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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

How Taking Risks Led to Success for This Woman in Leadership

Toni Neal, Senior Director of Service at Siemens
Toni Neal, Senior Director of Service at Siemens

Market analyst, product manager, business development manager—in her two-plus decades with Siemens, Toni Neal has held a number of different roles and never shied away from a new challenge. Each transition she made was driven by her desire to learn something new and expand her skill set. Taking risks can be scary, but Toni always bet on herself, setting goals and exceeding them—which has helped her build a successful career.

Today, Neal is the Senior Director of Service at Siemens Infrastructure USA—which is part of Siemens AG, a global company that consists of Smart Infrastructure, Digital Industry, and Mobility. Her top priority? “Laying the foundation to make it possible to consistently deliver world-class service experiences,” she says. “Usually I do not like buzzwords, but that is truly our goal.”

Here, the Illinois-based Neal shares how Siemens has supported her growth, the biggest challenge she’s currently facing, and tips for women who want to attain a leadership role.

Tell us about your career journey, and what led you to your job at Siemens.

I came to Siemens in the early 1990s, right out of college. The company was called Landis & Gyr Powers at the time, and I worked in the Pricing group as a temporary employee. I landed a full-time position several months later as a market analyst. I was so excited to be joining such a great company. After a few years, I moved into a healthcare associate marketing manager position, where I was fortunate to be part of a team paving the way for even more customer focus. I introduced one of the company’s first “solution sets”—the Isolation Room solution set—during a time when tuberculosis was on the rise in the U.S. and hospitals had to comply with CDC guidelines to prevent transmission.

In the mid 1990s, my family and I moved to North Carolina for my husband’s job. Siemens let me continue to work in my current role from the Charlotte branch office, traveling back to headquarters in Illinois on a regular basis. At the time, the travel did not fit my lifestyle as I had a 4-year-old daughter, so I ended up resigning.

How did you find your way back to Siemens?

Approximately six years later when we moved back to Illinois, I had the opportunity to return to the company. This time, though, I knew I wanted to learn more about our technology. My goal was to be in meetings with engineers and for them not to know I wasn’t an engineer. I ended up accepting a product manager role and attending the same technical training classes that specialists and field technicians attend. I studied those textbooks inside and out, and spent extra time in the hands-on lab environment. A couple of years later, I remember walking out of a meeting with one of our engineers and him asking me, “What type of engineer are you?” I was so excited that I had met my personal goal!

From there, I went back to vertical marketing, leading our healthcare initiatives. After several years, I needed more diversity in my resume, so I moved into a business development manager role before going back to strategy and marketing. This was a key step in my career, as it was the first time I had solid line direct reports.

About six years ago, I decided it was time for me to make another big move, from marketing to the business side, which was risky because I was very comfortable in my current role. I accepted the position of the Automation Service Portfolio lead. From there my responsibilities increased to also include Fire, Security, and Energy Services and Solutions Portfolio. About six months ago, I took on the new role of the Service head, expanding my responsibilities beyond portfolio and development to also include process and standards, and focus more on driving our service business results.

What attracted you to work at Siemens, and what has kept you at the company long term?

At first, I was a new college graduate looking for any marketing position. What kept me at Siemens are the people and the dedication to customers. I grew up working for my dad at his gas station and car repair center. The culture he established was all about being a team and delivering great service. He created a collaborative, customer-first, fun environment. I remember an incident when a long-term customer’s car broke down. He walked miles to the gas station on a particularly hot day in the Midwest and was upset by the time he arrived. My dad sat him down, got him water, asked him questions, and then the customer, my dad, and I jumped into the tow truck to get the car and take the customer home. My dad instilled in me at a young age the importance of taking care of your team and customers. I was ecstatic that right out of school I found a company that valued the same principles.

What are you responsible for as the Senior Director of Service?

Our Service team is responsible for achieving profitable growth and customer satisfaction goals for SI RAM Service. We design, develop, implement, and monitor strategic plans, portfolio standards (including digital services), processes, and tools for the Service business. Practically, this means we’re putting in place growth programs, including the Win Back program and prospecting for new customers.

What are you working on right now that excites or inspires you?

Service overall excites and inspires me. I’m grateful that I have a position I am so passionate about and enjoy doing. One exciting initiative we have is our Autonomous Building concept. We are on a digital journey to help customers solve big problems by changing how buildings are operated and maintained.

Let me explain a little more. Approximately 55% of maintenance activity is reactive—fixing something when it breaks. Each month facility teams receive thousands of alarms, hundreds of hot/cold calls, hundreds of faults, predictive algorithm results, etc., all in addition to their scheduled maintenance tasks, making it next to impossible to be more proactive. And as a building and equipment ages, costs go up. In order to maintain a competitive position, our customers require better planning and increased efficiencies from data to shift their building and building systems from a cost to an asset.

We want to help our customers by providing and delivering services with actionable information. For instance, we’re currently working on new service offerings that leverage artificial intelligence, machine learning algorithms, and our building domain knowledge to determine the root cause of failures so that customers don’t have to spend a good part of their day chasing down problems and the answers. We also want to determine when maintenance is needed and prioritize the tasks based on need. All this means customers’ buildings perform better and they’re able to create better experiences for their occupants.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced since you’ve been at Siemens? How did you overcome it?

The biggest challenges have been cultural. This makes me think of a famous Peter Drucker quote, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” In other words, you can have the best strategy in the world and not be successful without the right culture.

We’ve had cultural challenges with going digital, for instance—doing more service activities remotely, not onsite. It’s deep within our DNA to be the best at responding to customers’ needs and delivering on-site service. Digital services require strategic, cultural, and tactical changes. Everyone wants to do the right thing to meet customers’ needs. It’s just hard when you’re transforming your business and delivery model. There are varying opinions of what right looks like, and there is fear of how each person fits in the new normal.

To tackle mindset changes, we have had to explain why and how the change benefits the customer and doesn’t jeopardize our customer intimacy approach. It was also critical to explain how each employee group fits into the transformed organization. We created communities by job title to target messaging and ensure ongoing reinforcement. This is a journey we’re still on.

You’ve received various promotions during your tenure at Siemens. In what ways has the company supported you in this growth, specifically as a woman advancing to leadership roles?

The company has been absolutely awesome in supporting my development. For instance, I cannot think of any training that I wanted to take that I was told no. I’ve taken excellent leadership courses inside and outside of the company. I’ve also taken courses at prestigious universities on various business, marketing, and service-specific topics. I’ve attended a bunch of internal product hands-on trainings, classes about communicating effectively and giving presentations—and on and on. Our company does an amazing job at putting together training classes that are relevant and timely.

In addition to formal classroom training, I’ve had strong leaders and mentors. What I found extremely helpful is the career development material that I was given. One very helpful exercise is identifying gaps with your experience and knowledge for the position you want next. I did this and then my manager at the time (who happens to still be my manager) looked for opportunities to fill that gap. Consequently, I was put on a pretty big “special” project. That project propelled my career forward because it showed my additional capabilities and changed how others thought of me.

What do you like best about the company culture at Siemens?

I like our balanced “triangle” approach: it’s about employees, customers, and shareholder value. To oversimplify something very hard to achieve, we recognize that happy employees deliver great results to customers and then shareholder value will follow. I like that we value everyone in the organization, and that anyone can call our CEO with an idea or feedback. And our customer-first mentality is the best!

What has been the key to your success working in an industry where women are underrepresented?

Having confidence even when I’ve felt self-critical on the inside and having the courage to speak up—looking around a table of primarily men and using it to energize and challenge me. What I’ve found is no one person has all the answers, and providing data points to back up what you’re saying has an impact. When you are spoken over or an idea is discounted, take a deep breath and keep participating.

What advice do you have for women looking to follow a similar career path as yours?

Be the best you can be. Own who you are. When you do this, you come off as knowledgeable and authentic. Of course, keep developing yourself, hone your skills, flex your communication approach for who is in the room, and ask for feedback so you can keep evolving. Remember, it’s OK if someone else is better at something than you—everyone has strengths and “stuff” they’re not as good at—but surround yourself with people who fill those gaps.