Seizing Opportunities: An Interview with Optima’s Founder, Shaney Salomon
Shaney Salomon, the founder and owner of Optima ECM, stands out as one of a select few female CEOs in the male-dominated professional services industry. Her career journey provides unique insights into this competitive space. Recently we were able to sit down with her to discuss her past, how she’s making a positive difference in the industry, how she serves her employees and clients, and her advice for other entrepreneurs and women in tech.
Give us a little background. Where were you working before founding Optima ECM, and what did you learn there that paved the way for success?
Prior to launching Optima ECM, I served as OpenText’s Director of SAP Global Services where I was responsible for a team of over 60 and a $10 million budget. But my career trajectory leading up to that was not a straight line by any stretch.
I started my career at an IT mainframe processing company and gradually worked my way up to Director of Finance and Human Resources. As the tech industry continued to shift and evolve, I eventually moved to OpenText as a project manager and was soon promoted into the Director role.
I’ve worked my way up to leadership positions in every job or volunteer position I’ve ever had, and I truly believe it’s because “no” was not in my vocabulary. I looked at every job request made of me as an opportunity to learn something new, take control of and improve a function or keep myself in the critical path of the business. I’ve sought out and leveraged formal and informal mentors, and I’m always learning. I truly believe my varied career experiences and opportunities, coupled with my “whatever it takes” attitude have paved the way for my success at Optima ECM.
Why did you start Optima ECM? Did you have an experience or realization that made you passionate about helping clients achieve digital transformation in their businesses?
I come from generations of entrepreneurs carving out their own futures and taking risks . But from my early working days, I always knew – somehow, I would end up owning my own business.
When SAP chose OpenText as its go-to-market strategy for content management, I knew that it would put OpenText’s market reach on steroids – and the market opportunity would be huge for a consulting company that knew how to capture it.
OpenText began creating partnerships with the Big 4 companies to deliver the same services to its clients that my team delivered. I understood clearly that simply because they were large consultancies with big names didn’t mean they’d necessarily be as good at delivering the services. They didn’t have the intimate knowledge of SAP, Complex Business Process Optimization, Content Management & OpenText software. No one knew this space better than my team. I knew that we could build a customer-centric organization to solve our clients’ SAP and OpenText challenges, as well as assemble a dedicated team of experts to deliver customized, best-in-class solutions more efficiently that any large-scale firm. These simple points inspired Optima ECM’s creation, and have been the guiding principles fueling our success ever since.
As a female in the male-dominated field of technology, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced or lessons you’ve learned?
I have really enjoyed working in this environment! Being a woman in tech has largely been an advantage and viewed as something out of the ordinary which leads to great conversations and opportunities. I have certainly had my share of doubters and had to work harder to prove myself at times, but I did just that and didn’t view it as a roadblock.
I also feel I have a great advantage where it comes to collaboration, emotional intelligence, multi-tasking, empathy and relationship-building. Leveraging my ability to relate to people, build teams and troubleshoot team dynamics is one of my greatest superpowers.
Optima ECM is a company that values diversity, so what does that look like in the way you do business, from hiring team members to the partners and clients you work with?
This is one of my biggest points of pride in the company we’ve built. I tell anyone who will listen that we are the United Nations of tech consulting since we have such a wide range of nationalities, cultures, backgrounds, and genders in all roles. We are hiring and delivering client services globally, which just furthers this advantage. I believe we are a reflection of the global nature of the businesses we serve, and it helps us make strong connections with our clients.
How does being a woman-owned business bring an added value to the work you do and in the relationships you have with clients?
We are committed to building a global, diverse workforce, and our multicultural, multilingual staff allows us to be more relatable to our diverse client base. I truly believe it has been a strategic advantage in many situations. When our cultures and languages align with our clients’, they have a sense of familiarity and “hominess” that has pushed deals in our favor.
Likewise, I relate well to our clients’ female leadership, and I believe we have a shared perspective when dealing with heavy issues. It often allows us to get through barriers more quickly.
Has the fact that Optima ECM is woman-owned and that you have offices in different countries attracted more diverse talent? If so, how has that benefited the company and culture?
Being a U.S. company with Mexican operations has allowed us to attract and retain a top-notch group of American and Latin American professionals with Spanish language skills and an amazing work ethic. I also think that when women join the ranks, they appreciate the fact that there is a woman in the CEO position, and we have an immediate kinship since there are generally fewer women in tech industries.
What are some strategies that can help women achieve the success they seek in their workplaces, especially in male-dominated roles or industries?
The most valuable strategies I’ve used in my career are pretty basic. First, I work hard to make sure I become part of the critical path in my team. It’s essential to be the person that knows the answers. Second, I seek out mentors who are a few steps ahead of me in my career. Proactively asking for advice and guidance is a great way to learn and build relationships.
I’ve always wanted to be seen as the person that leadership can rely on to get the job done, no matter the ask. I took charge of my own career trajectory by asking for next steps and promotions and positioning myself to be the best fit for the natural progression of my role.
To this day, I have a network of mentors and business advisors that I work with to navigate the challenges of being a CEO. I have also become a mentor to the next generation of female entrepreneurs, which is a great way to keep my skills sharp and give back.
What excites you about Optima ECM’s future?
Even though we’ve been in business for almost 13 years at this point, we are going through a “renewal” of sorts which is thrilling to me! We have a lighter and leaner corporate structure, a fantastic sales and marketing process beyond what we’ve ever had in the past, and we have an amazing services team that delivers measurable value to our clients.
We also have a new Director of Innovation who leads the process to vet and assimilate emerging lines of business, partners, and solution options. His use of Design Thinking and Lean Startup best practices is like a startup incubator within our company. We continually innovate and bring the technologies, tools and strategies that our clients demand in their digital transformation journey. Whether on-prem or into the cloud, we have a proven methodology to build a clear vision and deliver it faster and more efficiently.
I also love that we are always dealing with growing pains – it’s part of our pioneer spirit. It means we are always pushing our limits, trying again when we fail, and repeating successes. We constantly do our best to fulfill our original vision of being the very best partner to our clients while providing amazing career opportunities to our team members. I truly feel like we’ve only scratched the surface of our true potential.