don’t matter when I think they’re probably the most important thing. What I see often in tech companies is valuing a quick decision over the right decision. Many women are more analytical and like to take their time. That needs to be valued. And again, I have the experience of being on training events in my ICL days, where again, I was typically the only woman there. And the men would be coming up with an immediate response, and that would be seen as good. Whereas actually, taking a bit more time, I think I remember one time saying, “I’m just going to go for a walk for five minutes and think this over.” And that was really frowned upon. But I suspect the quality of my decision at the end of the day was better.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Helping people reach their full potential is the ultimate goal. This is one of my fundamental beliefs in life, and it is also my ultimate goal to reach my own potential. So many people don’t reach their potential and as a leader, I want to create an environment where I can encourage them to do that. If you just follow that path, I have found that everything else will fall into place. So that’s number one for me.
- Take your knocks and learn from them. I can remember times early in my career when I cried myself to sleep because being a woman in tech can be really tough. There was one case when I was trying to get something agreed upon and one of my coworkers said I was manipulative. And looking back on that, I realize that what he meant was that he couldn’t understand and cope with what I was trying to do, and therefore, calling me manipulative was a good way to put me in a box and move me out of the way. And I think manipulative is an example of those types of words used for women. But now, I look back on that time and I am definitely a much stronger person because of those experiences. And I think, although they’re tough at the time, take those knocks and the learning out of that, and move on.
- Do it your way. Earlier in my career, I remember being faced with the conscious choice: am I going to do this the way a man would do it or am I going to do this the way that I would do it? I can really allow myself to come through, or I can get my testosterone levels up and do it like a man would do it. But I can remember thinking, I’m not going to go that way. As women in tech, we are put in the position to make that choice again and again: Do it your way.
- Be prepared to admit you’re wrong and say sorry. It’s tough, but it’s one of the bravest things you can do. And it really builds trust and resilience. I remember running an integration meeting with a company we had just acquired. Defenses were high and there was quite a lot of testosterone in the room. And I came in, and I did this because it was genuine, but I apologized for something that should have been done that I hadn’t done. And it just changed the whole vibe of the meeting. Everybody was then genuinely trying to help me. It always needs to come from an authentic place, but I think people do respond if you just show a bit of humanity by admitting your mistakes.
- Sometimes you just need pure determination to get through. When I started B2M, I thought you obviously need the components that everyone would think of — you need a great business idea, a great team, a market. But actually, at the end of the day, you need a lot of determination just to take the knocks and keep going, and get through.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
You have to have a vision that people can believe in, but then you have to be prepared to flex. As you learn, and as you build a team, and bring people in, you’ve got new skills coming in, so you’ve got to flex to that learning. It is really important that you’re never too proud to ask for help. Your team needs to see that it’s everyone learning together.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
First, make sure everyone is clear on the values and everyone is seen to be living by them. Before I started B2M, I’d come from an environment where senior people had differing agendas. At B2M, we just call that out straightaway. Because there is no room for that. If we have to have some good and difficult discussions, let’s do it, but you cannot have differing agendas going throughout the organization.
Once you’ve got that values foundation, that really gives you a good basis. And then second, make sure that you have really well-defined and well-delegated responsibilities. And finally, build the channels of communication, both formal and informal. Remember, communication goes both ways so institute an open door policy and invite everyone to share their thoughts and ideas.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There is someone who comes to mind: a gentleman called Scott Mercer, who sadly died very young at the age of 40. He was my boss when I went to Intermec and we subsequently went to Idesta together, which was my first experience at a tech startup. The company actually ended up failing very quickly. Scott immediately said, “Right, I’m never doing startups again. I do not want to stay in another Travel Lodge as long as I live.” But I had gotten a real taste for startups and was thinking about starting B2M.
As I mentioned, I believe one of the real issues for a woman who wants to found her own company is self-perception. We ask ourselves, can I really do this? For me, because I didn’t come from a sales background and a lot of CEOs are sales leaders, I doubted whether I could do it. He was the one who said to me, “Of course you can do this. You absolutely can.” And he just gave me that confidence to go out there and do it. Just that total belief that I could. He was an amazing person to really have that belief in me. And I’m very sorry he won’t be around to see the ultimate results of B2M, because I shall certainly be raising a glass to him on that day.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I currently volunteer as a Trustee for a refugee charity and as a churchwarden at my church. It feels good to be able to apply the skills I’ve developed as a CEO towards executing these charitable causes. I like to think that these important causes are now benefiting from all the lessons I’ve learned in my professional journey.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I want to be able to work with young people who are perhaps a little bit on the edge of society. Specifically, I’m actually very interested in working with the transgender community. I’m not sure where it’s going to go yet, but I feel that a lot of what I’ve learned professionally is going to help me move forward with that.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The words that I really love are attributed to Nelson Mandela: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
I do think we are very constrained by fear and can hold ourselves back if we think of what might not work, what might not happen. Imagine if I had held back and not started my company because I let the fears overcome me? Again, it comes back to achieving our full potential in life.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I’m going to choose Michelle Obama because she’s got incredible charisma, but she also comes across as quite unpretentious. I could see a number of the points I’ve discussed with you today, we could have a very good conversation about those things.