We get In Her Shoes with Nikki Wilton is a Global Sales Director at Xchanging, recently acquired by CSC.
Nikki’s career has spanned the US, Latin America, Europe & Asia and her trademark is a collaborative and innovative approach to business challenges. As a senior business leader, Nikki works in the city and is a board member of the global diversity and inclusion steering group, chaired by CEO Craig Wilson, to promote and embrace equality in every area of the Xchanging business.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I started right at the bottom – and the great advantage of this is that you have an appreciation of the business ecosystem, and the people and critical functions across the board. Engineering is different, but just as important as sales. I worked my way up from credit control to Global Vice President of Sales and am still quite unusual in an industry where the passport to entry has always been a degree. My first promotion was into customer service management, then sales, to sales operations, partnerships, sales management and eventually to the position I’m in today. Delivering top and bottom line growth is in my DNA, so understanding the numbers is paramount. Originally I trained as an actress which just goes to show you can do anything you want, so long as you understand the business. Innovation & creativity which are part of theatre are key to what I do.
On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?
Typical days start with early morning calls with the sales teams or clients on the other side of the world. I’m interested in what we sell and how that drives business transformation for our customers – tech is a really exciting fast moving industry and there’s always something new. Once upon a time it was all about IT driving the internal organisation, now it’s all about how IT can transform a business, personalise the customer journey and grow customer acquisition and loyalty. This is driving a change in conversation, and our solutions are constantly evolving to meet those demands. Robots, digitisation, cyber security and data lakes are now top of the agenda, and our end customer is often no longer IT. To work in this industry, you don’t need to be technical, but you do need to understand your customer’s vision and business, and how your company can embrace technologies and apply them to drive differentiation and return on investment for customers.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
No, if I had I would be married to Brad Pitt! Now I’m a bit older and wiser I have a “top five” list – what are the next 5 things I want and how close will this get me to achieving them. If I can get 3 out of 5, that’s great. Less and it probably won’t be enough to keep my interest.
What do you love about working for Xchanging?
Xchanging is truly agile. I love that it’s so easy to make a great idea a reality for the business or our customers, and that everyone has a voice. We also have some great diversity. Aside from a state of the art London office with lots of young talent, our core delivery is from India. I have had the privilege of working with this leadership team at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad and the experience was invaluable.
Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you overcome these challenges?
I am less likely to say “no”, I am less confrontational on targets, I always try to put my team first and yet sometimes I’m perceived as aggressive and over confident – and am always surprised by that perception. I don’t think I will ever “overcome” those challenges, but I recognise the differences in how I think, act and am perceived in comparison to my (almost exclusively) male peers. When you understand & embrace those differences, the job is much easier.
How have you benefited from coaching, mentoring or the sponsorship of others?
Early in my career I was lucky enough to be told what I would be really good at and given 6 months and a great promotion to prove the point. Up to that point it never occurred to me that I could sell, and even when I accepted, I didn’t really believe it. Some people never question their ability, but I really needed that push. I will always be grateful for the mentor (Bryan Visser if he’s reading this) that gave me the belief & trust I needed to be successful. Sometimes (infuriatingly) and particularly when you’re younger, others can see the strengths that you didn’t know you had.
Do you believe in the power of networking? If so, where do you network?
I’m passionate about my network – I put an Australian & an American contact together this month to deliver a consulting assignment for Google in the UK. I’m not an overt networker, but I do have a closed group on linked in of trusted females and I keep in touch with brilliant people who I trust and value.
What advice can you give to our members about raising their profiles either inside or outside their own organisations?
I’m lucky enough to have had some great support along the way, and I will always make the time for anyone who takes the time to ask. “Hold out your Hand’ is my philosophy – (I think I may have stolen that from Cheryl Sandberg) but someone took the chance on me, and my philosophy is to give that back.
What advice would you give to those who aspire to a career similar to you?
Get involved and learn your subject. Spend time with customers – after all, they’re the ones who pay the bills. Understand them, and understand what & why they buy from you – you don’t need to be technical, but you need to be knowledgeable and interested – never underestimate how much a customer appreciates you trying to understand their problem. That’s what sales is all about, and there is nothing more compelling than working with someone who tries hard to understand your business
What does the future hold for you?
I love transformation, innovation and seeing results so hopefully more of that and I’m committed to pragmatic diversity. Watching the people in my team excel and exceed their goals is what I hope the future holds. If they are successful, so am I. You can’t ask for much more than that.