Currently, only about 1 in 4 employees in the tech industry identifies as a woman. So what does it take to create a successful career as a woman in tech? In this interview series called Women in Tech, we are talking to successful leaders in the tech industry to share stories and insights about what they did to lead successful careers. We also discuss the steps needed to create a great tech product. As part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Michele Hermann.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before diving in, our readers would love to learn more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have had an interesting path to my current role and a passion for building an education technology business within Logitech. My father was a teacher and a strong believer in self-awareness, self-direction, and self-paced learning. He was always challenging me to try new things, challenge my current thinking, and persevere. I suppose that was a big driver in how I looked at my career and the opportunities that I created for myself. I actually started in the education publishing industry, with a role in corporate finance. I quickly realized I wanted to learn more about the business and grew the role into a finance business position. There I learned more about the day-to-day business processes and functions and took that experience with me to join a technology company. At Logitech, I realized I loved the fast-paced world of an emerging area, supply chain, and learned through experience how to run a global organization and optimize and balance great customer service with low cost and speed. I learned this new area on the job by asking a lot of questions and challenging everything—and it paid off. The role eventually led me to the Head of Products role and most recently taking all of this experience to build a new business around K-12 and higher education technology tools to facilitate digital transformation happening in education post-covid.
It has been said that our mistakes can sometimes be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I believe that most of our learning comes from trying and failing. At the time, I am not sure I thought any of them were funny—but I can say I’ve had quite a few learnings! Probably the most memorable mistake early in my career was checking bags for a business trip. My first big international business trip was to visit IBM. In those days, it was still very formal with expectations of a blue suit and white blouse. I, of course, showed up in a small village in Scotland with no bag, on a Sunday morning when all the stores were closed, wearing very comfortable travel clothes: a sweatshirt, and leggings. After panicking over a Guinness with a colleague, thankfully my luggage showed up at 1 am and we had a wonderfully successful meeting (and I was wearing the appropriate clothing!) You think I would have learned my lesson, but just a few months later, I arrived again without my luggage to a sales meeting in a resort town, where the only shops in town sold bikinis and flip flops. Fortunately, there were enough sales logo t-shirts to carry me through the week! I have never checked a bag for business again.
What do you feel has been your ‘career-defining’ moment?
In the first 10 years of my career, I had great roles in corporate finance where I learned a lot, but I felt removed from the day-to-day business and was not sure my decisions had an impact. As I began moving towards a career in supply chain, I quickly grew into a Sr Management position where I was responsible for a large team, and our direction and decisions were directly tied to company performance. With this new level of responsibility, I realized our distribution center was not in an optimal location and that we should relocate for better performance and lower cost, but it was a big move to relocate across the country. It was a good decision; however, I underestimated the complexity of the move, the depth of knowledge we needed in the team, the difficulties in working with external outsourced partners, and how to incentivize their performance to help drive your business results.
Needless to say, we had some significant delays in the operation which directly impacted our performance. I was devastated, embarrassed, and felt I had failed the team. A new VP was brought in above me and challenged my capabilities. This was a turning point for me. I was not going to fail. I was not going to let the team fail. We had the right idea, we took the right risk, however, we failed at execution. That was the motivation I needed to bring in some additional expertise, ask for help and turn the failure into a success.
It was at that moment in my career I realized that asking for help is ok, even if it is just to validate the plan. Being tenacious, focusing on the problem, and redirecting the plan improved the situation. I realized that a great team with great leadership can do amazing things. It made me stronger as a leader, as a supply chain professional, and as a person and solidified my interest in becoming a strong leader.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I have had a few “starts” in my journey, but I would say one of the most challenging was creating a global supply chain at a technology product company. At the time, there were very few women in technology leadership positions and equally few leading a global supply chain. Traditionally, supply chain leaders came from logistics warehouse or freight industries, filled with stodgy, traditional thinkers with 40 years of industry experience. Likewise, as a technology products company, the focus was on developing beautifully designed and engineered solutions, with supply chain a necessity but not necessarily a business strategy. Not only did I struggle in every meeting with suppliers and customers, who assumed that the men in the room were in charge vs. the only female, but I also had work to do within my own company to show and prove the importance of the supply chain in the product development process, the planning process, risk management, and customer satisfaction.
Fortunately, I gained key executive support in driving the supply chain as a strategy and the company incorporated supply chain performance, which included on-time delivery of products to consumers, as part of the product development process. The backing of our executive team gave me the confidence to overcome the male-dominated supply chain world and ultimately design and manage a world-class global supply chain and team.
We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address? How does your company help people?
I am thrilled to work for Logitech, a design-led company focused on helping people interact with technology by connecting the digital world with the analog world. We understand the needs of people and design solutions that enable them to collaborate with colleagues from anywhere in the world or in any environment in the world. We provide precision accessories, such as mice, keyboards, and styluses, to enable productivity and creativity and we have a gaming division that brings play to the casual gamer all the way to the e-sports professional. We have most recently delved into how to bring these solutions to students, teachers, and classrooms and I am excited to be leading this effort. We believe that our solutions can drive equity in and outside of the classroom by making educational content available to everyone and supporting educators in introducing new teaching methods through the use of simple technology tools.
If someone wants to lead a great company and create great products, what is the most important quality that person should have, and what habits or behaviors would you suggest for honing that particular quality?
In the first part of my career, I would have said the one thing you need to do to lead a great company is to build a great team filled with different people and experts who share the same vision for where and how you want to achieve your goals. A lot of this comes down to the type of people you want to work with and how you work as a team to build new experiences and solutions. This is still true today, however, the longer I have worked at Logitech, I have realized that to truly become a great PRODUCT company you need to really understand who you are trying to help, their challenges and desires, and thoughtfully and humbly create solutions.
Next, let’s talk about teams. What’s a team management strategy or framework that you’ve found to be exceptionally useful for the product development process?
Often getting started on development projects can be very tricky with a global team, but I am a big believer in pulling together a small group of people to ideate and frame the challenge together then begin exploring and defining in the same room. Ideally, we may also get to early simple prototyping of experiences. The team members can take a more narrow view of options and work through final concepts in their home base locations. Once we have locked in on an idea, the next critical activity is to follow an outlined schedule with defined ownership and ensure decisions are made quickly and clearly. I have seen many projects stall because it is unclear what we are trying to solve, for whom, and ultimately who is the final decision-maker. I prefer to try, decide, and learn. I always mention to the team that our decisions may not be 100% correct, but they will be close, and we gain more by deciding and learning than by trying to be perfect.
When you think of the strongest team you’ve ever worked with, why do you think the team worked so well together, and can you recall an anecdote that illustrates the dynamic?
I have been fortunate to have many great teams in my career, but I am incredibly honored to be working with my current team around driving and improving education solutions. We have a passionate team, with different areas of expertise, engaged in understanding today’s education environment, the challenges in post-Covid learning, and a shared desire to help educators, parents, and administrators for the good of the students. I will add that this is a small team (less than 10) with diverse backgrounds and experiences, and different areas of expertise but 100% aligned in how we work (small and scrappy, trying things with little resources) and why we work (to ignite the full potential of every learner through tech-enabled education solutions).
If you had only one software tool in your arsenal, what would it be, why, and what other tools do you consider to be mission-critical?
I have become addicted to text or chat programs that allow you to quickly reach a single teammate or a group of people for quick communication. I find that this helps inform people quickly, prepare for decision-making, and grab quick bits of information timely. It also allows us to eliminate extra meetings or phone calls and therefore frees up the team more time for creation.
Let’s talk about downtime. What’s your go-to practice or ritual for preventing burnout?
I have always loved the outdoors. I camped a lot as a child and started backpacking with my parents at 5 years old. Today I find that if I need to recenter myself the best thing I can do is go for a walk or a hike. I am amazed at how clear my mind becomes when I step outside, often by myself, and take in my surroundings. I am able to focus on what matters (and eliminate the things that are non-value), think through problems and prioritize solutions, and sometimes just look around and think about nothing. Flexible work hours have allowed me to take advantage of this more and more and I truly think this is how we will continue to work in the future. A balance between work, family and yourself working non-traditional hours at times in non-traditional locations.
Based on your experience, what are your “5 Steps Needed to Create Great Tech Products”?
1. Gain insights into the problem you are trying to solve. The covid pandemic brought a lot of change for everyone, including educators and students. Without the ability to print and hand out worksheets, 90% of the curriculum in the US became digital. A new pain point that arose was how the teacher could see the work of the child. The solution was an ergonomic pencil replacement for annotating, drawing, and showing work on screens—and that is how we developed our Logitech Pen, a stylus for kids.
2. Have a deep understanding of the user and the environment. Our very first education-focused product was a keyboard for an iPad. We thought this was easy, we had been making iPad keyboards for almost 10 years. What we did not understand was how tough kids are on products, including delicate technology products. After watching kids pluck the keys of the keyboards, we quickly pivoted to a student and classroom fabric-covered keyboard.
3. Delight your user. Nothing is more exciting than delivering an amazing product to a customer. What is even more thrilling is watching them discover small details that improve the experience. Apple has done an amazing job of doing this with their Air Pods. Of course, you expect great audio, but the seamless pairing was a game changer—especially for anyone who wanted to move to wireless headphones but struggled with Bluetooth.
4. Make it easy to understand and purchase. Technology can sometimes be complicated and difficult to explain. A great product is magical. It is intuitive. It works the way you expect. It is reliable and it makes your life easier.
5. Engage with your users after they have used your product. Do we know if they love it? How are they using it? What could we improve? Understanding these things is critical to the future development of new solutions and also creates amazing brand loyalty.
Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
In the 30+ years of working, I have seen a significant increase in the number of women in tech and the types of jobs held by females, including senior and executive positions, but we have more we can do. Technology is used by everyone today. Kids start at an early age using phones, tablets, and computers and they love playing games and socializing through technology platforms. Technology is accessible to almost everyone. We need to encourage girls and young women to discover how the things they love doing are enabled by technology and to learn more about the types of careers available to them. We can show them how they can develop augmented reality filters for Snapchat or use machine learning for direct marketing or digital editing for TikTok. We can encourage them to try more, challenge how things are done, and be ok with trying and failing. We can start all of this at an early age, which brings me back to how we can help children become their best selves through education and technology.
Is there a person in the world with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch and why?
I am inspired and amazed at the work Melinda Gates has quietly and effectively accomplished over her career. Her work driving equity in education for all children, equality for women in the technology workplace, and her overall focus on innovative solutions for difficult problems for both women and children is incomparable.
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