Anita Lyons, Business Development Representative at JDA, is the definition of a go getter. She shares her inspiring journey from starting her own business, leaping into a new life in a different country and finding a balance between being a successful businesswoman and mom. She has come to find that mindset is everything, and with the right one, you can accomplish anything.
Where did you grow up? Where do you live now?
I grew up in a town along the Rhine in Germany called Osthofen. I trained as a hairdresser and moved to Ireland to gain some work experience. It was a great opportunity to make my – then very basic – English more fluent and to experience a different culture.
After a couple of years, I returned to Germany and opened my own hairdressing salon. I loved the business side of things. The development of the business plan, the location hunting, the market research, growing of the workforce, marketing and seeing the fruit of my labor in the form of a fully booked appointment book and the financial success that came with it.
However, due to some changes in my personal life, my Irish husband and I decided to move to the UK as he had a great career opportunity. I sold the business and decided to take this as an opportunity for a career change and to apply my language skills along with my customer service experience. I joined a large American credit card company working in the disputes department.
After a few years, I was expecting twins and made the conscious decision to dedicate myself to raising the kids until they went to school. In the meantime, my husband’s career took us to Brussels for three years. After returning to the UK in 2016 and finding a school for our now three children, I was ready to work outside the home again. This is when I joined JDA as a telemarketer.
Were you worried about taking a career break for your kids?
Taking time out to raise my children was something I was very keen to do because you don’t get those years back. Therefore, I felt quite lucky to be able to do it and trusted that whenever I was ready to go back, I would find the right opportunity, which I did at JDA.
When I decided to take a career break, I wasn’t too worried about what was going to happen afterwards. You need to have the ability to go out and make it happen for yourself and you need to be willing to work for it and stay committed. Once you have that mindset, things will fall into place, even if it might take some searching and possibly even failed attempts, which I was lucky to avoid.
Where did you go to school, and what degree(s) do you have?
After three years of hairdressing experience, I completed a trade master in Germany, which is required to run a trade business. The system works a bit differently there and in order to run a trade business, you need to complete a “trade masters.” It gives people with an apprenticeship the opportunity to catch up on the academic side of things and complete the equivalent of a business degree with a focus on their trade.
Why did you choose a career in supply chain/tech?
It was more a case of the opportunity showing itself and me grabbing it when it came along! I started looking for a new challenge when the kids were old enough. I knew that I wanted to apply my language and customer service skills. At the time JDA was looking for a telemarketer in EMEA, based in Bracknell/UK who also speaks German. I did some research on the company and the industry it was in. The more I read about the supply chain industry, the more excited I became by the idea of learning more about it. I always had a personal interest in technology and was never one to shy away from trying new things and learning new skills, so I decided this opportunity was challenging enough and exciting enough to explore where it could lead me.
How has your career journey progressed at JDA?
In the role, I worked closely with the Business Development team handing over leads to them and working with them on marketing campaigns and event prep and follow up. It was the perfect environment to learn from the team and to get some insights into sales, all while growing my knowledge in supply chain, manufacturing, retail and 3PL.
After six months, the business development role for the Germany, Austria, and Switzerland (DACH) region became available and I jumped at the opportunity. It took me out of my comfort zone to go from stay at home mother of several years to Business Development professional at the leading supply chain company, but I have not looked back since.
The team spirit, the company culture and the can-do mindset that I am seeing every day in this company creates a very positive work environment and growth comes naturally with all the support that is offered. JDA seems to have recognized that good talent can come in many different forms and enabling someone who has the appetite to learn and grow can lead to a very successful and loyal employee that can add a lot of value to a company and its customers.
What are your favorite parts of your role?
Technology is ever evolving. It is a fast-paced business that never stagnates, which guarantees continuous development and new talking points with our customers. It’s rewarding to see how JDA helps our customers solve their business problems and have a real impact.
There is also a great sense of teamwork when you need to engage with so many different departments in the organization. In Business Development, we need to be constantly aligned with our regional teams, as well as working very closely with the Solution Advisors, Service Teams, Marketing, Partners and so on. With that comes an endless amount of opportunity to continuously grow your knowledge and network.
What is the best risk you’ve taken and why?
Every change bears some risk and every risk carries great potential for growth. I think selling my successful business to start a new life in a foreign country without knowing what my next move would be was kind of risky. But, with a healthy amount of belief in your own ability to adapt and grow and the right attitude toward change and new opportunity, it was a calculated risk that led me to my role at JDA and a career in the supply chain.
What about your career surprises you?
I’m surprised how little I miss the independence of being self-employed. It was the one thing I was worried about when I made the change from being my own boss to working for a large organization.
I think it is because in some ways you are running your region from a Business Development perspective with a great deal of freedom. You get to apply your own ideas and are encouraged to be creative in your approach to finding potential customers and supporting customers in addressing their business challenges.
What is one mistake you see leaders making more frequently than others?
Misunderstanding motivation, or not acknowledging team members as individuals. One person might be more motivated by extra responsibility or a sense of achievement and others by being given more freedom in finding the right work/life balance and a desire to work more flexibly to fit in job and family. Leadership is about enabling people to reach their full potential and taking the time to listen to them, so you can find out what drives them.
What female leaders do you admire and why?
Due to recent events, I have been quite impressed by Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, and how she handled the very sad situation in Christchurch. Not only was she able to relate to the families of the victims and show them that they are not alone, but she also committed to taking responsibility for the families and took it a step further by changing the gun laws of the country. She is also a role model for many women in a lot of other ways. She gave birth to her first child around the same time she became prime minister and was the first elected head of state to take maternity leave.
At JDA, I have a lot of respect for my very own manager, Sharon McGowan. As the Business Development Director for EMEA and APAC, she recognizes what drives the individual team members and how she can support them best.
How do you keep your skills sharp?
I believe that self-reflection is an important tool. Just taking a step back every now and then and asking yourself if you’re still on the right track or if you need to adjust. It’s an important skill to have, and to be able to do so, it’s also important to ask for feedback and not to be afraid to ask for help if it’s needed.
How do you motivate yourself and others?
If you truly enjoy what you are doing, you don’t need to force yourself into anything and motivation becomes a byproduct of the success that comes naturally with enjoying what you do.
If you find yourself in a role that requires a lot of motivational work, it is a red flag and should perhaps make you review your career choice.
However, I strive to be a good role model for my children, so if I ever need motivation, I remind myself that children follow a good example and that is enough reason for me to perform to my best ability in both my professional and personal life.
What woman inspires you and why?
My younger sister is very inspirational. She is a single mother who has a disabled son and manages to work part time at a daycare. She is a very giving person who has been dealt a challenging hand but never complains or wishes for it to be different.
What I admire most is that she does not make excuses or hide behind her situation. She manages to focus on the good things and I am very proud that my children have her in their lives as a role model.
What is the biggest challenge for the next generation of women in tech (or supply chain)?
I would like to think they will face the same challenges as the next generation of men in tech. It would be a great achievement if the gender of a person was not one of the defining factors of the challenges they encounter. We’re not quite there yet but hopefully, in years to come, we will be.
It needs to start in the classrooms and the social and home environment that children are in. We need to teach girls that is it ok to ask questions, be curious, be confident, follow their interests and instincts. Encourage every young person to have their very own moonshot! Another big challenge on the journey to equalizing gender, is the pay gap that is still present in many industries and countries. Apart from the obvious injustice of it, what is more worrying is the message it sends to our young people, which is that the time and contribution of a man is more valuable than that of a woman. Concerning on many levels.