Michelle Bisset is the Vice President of Customer Success at Sage Africa & Middle East. She leads product support and retention teams across the region.
Bisset is also a coach to aspiring women leaders, particularly in the Not for Profit sector. The proud mom of two joined Sage in her present role during December 2017. Prior to Sage, she spent 15 years at Oracle, holding various leadership roles in license management and customer success.
Her experience and expertise spans from business transformation, global leadership, sales and customer engagement. She holds an Honours degree in Business Science from the University of Cape Town and is a qualified Integral & Performance Coach.
1. Who is Michelle Bisset and how would you describe your upbringing?
I’m a nature lover, a jazz enthusiast, friend, sister, wife, traveller, and someone who is ever curious and always seeking out new insights on life, living well and how to be inspired and inspiring others.
I am incredibly fortunate to have been raised by two wonderful parents, who after leaving Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the early 1980s as young adults with me on the way, came to South Africa to build a new life for themselves. They instilled in both me and my sister the value of family and of respect; respect for others and, equally important, respect for oneself. They taught us to be proud of who we are, to have an opinion, and to be confident to share it with others.
Starting out fresh, my parents worked hard for everything they had, and they taught me the value of hard work, discipline and focus. They were the best role models. In hindsight, it was them who made me realise what a significant part great role models can play, and the importance of having and being a role model to others.
When I was 19 and studying for my law degree in Cape Town, I called them and told them that I was leaving university to travel. Other parents may have tried to convince me otherwise or to impress on me the importance of completing my studies. Mine didn’t – they told me it was my choice and they would respect and support whatever I decided. At that moment, they afforded me the privilege of independence and placed the destiny of my future fully in my hands. That day they empowered me to take control of my future, to chart my own course knowing it would always be mine, but that I would always have their support. That is one of the most powerful things they ever did and I’m grateful for it every day.
2. How would you describe your leadership style?
This is a tricky one. I believe that those who experience our leadership are better placed to reflect on it. For me, it’s more important to understand the impact of how I lead, and this can only be seen through the eyes of others. I’ve no doubt that you would get many different answers to this question depending on who you asked – and they would all probably be right.
I’ve always aimed to inspire those that I am privileged to lead through vision and clarity. While performance is key, it’s the people who create the magic and deliver the results. I aim to understand the teams I work with and identify how best to enable them to create magic. I hold myself and others to a high standard and aim to keep a healthy balance between supporting and challenging. I hope this provides the environment within which everyone grows.
As I’ve spent more time leading, I’ve discovered just how important it is for good leaders to also be equally good followers. I have learned the importance of being able to know when to lead and when to follow.
3. What does a typical day in your life look like?
A typical day – what’s that? I’m incredibly lucky to have days filled with variety. That’s what keeps things interesting.
At work, I spend my days meeting with people, teams and customers finding solutions and crafting strategies to build for the future. I meet customers and partners to understand how we can better serve them and take these insights back to our teams to ensure we are continuously improving. I make sure I stay closely connected to the leaders that report to me and keep a close pulse on the operations while linking up with peers to align on how we drive the business forward.
My best days are those that start with valuable insights from a TED talk, podcasts or an ebook as I drive into the office. They involve meeting people who share my passion for what we do and end with quality time with my family and children, hearing about their day and all they’ve discovered.
4. What inspired your career choice?
I always knew I wanted to have the opportunity to lead, but it was more like I fell into IT rather than it being a conscious choice.
I studied law and economics. When I got my first job in IT, I took it mainly as an opportunity to do something different. I’ve never been on the technical side of IT, but rather always on the business side, and once I got into it, I did my best every day and that seems to have worked for me.
I have stayed in IT because of the opportunities that its constant evolution has afforded me to grow and develop and for the people I’ve been able to meet and the leaders I’ve been fortunate to learn from.
5. What is your vision for Customer Success and Sage Africa & Middle East?
Sage’s vision is to become a great SaaS company focused on providing solutions and services that meet and exceed the unique needs of our evolving customers. We have three pillars of focus, namely customer success, colleague success, and innovation.
I am excited to be leading the transformation around Customer Success for our teams in Africa and the Middle East. We are combining synergistic teams, building alignment between legacy silos of support and retention, and changing the way we work so that, in collaboration with our partners, we provide a customer experience that delivers value in the moments that really matter.
My passion lies in making sure we do this through a true understanding of our customers and how we can help them achieve success. By spending time with the businesses that we serve and partnering with them, we’re working to understand what success means to them, and how we can ensure we deliver solutions and services that help them thrive.
6. What is your take on Women in Tech?
I believe diversity in all its forms – whether gender, race, orientation, upbringing or anything else – creates the platform for better solutions, higher performance and greater career fulfilment. Diversity of thought, approach and perspective enable teams, companies and industries to approach problems from multiple vantage points and to achieve results that exceed those can be reached with a similar thought.
Embracing diversity in all its forms inevitably encourages us to foster environments that are inclusive and embrace differences. Any team, industry or organisation that does this can only benefit.
7. What do you think needs to be done to attract more women in the field?
There are more and more fantastic examples of women being appointed into key roles across industries and geographies. General Motors, RBS, Pepsico and numerous others are all led by inspiring women who have earned their place at the table.
They are the role models who are charting uncovered territory and providing us with a vision of possibility and potential.
I believe that, as leaders, we have a responsibility to be role models for generations to come, not only through what we do and achieve, but also through our actions. Supporting and providing an opportunity to the leaders of tomorrow and making sure we bring talented people with us on the journey is just as important as the results we achieve.
8. Where do you see yourself in the future? (Future Plans?)
The future is whatever we choose to make it. As I learn and grow, my vision of that future continues to evolve.
South Africa is a country with immense potential, and I’m saddened by the negative sentiment that seems all too prevalent today. Whatever path the future should hold, I hope I will have the opportunity to continue to contribute positively to make South Africa a place of opportunity and transformation.
9. What would you say to women who are looking to take up a career in technology?
The technology space is incredibly diverse and provides an array of careers and opportunities for anyone with a passion for innovation and learning. Technology is pervasive across industries, business functions and communities. It is the most powerful differentiator in any market and has the power to transform how we work and live. I’m excited to be able to contribute and be part of this transformative industry.
My advice for anyone considering a career in tech (or anything else) is to be less concerned about the long-term prospects and to rather focus on what you can learn today. I’ve seen doctors become accountants, programmers become doctors and even ballerinas.
I’ve found that fulfilment stems less from your choice of sector and more from the work you do and the people that you work with. I would encourage everyone to take opportunities that come their way and make the most of each of them. To acknowledge that, as we walk the path, the road ahead may change and the most important skills we can learn are those of adaptability and to trust in our own convictions to guide us in the choices we face along the way.