Inspirational Woman: Alexa Greaves | CEO, AAG IT

Alexa GreavesAlexa Greaves is the Chief Executive of AAG IT, a Chesterfield based MSP. Alexa started and grew AAG into a £5 million IT managed services provider.

She was National Business Woman of the Year at the 2015 Forward Ladies Business Awards. Prior to AAG, Alexa was Vice President of Corporate Foreign Exchange at JP Morgan Chase Bank. Alexa was a 2021 nominee of Computer Weekly’s Most Influential Women in UK Tech.

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

As a student at an all girls school I was always confident in my ability and a determined individual but I was extremely shy. I went to Bradford University to study Business Studies and can remember sitting in my room on the first day wondering why I was putting myself through this. When I left I had no clear idea of what I wanted to do. I applied for a graduate job in Business Development at Chemical Bank and was told by my Dad that I would never get the job. Probably one of the best things he ever did for me. I was more determined than ever. After taking their skill tests I was asked if I was interested in a position in the trading room. I was placed on the first ever graduate rotation scheme as the only female and then on completion started a position as a Corporate Foreign Exchange Trader. The trading environment was very male dominated, much like the IT industry, with stereotypes and gender bias that make it hard for women to break down the barriers. I successfully transitioned through 3 mergers whilst working for the same bank and ended my investment banking career working for JPMorgan Chase.

The only real reason I left that career was that having had 2 children it was impossible to juggle a 60 hour working week with their needs and my maternal feelings of guilt.

I moved to Sheffield in 2003 and for a period of time worked in our family business, wearing a vast array of different hats – a significant contrast at every level to what I had been doing when working in London. In 2009, the IT company that was then looking after our IT needs went into administration and I, pretty much on a whim, decided to set up AAG.

As CEO, the growth and development of AAG IT Services & AAG Cyber Security is now my main focus. We are a majority female owned and managed business which is unique in our industry and something that I am particularly proud of, although I never set out with this intention in mind.

My business partner and I started this business with no technical capability or industry knowledge whatsoever and for many years have both felt challenged by this. Now, looking back I actually see that this was probably one of our strengths. It forced us to think differently, look outside our 4 walls for guidance and mentoring and to build a strong team with a diverse skill set that looks at our industry in a different way.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, I never had a clear vision of what I wanted to do but definitely knew what I didn’t want to do. I have always been ambitious and wanted to be financially independent. A mother who supported me on every step of my journey and who was highly intelligent but never had the financial freedom to do what she wanted to do, which was to leave my father, definitely shaped my thinking. Having done a Business Studies degree, the majority of the course tended towards accountancy and that was definitely something I knew I didn’t want to do, especially as this was my father’s choice of career for me. I was always more numerically minded than artistically creative so I knew my career path would take me in that direction.

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

The main career challenge for me has probably been my own insecurity and strong feeling of imposter syndrome. Starting a business and working in an industry where I had no previous experience or technical capability, made me question on many occasions what I had to offer and why I had done it. Getting my head round the fact that I had no real need to understand the technology in detail was a learning curve that I had to go through.

A real step change for me was attending peer group sessions and supplier/industry events. That definitely made me realise that my skill set, although different to many business owners that I met who had set up their companies on the back of their technical capability, was equally relevant on a completely different level. I was able to challenge their way of thinking, add value and grow in confidence. My skill set was definitely recognising the opportunity that was out there, bringing it back to our business and building a team that could deliver.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I am not great at recognising achievement when it happens as I am a personality that always thinks that I, or our team, can do more or better. However, when you take time to reflect and  look back at what you have achieved it is sometimes very surprising. Most people may say that winning a business award may be a major achievement and although I was very proud to win the Forward Ladies Business Woman of the Year award in 2015 I feel more genuine pride in the growth we have seen in AAG IT Services. Amongst our peer group we were small and not really on the map as a main contender. We are now definitely one of the leaders in our field and have the recognition we deserve for that. Building a strong team, and a strong culture is really important to me and gives me far more rewarding feelings of success than my own individual personal achievements.

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

Building a strong team in a positive culture where people thrive and grow is imperative. Also having a loyal team that works together and is genuinely interested in what we do and how we perform.

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

  1. In such a broad sector as Technology, understand the different career paths open to you and focus on what you like doing. There is always an element of what you don’t like in any job but getting the balance right and being inspired by what you do is important for your success.
  2. Alignment to role models that inspire you is always productive. Learn from them.
  3. Attend industry events wherever possible and not only keep up to date with what is going on in your field of expertise but look at ways of how you can differentiate your skills.
  4. Connect with likeminded people that deliver value to you and where you can deliver value back by offering your point of view. Talk confidently about your sector.
  5. Learn to communicate well and show your passion. Be assertive in a positive way that demonstrates your passion for what you do, and opportunity will come your way.

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

When I worked at Chemical Bank I was asked to hang the Christmas Cards up. Why? I was the only female in a 40 strong graduate programme. It was seen to be a job that a woman should do. We have come a long way since then but having worked in 2 male dominated industries I know that there are still a lot of barriers to success for women working in many industries including tech.

Stereotypes exist that create a barrier for girls at a young age. A positive message at a young age can help girls, who would not ordinarily think of a career in tech, to consider their options. We, as a generation, have a duty to communicate the possibilities that are out there, not only for girls but for all minority groups that are underrepresented.

The main reason I left my first career was that there was no flexibility to meet the demands of having a family and continue working. This should never have to be considered a barrier to success but sadly it is. The tech industry is no different.  Someone working part time is immediately seen to not have the same amount of commitment which puts a ceiling on their personal growth and development. Our culture at AAG IT Services actively supports the women and men who work in our team to get this balance right. This should be the norm.

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

Culture is so important to drive the progress needed to support the career of women in Tech. This cultural change needs to come from the top but be seen as positive change throughout the business that is not only communicated but acted upon. Ensuring the gender balance is correct not only at a high level but also departmentally is imperative to drive this message home. Companies need to commit to change and ensure that it is a priority when looking for new talent or elevating those within.

There are currently only 21 percent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Increase the pool of women available in the tech industry. Although offering re-training to women who may want to enter the industry would have immediate impact we also need to drive longer term change. Getting in at a base level where girls can see the opportunities available to them and removing the stereotypes that exist is paramount to a fundamental shift in the way girls think about the industry.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I read a lot of business books which are not necessarily just for the tech industry. Two books which I highly recommend are Traction by Gino Wickman and The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. Both books talk about how to systemise your business to improve efficiency and grow.

I also attend many networking events , peer groups and industry exhibitions put on by suppliers and vendors. Recently I have attended the Cyber Runway and Cyber Cluster Event supported by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS).