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Going with the flow

Going with the flow

Source: Marsha Parker, CEO of eflow

Marsha Parker, CEO of eflow, takes the Finextra Q&A

Date and place of birth: 14 June 1952, Sydney
Residence: Somerset and London, UK
Marital status: Widowed, two children
Education: After school I received in-house training to become a software engineer and designer.
Career path:
1969 – 1975: Various positions, including bank clerk at Bank of New South Wales and cash management officer at a finance company
1975 – 1976: General Electric Company, Sydney
1976 - 1978: Adler Business Machines
1978 – 1981: Freelance contractor, Sydney
1982 – 1983: NCR Corporation, where I became their youngest ever senior consultant at 29
1982 - Founded Cathox Pty LTD
1983 – 1986: Freelance consultant for financial and accounting systems projects in Australia
1986 – 1995: Contracted consultant at Westpac where I developed the PATH technology now used by eflow, and through my own business, Cathox Pty Ltd, sold PATH to various financial institutions in Australia and Japan
1995: Founded Cathox UK Ltd
2004: Founded eflow, bringing previous clients from Cathox UK to the new company
Current posts: Chief executive officer, eflow
Q: What was your first job?
A: When I left school I held various positions, including working as a bank clerk at the Bank of New South Wales, before landing my first computing job at GEC in Sydney. I started working in the data output department and within six months I was running the section and supervising the whole data reporting team.

Q: Who is or was your mentor?
A: That's a difficult one. Ultimately, I think my father has been my abiding mentor. As a theatre and show producer, he was endlessly creative and resourceful, and he impressed upon me that anything is possible – there is nothing you can’t do if you put your mind to it. My rowing coach also taught me the importance of discipline and determination!

Q: Which business leaders do you most admire?
A: Walt Disney comes very high on my list, for the way he took the concept of an animated mouse and transformed it into a multi-million dollar business. I also hugely admire Bill Gates. When the first computers came out and were huge, unwieldy, noisy grey boxes which were prone to breaking down. Bill had a vision of bring computing to everyone and he saw that vision through, creating a product which is cheap, efficient, reliable and has become virtually indispensable the world over.

Q: If you weren't in your current job, which company would you most like to lead?
A: Again, that's a difficult one. If I could choose any one company, I’d love to lead Pixar. They are constantly innovative, both at a creative level and a technological level, and I think it would be hugely fun to work there.

Q: Do you read books on management theory? If so, which has influenced you the most?
A: No, I don't think I ever have. As a manager, my philosophy is that a team is best focussed when they have an equal balance of both personal control and personal responsibility over their own work. I think that this produces better results and generates a better working environment than micromanaging, or complicated management theories. It also means that the team trust each other to stretch themselves.

Q: Which competitors do you benchmark your company's performance against?
A: They're not competitors of ours but at a corporate level, I would say Microsoft. With their products they consistently provide what the market needs and do so economically and without ostentation. And of course they are highly profitable too! I also like the way that Thomson is run, but overall, I don't think that there is enough innovation in the market today in terms of technical products.

Q: What has been your best experience in business?
A: Proving to IBM that, as my father always said, anything is possible. I once worked on a project where we were using IBM's systems to migrate integration products to a new platform, and I wanted to carry out the migration in a way IBM said was impossible on their system. In five days I flew from Sydney to New York and worked sixty hours to finally prove that it could be done. That experience also further demonstrated how often the best solutions are the simplest.

Q: What was your biggest mistake in business?
A: With Cathox during the 1990s, I didn't have sufficient contingency plans for the firm in place, both personally and professionally speaking, which ended up limiting the business’s growth. During the technology explosion in the 90s, we didn’t have the capacity to service all of the contracts we had won, and I hadn’t adequately planned for how the firm would operate if my personal circumstances changed. But the good thing about mistakes is that we learn from them, and eflow is built on very solid foundations.

Q: What keeps you awake at night?
A: Nothing except dreaming up new solutions.

Q: How do you relax?
A: I'm a compulsive reader, and I always have a pile of books on the bedside table. I also swim regularly, but I spend a lot of my free time with my kids.

Q: What was the last gadget you bought?
A: When I bought my new car last year, it came with a fantastic array of gadgets and I've found GPS very useful. Amazingly though I'm not really a hardware person - it's software that gets me going rather than the shiny new ipods that fascinate my kids.

Q: Favourite Web site

Q: Desert island disc/book
A: Definitely Otis Redding's "Dock of the Bay" to listen to. As for a book, I'd take anything that Stephen Fry has written. He has such a keen wit and I think I'd need something humorous if I was stuck on a desert island!

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