TECHx Editor, Rabab Zehra got an exclusive interview with Zenab Abbas, Vertiv Marketing Manager. During the interview Zenab spoke about how she was all set to follow in her father’s footsteps and carve a career in investment banking before the global financial crisis struck, forcing her to change direction. Now attuned to pivoting after crisis, she heads up the challenging marketing portfolio for Vertiv EMEA – and shares her recipe for success in a transforming world with TECHx.
TECHx: Your career has taken a circuitous path to where you are now, as Marketing Manager at Vertiv – would you tell us about that?
Zenab: Sure! As a child I had big ideas of becoming a high-flying Investment banker so naturally studied economics and social studies at university and started my career in capital marketing and syndications with a company in Dubai in November 2007. Here I developed my analytical skills and got my first taste of this world but was only there for about a year when the financial crisis hit in late 2008 and like many other junior recruits, first in first out, so I was part of the redundancy layer as the company attempted to cut costs.
Being faced with that setback early in my career was a shock to the system, and my next steps were really a discovery period as I accepted that the culture and environment of the investment banking world were not for me; it was very competitive even within the same team and I didn’t enjoy that individualism.
I stayed in the industry for a bit, but as an executive assistant to a brokerage company; executive assistants in this region are multifaceted and have a diverse skillset so it was an opportunity to acquire and developed a variety of skills from admin to customer service to compliance and that’s also where I started getting my first taste of marketing.
From there I had the opportunity to join Emerson Network Power as Personal Assistant to the Managing Director – and that’s where I started really understanding my passions. It’s also where I understood and appreciated the value of a true leader and mentor who nurtured and guided my activities exposing me to different functional areas to see where I would find my niche. It was a small team, most of the work was done in-house – from financial forecasting to marketing to HR so here I managed to develop and learn a variety of skills by observing & supporting others. At the time I joined, there was no local marketing but as my skillset developed and the team grew, I was given the opportunity to step into the marketing shoes full time which I eagerly pursued. The role became a completely different type of animal during the years when Network Power was spun off to what we now know as Vertiv and I haven’t loved every moment of it.
TECHx: How has this accumulation of different skillsets helped you make your mark in marketing?
Zenab: I’d like to think my skill set and background helped me take a bird’s eye view on activities and support my colleagues where I can. I don’t just consider the marketing aspect but try and consider elements like supply chain, operating profits, after-sales. I also enjoy learning new things so I’m always sticking my nose into other teams and luckily I have very understanding colleagues who show me great patience and explain their pain points to the overall benefit of the group.
TECHx: What, to you, are the essential skills that make for a good marketer?
Zenab: Personally, I believe it’s listening to people around you, listening to your team on the ground and, I know it sounds obvious, but listening to your customers. It’s easy to get distracted with internal processes but far more important to make time to work on those activities which impact your customer and team.
This is probably more pertinent in the Middle East & Africa, as it is a large region with a charming amalgamation of different cultures, skillsets, and people.
TECHx: As a Marketing Manager of a technology brand, how do you keep yourself up to date in the fast-moving technological era?
Zenab: It’s a continuous learning curve! I came into this industry thinking a laptop charger was just that, only to be told during my interview that actually it’s an AC/DC converter….hello level 1 science books. Understanding the technology and jargon took a while but I am fortunate to have a wonderfully supportive team around me who don’t mind breaking down the complicated concepts into bite-size pieces.
Of course, there is so much information out there now online that a simple google search will give you 2 billion hits but in my opinion, your best resource is your team and customers, the people who are dealing with the technology day in day out, and especially now with so much isolation, I need no excuse to have a chat!
TECHx: Being a woman in tech, what message do you have for your young female colleagues in the industry? What do you wish you’d been told before?
Zenab: I’m appreciative for this opportunity to have a voice and if anyone is listening, I would like to say to all young people, female or male, JUMP IN! Find the confidence to believe in yourself to achieve it while having fun. If you’re not having fun in everything you do, there’s no point. Never stop learning, be open to constructive criticism – nobody is perfect; you can always do better. Find a mentor you can respect and look up to, who nurtures your creativity and wants to see you succeed.
TECHx: How has your experience shaped your views on mentorship and leadership?
Zenab: It’s critical to your development! Every day I feel the impact of inspirational mentors and strong leaders, I believe that Vertiv’s phenomenal growth and success can be attributed to just that. We’ve become leaner, more efficient, more customer-focused and our positioning from a private company to IPO listing on the New York Stock Exchange within three years is a testament to that.
I hope to become a mentor one day and pass on the support I have received to date to others around me, I see from the leaders around me that communication and trust are key, it’s up to you to start and continue that conversation. You need to make that first step; to show that your door is metaphorically always open – and the more you share with your team or colleagues, the more people will share and open up so you can see where you can support or enhance them. I am always open to help and am passionate about spending time to share insights and skillsets.
TECHx: Lastly, tell us what about you would surprise your colleagues or clients?
Zenab: I think the fact that I currently have pink hair would surprise them! I think my adventurous spirit also doesn’t come across in the boardroom: I love the great outdoors, riding motorbikes, offroading, scuba diving, and conquering the elements.