Anthea DeSyllas

Chief Solutions Officer - Polymatica

How did you get into data and technology, and why?

Maths and science came very naturally to me throughout school. What I like about these subjects is that there’s usually a right and a wrong and it’s not subjective. Despite this, I’ve also had a pull in the opposite direction and I love the arts too! I always say that there’s an art to sciences and an art to data analytics and as things become more visual, I’m seeing that come into play.

What’s the biggest challenge that you face in your role?

I’ve worked with all sorts of different people and I’ve learnt that you can’t change their personalities so you have to adapt and realise your own role within a team. The biggest hurdles are always related to building the right relationships – either in a team or with clients.

How do you feel about doing things differently?

Achievement has been a massive driver in my career and I’ve always wanted to succeed, but I also love proving people wrong and doing what people don’t expect me to do. I’ve always thought that being one of the few girls in science was a bonus. At university I was the only girl in my engineering class. I never thought too much about being the only female in a male environment, I always thought it helped me as people would remember me because I’m different.

What advice would you give to girls and young women interested in a career in data and technology?

Always play to your differences as this helps you to stand out and be memorable. It might not feel like it all the time, but being unique is a good thing. I look at companies and see boards full of men, yet at the company I’m working for right now, half of the leadership team is female. This is great because it makes us different. If you can be different, that’s a brilliant thing.  

The best thing to do is find brilliant people and not be afraid of the fact that they may know things that you don’t.
What achievements are you most proud of?

A stand out achievement for me was when I was at Dunnhumby and we were working with Tesco. The challenge was to create a team in nine countries, within a year, and I don’t think anyone thought we could do it. We had a very small team who were trying to do everything which meant that I got to do a lot of things and see a lot of the world. We worked really hard and achieved so much in a short space of time because we were able to pool all our knowledge and apply it into a new space. When I look back, I’ll always remember it as a key moment because of what we were up against.

How do you lean on others to gain strength?

As I’ve progressed as a leader, I’ve learnt that I can’t do everything. When building a team it’s naïve to think that you know the most, and the best thing to do is find brilliant people and not be afraid of the fact that they know things that you don’t. It’s about learning where your gaps are and filling them with brilliant people. You need people with different views and a different outlook.

Can you tell us about the significant object that you’ve chosen?

I’ve chosen this object to represent balance because it’s something that I’ve strived for throughout my life. Currently, one of the things that’s on my mind is getting the right work/life balance – so being able to succeed at work but also to spend time with my family and be a good mum. Through the subjects that I chose at school and then moving into my career, it’s been about trying to get the right balance of art and science and I feel like I’m finally starting to achieve that.