12 Questions- Chris Martlew

CTO at Payvision and Acapture




Question 1: Who is Chris Martlew?

CM: As CTO at Payvision and Acapture, I lead an international team of IT specialists. We are focused on developing innovative products whilst delivering a highly-reliable service to our clients. I have some 20 years of experience in building several successful internet-facing organizations and I really enjoy the ‘FinTech challenge’ of marrying high-speed agility with robustness and good governance.

I am a supporter of value-based leadership, so I try to provide my team with inspiration, values and a vision for the future and support them in creating positive change and to become inspiring leaders

I’m also an occasional blogger and author on management and IT: https://medium.com/the-mind-of-the-organization.

Question 2: What do you enjoy most about your job and what do you find most difficult?

CM: Well, firstly, I get a lot of energy from the continuous flow of ideas required to match the needs of our company with the ones of the industry. We all know that one of the biggest challenges of our industry is to stay ahead of the game and to innovate, which requires agility and freedom for fast growth. At the same time, we are running a FinTech organization, so we need to have a solid level of governance and meet or exceed the needs of regulators, which can slow you down. Reaching these two goals pushes us to go the extra mile.

Secondly, I enjoy working with teams from around the world. At Payvision, we have an international team with varying cultural and educational backgrounds and different expectations. Working with a great team of people to really make a difference is what drives and motivates me daily.

Question 3: As a male leader or a man working in the financial sector, do you think men and women face the same barriers in their careers or are the barriers slightly different and unique for each gender?

CM: I believe the challenges are different and the game is weighted against women – just look at the global statistics on women in positions of power.

Our society model is a very competitive one, and it’s simply good for business to have a healthy mix of male and female energy in a team. Besides an ability to get a job done, women tend to bring more intuition, empathy, and lower aggression, which can translate into lower risk. As a leader, I aim to nurture and support new leaders, both women and men. As a young internet industry, FinTech should lead the change to create a more balanced workforce.

But, let’s look at the major challenge we face when trying to hire more women in my team. We work in the FinTech sector, more specifically in the tech area, in which there are way too few women. It is an engineering discipline that women don’t seem to choose. Computer science, physics and engineering are overwhelmingly male. That’s the challenge.

Question 4: What is the best piece of advice given to you? Who gave you that advice?

CM: I had been running a successful internet services company for a number of years. We were having a ball and growing at break-neck speed. I had an excellent HR manager who could be brutally honest. He said, “Make more mistakes – you’re better than you think.

Question 5: Who inspired/inspires (role model) you?

CM: One of the most brilliant entrepreneurs on the planet, Elon Musk, is very inspiring through his intelligence, insight, vision, guts, determination and hard work. Basically, the whole package. His transformational leadership style has deep roots in his belief in his own vision, his drive and his persistence, refusing to accept obstacles in his path.

Paul Polman the CEO of Unilever is also a man of vision and great inspiration, but in an old-school industry. Like Musk, he genuinely aims to change, and has changed, the world. I remember the first thing he did as a CEO at Unilever was to cancel the quarterly analyst briefings saying that he doesn’t need a vision for the next quarter only, but he needs one for the next 20 years! This long-term vision, his mission to create ecological and sustainable products, and his positive social impact, have made him into a true ambassador of responsible business.

Polman is also a gender equality champion, playing an active role in the HeforShe foundation, empowering millions of women worldwide. 43% of managers at Unilever are female. This is the kind of leadership men and women of today should embrace.

Question 6: What do you think holds back women from pursuing careers in male-dominated professions?

CM: It takes a long time to make a cultural change, so we need to give it an extra push. I mean, only 19 percent of software developers are women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So why do women not choose for the male dominated disciplines?

True diversity needs a long-term cultural shift, and this has its roots inside our own homes. Women are seen as caring, emotional and concerned about others; men as intellectual, rational, logical. This perception of women as caretakers and men as workers is still held today. How many parents would encourage their daughters to study engineering or information technology?

A great step forward in this sense was made by the Stanford University and University of California, Berkeley by redesigning computer courses to make them more appealing to women.

At the same time, when women perform well in male-dominated jobs, they are perceived as being too ambitious, too confident, and too assertive, and not celebrated for it. Unfortunately, success and likeability are negatively correlated for women. And we must change this view, we must ask everyone around us to embrace such change. Women ought to be proud of their success and attribute it to their own skills and merits, not by copying men. Women must learn to speak up and demand their seat at the table.

Question 7: From a male leadership perspective, in your opinion, what do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership especially in the financial sector?

CM: Generally speaking, even though research[1] revealed that companies with the most women board directors had 16% higher Return on Sales (ROS) than those with the least, and 26% higher Return on Invested Capital (ROIC), we all know that there are not enough women in boardrooms. A recent study by Deloitte revealed that women now hold 12 percent of seats worldwide with only 4 percent chairing boards. On top of this, the financial sector is a very macho industry, and historically it has always been very male. It’s a deeply-rooted cultural anchor holding back the change.

Question 8: What advice would you give the next generation of both male and female leader in financial sector? And what do you think will be the biggest challenge for the generation of men and women behind you?

CM: I think the biggest challenge for the younger generation is and will be the same as it is now; namely, technology. And it will only get bigger and faster. So, how do we handle this change?

Millennials are the next generation of leaders. Their behavior, beliefs and expectations are being shaped by many societal and technological trends, such as parenting, social media, digital devices, how people live and work today. I’d like to refer to one aspect of research on this generation, namely the short-term gratification.

They want it all and they want it now. They want to skip levels in their careers and just reach to the top. But this is not that easy, skipping levels means skipping wisdom, experience, and vision. So, my advice to them is to climb the whole mountain, never skip levels and realize that, yes, there is a mountain to climb in a corporation, but do not be afraid of it. Keep your drive and determination and you will develop your own vision and build a very stable, strong foundation. Or start your own company!

Question 9: Mentorship? What is your opinion about it? Is it necessary? Does it make a difference? Did you have a mentor when you started your career? Do you think it would have made a difference if you did?

CM: OK… what I understand about mentoring is that one uses his/her own experience to guide a mentee and explain what he/she would do in various situations, basically offering solutions based on own experience. As compared to coaching, where through active listening and questioning one guides the coachee to reach their own solutions, and compared to consultancy where one only presents his/her solutions and allows the client to implement and use them as the client wants.

Both coaching and mentoring are part of the leadership role. I believe mentoring is very important for a young professional especially when it is offered without ego or the wish to manipulate others’ decisions. However, I believe coaching to be more effective due to the diversity of situations and differences in culture, backgrounds, education and so on. What worked for me 20 years ago may not work for a young professional today, so we should focus on guiding the new generation to find their own creative solutions.

Question 10: When it comes to gender pay gap, diversity and inclusion in financial sector: are we progressing, moving backwards or stagnated? Why?

CM: If I look at the percentages worldwide, from 2002 onwards, it seems like we are stagnating and gender equality is “still a long way off”. On the other hand, we hear more and more talks, thoughts and movements that support gender equality. We are exposed to noisy discussions such as the scandals with Hollywood actors, with Emma Stone or Keira Knightly leading the way for actresses to speak up and ask for equal amounts of money as the actors playing in the same movie. Look at Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook, what an amazing job she does to invite and support women around the world to lean in and play an active role in the changing of mentalities and society models.

We may not change or reverse this situation in the next 10 years, as I said it is a deeply rooted cultural anchor. But I have high hopes that the new generations will continue this change and will make it happen. The leaders of today must take charge of this role we are benefiting from and make the best out of it, inspiring other leaders, but also everyone around us, to play an active role in setting this new mindset.

Question 11: What is some of the advice you can share with (young) women entering a male-dominated profession such as tech and finance?

CM: Be confident in your female abilities, don’t try to be like a man – be yourself. The more women mimic men’s leadership styles the less likely it is for them to exhibit the positive, constructive female energy. Be authentic and self-confident.

Perhaps men tend to reach out for opportunities more than women, so ‘go get it, girl!’, get that new project, apply for that new promotion, go for it! Change the world…make it a better place!

Question 12: If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?

CM:Life is best lived back to front, but we have to live it going forwards. If I could have made better choices at any particular juncture, I’m sure I would have done. Learn from mistakes…of course…but regret is not a very productive emotion.

[1] Catalyst, The Bottom Line: Corporate Performance and Women’s Representation On Boards (2004–2008) (2011).


Chris will be speaking at the EWPN annual awards & conference event in Amsterdam on October 30 & 31st. Make sure you grab your ticket before they are sold out. Register for the event here.

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