July has seen two exciting developments at Thomas International as we look to strengthen our Senior Leadership Team (SLT). Magdalena Borcal joined as Thomas’ new Chief Customer Officer, while Joe Sanchez expanded his existing leadership remit by moving to become Chief Sales Officer. These senior appointments will enhance sales and service delivery for Thomas customers as global lockdowns begin to lift and economic activity rebounds. With recovery on the agenda, we talked with our newest addition to the SLT, Magdalena, about what leadership means to her, her career trajectory, and her views on the conflation of personal and professional life.
What excites you most about your new role and what are your immediate priorities?
MB: Thomas is entering a really exciting growth stage and being able to influence that growth is going to be a great experience. The product is also really interesting, which is one of the things that attracted me to Thomas. In terms of my priorities, the most important is to create a global customer success team with appropriate processes in place that set them and our customers up for maximum success. The new structure will be more scalable, manageable and hopefully more enjoyable as well. I hope that we can positively affect our customer Net Promoter Score (NPS) before the end of the year. I’ll certainly have that in mind when we are working on the new structure over the next few months. We will also be preparing for 2022 to make sure we kick off the year strongly and are in the best possible place to be successful.
How did you arrive at your present area of specialism?
MB: My very early career experiences included working for a small marketing company. I took on many roles, but I was an account manager and worked for bosses who were true salespeople. I learned so much from them about how to deal with customers and with people. It was probably at this stage that I realised that this was the kind of work I liked to do. I liked talking to customers to see how we can help them. So I was always customer-centric.
Can you tell us about a moment or factor that influenced your career?
MB: Actually it's an accumulation of small things. I think it's often an accumulation rather than big events that lead you somewhere. You have to take a risk to make changes and that is probably where you grow the most. I’ve had to restructure my teams to make sure we stayed agile and able to provide the market and our customers with the best support. These are the moments when my team and I learned so much. You need to be flexible. It gives you so much more experience that you can use to then make better decisions in the future. It's not anything huge, but when you feel like you're in a comfortable place, disrupt it. It may feel a bit scary, but if it means that you are providing a better service to customers it’s the right approach.
For example, in the past I led a customer success team made up of very different individuals. Everyone was doing everything, and we realised we had to specialise. So I evaluated where we were falling behind in our work for our customers, restructured the roles around people skills, and provided more and better training. This helped to deliver growth because the success managers were less distracted and able to spend more time with customers. It also meant that the team were doing what they were interested in, which provided the best result for the company and the customers.
How would you describe your leadership approach?
MB: I like to appreciate the different needs and approaches within my team. I also like to have a very open relationship with my direct reports and really consider what people think. It’s a lot of collaboration with the team, with the SLT, with the customers and with the channel partners to create a truly customer-focused approach. A lot of companies don't appreciate that it takes all the departments within the organisation to create that. All the departments influence the customer so collaboration is really important. My role is to make sure we've got the right strategy in place to create a customer-centric organisation, and to steer all the departments to achieve it. I don't think we would go very far if we were all working individually. As a company we are here to provide a group of customers with support, a product, and a service. You have to align internally on the goals of the company and bring people together to achieve those, while also aligning with customers’ expectations.
Do you have any top tips for collaborative working?
MB: Talk to people at various levels, don't just keep your head high with the Senior Leadership Team or down in your immediate team. Talk to people internally and externally as much as possible to get different views and develop a broader understanding of things. We operate in complex times, so you want to be informed as much as possible to then be able to make the best decisions. If afterwards you decide that there needs to be a change made to what you decided, be open-minded and recognise when you need to adjust. You’ve really got to stay agile and listen to what's out there. This is not only a professional strategy, it's a personal approach as well. From my customer success background I know that you really can't support your customers unless you listen to them. It's no good going to your customers and bombarding them with the information you think that they should receive. It's about understanding what they need and what they've got to say. Listening is so important, otherwise customers disengage.
Can you tell us a bit about your Thomas Workplace Personality assessment (HPTI)?
MB: The more we know about each other's results the easier it is to work together. It kind of takes the guesswork out of if you know how somebody is you understand better where they are coming from. My strongest area is conscientious and my least prominent was ambiguity tolerance, so I like to set specific goals. I'm really hard working, I demand a lot of people and of myself. I’m really direct and I like people to be direct with me. If something’s not working I’m quite happy to adjust, but I like clear goals because I think they make it easier for everybody to understand what they are aiming for. To collaborate with lots of different people I have to take a step back sometimes and re-evaluate how I’m communicating with the people that I'm working with, and sometimes I have to adjust. You just have to be empathetic to other people's profiles.
What is the best piece of advice you have received?
MB: Trust your own instincts. I think we live in an environment that wants to dictate so much how you should be, what you should be saying, how you should act, and sometimes you need to just take a step back and think about what you believe in, and what you stand for, to make decisions that are true to you both personally and professionally. As a woman specifically, often we receive extra pressure, not only in leadership roles but overall. I think it’s so important to trust your instincts. In a leadership role you’re between those that you need to lead and those that you report to, and you need to find the right balance. You must gain the trust of your team and steer them in the direction that the company wants to go, but you also need to fight for your team to make sure that they have the right support. So there is that constant evaluation of the feedback, and skill in finding a balance. You’re never going to make everybody happy, that’s impossible, but I think it's important that you do what you think is the right thing to do. It's also okay not to give an answer straight away so that you know you've given the best one you could.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
MB: Thomas is at a great stage and I'm super excited to come in and use my experience to help the team be more successful. I’ve heard so much about all the talented, intelligent people who work at Thomas, and I'm so excited to get to know everyone and to work together towards the company goals, I think it's going to be great. I hope the team will put their trust in me and in the experience that I have. What Thomas needs me to do I've done very successfully a few years ago at another company. So hopefully we can put our heads together, all the talented people out there, and create something special for the company and our customers.
About Magdalena Borcal, Chief Customer Officer, Thomas International
Magdalena was most recently the Vice President of Customer Success EMEA for leading Board Management Software company Diligent Corporation, where she managed a team of forty Customer Success Managers. Magdalena was also recently awarded “Employee of the Year” by Women in Business Global. Diligent’s fifth employee in the UK, she has been instrumental in their rapid growth to around 2,000 employees.