Leanne Bonner-Cooke MBE

Leanne Bonner-Cooke MBE has a passion for business transformation – so much so, that she created e-Bate Limited – a SaaS Rebate Management solution that can be used across multiple industries and is used globally.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role?

Today, I run a fintech company that enables businesses to get best value from their supply chains, but I started out as an accountant.

I trained whilst working and became qualified in 1991.  The transition into IT followed because I had developed a passion in my early career for using technology and software to transform business. Opportunities were emerging in the fintech space.

I pursued a corporate career in IT, undertaking many different roles, from project manager, business analyst and head of business systems.  In 2007, however, deciding I had hit the glass ceiling, I left the corporate world and set up my own business, Evolve, a bespoke software development company. It was for my work with Evolve that I was awarded the MBE in 2018 for services to women in business, but I handed over the reins three years later after a management buy-out. By then, I had already launched e-bate.

I now employ a team of 34 from a base near Loughborough. e-bate provides a rebate management solution which sits across the supply chain to let you access easy-to-reach revenue opportunities that would otherwise be invisible. I’m an ex-accountant with a mission to retire the spreadsheet!

We have traction with veterinary pharmaceuticals, pharmaceuticals, retail, construction and buying groups.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, I didn’t know what was available, and my school career was never particularly good. I did know, however, that I wanted to enjoy what I did, be independent and earn money doing it.  From then I just took opportunities when they were presented to me, frequently pushing myself outside of my comfort zone to continue to learn and develop.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Plenty!  And an overriding theme of the challenges I have faced has been confidence and people. What do I mean by this?

I am a great advocate for teams that work well together, are aligned and understand that each member is different but contributes in their own way to achieving the agreed objectives. It is about creating a positive, high-functioning work environment that harnesses your team’s different talents to achieve results.

Confidence comes into play when you are addressing a culture that is not aligned and the team does not share the same values. This demoralises individuals and the team, which in turn impacts performance.

For a successful business you need a strong work culture with alignment of goals, and to stay true to your values and cultural needs. If you cannot fit with the culture and aims of the team then accept that sometimes you must move on.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Being awarded an MBE for Service to Women in Business felt like a great achievement, both personally and to show and inspire other women that this is achievable.

Since then, I have been proud of the progress we have made with e-bate. We designed proof of concept, took that to market, got some traction, and found that there was product-market fit. A rebate is essentially a loyalty scheme for the corporate world, and increasingly we are seeing clients realise the value of the clarity our solution provides.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?  

Resilience has played a major role in my success to date. You must have that belief in yourself and use your support network to guide, support and coach you along the journey.

Before setting up on my own, I had always worked in male-dominated industries and could never get to that next level. When applying for internal positions, people were promoted based on length of service, not on capability, while if you went for an external job, you were always down to the final two but never got the position.

I succeeded today because I had the self-belief and the resilience to keep going when things were tough.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology? 

My top tips you could probably apply to any career journey, but I think these will resonate with others in tech. They are:

  • Take opportunities as they are presented to you – we don’t grow and develop and step up to that next level if we hide in our comfort zone. Go for it!
  • Don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go well, we are always learning.
  • Focus on your personal development – comfort zone again. Step out of it and search for opportunities to grow.
  • Don’t let negativity get in the way – there will always be naysayers and pessimists. Let them get on with it, because with a positive mindset you will get there.
  • Surround yourself with the right people – good relationships are worth their weight in gold. Value those who give you strength.

What barriers for women working in tech are still to be overcome?

Where do I begin? We have a lack of female mentors in tech. Having someone to guide you, who has been there and done it, can be invaluable as a women in a predominately male industry.

We lack female role models in tech, certainly fintech. There are a few, but for tech to reach the numbers required, we need a better representation in the design and delivery of solutions.

I mentioned it, but there is unfortunately still a gender bias in many workplaces and dare I say this is certainly the case in tech. Which brings me to my final point; unequal pay for the same skills. We must close the gender pay gap for a fairer workplace, and to attract good female talent into the industry.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Employers can certainly improve the ability to have a tech career with motherhood, because it is a fast-moving industry and many women who take a career break don’t come back in.

It is also important that we recognise, reward and shout about the achievements of women in tech. Women think differently to men, they bring something else to the table. Diversity is essential in any industry, but as we rely increasingly on tech to solve our problems, a diverse, representative workforce is critical.

In an ideal world, how would you improve gender diversity in tech?

We need to begin educating from a young school age. There is a gender gap in STEM topics, and this gap perpetuates when the school leaver or graduate is seeking a career.  Tech needs to be elevated up the school curriculum, to ensure it is viewed as important as other science topics. Our curriculum also needs to include the breadth of subjects in tech, not just coding.

Then in the world of work, you need effective support groups for women in your business, so they have the role models to learn from. I’ve said it, but let’s enter our female colleagues in tech for awards if they have done great things, so they can be recognised for their achievements.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, e.g. podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

Here is a list of some my favourite sources of information

Women In Tech – Podcasts and Awards

There are specific female awards, for example:

Books, as I am dyslexic, I don’t like reading a lot, so typically listen to book summaries on the Blinkist app.  If I like the summary I buy the audio book.