This time round, Lee Kok Leong, our special correspondent, embarks on an assignment to profile a prominent individual who has left an indelible mark on the global maritime industry. However, it is her achievement in breaking through the barrier of gender diversity in management level in our still conservative industry that left the deepest impact.
Inna Kuznetsova is currently a mentor, advisor, technology entrepreneur and board member of a number of companies and organizations, including as an independent non-executive director and chairperson of Remuneration, Nomination Committee, Global Ports Investments Plc (LSE: GLPR).
She was most recently in March heavily involved as keynote speaker, judge and mentor to the inaugural New York Maritime Hackathon 2019.
Inna is a former president and COO of INTTRA, the world’s largest ocean shipping network. She led business transformation across all operational functions, including sales, marketing, product management, software development/IT and service delivery.
During her tenure, INTTRA delivered new products and services which resulted in strong revenue, profitability and market share growth.
At the end of 2018, Inna and her team successfully closed the sale of INTTRA to E2Open, a leading platform for supply chain. Inna left her position in February 2019.
Prior to INTTRA, Inna was with CEVA Logistics as chief commercial officer and executive board member.
She also spent 19 years at IBM where she held a number of different roles focusing on building and running strong organizations in sales, business development and marketing. Her last position was vice president, marketing and sales enablement, IBM Systems Software for IBM Systems and Technology Group.
Inna’s interview will be published in three parts. In this part one, she talks about the lifechanging factors that have influenced her and the personal values that have guided her professional life.
In the second and third parts, she will share her opinions on what it takes for women to rise to board-level position, how to grow professionally, and her thoughts on hard as well as soft factors that are important to the shipping industry.
Shattering the glass ceiling for women
Inna is a fighter; she will fight for what she believes in, and do the right thing to achieve her goals.
When she was rising in the career ladder, she had to fight for recognition, constantly proved her abilities and regularly asserted her abilities, much more so than men did.
It may seem strange now, but back then, there was widespread inequality and gender stereotype in the workplace. More often than not, Inna is the only woman in the boardroom.
Nowadays, diversity and equality in the workplace is gaining importance as companies realize that it is one of the keys to growth in our fiercely competitive global industry.
They can no longer maintain the status quo. Companies are now embracing these values to remain relevant in the global market. They are doing so in an authentic way in how they plan, manage and innovate.
It is a hard-won battle for gender diversity and equality in the workplace. And while we are enjoying the fruits of an enlightened management environment, we have to remember and give tribute to pioneering women in shipping like Inna Kuznetsova. Also, let Inna’s example be an inspiration to those who follow.
Corporate Fair Trade Community (CFTC): Growing up, what is the one event that shaped your life?
Inna Kuznetsova (IK): I grew up in the USSR and the perestroika, the social, economic and political revamp of life as we knew it, started when I was in high school.
It eliminated a lot of the traditional safety nets of the social state such as guaranteed jobs and pensions, reduced the false feeling of security and forced everyone to take personal responsibility for their well-being.
On one hand, it drained the state funding for academia, so I had to give up a dream of becoming a math professor.
On the other hand, it opened new possibilities for entrepreneurship, traveling abroad and working for global companies.
It offered us free speech and access to free market’s professions, such as sales and marketing.
This would not have been possible if I have not left mathematical studies to join IBM in Russia, and that step defined not only my career, but also my business philosophy and network.
CFTC: Who is the one person that influenced you the most?
IK: It is difficult for me to pinpoint a single person as I have been lucky to work for many great bosses and learn from them, or get advice from a lot of amazing people.
One of them influenced me through the book she wrote. Ruth Leach Ammonette was the first woman appointed in 1943 as a vice president of IBM. At that time, it was unheard of for a woman to get to such a high position in a manufacturing company in the US.
Her book “Among Equals” describes a lot of situations that she had to cope with. From a government official asking her at dinner whose secretary she was, to receiving hate mail from unknown people based solely on her gender.
Ruth kept her focus and her sense of humor, while making a great impact to shape the company where I spent 19 years of my career many years later, becoming its first vice president of Russian origin.
A couple of times I found myself asking, how would have Ruth reacted? Usually after reflecting, I found a way to ignore the bias and do the right thing.
CFTC: What key personal values guide you through your successful career?
IK: Always trying to do the right thing for the company, even if it may impact my own interests or relationships. This helped me a few times to steer the business towards success, and it forced me to learn to speak up, no matter how scary it seemed at the moment.
A belief, that it is the professional and diverse teams, not individuals, who build strong businesses. Being inclusive is a major part of my value system.
Building a team and ensuring that everyone in it is comfortable working together becomes a major part of my role. Once you have a team that can execute in every area better than you can do it alone, you achieve more and free up time for new projects.
Customers, boards and management can forgive a lot of things but not being kept in the dark about the problem.
Whether it is a customer lost, a datacenter going down or a major policy violation, admitting and communicating it in a timely manner to the right stakeholders forms a foundation of trust.
Adjusting to constant changes in every aspect of life and the need to leave the comfort zone often. Technology will continue changing our world, and disrupting established industries. Markets and companies evolve, impacting our careers.
I prefer to be a part of the disruption or at least, ready to respond to it, rather than letting it swallow my company and my career.
Working hard. One of my bosses told me, that the previous managers told him, he could never push me harder than I pushed myself. He thought it a nice turn of speech but admitted to be the truth soon.
CFTC: What does success mean to you?
IK: Crossing the finish line with a victory is important but it is equally important to do it in a way consistent with your values and making you proud.
Success means reaching strategic goals, set at the beginning of the journey, while conducting it in an ethical and inclusive manner.
The result may not always look the way you envision, but you always know you have done a good job when you feel proud for what has been accomplished and you know in your heart that you could not have done it any better.
Stay tune for part two of the interview next week where Inna shares her opinions on what it takes for women to rise to board-level position and how to grow professionally.