…Take the word “female” out of the equation. Be a leader and understand what that means. To me, it means empowering people who are more talented than you and who inspire you. Find people with “grit” and understand their career aspirations. Great leaders support people and help them break down walls.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Slater, Chief Innovation Officer at Linium, a Ness Digital Engineering Company. During her 17+ years at Linium, Rachel has been instrumental in leading the charge in innovation and pushing the boundaries of what is possible. She exudes passion in all that she does — from interactions with customers to employees, Rachel brings together the best of creativity and professionalism. By using her natural ability to understand future trends and digital disruptors before anyone else, she excels at leading others by getting them to think outside the norm.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I grew up on a farm in rural Vermont. I went to college with aspirations of becoming a lawyer, but after taking a web design class, I knew I had found my passion and my future career. Luckily, my choice paid off right away. I got a job while in college, where I learned to design, code and bring websites to life. Right from the start I had the opportunity to work with great brands including Ben & Jerry’s and Burton Snowboards and was lucky enough to win a design competition. After college, I was preparing to move to New York City to become a creative director for a design firm when I received a call from one of the founders of Linium who’s now the president of North America at Ness, which acquired Linium. After the meeting, I knew I wanted to help grow Linium and its digital practice.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I think the evolution of our company is what’s interesting. Right from the start we got to work with interesting customers on innovative projects. For example, I had the opportunity to build some of the first mobile applications for healthcare companies. It was a lot of fun and an early example of digital transformation. In the early years I would work with customers during the day, then I would work at night on Linium’s marketing and growth plan. Eighteen years later, I’m proud to have been a part of the growth of a successful company that’s now part of Ness. With the acquisition, we’re now able to enhance and expand the services, value and experience we provide to customers.
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?
We started out thinking we were a jack-of-all-trades and promising our customers too much, which I think is typical of a young consultancy. We also thought the customer always knew what they wanted. Neither of these were the case. We quickly realized we needed to challenge our customers’ thinking and drive them towards bigger and better things. We also found we could be most successful by focusing on specific areas which made the impact and value for our customers. In consulting, it’s all about hiring the right individuals. Over time, we’ve learned that getting the right people on board — not just from a skills perspective but also from a cultural perspective — is critical for success.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We choose to be different and we don’t focus too much on the competitive landscape. Sure, we know what our competitors are doing, but we strive to be different, which is why I believe we’re successful. This mindset has naturally placed us ahead of similar companies. We truly believe in the big-picture, long term opportunity. It’s not about keeping up in the race, it’s about winning the race!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We have a lot of exciting things going on. Think about the modern experiences we encounter every day — we order rides with the push of a button and can order our favorite meal in three steps or less. Now take those same experiences and imagine if your everyday workplace challenges could be solved with just a few clicks too. We’re working with Fortune 500 companies to help them solve this challenge — to take the same conscious effort they’ve placed in innovating for their customers and apply it to modernizing internally for their employees. We’re helping these organizations modernize the delivery of business services to reduce the chaos associated with manual processes and introducing a level of modern sophistication designed to meet and exceed the expectations of today’s workforce. The same can be said for helping dramatically improve customer experiences through digital platforms. For example, we recently were asked by our customer, one of the world’s largest automotive manufacturing companies, to participate in their innovation fair. Showcasing the combined capabilities of Linium and Ness Digital Engineering, this was a great example of how we can bring new ideas in automotive safety technology to bring modern conveniences to drivers around the world.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Take the word “female” out of the equation. Be a leader and understand what that means. To me, it means empowering people who are more talented than you and who inspire you. Find people with “grit” and understand their career aspirations. Great leaders support people and help them break down walls.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
First you need the right people in place. Once the team has been established, let them thrive and try new things. Of course, they need guidance, but as I stated above, find people with potential and help them recognize that potential.
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?
Many people have inspired me in my career including my team. But, the founder at Linium, who asked me to join the company, has been my mentor. He’s an entrepreneur and a risk taker and he believes in his people and lets them thrive. He has pushed me to try things out of my comfort zone that have helped me grow as a leader. He also gives back to the community, which I admire.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
The greatest part of my position at Linium is that I get to meet and interact with customers who are making amazing contributions to the world. It’s inspiring to me to hear the missions of these companies and find creative ways to make a direct positive impact in the community. Through these stories and experiences, I became a proud supporter for Maddie’s Mark Foundation, an organization that helps children with major illness live their “best days ever.” This organization is near and dear to my heart as I personally knew Maddie and her family. I’m also the founder of two other organizations that help people in need in the Albany area; Diana’s Drive and Adopt-a-Family Foundation.
What are the 5 leadership lessons you learned from your experience, and why?
1. Hire people with potential and help them recognize that potential
2. Surround yourself with a strong team and strong leaders
3. Don’t be afraid to take a shot. The worse you can hear is no.
4. Set the trend — don’t focus on the competition
5. Figure out the “how” — those who focus on how to do something are more successful than those who justify why not to do it!
You are a person of great 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!
There are so many interesting companies that do interesting things. If I could find a way for people to consider how they can capitalize on what they do in their jobs/profession to bring good to the world, that would be amazing. We took this idea to a recent ServiceNow hackathon we entered with our customer, United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). UNOS administers the only organ procurement and transplantation network in the United States. Needless to say, time and efficiencies are of the essence. We built “happiness as a service” to create a way for kids undergoing an organ transplant to experience a “best day ever.” We won the hackathon and donated the service to our customer.
Can you please give us your favorite “life lesson” quote? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” Steve Jobs
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