Female Leadership

About Ausra Vankeviciute and Ilona Guobyte

On September 23, 2022, Sohrab Salimi spoke with Ilona Guobyte - COO at STATICUS and Ausra Vankeviciute - CEO at STATICUS about Female Leadership.
Together they talked about Staticus' digital transformation, why CEO is a lonely position and why a company cannot grow if the people in the company do not grow.

These are the key messages from our conversation.

Picture of: Sohrab Salimi
Sohrab Salimi

Sohrab ist der Gründer und CEO der Scrum Academy GmbH und der Agile Academy. Er ist Certified Scrum Trainer® und Initiator der agile100 Konferenzreihe sowie Gastgeber der Agile Insights.

Female leadership & culture

Sohrab: All right. Welcome, everyone, to our next Agile Insights Conversation. Today, I'm joined by two ladies, Ausra and Ilona. They are both responsible or in charge of a large...and they will walk us through this, construction company based out of Lithuania, I think. I always get Latvia and Lithuania wrong, but I think this time I got it right.

And I'm very much looking forward to this conversation because compared to many of the other conversations that I run, the two of them are not book authors like some of the people that I interviewed in the past, they're actual practitioners. So we can deep dive into a lot of the things that happen in real life.

Now, today, I have a bit of a sore throat, so I'm not at my best in terms of my voice. But it's not going to be about me speaking, it's going to be these two ladies. And I want to welcome both you, Ausra and Ilona, to our conversation. And I'm very grateful for you to give your time so that both me and also all the other people watching this either live or later in the recording can learn from your experience. So, welcome to the show.

Ilona: Hi.

Ausra: Thank you. Hello, everyone.

Sohrab: And Ausra and Ilona, as most of the people watching this probably don't know you, and I've met Ilona before, but I haven't met you Ausra. I would like to get started with the two of you introducing yourself. So tell me a bit about yourself. What have you done in the past? What has brought you to where you are today? And what is your current responsibility? What do you do?

Ausra: Ilona, you wanna start? Floor is yours.

Ilona: Well, I know you Sohrab, you know me. But to make a short introduction, I work at the company, Staticus, as a COO. And I'm responsible for processes, digitalization, IT, quality, and as well, the agile transformation we are currently going through.

And I joined Staticus, which is working in construction after being involved in a fashion startup. So I had quite a career change. And this is all because of Ausra who I believe inspires everybody in Staticus that you can learn and do anything if you have the wish to do it.

Ausra: Thank you, Ilona. You can keep going and telling nice things. It's nice to hear these things. So, hello, everyone. My name is Ausra Vankeviciute. I was born and raised in an entrepreneur family and have a good example, my father, who is the founder of Staticus. So, it's a family-owned company as well. And before becoming a CEO of this company, I spent 10 years in Norway leading the Norwegian market and building up the market.

And actually, I started a new hobby in Norway, which was horseback riding. In the beginning, I really suck, you know, I was not very good at it. And my teacher was always saying, "You need to be a leader because horseback riding is about leadership. If you're afraid, if you're scared, if you don't know what to do, horse gonna, you know, run the way when he feels or it feels it's safe."

And then I started to read about horse leadership and, you know, going to team leadership, I got more responsibilities, you know, diving deeper. And that really helped me, you know, to...small hobby, small detail, but it helped me to learn much more, what is it all about. And I guess today we're gonna discuss a lot about leadership in this topic. So I got inspiration from horses, actually.

Sohrab: Cool. So thank you too for this quick introduction. Now, we don't usually get the CEO and the COO of a company in the same interview, so this is going to be interesting, especially to see whether there is consistency in what the two of you share.

But you already sparked two topics that are probably going to be the focus of today. Ilona, you mentioned the learning piece, and that Ausra has created an environment where you as someone who came in from a fashion startup was able to learn and become a very successful leader within a construction company. Staticus, and maybe to give some context in terms of size, how big is Staticus in terms of both people that you have, and revenue, more or less?

About Staticus

Ausra: So Staticus, we are more than 20 years in the market. We are operating in the construction industry. We do facades or the beauty phase of the building, which is the most important part of the building, if you ask me.

Sohrab: Of course.

Ausra: It's visible, everybody sees, and everybody has an opinion. So we have our office headquarters in Lithuania because we have a factory here where we have approximately 300 people. This number fluctuates. Then we have offices in six other cities, Oslo, Basel, Vienna, Stockholm, London, and also in Kaunas in Lithuania.

And that's also our main markets where we operate. So in total, today, we are more than 600 people. We distributed ourselves. We are young, we call ourselves, you know, the pragmatic visioners and integrators. And that comes... Also, we have to be pragmatic because we are big, you know, this year, we're gonna do 80 million, next year is 100 million euros turnover.

And we work still in the very much code-regulated industry, so we cannot have loose ends big time because there's the safety factors all around us. But what we do for health and safety is everywhere in the design solutions that are also on-site where we actually implement the work.

And our industry itself, construction is third from the bottom. I know in terms of digitalization and innovations, you know, the...I would say worse than us is agriculture and hunters. So there is some space for improvement in process innovation, in management innovation, in leadership innovation, in a lot of areas. So long story short, that's where we are, and how big we are today.

Sohrab: So you mentioned around 600 people, if I got that correct, 80 million in revenues today or this year, about 100 upcoming next year. This is a huge size. So it's not a small company that we're talking about.

Now, the topics that you mentioned, one was the learning piece and creating an environment for learning. And the other one was, what you mentioned, Ausra, is the leadership piece, right? And, of course, these two things are connected. And I'd like to deep-dive on these two a bit later in our conversation.

But what I want to start with, you mentioned that, Ausra, your father founded this company. And at some point, you started working in that company, you led the Norwegian market for some years, and then you took over as CEO. How did that happen, right, was it a sudden takeover? Were you pushed in this situation? Were you prepared for it over a longer period of time? How did that happen? So that just we get the context for it.

Ausra: It happened fast, I'm gonna say. I was always in the company. As a child, I was close to my father and I was inspired by what he's doing. So the product itself, what the company is producing and creating, was not new. And the Norwegian market helped me a lot to learn. I was, you know, very often on sites with clients and also in Lithuania in the office. So I learned a lot.

And then it was time where my father said, "Now is the time for you to step up." And to answer your question, if I was ready, no. I don't think you can be ready, to be brutally honest. And I said to him, "Okay, I appreciate your trust, and I will do it. I need your help. And I need to learn a lot because I don't know a lot. And I don't know what I don't know, also, right?" So I asked him to be close by, I asked also all the team to help me to learn and to grow for all of us.

And I knew that, alone, I will not be able to do anything, so I need to have my team because it's also a generation change. You know, my father, he had his own team, and now I'm stepping into his footsteps, right, which is totally different. His footstep is big and a bit fat, maybe. Mine is smaller and slimmer, but, you know, if I wear high heels, it can be really sharp sometimes. So it's also a message to everyone that it's gonna be different.

And the vision we have for the company is the same. So that's the most important, to align the vision and direction we go. And the way we do it, I have freedom to try my own ways or our team's own ways. And then I started to assemble my team, and that's how I thought, "Okay, who around has, you know, sparkling guys motivation, wants to do a change?"

And then I remembered Ilona, that I know such a person, and I don't care which industry she is in. Come in, you know, we need to make a change here. Because we can all learn everything. It's not possible not to learn, you know, else you're very lazy.

Sohrab: Okay, so you already mentioned a few things. A, that although you stepped in his footsteps, that you were aware that there is a change, right? Your footsteps, not only... I mean, you brought it up, like, visually, but also probably from a principal's perspective, from, like, how you approach things perspective, how you think about things, it's different while the vision for the organization stays the same.

Now, you wanted to assemble your own team, and you reached out to Ilona and probably a few others. Just for my context, the two of you knew each other before?

Ausra: We studied together.

Sohrab: Okay. So right from the start, when you started as CEO, you already had your own team. Is that assumption, correct? Or you brought the team with you?

Ausra: Almost.

Sohrab: Almost.

Ausra: Almost, yes. It was still some journey after I became CEO to get some more people, but almost, at the same time. Maybe almost difference was between us.

Sohrab: So now you start as CEO and you bring in your team, and some of the people, for example, Ilona do not have a lot of experience in this specific industry. What were the challenges that you faced? And you can talk about challenges with the employees like the other members of that organization, challenges with maybe customers, challenges maybe... Like, what did competitors think about what was happening at Staticus? What kind of things happened? And both of you, like, Ilona, you can also chime in because that's going to be interesting to hear.

Ausra: It's interesting for me to hear also what was the challenge for Ilona, you know. But from my point of view, just to start, there was a lot of challenges, and even today. And the biggest challenge was transformation from the hierarchical organization to something new. And what's that new, I didn't know. Then I came in and I started to learn about the processes, how things are moving in the organization, how products are moving, how processes, how people are moving, I did not see connections everywhere.

And that work, this hierarchical structure of the organization worked, especially when my father started, you know, like Taylorism was for many, many years, and that was very good. But in this environment, today, when the world is very dynamic, complex, and fast, we have to be flexible and react very fast. The hierarchical organization where, you know, CEO is, I think, you do guys, it doesn't work anymore, or at least I don't...maybe I'm not that smart to be able to say what to do.

And I said, "I need people in the team and all the organization teams to think." And my mission is to create the environment where they can work in the teams together, autonomous teams, and think and come with solutions. And then I started, like, googling and reading and I say, "Ilona, come and help me because we have a little bit of a longer journey here than just, you know, some names and the titles to change."

Sohrab: Okay. So this is a great segue towards Ilona. Now, Ilona, you come in, she asks you to help, what do you do? You're completely new to this industry, how do you approach things?

Ilona: I can tell you definitely that was and is still quite a journey I'm on. The most scary thing for me was because I came here to help with processes, to help with the way things work with the culture itself, and I have no idea how things work. I see the end result, which is very inspiring. But what helps me, I believe the same things Ausra told her team when she came in, "I'm not here to work alone, I'm here to work together."

And my approach was always servant leadership, meaning helping my team to achieve their results, to listen to what they're doing, what challenges they have, and together with them, try to solve those challenges. This, I believe, helped to dive in into the team to be welcomed, to make people talk, and show what's not working, and as well, have, you know, the common goal to make this company better. And I think this leads us till now and helps us grow and achieve much more things than we even thought we could achieve at the first.

Servant Leadership at Staticus

Sohrab: So you brought up this concept of servant leadership, which I think a lot of people out there have heard already about, but maybe haven't seen in action yet. Now, based on what the two of you shared, I have a question. Ausra, you mentioned when your dad was there, it was more Tayloristic, right? He was the founder of the organization, he knew probably every, like, bits and pieces of how things work. He had created this from ground-up, he probably knew every single person working in the org.

And then, suddenly, you come in, right? And it's not suddenly because you were already leading like the Norwegian market, you are the daughter of the founder, people knew of you, but then you changed his approach. And you very openly speak about not knowing everything. And based on not knowing everything, you need to bring in, like, different perspectives and change also the approach how you lead, moving towards autonomous teams, what Ilona mentioned. How did that resonate?

Like, at the very beginning, with the people working in the org, right, I assume a few people were, like, fired up, like, "Great," but I assume there were also a lot of people like, "Oh, no, what is this? Like, she's going to bankrupt the company." Right? But how was it? I can make assumptions. You were there, so tell me.

Ausra: It was some sleepless nights, but it was also very cool journey. Still is a great journey. And what we did good, and that's also together with Ilona, was we don't have a strategy, right? I would like to share with you the first picture of a new structure we imagined which went to the board, because we have to confirm the structural changes with the board. It was like balloons everywhere, you know, the bubbles connections. So that's the logic. That's how we're going to get better results. Board understood, said, "Okay, go for it. And it's okay."

But structure is a consequence of the strategy. So, whatever we design here will not work if we don't agree altogether on the strategy. What is the strategy of Staticus with me leading the company? So, we initiated the strategic session, we partnered with IMD University from Switzerland, and we involved all company. All organization had rounds of interviews with everyone who voluntarily wanted to contribute.

Then we got a group of around 30 people, we spent a week together brainstorming, you know, dialog, conflicts, whatever. And then we crystallized the five directions we are going to work through to be able to achieve our objectives, which, of course, comes from the shareholder. And the way we are going to achieve it was agreed, and we all committed that we are aligned. I think that was also a very powerful and still is a powerful tool for the three upcoming years.

Anyone in the organization, if, works knows why is doing and towards which, or via which channel, you know, I'm contributing to be able to achieve the results. And we have, like, boost market, smarter work, IoTs, and the agile organization. And in the beginning, we thought to make agile organizations will be easy, and we learn that it's not easy.

The cultural change mindset change is a big obstacle to move from department-based structure to team-based structure where it's transparent, there's no blaming culture because you are within the team. So you cannot say that or that department did not deliver because you have in the team that or that department. So guys have to, or girls have to sit down together and find the mutual agreement.

And we all have to do what we are hired to do. So if the CEO is running to look after the screws, something is wrong, right? CEO focus is to work towards innovations, future investments, of course, transition and culture. But the teams knows best how to design the facade. If I'm going to design the facades, I mean, I don't recommend that enter the building.

And I was so clear in my head that we have to agree also on our roles and responsibilities from the top-down or down-top, whatever we say. And yeah, that was not very much, I would say, appreciated by some employees, and by some, it was very much appreciated. So we knew that, and we were ready that, you know, some people will leave. And that's fine because it's also a different way. You are with people, just need to find the right fit. And definitely, it was time for updates.

Sohrab: Okay. So two questions from this, and one is probably quite short. The board consists of members of the family, your dad, I don't know, outside people. And to what extent do they take decisions over whether you were allowed to proceed, or was it more like, "Okay, we're gonna update you. This is what we're gonna do, but we're gonna do it no matter, whether you like it or not?"

Ausra: Second. Yeah. In the board, we had external and family.

Sohrab: I think it's already happened in a father-daughter relationship. Like, when my daughters come to me, it's more of an update, they never ask for permission.

Ausra: Sometimes I do ask for permissions. But yeah, it was I strongly believe in it, you know, and that's the only way I know how to lead. And if I have to lead, not in my way, I can't lead. That's it, then we have to find another solution. And in our board, we have, like, external people, my father, also internal people.

So it's just... That's the fact. Current situation doesn't work, we can, you know, earn minimum amount of profit, we can have not engaged people, and we can exist. Yes, we can do that. Is it fun? No, it's not fun. You know, I think that we spend a lot of time at work, and we have to have fun, we have to find the purpose in what we do.

What were the main challenges and did you experience quiet quitting?

Sohrab: Yeah, absolutely, fully agree. Now, the second question goes to Ilona because, Ausra, you mentioned, yes, there were some people who were not happy about it, and that probably affects, then, operations, right?

And, Ilona, you as COO, how did you deal with that, right? Did those people immediately come to you and say, "I'm not happy with this, I'm gonna leave?" That will be, like, the easy way. Probably not, right? Internally, they quit, but they're still there. But that affects daily operations. How did you deal with that, Ilona?

Ilona: I believe we're still dealing with that. And, yes, I do not recall anybody coming and then saying that, "I'm quitting." I heard a lot of "Yeah, but we did it otherwise for 20 years. It worked, believe me. Why do you need that change? What is it gonna bring to the company?" So these were the most common sentences I believe we heard.

But as Ausra said, she has always a very big belief that it will work. And then her team and our teams
know that this needs to happen. We can make mistakes, then we need to recap, do a retrospective, learn, improve, and go forward. And this approach we have with all our employees, we say that we believe in the result, we explain them in detail why it is happening and how we expect the result to be. If it's not straight away obvious or we see something not working as we want to, we together with them try to analyze it and decide how to move forward.

So it's, again, a team approach. And, yes, we have optimists, we have pessimists, we have neutral ones. But the more we go forward, the more everyone is understanding why we're doing this, and the less we hear, "There are so many changes in here." It became, like, you know, a constant. And we all of the time say we are a learning and growing organization. The organization cannot grow if the people in the organization do not grow.

And I believe this is very inspiring, and should be inspiring for all the people in the organization that, "I'm allowed to grow, I learn new things. I can do mistakes, but I grow." And in the result, it is a very, very positive impact towards the whole organization.

Sohrab: I can imagine. I can imagine. Now, going back to, like... So I had noted for myself, right, what kind of challenges did you face, you mentioned some of them. How did you approach them, you mentioned some of that, and which principles did you apply?

And listening to what both of you mentioned, like being aware that we don't know everything, that, in itself, is a principle, right? Then based on that, be willing to learn. And you mentioned this now, Ilona, several times. Having strong beliefs, right, in the moment where you don't know everything, having a good belief system is incredibly important because that belief guides you. And I want to deep-dive into that a bit later.

But then you also mentioned teamwork quite often. And, Ausra, you mentioned fun. Now, let's start with this aspect. You come in, right, you are the daughter of the former CEO, you are young, right? You're still young, back then, you were even younger. And you approached this with like, "Oh, we also want to have fun." What did people say? What did they think, right? Here comes this person, we have a pretty good business, and she wants to have fun.

Ausra: You know, CEO is a very lonely position, as you might know probably. So I don't know all the feedback, what people were thinking or still thinking. Maybe Ilona knows more insights on this topic. For me, was important to eliminate blaming culture very much. And with blaming, there is no fun, you know, when you just focus on why I didn't do that because of him or her, not doing this or that. So that was a bit of the challenge, you know?

And I think we are succeeding. We are really, really succeeding this big time. Still a long way to go. Still, mindset change is not there yet where we would like to be. But there's a good atmosphere within the team and it's transparent. And there's a trust within the team members. That also, you know, brings the self-satisfaction, or, you know, is cool things we do because we really do cool things. We work with most world-famous architects. We build, you know, offices or hospitals in the major cities in Europe.

So it's nothing not to be proud. We are extremely proud of our projects, but the projects are delivered by our people. So I am myself proud of myself as well and for all of us in the company. And how to transform this to employees that guys and girls, be proud, do together, fight together, you know, and find the common agreements together.

Blaming each other doesn't really work hand in hand with my belief, my approach, and not for our organization. And it can be very good professional, but if the culture is, you know, to blame, to fight within, then we would rather say, you know, "We appreciate your talent, but, you know, the cultural fit is not there yet."

Sohrab: And I mean, working together, achieving stuff together, that, in itself, is fun. And if you have a bit of humor along the way, it makes it even more fun.

Ausra: Yeah, not to be afraid to celebrate. I mean, we don't need to get drunk, but we can celebrate in different ways, you know, go hiking, or go see the project we did. This is like, you know, this remote work, and everybody works from somewhere on their computers, not going on site. And I think is a very good celebration, to go and to see and touch. And that's the difference from the IT sector, we can really go and take a picture with our products, you know?

Sohrab: A developer taking a picture in front of a screen because they just created a new feature. But, yes, in your case, it makes sense. Absolutely. So you mentioned, again, beliefs, and I've mentioned earlier that I want to deep-dive into this. You come into this company the two of you together, you have this rough sketch, and Ilona had shared it with me prior to this conversation, a ton of bubbles on a whiteboard. But there is a strong belief behind that. And both of you can speak about this.

How often did you have to talk and speak about this belief, right? And how did this belief get refined over time? And where do you believe are you today? Are you still in the phase where you're like, "We really don't know what this is going to be?" Or do you have a bit more concreteness around it so that you can sense it for yourself? Ilona talked earlier about she sees that vision, but she's not there yet, but that motivates her.

Ausra: Ilona, go ahead.

Ilona: Yeah, I definitely can say that let's say our agile journey, our cultural change journey started, I would say, two years ago, after the scrum master courses I took with you, Sohrab. Then we definitely had a vision. In my head, it was very, very blurry, very blurry. Now I believe that the picture is much clearer because we know, and we can list the challenges we need to solve. We know how to do it, we just need, you know, energy, motivation, power, to tackle those challenges.

And the biggest challenge I believe was, you know, that we in construction business with a very wide value chain, with a lot of interdependencies, we're trying to do something nobody has done before. So you cannot copy-paste, you cannot ask someone and get an exact answer how to go where you wanna go. So there was a lot of trial and error and trying to improvise in the process. But I believe we're definitely in the stage where there is not only belief but already clear direction.

Ausra: And actions.

What guided your leadership approach?

Sohrab: Clear direction and actions in terms of the organizational structure, right? But you also brought up earlier the topic of leadership. And being in this conversation with the two of you, I think we also branded it as female leadership, and this is now something that I want to explore. What beliefs guided you in your leadership approach? So going beyond organizational structures and design, what beliefs guided you in your leadership approach?

Ausra: It's actually a very difficult question. Thank you for asking it. And recently, I also raised this question for Ilona and for some of our colleagues, what does it mean, leadership, in Staticus? How can I understand? I need to keep its kiss, you know, keep it simple stupid. And me and Ilona, we had the same understanding about the servant leadership. We don't want to micromanage things, we want to give autonomy to the teams.

But are the teams ready for taking the autonomy? Are they equipped? You know, for example, a project manager, is he equipped to lead the team? What does it mean to lead the project team? How is the report...like, all the simple operational questions, but they are very important questions. Like reporting, am I reporting to my department here, am I reporting to my team lead? And things like that. You know, learn, do retrospective back and forth, and then implement the bigger changes.

So, yeah, to go back on the leadership, we agreed on our certain behaviors within the management team, how are we going to behave. And I will not be maybe popular here, but I'm not a big fan of values because I don't understand what does it mean, value. I understand, and we behave, but people say is value for my family, what does it mean? I don't know. Not to go to work or go to work and never come back home because you need to earn money for family, so how to interpret that, right?

So I say let's have values in our heads, but the behaviors, we have to agree how we are working together and how we are leading our team. So that's support, of course, don't do the micromanagement, do the feedback, coaching sessions, retrospectives, and, etc. It's a big topic still, still a big topic.

What is culture?

Sohrab: I like the point that you brought up about values because I have the same conversation with any organization that I talk to, right? Like, "What is culture?" They're like, "Yeah, the things that we value." I'm like, "Okay, so the stuff that you put on a poster and put it in the canteen?" They're like, "Yeah." I'm like, "No, it's not." I don't believe that. You brought up the example of family like trust, every organization is like,"Trust."

Ausra: Exactly.

Sohrab: Okay, what does that mean, right? If it doesn't translate into actions, it's completely meaningless.

Ausra: Exactly.

How do you establish an open and diverse culture?

Sohrab: What we always have to look at, be it mindset for an individual or culture for an organization is really about the actions. And the two quotes that I always share, one is from Edgar Schein, "Culture is how we do things around here." It's all about actions. And the other one, I love that, from Tom Peters is "Culture is the next five minutes."

So how you approach things, how you show up in the next five minutes, that's going to determine, especially as CEO, as COO, other people in leadership position, that's going to determine the culture of that organization because people are watching you, right? Then they're not only watching you, they're affected by your action. So how you approach things, how you deal with people, how you talk to them, how you give feedback, all of that ultimately translates into the culture.

And you can come from a set of beliefs like, I value people having a family," and based on that, define then actions, right, not having people work longer than necessary or whatever. But as long as you don't live those actions, again, the value is completely meaningless. So I think you haven't made yourself unpopular, at least not in this conversation.

Now, getting into this, you have your beliefs, both of you, and you get together as a team. There were other people involved, it's not only... I'm speaking to the two of you, but, obviously, Staticus, including the leadership team, is much bigger than the two of you. Are there specific things or beliefs based on that actions that you would tie...and I'm specifically asking you this, to the two of you being women and not men in this position? I'm curious, and that's why I'm asking.

Ausra: It's a topic...I don't like this topic normally. But I am very much involved in this topic because I'm invited to talk a lot. And my personal belief is that...and I try also to push it in Staticus, that we hire talents and personalities, we don't hire gender, color, nationality, name it. So that's not an obstacle for us. And it happens so that we have quite a big number of the females in our company.

So we have...in executive team, I think we have 50-50 or, yeah 50-50. In engineering, is still a way to go, and we have approximately 17% of the females. Installation definitely is zero, and that's a very sad point. We have to do something there. Production is around 13% of the females. So it's getting there, like, compared 10 years ago, we were like...I was alone almost as a leader, except the accounting department.

And does it make a difference? I think, in general, diversity makes a big difference. So that's where we have to focus more people from different cultures because, as you said, "Culture is five minutes." And we all are people, we have feelings, but we are used to behave differently due to a culture or behaviors in certain markets or countries, right? And you can learn a lot, and it's really, really interesting what you can achieve by having diverse teams, including also the gender difference.

So that helps, especially helped in the production. I remember why we went for the females in our
production, which is, again, not very female-ish work in our case. It was production manager came with a list like why no, very long list. It's heavy, need speed, they don't understand engineering, is construction, la, la, la.

But we didn't have another option because it was lack of people, it was like boom in the market, and we needed the employees. So we had two options, either to accept the no and have economical consequences and to be late in our projects, or to bridge the no with potential opportunities and say, "Okay, let's give it a try and maybe have economical gains as well here. We can talk a lot soft, but in business, we have to also think about economical consequences.

Then it happened, we had to adapt our line operations, so we had to add more automatization, we had to think about lifting weights of certain products. And now when I think why male or female have to lift heavy things. If machine can do it, it's much more efficient, right? So without, like, this actual external push, I don't know how long we would be waiting for this change.

And then now the feedback from the production is that, okay, lines are more clean, people are more polite, is more structured. It is something, you know, contributes to each other and people in the lines. And also, there is a tendency that females are more precise and we have like silicon-glazing jobs or more where you have to be really precise. And the quality also increased of certain operations. My invitation to all the companies is, like, don't be blind, you know, don't always say no, try to bridge no with potential opportunities, and be open-minded.

Sohrab: Maybe bridging the no in itself could be one of the principles that is more common in women leaders like trying to make things work, I don't know. Ilona, how do you see that?

Ilona: I would agree that female leaders say no less and that they try to make things work. And it comes back from, you know, early days when we still would live in the woods, the main point and the main task of a woman is to keep her family fed, safe, and together. So you have to do that.

But if talking about stereotypes, I think, yes, that in this case, we want to talk about it or not, Staticus is breaking the stereotypes. I myself grew up in a family where my mother and my father worked in construction business the whole time. And my father closed his construction business because he got two daughters. So he knew that he wouldn't be able to pass such a business to a daughter because...

Sohrab: He thought.

Ilona: He thought.

Sohrab: He thought. He didn't knew, he thought.

Ilona: Once I announced him that I'm joining a construction business, he said two sentences, "Why the hell did I close the construction business?" And second was, "Do you understand what you're doing there?"

So, yeah, there are stereotypes which I believe we are breaking. And I believe in Staticus, both female, male learn from each other and have a lot to learn from each other. And the whole diversity is, again, a good ground for leadership growth and growth in any other way.

Sohrab: So you mentioned in the executive team, it's already fifty-fifty. And in other area...

Ilona: Two-thirds, Ausra.

Ausra: Yeah.

Ilona: Top management is two-thirds.

Ausra: Two weeks ago, it was 50-50.

Sohrab: Two-thirds women or two-thirds men?

Ilona: Two-thirds women.

Sohrab: Two-thirds women, okay. And in the other areas, it's moving, right? It's much better than from the time when you joined. Now, how do...you also mentioned like in production, what the feedback has been. How do customers look at this? Do they even care, or... Is it something where they're like, "Oh, yeah, we're going to work with this company because they have this, like, more equal positioning of women," or is it like, "No, pff," they couldn't care less?

Ausra: It's both. I'm very close to customers, I can give funny stories as well, and I can give real stories. But yeah, I'm happy and I'm proud of our customers because I don't get anymore the comments that we are female-dominated leadership team. And from our company, actually, the most seen people in the conference and anywhere is also females. And I'm proud that the feedback is that, you know, "You have a tough team," and they appreciate our professionalism. And we are different, and that's seen straightaway.

And the biggest also...that also is a help of the agile when clients come, they see, of course, the leadership gender, and they see the transparency that they don't see in the other companies. And I say, "We don't have anything, you know, to hide." And I'm really, really, really proud of it.

But funny stories to tell, I was once selling a project in Norway and our project manager was a she, and the estimator or the bid manager was also she. So three of us going to the meeting with the client. I knew one person, I didn't know the client's project team. And we come to the construction site, you know, dressed and all nice.

And come in and they say, "Hello, we are going to have a meeting." And they led us to canteen or the kitchen, "Please sit down." And I say, "We are here from Staticus, we are going to have a meeting about the facades." And, like, the eyes were like this. You know, the project manager was 72 years old, he definitely did not expect to see three younger females. His face was transforming very straight underestimation, straightforward judging.

I'm a little bit used to it. And okay, for me, is bring it on, you know, I will show you here. And in the beginning, it was not nice. It was sharp, you know, "What you girls are going to do," the vocabulary was insulting. And we had an opportunity to stand up and live, and we had an opportunity or choice to show that we can do different. And we locked the project at the end of the day with that client. But I still remember, and I remember to them this story that they have something to learn from. So, maybe 10 years ago, it was more this topic as wow. Today, I don't see it, or maybe the clients got used to my face or our face.

Sohrab: Got used to your face and a lot of other women's faces coming from Staticus. You mentioned that client, or back then, potential client underestimating you. In my career, I've always seen this. Initially, I was like, "Why are they underestimating me?" But similar to you, right, bring it on. Because when someone underestimates you, you can really, like...when they bring it on, you're like, "I'm on top of my game, " right? And then you can surprise them, right? If they underestimate you, you can really surprise them.

And when you have that professionalism...I mean, they probably wouldn't say about someone else, "Oh, that person is really professional," but when you surprise them because they were not expecting it, it turns out to be, like, something beneficial. So I've always found this interesting.

Ausra: Yeah, I think it has an advantage. And I mean, many people, "Oh, I'm underestimated," and go and cry in the corner. Yeah, that's your choice, go and cry. We can also go and cry. But you can also understand and feel sorry for the person who is underestimating you and say, "Okay, now the show starts." That's cool, you know?

Sohrab: Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, you feel sorry for that person because you know what you're going to do. And there was the second piece. You said you had a choice, right, you got insulted, you had a choice to leave, right, and say, "Oh, we're proud we're leaving, right? We're not going to work with them." But you choose to not leave.

And probably, it was not only about, "Oh, we need to win this project because we need the money." Probably, it was around, "No if we show that we can get this, we not only show it to the customer, we also create a story." And I'm sure I'm not the first one to hear this story from you, within our organization, which ultimately translates into the culture. Has that happened?

Ausra: Exactly.

Sohrab: You're nodding.

Ausra: Exactly. As you say. Sorry to interrupt you. You know, we proved, we showed our professionalism. We attacked them with very technical questions, they did not have answers. And you're like, "How come you don't have answers?" You know, like, bang, bang, bang. Okay, here you go, this is a tough cookie. And it was really a very nice process for me and learning process.

Sohrab: So where is this journey going to go from here?

Ausra: To the brighter future.

Sohrab: A bit more detail, please.

Ausra: You know, I don't know what to expect. Listen, it's my third year as a CEO, and I started 2019 May, and 2020, COVID hit the fan. Then...

Sohrab: I was gonna say you started at the right time.

Ausra: I started at the right time. Exactly. And then '21, material crisis hit the fan. And '22, worst thought. What's gonna be '23? I don't know. I definitely know that the teamwork that helps us to adapt to the changes faster, we are more flexible, we are more hungry than maybe...everybody is hungry, maybe we are more hungry. And we are more focused to reach our results. And to go for...you know, next steps for us and our dream is to make total autonomous teams. And that's the journey we are starting now, and it's difficult.

Sohrab: I can imagine. I can imagine. Now, going over to Ilona, what do you see as the biggest challenges in the next few months, maybe one or two years? Other than the external factors that none of us can predict?

Ilona: Yeah, we have the internal joke that Ausra attracts all the external factors to make our skin as thick as possible that nothing would scare us away from reaching the sky. Internally, totally my opinion, my personal view, what I see, at first, I was thinking it's, you know, the structural change, it's so scary that the company can fall apart. The process change as well, how to do that, there are so many dependencies, everything is so complex.

But now I would say the biggest challenge is the cultural and the leadership change. And it is inevitable, and it has to happen in order to support everything, what we are building and what we want to achieve.

Ausra: Good to agree on the actions, how the actions are connected with OKRs, how it's connected to each of us in the company individually. And this mapping and how we shall behave and how we shall not behave, you know, do's and don'ts, and on the helicopter view and also going to the smaller teams and to have the circulation in the organization, that's as our next steps.

So we have one year to go to make agile organization fully, so still a lot to do. And we are very open, any feedback. And if somebody, you know, has gone or had this transformation from total hierarchical structure to full autonomous teams, we are open for a dialogue to learn from everyone, actually.

Sohrab: Now, I would add to that. I think you mentioned you have one more year to make that full agile organization. For me, when I work with clients, I always say, "Don't give yourself the illusion that you will ever be done." Because that's the whole concept, right? We can continuously improve and become better at doing things.

And I think if maybe in 2019, you had to convince people that the world outside is changing faster, starting 2020 and the crises that you mentioned, I think you don't have to convince anybody anymore that the VUCA world is also happening into the construction business. But I don't see any choice for organizations to become that resilient, right, to build that capability of constantly adapting what they do, right, what kind of products and services they offer to their customers, and how they work.

Now, there are some, on the meta-level, some principles that are going to stay like good teamwork, communication, or, like, decision-making, autonomy, all of that, because they support that learning journey. But the learning that Ilona mentioned at the beginning, or the leadership that you mentioned at the beginning, Ausra, those are things that any organization needs to become better at, right? There is no organization that can claim for themselves, "Oh, we are already there." But that hunger on continuously learning, I think that's going to be tremendously important for you and also for others.

I love that conversation. Given that we have almost reached the end of our time box, I want to, again, take the opportunity to thank both of you for making yourself available, sharing all the insights that you had, also the challenges, the funny stories, all of that. And I would love to continue this conversation at some point again. Maybe I'll come to Lithuania and we share a dinner together.

Ausra: Welcome.

Ilona: Always welcome.

Sohrab: All right. So thanks to the two of you. And you also mentioned, Ausra, if someone is out there who sees this and wants to continue this conversation with you, they can also just reach out to Staticus. What I've seen so far, everyone's friendly, so don't be shy, don't be afraid, they're not going to bite, although they're tough.

Ausra: Sometimes.

Sohrab: Sometimes.

Ausra: Thank you very much for inviting us, and thank you very much also for your support during this journey. And we make a difference when we all work together.

Sohrab: Absolutely.

Ilona: Thank you, really.

Sohrab: Absolutely. Thanks to the two of you.

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