Sunnie J Groeneveld 1

Sunnie J. Groeneveld is Managing Partner of Inspire 925, and one of the speakers at the Fast Forward Forum 2019.

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

I’m a Managing Partner of Inspire 925, a consultancy I founded six years ago which focusses on culture change, employee engagement and digital transformation. I am also a board member of three mid-sized companies in Switzerland in the IT, engineering and media sector as well as the Associate Dean of Studies of the Executive MBA Digital Leadership at the HWZ University in Zurich.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, I didn’t. I knew early in my career that I wanted to be an entrepreneur and was eager to found and build up Inspire 925, but beyond that, I would summarize my career as saying yes to many opportunities, trusting that I would be hardworking and resourceful enough to execute on them.

A few principles, however, have guided my career so far and they may be helpful to others, too, which is why I’ll share them here:

  • Do good work, share your knowledge and help others succeed.
  • When an opportunity presents itself, seize it or leave it. If you seize it, give it your all.
  • When the going gets tough, trust that you have what it takes to master the challenge ahead.
  • Find people who “go long on you,” who recognize your talent and are willing to invest in you for the long-term.
  • Always say thank you.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

I started my first company at age 25 without having much of a professional network or years of experience. I realised that in order to succeed I needed to:

  • Believe in myself and my business idea. If I didn’t, why would somebody else?
  • Find someone who is more established in the business world and convince them to take a bet on me.

For example, my first client took a bet on me thanks to a warm introduction from a fellow startup founder. Looking back, this first client wasn’t where we made any big profits, but it’s where we built up a lot of credibility. After working with them, we could say “Inspire 925 did a project for company X”, which provided the necessary leverage for subsequent clients.

Another challenge I remember from the founding days is having a business coach twice my age advise me in a coaching session at a startup center to drop my idea. He predicted I would fail because I didn’t have a business network and wouldn’t get access to any big consulting deals. He explained to me that deals were mostly made in pubs over a beer among guys who had worked together for years at some of the bigger consulting firms. I don’t like beer, I’m not a big fan of pubs, and I haven’t worked for a big consulting company, so he concluded I couldn’t become successful with Inspire 925.

This incident taught me that not all advice is good advice, even if it comes from someone with grey hair and decades of experience under his belt. Ultimately, I trusted my gut and today I’m so glad I did.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Based on my personal experience so far, I have thankfully not felt any barriers. That said, Switzerland is ranked in 2018 on place 26 (out of 29) in the Economist’s “Glass Ceiling Index”, so clearly for the Swiss economy as a whole there is still potential to improve the situation for working women. Politically, the framework conditions that would accelerate improvement most in our country would be to make childcare more widely accessible and affordable, as well as increasing paternity leave.