As part of our Leading Women series, we highlight the professional challenges and career aspirations of the women we work with.
Agnieszka Kulikowska, Page Executive Partner, interviews Agnieszka Kłos-Siddiqui, CEO of Provident Polska (International Personal Finance Group), who offers the best advice she was ever given, how she was able to overcome obstacles on her path to the top, as well as how she and her company are promoting other women in leadership today.
Q: What has been your professional path and what challenges have you overcome?
I started my professional career in Arthur Andersen, then I joined EY and was focused on the financial industry and financial advisory. But then, after a few years, I decided to go and check out something new, something more, so I joined Provident Polska. Originally, it was supposed to be a very short temp contract for 6 months, but now exactly today, it's been 14 years since I joined.
My career was quite dynamic because I wanted to develop in finance, and I've seen myself only as a finance director/board member. I was realizing this plan, but, after some time, I realized that I couldn't progress anymore because we had a very good Finance Director who wanted to stay in his position. I had to find something new and I decided I would get a bigger goal. I decided to think about being a country manager/CEO of the company but to get there, I realized that there were a few points in my plan that I would have to do to actually get this job.
So the first was actually to step to the side of my current position and try to build my career in different areas. I started managing business development, the sales department, and this was the condition actually, to be promoted and then to be CEO. Everything turned out quite well and for three years now, I'm the CEO of the company.
Q: What advice would you like to have received?
Actually, I received perfect advice, but it was a little bit later than I would have wished to have gotten it. I received advice from the CEO of Capital Group, of IPF Group. When I got promoted to a quite high position, but it wasn't a board member yet, he told me, at the moment of the promotion, "Congratulations" and he asked me "What's your next job?" And I thought he was asking me what I was planning to do in my current position, the one I was newly promoted to and he interrupted me and he said "No, what will be your next job? Because, when you get to a higher position, you have to be thinking about what will be your next job and you have to work on being ready when this vacancy appears because they are not coming every month, they are not even coming every year. When the opportunity comes, you have to be ready. So on the day of the promotion, you have to be thinking about your next job."
Q: What are you and your company doing to help promote women in leadership positions?
I believe that women need inspiration.
From my own experience, from my own life, when I started my higher education, I went to a technical university and I was one of not many women. Then, I joined the industry and at this point in time, again I was one of not many women, but I was brave enough to try.
I discovered something recently when I joined the Polish Employers Association. I was thinking that there are not so many women and I wanted to know why. We created a special program of development for young women, but first, we wanted to get the diagnosis. What are their needs?
We discovered that many of those women diagnosed themselves as better educated, more practical with their ideas, hard-working, but at the same time, they are not putting the goal of building their career very highly. This group of young women was students in their last years in the university, so they should be thinking mainly about their careers. We noticed that they were thinking it's an "or/or" decision. Either I will have a family, or I will make a career.
So I am trying to build the mindset with those young women, together with other female leaders, that family and career can be combined, that they can achieve both and they have to plan their career properly. I believe this is a critical responsibility of leaders of companies, not only of women but also men. Because at some point in time we will benefit from that, that we are having more gender diversity.
We know that companies are earning on average 15% more based on a McKinsey report if they are employing more women. So it's for the benefit of the company, but our mindset will not be enough if we are missing candidates in a few years. So we have to work on this mindset of young women that they should start and they should not be afraid to start building their careers just after university.
Q: What is your personal philosophy on crisis management?
My leadership style is based on "team." I am always building everything as a team, so I'm going with my whole team to make decisions.
In these difficult times, actually, that was the critical element. We had to arrange a new company in a very short period of time. My company works based on a human to human contact, so you can imagine that during Covid times, what was critical was how to avoid the exposure of our employees and our customers from too much contact.
They needed to stop the type of work that they were used to doing, but at the same time, we'd like to deliver very good customer service still. So we had to change the company to be more remote working but still being very closely in contact with our customers.
Us as a team, my whole board, my leadership team, we implemented a routine of meeting daily, actually twice a day, Saturdays and Sundays as well on Teams or other devices, and just utilized this time to think together how we could protect our company in these absolutely exceptional times.
I believe this worked, in terms of results because we managed to change the company, transform it completely, in only 3 weeks. At the same time, it gave all of us, this unique spirit of being in one team and supporting each other.