Kate Burleigh’s journey since becoming managing director of Intel A/NZ nearly three years ago has been a rollercoaster that began, she says, when times were tough.
“When I took over the helm, the market was extremely tough. Intel was a little blindsided with just how fast tablets were taking off, and we weren’t ready with our own solutions. So I was tested out on actually managing through some quite difficult times very early on, so part of me thought, ‘bad timing’,” she said with a chuckle.
“But, in hindsight, it was quite a good opportunity for me to get involved in setting the agenda and strategy, and putting plans in place to navigate the teams through a difficult patch. Now I feel we have come out the other end of that,” she said, adding there’s room to breathe to focus on innovation instead of relentlessly focusing on numbers.
The ARN Hall of Fame inductee for 2014 is both surprised and flattered by such recognition. However, she shouldn’t be. Burleigh has earned the respect of her peers as she’s worked long and hard to reach the position she know holds.
One look at her jam-packed resume will tell you she has worked across the length and breadth of the ICT industry. She has been a PR manager, Internet marketing manager, APAC regional Centrino product manager, enterprise marketing manager, retail sales and marketing manager, marketing director, and national marketing and channel sales director, before finally being crowned managing director in 2012.
If Burleigh had one word to describe herself, she would say adaptable – and it was that versatility combined with her resilience and ability to adjust to whatever situation she finds herself in that helped power her rise up the corporate ladder.
“I am a very adaptable person. I adapt to the environment that I am in, which serves well, obviously, in the sort of role I am in, and in a sales role. I like to think that I would not be easily boxed into one style of person, but I’m sure people do. But I’d like to think that I’ve got quite a diverse perspective.
“I’ve had a life – whether it has been thrust upon me or I’ve gone looking for – that’s involved a lot of change, so I’m comfortable with change and maybe that’s why this industry suits me quite well,” Burleigh said.
She also credits her mentors for her success and in helping shape her leadership style.
“I’ve been lucky to have been surrounded by a number of exceptionally good role models and managers throughout my career and this has helped shape my leadership style.”
Two people stand out in Burleigh’s mind: former managing director of Dick Smith Electronics, Jeff Grover, and Intel Asia-Pacific Japan (APJ) director, regional sales organisation and fellow Hall of Fame inductee (2009), Philip Cronin.
“Jeff Grover, who sadly passed away last year, was the first senior executive who really seemed to look out for my career development. When he passed away, I was so disappointed that I hadn’t taken the time to reach out to him after all these years to let him know how much he had positively impacted my working career.”
Burleigh said she joined Dick Smith as PR and communications manager, but Grover invited her to all the management meetings and strategy and planning sessions.
“In hindsight I realise that he was deliberately exposing me to the operations of the business so it would fast track my knowledge. When I asked for Dick Smith to fund my MBA, Grover was happy to make it happen.”
At Intel, she said Cronin “has been the ultimate advocate for career development and bringing people up through the company.”
Cronin backed Burleigh early in her management career. “In lots of ways he cleared a path for me to this role, including strongly suggesting that it was about time I got closer to the channel after many years of running Intel’s marketing department. It proved to be good advice, of course, as whatever way you cut it, Intel is wedded to the channel.”
And like her mentors, Burleigh said she values the people in the organisation – and works to promote talent and create new leadership roles.
“I had a great opportunity when I came into this role to then re-establish and redefine the leadership team. One of the first things that I did was reinstate the channel sales director onto my staff. That wasn’t the organisational structure before that and I thought there was a gap. I felt that we had lost a little bit of focus on the relevance of that job, so it was great to be able to create a staff leadership position in that space.”
While people management can be a managing director’s biggest challenge, it can also be the most rewarding – and she particularly loves working with a colourful cast of characters.
“Intel Australia is not a cookie-cutter organisation. We are not all cut from the same cloth. We are quite a diverse group of people. We are a bit of a motley crew in a way. All of us are brilliant at what we do, but there are a lot of unique characters in here and I love that about the culture. There’s a lot of diversity in characters and human nature. You’ve got the geekiest geeks and the ultimate fashionistas and everything else in between. I love that.”
Another big focus is the strategic direction of the company. Burleigh said the Internet of Things (IoT) is exciting for the Australian IT industry. “The barrier of entry for the IoT is actually much lower, which means you can experience much more innovation at the edges. It is not just innovation from the centre which tends to be much larger and much more strategic,” she said.
“The innovation that is happening around the edges means that we are able to see smaller and innovative Australian companies actually leading that innovation and that means we have a whole new ecosystem of people that we can engage with. They are new people – there is very little overlap between our traditional system builder channel and the IoT channel. It is exciting because it means we actually need to start a new relationship with new players.”
Burleigh said the mix of highs and lows in her career and her ability to adapt and cope have enabled her to find her footing – and groove - as a leader.
“I feel more comfortable in the position. The thing I found the hardest was the internal promotion. You can’t pretend to be someone you’re not because everyone knows you so well after being in the company already for 15 years, so you have to be true to yourself,” she said. “But obviously in that more senior, leadership position, I did have to step up and make some tougher decisions, which sometimes might have felt a little bit out of character for me as a person, but they had to be done. So that was always hard, but I feel more comfortable with that now, and people are more used to seeing me in this role.”
Asked what’s next for Burleigh, she said she doesn’t like to plan too far ahead. “Plans for me, at the moment, are to succeed well in this role – to definitely put my stamp on Intel Australia and on the ICT industry and make sure I’m contributing at a level that is not just about selling Intel products, but also seeing the industry grow in this marketplace.”
And it’s not all tablets and technology talk. Outside of work, Burleigh said she is the polar opposite of a typical IT worker. She has a passion for creativity and the arts.
“The stuff I turn my hand at, outside of work, is very non-IT related. Whether it’s photography or obsessing around making the most amazing birthday cakes for my kids, or gardening [I am growing my own vegetables at the moment and have my own worm farm], I go completely counter ICT in my home life – so that seems to balance it out. Then on Monday I am happy to talk microprocessors non-stop all day.”