Tamsin Ashmore is a CFO with a passion for people. She is currently accelerating the growth trajectory of Ultima, the cloud, security and digital managed service provider – and championing the roles of women in tech.

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

My current role is accelerating the growth trajectory of Ultima, the cloud, security and digital managed service provider.

But my career started at Unilever in South Africa and I rose through the ranks there in my twenties. Unilever was THE place to work in my hometown, South Africa and I learned so much from my time there, including the importance of integrity in numbers.

Unilever’s commitment to its people – both then and now – is inspiring and has shaped the person I am and the way I do business. I’ve since led teams in phenomenally interesting roles, including 12 years of executive achievement in Media, Technology and Leisure of both publicly listed, owner-managed, and PE-backed companies, and at Technicolor I led a global team ensuring that a people first focus was taken to ensure the teams strove to deliver at high performance.

I am currently CFO at Ultima. The role of the CFO was traditionally the figures and balance sheet lead, removed from the practicalities of daily operations and execution, but this is far from the case in my tenure. My passion is for people. Business success can only be delivered through growth and growth is delivered by people. I now own business operations supporting the sales and delivery engine. Of course, this strategy wouldn’t be successful without ensuring that cash and risk are fully managed.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes – I always knew I wanted to be CFO, and from when I started at Unilever as a graduate, I was very clear that this was the path I wanted to take. I’ve always been really focused on what would give me the greatest opportunity to learn and grow in the path I have taken.

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

During my time as CFO at Jamie Oliver Restaurant I faced some huge challenges. It made me realise that being a CFO is all about making sure that your business is sustainable, and growth is paced. Excessive business growth can lead to a time of natural slowdown, and often happens when a company grows too fast. This was seen in the hospitality industry by the volume of new site roll-outs which resulted in the collapse of many businesses. We’re seeing this in a similar vein in the tech industry where growth was significant due to demands from covid.

There is a huge responsibility when a business is in growth around future proofing the organisation. Companies need to focus on sustainable growth and have the people and infrastructure to support it.

Organisations also have a responsibility to continue to reskill and develop its people both to future proof them in their lives and to ensure that the business continues to develop in the way you want it to. A person who joins a company today may not be doing the same job in 10 years’ time as the world changes so rapidly. Above all, businesses need to recognise that each employee has the capability of personal development. This is becoming more and more important as we move into the world of AI. We need our people to learn to be expert users of AI to support them in the future.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date? 

I feel like each step along my career has been a great achievement, but I would highlight my role as CFO of Ultima. Being part of such a significant transformation in our business where we have moved from being viewed as reseller to highly specialised cloud, security and digital managed service provider has been incredible. Building the deliverables to support the strategy, driving the cultural step change and changing our business operations to enable this has been exciting and has really given me so much energy.

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

I will readily admit that a defining ‘failure’ in my life was when I failed my exams at the University of Cape Town. However, I truly believe that without this failure I would not have had the determination or resilience to get to where I am today. After a huge dollop of self-realisation, I knuckled down and finished with a first-class honour’s degree in accounting from Durban University. And I can also happily say that I have continued to ‘fail fruitfully’ at times within my career. It’s this that has perhaps shaped me into being an authentic leader.

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

Read and listen to key influencers and understand what changes are happening in technology all the time. Ensure you are continually upskilling or reskilling so that you are not left behind as tech changes. And find a good mentor, someone who understands the tech industry and can help you navigate your way through different jobs to where you want to be.

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

I think tech roles within the industry are still male dominated and we need to encourage more women to start thinking about tech careers while at school right down to nursery school level. We need to ensure we are encouraging girls to be interested in gaming, coding and computing as well as activities that are still perceived as ‘male’ ones. Giving my daughter the opportunity to play football and cricket will absolutely enrich her in her future career where she will not be excluded from a  ‘boys club’ because she doesn’t have an understanding of sport – something which I have so frequently felt myself.

We also need to make sure that all parents have access to flexible working hours so that they can continue to work effectively around any childcare or caring roles they have. Good maternity and paternity benefits are key to this as well as fostering a culture where it is acceptable to work around your childcare or caring commitments, for example, not scheduling meetings when you know team members have a school run or need to leave early to provide cover for an elderly parent.

At Ultima, we’ve changed our job descriptions and in fact as part of our diversity focus, we’ve encouraged our women in tech to write job descriptions which they would apply for to help us remove any unconscious bias. We’ve adjusted the interview process. We’re building opportunities for more connection so that being a woman in tech is not so lonely.

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

At Ultima we champion the roles of women in tech. As part of this, I started Ultima’s Women in Tech Forum to encourage meetings and like minded conversations, bringing all the women at Ultima together across functions into a quarterly forum where we share and learn from each other. So many women struggle with authenticity in the workplace and it’s a chance to find friends and build relationships through a development programme. I hope that those relationships will then blossom when they see each other in the office or grab a coffee or lunch, or even catch up online. Every time someone connects, they are building better connections which improve their work life and build confidenceThis is an initiative that can easily be replicated across the tech industry and I believe it will have a profound effect on enhancing the careers of women.

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

More and more focus of building opportunities for women from grassroots level. More gender-based focus on STEM education and creating opportunities for women to be part of tech. Tech is everywhere and as need the diversity to ensure that tech meets ALL our needs as a population. Raising the profile of our great tech females, creating more opportunities for females mentoring females who are junior in their career in tech – the list goes on – the focus has to be on removing the barriers to entry and then creating a clear path to maintain a women’s career in tech.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

  • I would follow some female tech influencers – some great British ones are Dr. Sue Black, Anne-Marie Imafidon (CEO of Stemettes), Belinda Parmar and Dr. Hannah Fry.
  • Podcasts: Women Taking The Lead, Women Tech Charge, Tech Women Today, Tech Talks. I also love The High Performance podcast.
  • Networking events: Women Who Code, Women in Technology, Women in Tech, Women in Tech festival
  • Books: “Invisible Women” by Caroline Criado Perez, “Brotopia” by Emily Chang. There are also some great leadership books – The Coaching Habit, Dare to Lead, Lean In, She Thinks Like a Boss. A book on my list to read at the moment is The age of AI and Everyday Chaos: Technology, complexity and how we are thriving in a new world of possibility.
  • Conferences: WeAreTechWomen’s annual conference.
  • Websites: WeAreTechWomen.