Rima Qureshi, based in Montreal, is senior vice-president and head of the North America region at Ericsson.
I was born in Pakistan, where there was a very traditional approach to things – a good girl should get married and then let her husband decide how she goes on with her studies.
My dad had a very different outlook on education. Education was extremely important to him and he instilled that in myself and my sister from a very young age. My dad's side of the family has traditionally been in science and medicine professions. He wanted me to continue the family tradition.
I didn't really start out by saying I wanted to be a leader of something. I somehow ended up that way. One of my earliest leadership experiences was in junior high school. We had a trip to Quebec City and needed to raise money. I took over the responsibility and organized bake sales and other ways to raise the money. As I was growing up, I noticed that my family tended towards me directing and leading whatever needed to be done. I guess they thought I was good at it.
Computers were the new thing when I had to decide what to study and so I decided to try it. I really enjoyed working with computers. I started programming probably when I was 15 or 16 years old on a Commodore 64. When you program, you write clear instructions and you get very expected, organized and rational results. In a world where things are not necessarily like that, it was nice to work with things that were black and white, or ones and zeros.
I started, within Ericsson, in Montreal and then had the opportunity to live and work in Sweden. I realized quickly that [a] very structured, very fact-based analytical approach to management did not work in a consensus-based environment. I needed to adapt very quickly to that environment. I moved from where I was – much more analytical – to becoming much more focused on the softer side of things, listening to people and creating a common view and a common vision for why people should do things.
I'm an explorer introvert. That means that I push the boundaries and I am looking for new ideas, but I am very analytical and I initially try to solve problems and come up with solutions on my own instead of involving people early in the process. But as a CEO, I can't just present people with my solution. I am learning to engage more with people as I make decisions. I'm learning, also, to make sure that I don't show up with the decision already made.
My passion is learning. That is what drives me at work and my hobbies. I am avid reader of history, fiction and technology trends. I love new experiences, whether it be through travel, the ability to live somewhere, a different job or [to] meet new people. That's probably been sparked by my dad's focus on the importance of education.
I'm travelling about 80 per cent of the time, often between Dallas, Montreal and Sweden. Going from North America to Europe is something that's straightforward for me now. I've done it so many times, so it's like riding a bus.
The best way to stay awake is to stand up. If I have difficulty concentrating in a meeting, I'll usually stand up to fight it.
I prefer one-on-one discussions, but I've had to learn to network. It's part of the job. The easiest way is to ask a question and let people talk about themselves. The trick is to give people an opportunity to talk about something that they feel passionate about. It is a great way to get to know someone.
As much as possible, I try not to tell people what I do for a living. I am not defined only by who I am at work. I am much more than that. It is interesting how some people feel the urge to talk about what they do for a living. It seems to define them completely. If I am asked what I do, I usually respond that I work in technology.
As much as possible, I eat at home when in Montreal. One of the things I look forward to most, especially in the summertime, is to head to the Jean-Talon Market and buy lots of great local food. We try to eat as local as possible so I preserve and cook as a way to relax.