Female Tech Company Founder Sees Family, Friendships, Diversity as Core to Success

Don Tennant
Slide Show

Innovative Advice for Execs Looking to Change Their Industry

Last month I wrote about Monica Eaton-Cardone, founder and CIO of Global Risk Technologies (GRT), a payment services security and mediation firm, and her insights on addressing the gender imbalance in IT. What warrants further attention here is Eaton-Cardone’s approach as a technology company founder and leader—one that highly values family, friendships and diversity.

A lot of tech executives talk about those core values, but Eaton-Cardone appears to have woven them into the fabric of her company. One family member, her husband Gary, serves as CEO of the company. But this wasn’t a husband-and-wife-cofound-a-company scenario. Eaton-Cardone brought Gary, a technology industry executive with years of experience in Europe, into the company after she founded it, and before they were married. She explained why she chose not to assume the CEO position herself:

I’m not a huge fan of titles. I’m much more interested in what the company does, how it’s growing, the culture of the company. Honestly, I couldn’t care less about titles. I had hired Gary as a consultant before we got married, because he has an incredible expertise and vision in commodity markets. This is an industry that’s turning into a commodity, when you look at all the different opportunities on the Internet. He has the title of CEO because he is fantastic in that role—he does a great job orchestrating some of the deals that we do. That enables me to stay focused on developing additional technology, making sure that we have a state-of-the-art infrastructure that we can scale, and managing our team.

That team is a global work force of about 400 people. Eaton-Cardone is an outspoken advocate for gender diversity in the tech sector, so I asked her what letter grade she would give her own company, specifically in terms of gender diversity. Her response was brutally honest:

We’re probably pretty standard in terms of gender diversity—maybe a “C” would be standard, or average. I definitely don’t go out of my way to try to specifically recruit women who are programmers. Handling the technical diversity problem really needs to be an issue that is addressed from the bottom up, and at a much younger age, to cultivate that interest. If we have 100 applicants who are applying for a developer position, chances are I don’t know if I’m even going to get one who’s a woman. If I do get one, unless she is stellar, and the best applicant, she won’t get the job—she won’t get the job just because she’s a woman. That is a business decision, and that’s the smartest business decision that any owner would make. You always have to hire the best. There’s just not a whole massive selection of those [female] candidates, unfortunately.

And what about a letter grade in terms of the overall diversity of her company? That’s a different story:

Of course I’m biased, but we’re just about an “A” in terms of diversity. We have quite a diverse group. We have guys who have worked here for five years, who have zero college education and probably barely got a GED. But they applied themselves—they started out at the very bottom of the company, and now they are in management. I would stand them right next to any Harvard graduate, and bet on them winning the race every single time.

We also have the guys with amazing pedigrees, and great traditional credentials. We have a lot of very untraditional employees. There’s a certain common denominator that you look for in developing your work force. Our environment in the payment industry is a landscape that constantly changes, and is evolving—we work in the e-commerce space. Being able to adapt to change, and reorganize data, and confront the reality that what you did yesterday wasn’t good enough, and you need to constantly change—this is actually a requirement for our success. So if we have individuals who are not tolerant of that type of change, they don’t make it at this company. So it’s an atmosphere that is conducive to a natural diversity, because that is part of our culture.

Eaton-Cardone went on to explain how that diversity yields better products:

If I have a meeting with my team, and they were all like-minded and they liked doing the exact same things, chances are we would have one security platform that never changed, that didn’t modify and morph, and that wasn’t the best. I want people who are passionate about us having the best platform, and who have all sorts of different ideas, because that diversity actually gives us strength. I want to have a meeting where there are lots of arguments. I want these passionate guys to sit together, argue with each other, and hash out what’s going to be the best possible solution, because I have all these out-of-the-box thinkers. That is much more powerful than everybody thinking the same way, because you’ll never make anything better.

Eaton-Cardone also stressed the fact that family and friendships are core to what makes GRT tick. She noted that her dad works in finance for the company, there are other married couples and multiple people from other families, and people who are best friends. But she said she learned a valuable lesson, because it wasn’t always that way:

When I started out, I doubted what I really knew, and my abilities. And I started thinking I wanted to be more conservative, and I wanted everybody to wear suits to work, and we wanted to look like and be like Bank of America, because that is Wall Street, and that is really being successful. I probably wasted six months of pain wearing suits, when I’m really a jeans and T-shirt type of person. And you know what? Everyone who works here is the same. What we do takes brain power and creativity, and sometimes you’re most comfortable wearing sweats. So I wasted six months on trying to invest in all these different consultants and policies, and we should do this and do that, and I can’t have family members and friends working here, and I’m not going to have relationships with staff here. I wasted all that time, only to discover that you have to be true to who you are. If you’re true to who you are, and you let your staff be true to who they are, that’s going to take you further than any other path that you could possibly take.

So I abolished all of those policies, and realized I don’t care about all that. I don’t have to look like every other company—I can create my own idea of success, and we’re going to be proud of that. We’re proud of the fact that we look like no other company. I  think it’s probably a similar struggle that many companies go through when you get into that growth phase, and you start getting calls from private equity groups. You get to a point where you think you need to read this book and get that advice, and you start to question what you really know, and get away from who you really are. But all of these people who give advice—guess what, not one of them has actually developed and run a company. I want to be in an environment where we’re friends, and we like working with each other.

A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.

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