Career Path: Iris Financial CEO Michele McGovern

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What's it take for a working mother to succeed in business? A lot of energy, a supportive husband, children who like to travel and a mother who doesn't mind flying across the US on short notice to babysit certainly help.

Michele McGovern, named CEO of London-based software provider Iris Financial in May, took her degree in accounting and went to work for PricewaterhouseCoopers before leaving to start her own consulting firm to help clients looking for business solutions that relied on technology.

She worked with buy-side asset managers in San Francisco including Charles Schwab, BGI, and Franklin Templeton.

"The underpinnings of business solutions were always technology," McGovern says. Finance is always creating new products and it can't execute without technology, but it is important not to become enamoured of technology."

Networking to the top

Over her career, McGovern has proved excellent at networking, which, she says, didn't prove all that difficult in financial technology. "I aligned myself with people who knew financial technology," she says. "The good thing in finance is that everyone knows everyone else, so it was easy to find the type of skills I needed by asking around."

After 10 years of consulting, she was recruited by TenFold, where she was president and CEO of Argenesis, a subsidiary that delivered enterprise-scale technology solutions to leading securities firms.

McGovern attributes some of her success to bridging the gap between business and IT.

"Business people have to offer new products in a limited time, and a lot is in their heads about how the business operates to do that," she says. "To get to the level of detail IT people need to build something takes a lot of detailed work. Not many people's brains work that way, but if you are a communicator, like people, and like to solve problems, there is a role for that in the marketplace."

McGovern admits that she has found it convenient to be a female in this marketplace because women are scarce. But it takes more than gender to succeed.

"Being open to ideas, open to people and naturally inquisitive" are vital, she says. In San Francisco one finds a fair number of women programmers, although not many engineers or managers. Some women stay in programming because they like development, she adds, admitting that pure technology is not her strength.

"Everyone who works for me in technology is years ahead of where I would be. I can talk about the business needs, team up with technologists who understand commercialized solutions - we aren't Bell Labs."

The goal at Iris Financial is to get into the market quickly, price solutions correctly, and be flexible and adaptable.

Work-life balance? Balance with what?

"I like what I do; this is what I do for fun," says McGovern. "I love meeting people, seeing what's going on, helping them. This stuff is fascinating, and the people are fascinating. If this were a sleepy industry, it would be another story, but this industry has never been in maintenance mode."

McGovern delivered her daughter, now 11, at 8am and was on the phone with a client five minutes later. "It sounds a little sick," she admits. But her daughter, and son now 9, don't seem impaired by their hard-working mother.

"Family life is a choice we all make," she says. "I have to get on a plane because you can't do it all by email. I work a full day in San Francisco, put my kids to bed and catch the red-eye to New York, get there early, work a day and fly to London that night. A lot of women don't have that interest. But it is hard to be in this industry if you don't have a lot of energy."

For women who want to see every soccer game and get to every school concert, she says they have a choice to make in financial technology. It's not as if this is a Thames Valley or Silicon Valley business.

"Google guys are all located together, but in our industry when your clients are large institutions around the world, you make yourself present," McGovern says. The reality is that it is very hard to have ultimate flexibility and expansive responsibilities. It takes a certain number of hours to be in a senior management role. If you want flexible hours, there are certain roles you can take on and certain roles you can't."

The key, she adds, is to have a strong management team. "By leveraging people who have strong skills in their respective areas, it's amazing what you can accomplish. There are a lot of companies with great technologies and some great people, but they don't have the management team. You can't do it with one or two people."

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