Five Minutes with Rasha Elkhalili
In the latest installment of our ‘Five minutes with…’ interview series, Berwick Partners Fran Grant talks to Rasha Elkhalili, a highly accomplished CIO / Technology Executive with a wealth of global experience, having worked for Shell, Pandora, and Tesco. Rasha is passionate about Continuous Improvement and leading from the front to drive operational excellence.
Rasha is a wonderfully supportive and inspirational leader who empowers her teams to be the best they can be, both personally and professionally.
Here, Rasha reveals what attracted her to a career in technology, and how she’s benefited from inspirational leaders and mentors herself. She also offers some great advice for women in leadership and shares her thoughts on the key challenges in retail at present.
How did you get into technology?
I grew up wanting to be a doctor, like both of my parents. When I was finishing my GCSEs in Egypt, around 1992, my mum sat me down and said I had two choices – I could study medicine, for which I had the grades, or computer science. My mum influenced me a lot. She knew medicine would be a tough subject, and a never-ending discipline, and computer science was new and exciting, so I chose that. I completed my first degree and came to the UK in 1997 and studied my first Master’s degree. My first role was with a consultancy, right around the dotcom boom, which was incredibly exciting.
What do you love most about your work?
Although I’ve worked through development, testing and support etc, I’ve never been a ‘techie’ as such. I love problem solving, and technology makes things so much easier, and more accessible. As a technology leader there are two main aspects of my work that I love. The first is the technology itself and the endless opportunities it presents, helping businesses to grow, and giving customers an enhanced experience. The second aspect is the people – they’re the reason I get out of bed on a morning, the people I work with, the people I provide a service for. They make my work unique. I get immense satisfaction out of seeing my teams and individuals grow. I’ve had such help and support throughout my career, I love that it’s come full circle and I can now pay this back.
Have you had a mentor, or anyone who has influenced you professionally or personally?
Yes. The phrase ‘Treat people how you like to be treated’ – it’s not just a string of words, it’s so true. I’ve had many mentors and influencers over my thirty years of work, two who stand out the most. The first was the owner of the small consultancy I worked for after university, and my first manager. He was incredible, with a huge amount of positive energy, yet he always stayed calm in a crisis. He would always find a solution to problems. I loved seeing how he would liaise with clients. He instilled a mature, calm way of working in me. The second was the Retail CIO at Shell, and my first female manager. She was also incredible, and there were two main things that struck a chord with me. The first, she strongly encouraged us as the Senior Retail IT Leadership Team to work closely with each other and resolve challenges / conflicts out for ourselves which ultimately created a responsible and high-performing team. Secondly, she was an active advocate for D&I which is not something I was familiar with until I joined Shell. She was a speaker at D&I events and a sponsor at a women’s network and I remember her telling me ‘You’ve earned your seat’. These two people left such a positive mark on me.
Is there a piece of advice you would like to give to women who want a seat at the top table?
My advice would be, firstly, be authentic, and don’t change who you are to fit in somewhere. If you need to do that, you’re not in the right place. The phrase “Be YOURSELF, everyone else is taken!” comes to mind. Secondly, don’t be afraid. I don’t want to generalise but sometimes as women, or certainly using myself as an example, we can overthink or over analyse things, and self-doubt creeps in. We put a brave face on but behind the mask there’s a huge amount of self-doubt and self-criticism. I’d like to say, ‘don’t be afraid’. If someone doesn’t like you for who you are, it’s their problem, not yours. Have that belief in yourself, look in the mirror and tell yourself ‘You can do it’. Coming back to the subject of mentors or leaders, it’s so important to support people, even when things aren’t going well, and give them some guidance but tell them it’s going to be ok.
What are the most pressing challenges in the retail industry at present?
I love retail. One of the biggest challenges is that retail is always changing. Technology brings opportunities, yes, but it continues to raise customer expectations, leaving them wanting more. It’s a battle. The challenge is, how do we use technology to grow but to continue to satisfy ever-increasing customer expectations. This isn’t a new challenge, it’s history repeated, but it’s not solved, otherwise it wouldn’t keep coming up. Another challenge is in-store versus online. I still strongly believe in bricks and mortar and believe the two should complement one another rather than be in competition with one another. How do we get them working seamlessly together? We need the technology, but we also need the human interaction. It’s a continuous innovation. It’s all about delighting the customer. One more thing, is our carbon footprint and the impact of consumerism on the environment.
Fran Grant is a Consultant in our IT & Digital Leadership Practice specialising in recruiting Senior Technology and Digital professionals in Retail, Retail FS, Leisure and Hospitality, with a UK wide remit.
Want to be part of the Women in Tech / Women in Leadership series?
I’m passionate about Women in Tech and Women in Leadership. If you would like to be part of this series, please contact me and help shine a light on important topics that we need to be promoting! Discussions might include barriers to women in tech or women in leadership, juggling career and family, how we can attract more females into the industry, or anything else that’s close to your heart. Let’s get women talking, keep these important conversations flowing, and inspire, empower and support others along the way. Connect with me and let’s chat!
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