Avanade CEO on the challenges of her first year in charge

Marian McHugh
clock • 7 min read
Avanade CEO on the challenges of her first year in charge

Pamela Maynard opens up to CRN on how she overcame her 'inherent' shyness and why 2020 has proven diversity and inclusion must be high on a company's agenda

Avanade CEOs appear to have a knack for taking the job on the precipice of historical global events.

The joint venture between Accenture and Microsoft was founded in April 2000, right before the dotcom bubble burst, which then-boss Mitch Hill had to navigate around.

His successor Adam Warby took the helm as chief exec in 2008, just days before the collapse of US banking giant Lehman Brothers, which triggered a global recession.

Pamela Maynard, Avanade's current head, took the reins as CEO in September last year, just months before the global outbreak of a virus that has rocked every industry on every level.

"We should have known there was a major crisis coming because we were changing leadership!" laughed Maynard.

Her 12-year career at the services firm has helped her stay calm as she navigates the choppy waters of the ongoing pandemic, she said. Before becoming chief exec of the firm, Maynard was president of product and innovation and prior to that was manager of EMEA and Latin America.

These experiences helped her keep a level head and taught her her first lesson as leader of the global organisation - don't panic.

"One of the lessons I learned when I took on the European role was to embrace that things can go wrong and don't panic when they do," she elaborated.

"This year will be defined by the pandemic and its massive toll and it would have been really easy for me to panic, especially being very new into the role.

"It's really important to be aware as a global CEO that your behaviours are amplified. Sometimes you don't think that as the CEO; you think you're so far away from people that the ripple effect of what you say, what you do and how you act isn't that great, but it absolutely is.

"That's why first and foremost it was important for me to keep a calm demeanour."

Finding her voice

Maynard's career trajectory could have taken a very different form if not for a last-minute decision that led her down the path of business management.

Born the eldest of three children to West Indian parents, Maynard developed an interest in technology and science, but her school studies had been aimed at securing a place studying law which would make her the first in her family to attend university.

However, she knew that law wasn't for her and spent a long walk home after her final A-level exam trying to figure out how to break the news to her mother.

"It was always in my mind that I would be a lawyer and I would do a law degree, but I actually changed my mind right at the very last minute," she explained.

"I did my last A-level exam and I was walking home and reflecting on the summer ahead with some trepidation because I realised that I needed to have a conversation with my mother about the fact that I didn't want to do the law degree.

"She was actually very cool about it and said ‘If you don't want to do law, do you still want to go to university?' I was the first person in my family to have the opportunity to go and it was more important to her that I continued on that aspect of the path."

She studied management science at university and spent her gap year working at IBM, which she described as her "first real exposure" to tech and found that she enjoyed the combination of strategy and technology.

After university, she joined Oracle for a spell where she was one of the few women learning to code, then joining EY and later Capgemini as a management consultant.

Despite this successful career progression, Maynard's biggest challenge has been "finding her voice" as she was held back by her shyness, an issue she has struggled with since childhood.

"I am an inherently shy person and finding my voice in meetings or large groups, networking and all of that stuff has been a real challenge for me. It's something that I've had to work hard on," she said.

"I've worked with my mentors to help me to develop strategies and tactics to either create space in meetings for myself or to be heard and to challenge myself to be heard. That has helped to build my confidence and it's made me become very aware of others who may have similar challenges and to be very conscious about helping others in those settings as well.

"One of the other ways in which I helped myself in finding my voice was when I realised that if I was in those meetings and I wasn't being heard that it wasn't just me who wasn't being heard. If was representing a team or a business unit, I made a mental switch to say ‘This isn't about you, this is about the three thousand people that you're representing in Europe. If you're not being heard, you're doing them an injustice'."

The inorganic growth plan

Like many channel firms, Avanade has seen business accelerate due to the pandemic as clients seek solutions to hybrid working environments.

The pandemic has brought a lot of opportunity Avanade's way and has proven the enterprise capabilities of Microsoft's offerings, Maynard said.

M&A has also played a part in Avanade's recent growth. The firm has acquired four organisations in just over a year, including Surrey-based AI specialist Altius, which strengthen the company's offerings to clients as they embark on new business models and implementing new working environments.

"M&A underlines our vision and strategy and is building our capability in the areas where we see opportunity, such as helping clients around remote working, the journey to the cloud, getting onto the cloud, changing business model or understanding consumer preferences - It's all feeding into our strategy," she said.

Making the purpose real

When Maynard took over as CEO she decided to formalise Avanade's purpose as not just a successful tech company but to ensure that it makes a "genuine human impact".

"That purpose is both personal to me and critical for our business and as a technology company, it enables us to go beyond the tech and look at the real human impact of what we do," she explained.

"What has really surprised me the most was the how having that purpose galvanised the team - especially during the pandemic - to look beyond the work that we did and to volunteer more in the communities in which we operated.

"For example helping to recycle our laptops to distribute those to underserved or underrepresented communities and children who wouldn't necessarily have had access to the right tech to be able to continue their schooling. We've really seen that purpose come to life."

She feels very strongly about injustice in all its forms, noting that the pandemic has highlighted the myriad ways women and people of colour are being disproportionately affected by the virus and its financial implications. But 2020 has also seen a global awareness of the systemic injustice against people of colour.

Maynard could never have expected the mantra of "genuine human impact" would be thrown into full relief as a result of the global BLM protests earlier this year, instigated by the murder of George Floyd in the US in May.

This was another lesson she had to learn during her inaugural year: listening and learning. She rallied around her staff, hosting a number of town halls around the world on the topic of racial injustice and allowing Avanade's Black employees to share their experiences of racism with their colleagues. Avanade also held a day of reflection for all 39,000 employees on the day of Floyd's funeral.

"I offered this opportunity to our people to step back and reflect and learn and to take the opportunity to talk to others to understand more around the issues of racism and discrimination," she explained.

"We're hosting Town Hall events which are designed to help our team to become more confident, more comfortable, more competent and having conversations around race, both inside and outside of the company.

"This year, with the pandemic and the social injustice element, has highlighted the importance of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in a significant way - probably more than ever."

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