Caroline Green joined ProLabs in February 2016 where she is COO and CFO. Caroline’s experience is drawn from 27 years spent in industry and private equity. Here, she tells Director of Finance about her career.
- Caroline, can you tell us a bit about ProLabs – what are the main business objectives this year?
ProLabs is a leading provider of optical network infrastructure offering leading-edge network solutions whilst providing customers choice, quality and expertise worldwide. We are experts on global optical connectivity experts and quite simply our goal is to become the dominant global player in our niche. Everything we do is about providing quality products with first-class technical expertise and service. One of ProLabs’ biggest strengths is that we supply highly compatible products, with solutions that are 100% compatible with more than 90 vendors and 20,000 systems.
In addition, our products have a lifetime warranty, demonstrating our commitment to the quality of our products as well as our technical expertise and service. By constantly investing in research and development, we ensure that ProLabs optical network products remain at the forefront of the market.
Whilst the ProLabs brand has been around for over a decade, we have been a stand-alone company since 2013 and have more than doubled our turnover in that time whilst growing our headcount from a starting point of four people in the UK to 65 globally by the end of last year. We are challenging OEM dominance and building confidence in compatible solutions by harnessing our wonderful teams’ expertise as well as offering first-rate quality. These values are at the core of our messaging, and they have served us well in this fast-moving sector.
- What have been the biggest highlights and challenges you have faced since becoming CFO?
As you will appreciate, the optical infrastructure industry continues to evolve and change, and we have embraced and made these changes work for us and our products. We are continually learning which makes every day interesting, challenging and fun. Some personal highlights for me over the past few years have been the rapid development of our operational and technical capabilities – implementing KPIs along the way all with the mission of providing our global customer base with first class product and support.
Since joining, not only have we been busy transforming the business, but we have also been busy on the M&A front, completing our private equity-backed Management Buy Out last June followed by the acquisition of our largest competitor in November. My previous experience working in private equity and M&A proved useful in completing both these deals. The acquisition helps us broaden our global customer footprint as well as increase our buying power. The combined entity is easily the largest global buyer of compatible optics.
Another personal highlight for me would have to be having the ability to develop and implement better HR policies such as the implementation of our profit sharing and flexible holiday purchase schemes. Having the ability to create a positive work environment is key in attracting, motivating and retaining our high-quality team.
Having worked in a variety of different industries, I know how key it is to develop and grow your people, they really do “make” a business. A foundation to the way I believe a good business runs is to have clearly identified objectives with KPIs with clear individual accountabilities. By agreeing these within our teams it gives people the chance to develop themselves and grow their own career in the company.
In terms of challenges. managing working capital in a fast-growing environment is always something to keep a watchful eye over, especially as we look to ensure a high level of capital investment to help keep us ahead of our competitors. With the ever-expanding team, promoting internal communications and transparency is also key to ensure that all employees are on the same page when it comes to company goals as well as performance.
After working in several SMEs, as well as in larger corporations, there is always a challenge of driving business growth, no matter what the market. If you can find a way of doing this, which I have in my previous roles and here at Prolabs, then it leads to a healthy business which is truly scalable.
It’s safe to say, my time at ProLabs has been nothing short of busy, but all these wonderful opportunities and highlights make me incredibly proud of how far we have come as a company.
- Can you tell us a little about your career development before you joined the company?
Prior to joining ProLabs as CFO in February 2016, I started my career at Xerox Corp in a variety of roles including supply chain, manufacturing and finance, and in total now have spent 30 years in industry and private equity. My time in private equity was spent as an investor initially at 3i PLC, but more recently, I am a non-executive director the government owned British Business Bank PLC and am the vice chair of Unseen (UK), a charity dedicated to the eradication of human trafficking and slavery.
- You’re vice chair of Un-Seen UK, tell us more about why this is important to you.
Being involved in organisations like Unseen keeps you on top on what is happening in the world. With Unseen, I get to work with different people from different backgrounds. As there are so many people from all walks of life sitting on the board alongside me, it makes every meeting interesting. For example, being able to collaborate and hear their take on things, or how they would approach situations differently. Being able to have the time and experience to add value is a real privilege but it is a two-way street – I get as much out of being involved as much as the charity wants to get input from me. Being involved with an organisation such as this really does broaden your mind in more ways than one.
- Do you notice a lack of women in technology? If so, why do you think this is the case and what would your advice be to other women if they were thinking about working in this sector?
Actually, no. I don’t even notice a difference as I see people as people. Gender has nothing to do with this, it’s all about work ethic. I don’t subscribe to the ‘lack of women’ bandwagon, women can get anywhere they want to purely on work ethic and merit, and that is what has happened to me.
There are too many people suggesting there aren’t enough women in this industry without looking in depth at the issue. The reality at ProLabs is more than 40% of our EMEA team is female, there is no glass ceiling for women at ProLabs or in this industry. You can achieve it and be part of it if you are dedicated. Yes, at a senior level you could argue there is maybe more men, but this is only because I am so used to this environment that I don’t see it. My message would be never let gender hold you back, just get on with it. Never take no for an answer.
- Tech is striving to attract younger women – does finance need to do the same?
I would say there is always more to be done, but most finance departments are filled with women. Here at ProLabs our ratio is 70% women to 30% men. In senior roles again, yes this could differ, but I have never noticed it to be a problematic issue first hand. In my view, the focus should be on educating the next generation. We need to encourage more training and learning opportunities for both girls and boys to allow them to move into whatever role or industry they choose. We need to stop thinking in such binary terms and instead focus on inclusivity. Life is not a tick box exercise, for example: if you’re female you should do this and if you’re male you must do this. Moving forward, we need to attract people from all walks of life and reinforce that you can get where you want to by working hard.
- What do you hope to achieve going forward in your career?
Looking ahead, I want to continue to instill the importance of personal learning and development. This also means providing the time and space for people to do this – time really does fly and all of a sudden, a year or two have passed without the time to take stock and focus on the next area for development. If our people want to develop themselves, whether that’s getting a degree or wanting more opportunities, I am all for it. I draw my inspiration from my own father who left school at 14 with no qualifications but went on to develop himself though night school and went on to have an impressive career in business. My father demonstrates that with hard work and a passion for learning combined with an enquiring mind, you really can achieve what you want.
- Where do you hope to take ProLabs in five years’ time?
My goal is that ProLabs becomes an aspirational brand in our market – the one that people want to buy, work for and work with. I want to help create a meaningful presence globally in all geographies and all channels, as well as help to attract the best talent in the industry.
- What other female leaders do you admire and why?
For me it’s not about the big names or high-profile celebrities. I admire people who are passionate about what they do, who work hard and who have integrity, irrelevant of gender. The way I was brought up is to admire those who have a clear focus, communicate clearly and who stay true to themselves.
- Can you sum up your approach to business in three words?
Passion, commitment, fun.