Optiva CEO’s Knack For Turnarounds Comes From Her Diverse Background

Two years ago everyone thought Optiva, then known as Redknee, was dead. But what they didn’t realize was Danielle Royston was coming in to whip the company into shape.

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Royston is a turnaround CEO. She has taken a company that had $80 million in debt, was unprofitable and was running out of cash and transformed Optiva into the powerhouse it is today.  In the first year under her charge, the company raised more than $150 million to restructure. With that now complete, Optiva has emerged as the software leader, driving big telcos to the cloud.

“Everyone thought we were dead two years ago — now they are talking about how we are the visionary leader,” said Royston in a question and answer session with The Software Report. “It’s been an exciting journey  — like a phoenix rising from the ashes.”

Royston credits her success at Optiva, as well as in past roles, to her diverse background that melded enterprise software expertise with human resources skills. She was introduced to her first personal computer at the age of 11 and instantly fell in love. That set her on a path to get a computer science degree from Stanford University.

Through her career, Royston has taken on roles that led to more responsibility, moving around to get the necessary experience. Gaining expertise in different areas of business enabled her to perfect her management approach, which puts people at the center of everything.

“Software is a people-intensive business — the primary capital is human capital. And my time in HR in a variety of roles, like recruiting, compensation, performance management, has played a very big part in shaping my leadership style,” said Royston. “Working with humans is by its nature, emotional. I learned early on how to successfully navigate such a highly subjective environment.”

“I discovered that you need to approach people decisions like Mr. Spock from Star Trek: objective and without emotion. Make a decision based on the facts available and what is the right call for the business. But when it comes time to communicate the decision to your team, then you need to be like Mother Teresa: empathetic and caring. I ask myself — how would I like to receive this message? I use that as my guiding principle as a leader.”

Optiva is operating in a fast-growing market with a lot of competition, requiring the workforce to be on top of the game. To get the most out of her people, Royston said she focuses on providing feedback on a constant basis, not just once or twice a year as happens in many companies. Instead, the management team within Optiva gives feedback to all employees on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis, whether they are working in research and development or human resources. The results of this frequent goal setting are also published to the team weekly so that everyone can track progress.

“As a person in our organization, you know where you stand at all times. And our leaders spend their time checking in on each individual every single day — to coach them on how to improve their productivity, or if they’re at the top, getting ideas on how they work that’s different to help other people on the team,” said Royston. “I have found that top performers love this style of work — it makes the full team accountable. Gone are the days where the top 20% of the workers are doing 80% of the work.”

As a female CEO, Royston knows all too well the challenges women in the business world face, particularly in the technology arena. And since it will be a long time before the number of female tech leaders will equal that of men, she said aspiring female CEOs have to break through the barriers. “You cannot depend on diversity officers or efforts to solve this problem,” said Royston. “Find a mentor that believes in you, have high expectations for yourself, fight for a seat at the table and when you get there, start driving the change yourself.”