It takes someone bold to transition from a chosen career path to a completely different one. Bold is just one word that describes Maria Teofanidu, who after a decade working in finance at Coca-Cola Hellenic, moved to robotic process automation (RPA). Colleagues also call her bright, driven, hard-working, and loyal.
Maria used all of those attributes to establish Coca-Cola Hellenic’s RPA operating model. Now she leads a team managing transactional processes automation for efficiencies across the business, which last year sold 2.3 billion cases of product, reaching 615 billion people in 28 countries. And did we mention she speaks four languages fluently? It’s tough not to be just a little bit jealous and a lot impressed.
Why did you choose RPA/Intelligent Automation as your career path?
Actually, RPA chose me. When I was at the end of my maternity leave, my boss came to me with the opportunity to lead the RPA team at Coca Cola. Coming from a purely financial background and working in this area for the past 10 years, I had no idea what to expect. But I needed a challenge, so I took it and I have to admit, I’ve never regretted the decision.
What enabled your success in this field?
When I joined the RPA team, they had just started with pilot processes and it was all about the hype. I had to play the “bad cop” and manage the expectations that the consultants before me had created. So, I built a strong governance model with a methodology to evaluate successful candidate processes and a reporting dashboard to visualize the value delivered through RPA.
Success can have very different definitions. It’s not for me to say if I’m successful or not. The people who are impacted by what we do as a team can judge. I have to emphasize that one person alone cannot achieve much in the RPA field. You need a team, a good one. This is the key ingredient to having a successful and growing RPA project – a team that makes it all happen.
How do you see the market developing in the next few years?
If I answered this question two months ago, I would have said that I see RPA not as a standalone technology but as a growing part of an Artificial Intelligence (AI) ecosystem inside the companies and the minds of those who consider themselves digitally savvy.
But now, considering the world pandemic and the enormous number of people without jobs, it’s time to think from an ethical perspective. We should ask ourselves, which is the ethical way to go? Shall we hit pause for a bit and let the economy and the people recover, or is this the time that we need efficiencies more than ever if we are to go full speed on the digital journey? That’s a question every C-level executive should answer.
What do you love about your job?
The challenges and the opportunities to learn that I’m coming across every day. Seeing the positive impact of our actions is what really inspires me to do more and more every day, to be better, and to deliver better services.
What is your biggest professional challenge?
The most recent one is me taking over the RPA team, which for a finance person like me was completely out of my comfort zone. Now I must admit that I really enjoy leading such an important and impactful team. For the past months in this role, I’ve learned so much and I continue to learn every day, thanks to the amazing team that is always supporting me.
How has being a woman impacted your professional journey?
I’ve never thought very much about it, and I don’t believe gender matters. I’m lucky to work for a company where this is a fact. After two maternity leaves, I needed to catch up a bit in terms of career development, but I took it as a welcome challenge – nothing else.
What is your advice for young women who are interested in or entering the RPA space?
Be brave and challenge yourselves. RPA and software development shouldn’t be for men only; there is no practical reason for that. RPA, AI, and all other technologies are part of digital transformation. They are the future and we shouldn’t let ourselves fall behind those trends.
How can we inspire women to pursue tech careers and in RPA specifically?
Inspiring women is all about the mentor or role model you have. There are many women in the tech sector these days and hearing their stories and learning from them has always been very inspiring. More events and promotion from universities can also help attract more women in RPA and AI.
Technology is still male-dominated. Since RPA is fairly new, do you see it differently or evolving more quickly to include more women?
RPA is just the beginning. I see it as a stepping stone that can help someone start a career in process automation. At the same time, the technology is evolving, and vendors are constantly expanding the tools they provide to complement it. In order to use these tools, you need to have a logical mindset and a willingness to learn. If you start with that and take advantage of free training offered by all vendors, there are no barriers. So, man or woman, it doesn’t really matter.
Only 5% of today’s tech leadership positions are held by women. How do you think more women in leadership roles will change the tech landscape?
Getting more and more women into the tech world is something that’s inevitable. We have some great inspirational women leaders in this industry, and they are setting the example for the younger ones who are still choosing their career path. This will naturally close the salary gap and make work environments more flexible, as those women have or likely will have kids, so flexibility will become a must-have.
We are proud to showcase women leaders in RPA from around the globe. Check out our growing series of Women in RPA profiles here.