A mainframe computer command centre in Sydney, Australia, 1990. It is lunchtime and, as usual, the guys are huddled in the corner playing cards. Canasta normally, but sometimes poker. The game is hotting up, but the lights on the control panels are still winking and next door in the tape room the tapes are still turning.
Jacqueline Guichelaar, who joined the company only a few months earlier straight from high school, is keeping the show on the road. She had been hired by financial services company AMP (see panel, CV: Jacqueline Guichelaar) as a tape operator, about as humble as it got in the IT world in those far-off days. But she is sure as hell determined that she is not going to remain a tape operator.
That is why for the past few weeks, every spare moment, she has been in the command centre asking the guys what they are doing and how everything works. She wants to know, for instance, what happens to make a light flash as a signal that a tape must be changed. She is hungry to learn.
And the guys are keen to teach her. After all, if Jacqui can keep the tapes turning during lunch breaks, those poker sessions are going to be a whole lot more absorbing.
But what is absorbing Guichelaar is that she is taking the first steps into a stellar IT career. Today, she has made it to chief technology officer of enterprise services at Deutsche Bank UK, running a team of more than 400 IT professionals. Yet who knows where her combination of focused determination and fizzing energy may take her in the future?
Guichelaar's career is an object lesson in how to look after number one without treading on other people's toes. And the first lesson is that you need to take charge of your own development. Hence that hanging out in the command centre. She started her career as a shift worker and recalls: "On a night shift, there are some hours where you could sit there and do nothing, but I filled my time with things to do to improve my skills."
There have been several seminal moments in Guichelaar's career and each seems to provide a key lesson. Take the time she became a team leader, two years after taking the tape operator job. "I think I learnt that I really cared about the quality of the work," she recalls.
The work she's talking about was not rocket science. It involved printing out simple documents, such as invoices and statements, and mailing them to clients. But she decided that being particular about the way you did things - in this case, making sure the printing was neatly done - marked out the people who delivered superior performance.
Tougher lessons were to come. Shortly after she'd moved to Paxus, her next employer, and become a shift leader managing a team of 10, it was involved in a merger. "Everyone in the IT operations was called into a room by the department head. He said, 'OK, guys, I've got two lists here. The first list I read out, I want you to go into one room. The second list, you go into the other room.' Everyone knew what was happening. It was an absolutely disgraceful way to treat people."
Guichelaar was in the room of people who were staying. But she was incensed by the way the sackings had been handled and left three months later. It was a valuable lesson in how not to treat people when you reach senior management. She joined IBM, where she stayed for seven years in ever-more senior roles - and learnt many more valuable lessons.
The first was how to get through a tough recruitment process. She'd been one of 73 applicants for the job. Through a series of interviews the hopefuls were winnowed to a shortlist of five. "It was a very rigorous process," she says. "I had six meetings and was interviewed by 13 people. I was petrified."
She hadn't expected to get the job. So why does she think she succeeded? "In those interviews, I was very honest about what I knew and what I didn't know - what I understood and what I could execute, and where I might need more experience and coaching. An interview is a two-way process - I wanted to know as much about the company as they wanted to know about me, because it was my decision as well."
Nowadays, Guichelaar is more often the interviewer rather than the interviewee. She believes many IT applicants are not very good at summarising their strengths and their weaknesses. "If you ask someone who is very good at what they do, what their development areas are, they will usually say something like, 'I don't get enough exposure to senior management.' I say, 'why don't you go and look for it, because you have the ability to drive yourself?'."
Guichelaar drove herself hard at IBM. For example, she reckons she attended around 50 training courses while she was with the company. Some lasted little more than a day. The longest, a month away from her Australian base in the United States. "I've always looked for courses that were directly correlated with what I was doing at the time," she explains.
For example, when she first had to manage other people, she found difficulty in the sometimes tough and direct discussions that are needed when team members are under-performing. She got some training in team management and learnt a lesson: "I discovered the best way to build skills is to learn how to do something and then go back and do it straight away," she says.
It is tough getting to the top in IT if you are a man - even tougher if you are a woman. When Guichelaar was handed a plum project during her time at IBM, she had an unpleasant encounter with a colleague who had expected to get the job. He implied she had got the job by using her feminine wiles.
"I didn't walk away from that. I put him straight on why I believed the company had chosen me - it was because I had skills in certain packages. If someone is becoming emotional in a discussion, I try to take the heat out of it." Six months later, with the project successfully delivered, Guichelaar explained to her antagonist what she had done. "He apologised to me for being an idiot at the time," she recalls.
One important lesson Guichelaar has learnt as she has moved from one company to another is never to burn her bridges. She always seeks to leave a company on good terms, because there is always a chance of going back. After leaving IBM, she joined a CSC bid team pitching for a massive contract from Deutsche Bank. The team lost out to IBM, but Guichelaar had impressed the Bank's senior management and later they offered her a job managing a huge outsourcing project.
It was the biggest challenge she had ever undertaken with a lot of internal politics to handle. She learnt two critical lessons. "First is that, if you're to complete a big controversial project, you absolutely need the support of your managers from day one," she says. "The second is that you need to rely completely on your own abilities. You must have an inner strength that carries you forward in the face of the opposition you face."
When Guichelaar decided to quit Deutsche Bank and take a dream job at National Australia Bank, she carefully applied her own rule about no burnt bridges, even though senior managers at the Bank implored her to stay. As a result, when she returned to Europe a year later, she walked into a new job at Deutsche Bank - her current role as chief technology officer of enterprise services.
Perhaps the biggest lesson from Guichelaar's experience is about approaching a career with an enthusiastic state of mind. As she says: "What I have learned, is that I thrive on getting involved."
CV: Jacqueline Guichelaar
1989: Tape operator in mainframe computer department at AMP (Australian financial services company), later to become Computer Sciences Australia.
1991: Moved to Paxus, computer services provider based in Sydney. Promoted to shift leader after a year.
1993: Joined IBM in Australia as a shift manager. In the next seven years, held eight positions within IBM, ending as an account executive, managing relationships with major clients.
2000: Hired by CSC in Sydney as member of a team bidding for major accounts. Worked in Germany on team bidding for Deutsche Bank account.
2002: Moved to Frankfurt to take post of chief technology officer with Deutsche Bank, responsible for IT infrastructure in 32 countries in EMEA region.
2006: Achieved life-long ambition to hold one of the biggest IT jobs in Australia - general manager of technology operations at National Australia Bank.
2007: Joined Deutsche Bank UK, based in London, as chief technology officer of enterprise services (the investment banking arm).
Jacqueline Guichelaar reports to Rolf Riemenschnitter, the bank's global chief technology officer. She has more than 400 people working in her operation across the UK, and the Asia Pacific region. She has seven direct reports for: (1) data centre projects, including technology transformation (2) service delivery, including interacting with the rest of the business on IT priorities (3) production operations, including managing the production environment (4) production support, which includes the technical support staff (5) strategy and governance, which includes data centre policy and governance (6) communications and planning and (7) a chief operations officer who is responsible for "horizontal" functions such as compliance, project management, vendor management and financial reporting.
This was first published in July 2008