In today’s instalment of our IWD Talent Talk series, we’ve chatted with Violet Yu, Executive General Manager, People and Performance & Co-Founder at Sandstone Technology. She talks us through her risky decision to leave her job at IBM and start Sandstone 25 years ago, and how this risk has paid off today. Let’s get into it.
1. Tell us a little bit about how you started your career that led you to where you are now?
When I finished high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I studied a Bachelor of Economics. It was great because I got to do a broad range of subjects and I majored in computer science, accounting and econometrics but my favourite subject was computer science. That is where it all started.
I joined IBM when I graduated as a computer scientist/developer. I enjoyed the industry, its challenges and the variety. I love technology and learning new things all the time. Having worked at IBM for 7 years in various roles, I thought it was time to move on.
Bob (co-founder) and I started Sandstone 25 years ago. The attitude about jobs and career were quite different then and giving up a good job to start from scratch was certainly not regarded as highly as it is today. My parents were certainly against it. To start something on your own was something risky and a lot of people thought it was just stupid. I started with my then boyfriend, and now husband, because we both enjoyed developing software and solving problems and working with technology. We were both frustrated working in big companies that were taking a lot of time and money to build software that we thought we could do it faster, better and most cost-effectively. We wanted to build better products faster and be able to solve customer problems in a more efficient way. It took us much longer than we expected to get a customer, but we finally got one after 18 months (Adelaide Bank) and now we are growing in three different countries with over 300employees.
2. What is one piece of advice you would give someone starting out in the IT industry?
Just go for it. I really encourage women to go into the industry. There are so many opportunities and there is such a battle for good talent. Be prepared to be adaptable, flexible, and be constantly learning and growing. It’s a very exciting industry to be in.
3. How do you attract the best people to the company?
Talent attracts talent. The best way to attract people is to have great people and a great culture already. If I have the best people doing interviews, then good talent want to work with them. Our relationship with Talent (Solutions) has helped significantly with this, helping to attract and recruit talent as well as currently working to improve our EVP. We have always focused on having a good work environment and flexible working arrangements, but another good attraction point is that we are in the sweet spot in the industry. We are still young enough to be a Fintech and have lots of room for innovation and growth, but not so new that we have to worry about funding and paying people. We already have an established customer base and proven products.
I believe at Sandstone we are in a good place. We aren’t too big that we have become political, but not too small that we are insecure. Encouraging collaborations, social activities (such as lunch time sports and table tennis), and fresh fruits and drinks have also been a great value-add for us. Keeping an open mind to how we can continue to improve our work environment, as well as attracting and retaining top talent is a priority for us. We also take a Right People approach because we know people are our most important asset.
4. How have you seen your industry change from when you first started to now?
There have been a lot of changes. Firstly, there was no such thing as Fintech when we started. It was just start-ups that were risky. In the early days, it was also very hard to get people to give up their well-paying jobs to join a two-person company.
Fast forward and now being in Fintech or a start-up is considered appealing. It’s now a lot easier to attract people to new start-ups and we actually have to compete with them for talent now, as well as the big end of town.
Over the past 25 years the finance industry that we service has changed significantly. For example, there were a lot of smaller banks, building societies and credit unions which have now disappeared through mergers and acquisitions.
Technology has also changed significantly and the war to attract the best talent for businesses and keep up with the latest and best has continued.
5. What are you most proud of and why?
Having built a team from scratch to a company in three countries. One of my motivations starting out was working with people I enjoy working with. I've done just about every role in Sandstone Technology from its initial founding to having now built an enviable list of customers and a full suite of market-leading digital transformation products. Now as Executive General Manager, People & Performance, I focus on attracting and retaining the best people and building & maintaining a high-performance culture while continuing to contribute to the strategic direction of the organisation.
People are our biggest asset. My biggest achievement is not the company, it’s the wonderful team of people we were able to assemble along the way to building an Australian company we can be proud of.