Welcome to our interview series with women leaders at Kurtosys, covering their experiences in the Financial Services and Technology industries. Today we meet with Nikki Leske, our People Operations Manager. Nikki has previously worked within the asset management and technology industries as an HR specialist, and has been an instrumental member in our Cape Town office for only the past five months, bolstering the focus on our employees and company culture. We asked her about her personal hurdles and favourite hobbies outside the workplace.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background in FinTech. Why did you choose to join Kurtosys?
I started my career in agency recruitment, first in Tech recruitment, and then in Financial recruitment, focusing on the Asset Management space. I quickly realized I wanted to have a bigger role in people’s careers – not only to help find them great positions, but to be able to help them to grow in their careers, to improve their working environments, and to aid in developing teams and company culture. I also missed the tech space. This led me to move to inhouse recruitment, and to develop into an HR specialist space. I spent a few years at Online Marketing and SaaS companies before finding Kurtosys a few months ago. What drew me to the company is the emphasis on People. Kurtosys is made up of an incredible group of people who are truly invested in the company and in the Kurtosys Team as a whole. I really appreciate the transparency, collaborative nature, emphasis on teamwork and ongoing drive to learn and improve. At Kurtosys, the company values of Trust, Transparency, Teamwork and Success are not just slogans on a wall somewhere, but are an important part of the way we work every day. This is a place of very little ego. I get to work with incredibly intelligent individuals in a space where each employee is able to make a visible difference.
What hurdles have you overcome to get to where you are today? Who helped you along the way?
While employed at SharpSpring, a Marketing Automation SaaS company, I had my second child, a little girl. When she was less than 2 months old I found myself having to go back to work. At this time SharpSpring had decided to close its South African office, and as the SA HR Representative, this meant that I had to help to facilitate the retrenchments (mine included) and at the same time I was also tasked with closing the South African office, and in helping to find the staff new jobs. Not knowing whether I would have an income in the upcoming months, I was not able to put my daughter into a daycare and as she was so small and I was breastfeeding at the time I also did not want to be apart from her all day. I leaned on family to help where I could, but many days my daughter would come with me to the office. I would close my office door to feed her and the staff enjoyed having a little pink human to distract them from the tough time we were going through. Being a mom to a toddler and a new baby, being there for my husband who was working very long hours at the time, being retrenched, needing to find a new job and helping to close an office made this a particularly trying time. I had many moments where I wished I could just be at home on a long maternity leave but looking back on this experience I can say that I learnt so much during this time that strengthened me as a person. One of the most valuable lessons that I learnt as a working mom is that it is not necessarily about the amount of time you spend with your kids, but rather about the quality of the time you share.
How do you spend your time outside of Kurtosys?
Weekends for me are all about quality time with the family. I do spend a fair amount of time cleaning the house, catching up on washing and cooking, but once the chores are done, my husband and I like to spend time with the kids. Living in a city as beautiful as Cape Town means that we go on lots of family adventures – walks on the beach, day trips and lunches at beautiful child friendly restaurants. We also love to have friends over and braai (barbeque) in the garden. On those rare occasions where there is not too much going on I sometimes paint or play my guitar.
What recommendations would you make to other woman in FinTech to help them grow their career?
I firmly believe that one of the most important things that you can do is to seek out knowledge. Learn as much as you can about the tech your company uses, the sales and operational processes, and the people you work with. You will learn so much from your colleagues and managers by listening to their experiences and how they have overcome challenges. I also believe that problems and blockers should, as far as possible, be seen as opportunities to learn and grow. Personally, finding and keeping a balance between work and home life is something that I see as an ongoing challenge. Working in the tech space makes it easier than ever to take your work home with you, so I try to really switch off when I’m with my family, even if it is not for as long as what I would always like it to be, to make my time with my family count.
If you could name three role models, who would they be and why?
My husband’s grandfather is an important role model to me. All his life he has worked hard and has achieved things like buying several properties while never being a top earner. He experienced war in his early years and instead of being tainted by the experience, he came out more appreciative of all the good in his life. He taught me to see obstacles and difficult times as challenges and learning opportunities. Another of my key role models would be my kids. There is nothing more humbling than watching someone exploring and learning and growing. The honesty of kids, their desire to get things right, and of course, the way that they find humour in situations reminds me not to be so serious all the time. I learn so much from the people around me that it is hard to name a specific third role model.
What single motto do you apply to your professional career?
You are in control of your thoughts, integrity and actions. How you choose to handle and react to challenging circumstances and whether you choose to be a victim, to survive or to thrive as a result of your experiences is your decision.
What technology could you not live without?
My laptop and a good internet connection. Working in an international company and having team members based in 3 different continents means that communication is key. I’ve always got my Skype on and my emails open (as far as possible we Skype with video on to get the face-to-face effect).
Thanks Nikki! We’ll be back next week with another member of our Kurtosys team with more insights into their career as a woman within fintech.
Be sure to check back soon for more interviews with our team!