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Women in the executive suite are unusual. Women leaders in technology are rarer still. So, it’s always inspiring to see a young woman heading a growing technology company.
Hilary Laney is the first to admit that joining the family business could have been a disaster. But it turned out to be a stroke of genius. Her gift for “creating order out of chaos” has helped Tri-Digital grow from a relatively small company into an industry leader recently named as one of Washington’s Best Companies to Work For in 2015 by Seattle Business Magazine. And to accomplish this in just over a decade.
When Hilary’s story came across my desk, I was eager for her to share some of what she’s learned along the way. Here is a snapshot of her story.
Over the course of your career, what was your biggest professional challenge?
The biggest challenge I have been faced with in my professional career has definitely been growing Tri-Digital from a family-centric small business to a professionally focused global business without losing the integrity of our core values and enthusiastic culture. This is a challenge I believe all small business leaders are faced with at one point or another if they are determined to grow; and the ones who accomplish this are the ones who are truly built to last. I feel we are succeeding, in large part, thanks to the lessons my dad has taught me and that I work hard to instill in my team. Stay true to your team and the business, never act as something you are not, always be willing to admit when you are wrong, and build authentic relationships.
There’s a lot of talk today about balancing our professional and personal lives, what was your greatest personal challenge?
This must be a pretty common response among working parents, but I would say my biggest personal challenge is finding time and ways to take care of myself that do not make me more exhausted. I LOVE life, everything it has to offer, but I struggle with finding the time to partake in the things that fuel me. Part of the reason is that I am also very passionate about taking care of my family and business, so my individual needs typically take a backseat. And as I am sure most would agree, a burnout eventually takes place, which requires a recovery period. I work on this challenge regularly and hope to improve it as time progresses, and the business continues to grow.
As you look back, what was your greatest success?
My company was just named one of Washington’s Best 100 Companies to Work For in 2015 by Seattle Business Magazine. This is a huge accomplishment for my team because we have worked really hard over the years to create a work environment people want to be a part of. We have implemented benefits such as unlimited paid time off for all team members; monthly dedicated funds for department outings; a wide array of endless beverages stocked in our kitchen; fully paid for healthcare plans; membership to our local gym; and allocated budgets for training individuals on the skills needed to reach their goals. My Leadership team dedicates a lot of time and energy to make this possible while also maintaining the growth of the business. It has all been worth it because, as a result, we attract some of the most hard-working, passionate, talented, loyal, and fun people our city has to offer.
What was your biggest surprise in business?
After completing my college degree in Sociology at the University of Washington, I have always examined how the people around me operate professionally and personally; while paying special attention to those who have succeeded greatly and failed miserably. What has surprised me is that this skill, I believe, is what has contributed the most to my success as a leader. I think there is a stigma around having a broad liberal arts degree from college and whether a person can truly be successful without advanced education or specialized degrees. I am a true example of why this is not a requirement and how having the basic ability to build relationships and empathize with people can leverage you and your company to the next level. There are always going to be people who know more than me, so why not hire them to fulfill what I am unable to accomplish so I can focus what I am great at?
What advice do you have for women trying to break in and then work in a “male dominated” field?
It is very simple – do not think of yourself or your capabilities as anything different or less than that of a man’s. Period.
As soon as you step into this mindset, you will have no fear, and you can operate based on what you know how to do, not what others perceive. I realize that for many this may seem impossible. But the fact is most of us have been made to feel this way by outside influences – it is just a perception contrived by society, it isn’t reality. If you can accept that statement as truth and act on it, people will naturally treat you with the respect you require from them.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would advise myself to stay true to my heart and trust it will all work out in the end – do not stress about what you do not know!
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