This month we are sharing some professional and personal insights from our Head of Product Delivery, Jennifer Ioannidou. You can find out about Jennifer’s career path and her shift from project management, what she is currently studying her PhD in and the most challenging parts of being Head of Product Delivery at a #1 global app development company.
These insights have been taken from one of our new People and Culture initiatives for 2021, our ‘ask me anything’ segment. Each month the hedgehog lab team are invited to submit questions for one of our senior leadership team to answer live during the last team meeting of the month. It’s proving a popular segment and we are looking forward to rolling it out across the company. Over to Jennifer...
Jen, can you tell us about your career path and how it led you to your current role as Head of Product Delivery at hedgehog lab?
I started in project management. It was originally meant to be temporary while I figured out what I wanted to do with my life, but I was quite good at it. I liked problem-solving, strategising, I enjoyed the variety of the work and was good at pulling teams together and aligning them. I was a project manager in Dubai for a training and development company and one of the software development companies we worked with always assigned a product manager who I worked alongside. I was interested to know more about this role so I slowly started transitioning myself through reading, courses, shadowing and lots of independent research. In time I started thinking why are we outsourcing this skill, it’s better if we have it in-house. So I pitched the idea and started building a team and over the years my role just grew and grew. I’ve always been huge on learning new things and pushing my skill set.
Fast forward 15ish years of my life, I wanted to move to the UK and study for an MA. I tried to resign my job in Dubai but the company that I was working with said that as most of our clients are international anyway, why don't you keep doing what you're doing in the UK, which I did. I did that for a couple of years, and I got tired of remote working across so I decided to move to a UK company, so I could integrate my family better. At the time I was working across all these different time zones, but I was living in Newcastle. I wanted a better company culture and a social life so I thought if I actually worked in a UK company then I would get that opportunity so I applied to hedgehog lab and the rest is history.
What would you say is the most demanding aspect of your role as Head of Product Delivery?
Great question. I don't actually find anything technically demanding in the role. I think what's demanding is there's a lot of aspects to the role. It’s very easy for our key client accounts to take up a lot of my time so what's demanding is making sure that I get the balance right across spending time with my team, coaching and mentoring them while implementing continuous improvement of processes, and at the same time giving the love and attention our clients require.
If you hadn’t gone into product management what other career would you have pursued?
Anything creative. So, music, theatre, TV, radio, journalism. I have a not so secret ambition of writing a book when I retire. I want to be at a beach house, and I want to write a book.
Who has been the biggest influence on you both personally and professionally?
This is a bit of a cheesy answer but it is my mother. Growing up, my mom was a single mom, and there were three of us. When we were growing up all I ever saw her do was work across three minimum wage jobs, and when she retired a couple of years ago she was the COO of a 13 franchise Medical Group across the Middle East. It was great to see her go through that journey and she always made life really fun and adventurous for us. It made me feel that anything was possible and still to this day, I've got this mentality of there's no problem, there's no challenge that you can't solve - so she's my role model.
We’re really interested in hearing more about your PhD. Is something you've always wanted to do and can you tell us what your area of research is?
I’ve always kept one foot in academic institutions because I like feeling like I am learning new things all the time and universities are full of ideas, I find it stimulates my brain, keeps me mentally active. I studied music at undergrad level and moved into creativity and innovation studies which is an area that has always fascinated me - what factors inhibit or promote creativity, the commercialisation of creativity and all the issues surrounding its commercialisation etc. So as crazy as it sounds, academia is my hobby and that’s how I view my PhD. My subject area is complex and interdisciplinary, and I still haven't figured out how to talk about it concisely.
So, my area of research is focused on an international phenomenon that has occurred over the last couple of decades where countries in need of revenue diversification, strategically try to incentivise, promote and reward creative entrepreneurship in the hopes that it will lead to new employment opportunities, tourism, foreign direct investment and increased global competitiveness. Unfortunately there are many more failed attempts at this than successful ones because what policymakers do and the UK has actually done this too. If something has worked in the US or Melbourne for example, policymakers will use this framework and they will just try to implement it without doing any of the legwork they need to do to tailor it to their own socio-economic needs. My thesis is meant to guide policymakers on how to tailor their frameworks to fit the socio-economic needs of their region so they are building sustainable creative industries that can meet their full economic potential.
So to demonstrate this, I am using Saudi Arabia and the music industry as a case study where in 2016 they announced a pretty dramatic transformation program with the aim of moving away from a heavily oil-reliant economic model and have turned to creative industries as a tool. They are currently going through this so I can in real time see and measure successful and unsuccessful strategies. I am studying part time so I have 10 years to deliver my 100,000 word thesis - watch this space.
Final question, thank you so much for answering all the rest of them. If you could go back in time, what would you tell your 25 year old self?
Lots of things but the one thing I have settled on was
“Just because you can do it doesn't mean you should do it. Learn how to say no nicely”
I took on way too much and I'm still working on that, but I think that's one thing that is good for a lot of people to learn, just because you can doesn't mean you should. And it's okay to say no, as long as you do it in a nice way.