“The first thing I felt that you were very lonely because of the burden of responsibility that came together with your position,” shares Daiga Auziņa-Melalksne, the Chairperson of the Management Board of stock exchange Nasdaq Riga, with insights on how to become and be a leader.She is also one of the supporters of the Novatore Impact Summit. This international forum will take place on 22 and 23 September in Riga. Its main aim is to encourage and motivate women to reach the highest goals in their careers and achieve their full potential.
How did your professional career begin? You once said in an interview that you had joined Riga Stock Exchange, currently Nasdaq Riga, by chance.
Yes, it was an absolute coincidence. I had just returned from America and applied for several jobs found in advertisements. To my surprise, I was invited for an interview at Riga Stock Exchange, after which, even more surprisingly, I was offered a job.
I had the appropriate education, and my knowledge of English was quite good. All the other things necessary at the job I picked up along the way. I suppose the decisive factor was that my boss, a very good manager, saw my potential and my ability to grow and develop.
In my life I have always been lucky with all my managers, also with those whom I did not always consider to be good managers at the time. Only retrospectively, I realize how much I have learned from them and which life experience I have gained.
And now, with my 20-plus years of management experience in Latvia and rest of the Baltics, when I am hiring people, I always look at their potential, whether they will be able to learn things, and then some other factors can be ignored. Colleagues say that I can assess people quite accurately.
When did you realise that you can and want to be a leader? What were the factors that helped you become one?
I think it was when I faced my first difficulties. When my boss offered to nominate me for the position of the chairperson of the management board, my first answer was: not on my life. There was another colleague who could also be nominated. I can be an excellent second, helping to develop his potential.
But life took a different turn and I became the chairperson of the management board. The first thing I felt that you were very lonely because of the burden of responsibility that came together with the position.
And then I realised that the only way to get rid of this loneliness was to build a team of people who believed in you and were ready to work together. And when the first challenges appear, everyone has the chance to show what they are really made of, directly or indirectly.
But how did you manage to overcome your sense of insecurity? It is very common to hear that women can be great supporting players.
You can overcome insecurity by doing. It is not for nothing that Latvians have a saying “what the eye fears, the hands do” – just start doing.
I understand that sense of insecurity and doubts, it can be about the ability to talk with the staff and customers, to speak publicly. Self-confidence comes when you stop doubting yourself. As women, we often have inner doubts, which decrease with experience and age and come to an end at some point.
I think hobbies, physical activities, sports or art are extremely important, also those can help to strengthen our self-confidence.
What kind of a leader are you and what is your management style?
I am open and honest. I see this as a positive and, in a way, also a negative quality. I have always liked open communication. An employee once told me that he really appreciated my openness and directness and the fact that I did not play any political games.
If we have a problem, we discuss it, maybe even have a proper argument, but since we have a common goal, it works. That is the key – openness. Certainly, not everyone appreciates it.
You are a founder and a member of the Board of the Latvian Institute of Corporate Governance. Why is this important for you?
This is one of the things I regard as my accomplishment and something to be proud of. When the idea of the institute was born, we had very few supporters. At that time, only few people recognised the importance of corporate governance. Many thought it was something western, we had a specific economy and specific companies in Latvia, why should we need openness and transparency while it might only hinder business and lead to losing our competitive power. How can we trust strangers as members of the board? Working at the stock exchange allowed me to see what problems our customers’ businesses had 20 years ago. You could call this a lack of understanding and absence of good corporate governance practices. And I realised that good corporate governance could help developing also the market and business.
When we started the institute, like many other non-governmental organizations, we faced financing issues, but I was able to find like-minded people who were ready to devote their time and money to build the institute.
So, almost ten years ago, we raised the necessary funds to open the institute in Latvia. It was essential to find someone who could bring the institute’s ideas to life. And we did it: Andris Grafs continues working successfully, showing by his work that the institute is extremely important for Latvia. That good corporate governance increases company’s competitiveness. Openness and transparency, a professional board are aspects that help to grow a business, attain a new level of development, and not the other way round.
For me, the start of the institute was hard because it required much time, but things have changed in recent years. We have a great management team and a professional board, which has three representatives from each Baltic country. And, in fact, there are more and more people who want to join institute’s board. We now even have to make a selection since many strong candidates are applying. It is a great way to share thoughts and understand where to go further. By now, more than 1,000 people have graduated from the institute in the Baltics. This in itself is proof of our success.
Having many strong candidates raises the bar for the position of a board member. If people are confident, they can work for companies and the industry, they are ready to do it. And now, in 20 years, all those who have worked in management positions and gained both local and international experience are looking for a new angle of their careers, and boards are where they can express themselves most.
In managing Nasdaq, you meet owners and managers of various companies every day. Have you noticed any differences in the generations of owners or managers? What is the most positive thing about the new generation?
Yes, of course, there are differences. I can say from my specific business experience that the stock exchange is intended for the new generation of entrepreneurs: people who are well educated, who understand economics, who understand finance, who understand capital markets. People who are not afraid of transparency and openness.
And one more difference: young people want visibility and recognition, at both personal and corporate level. The new generation emerging on the labour market wants to work in a workplace with new values that resonate with them, such as green thinking. Sometimes it may seem a little naïve, but it is a very important element for them.
Young people no longer just want to be proud of the company where they work and get paid, they want to be part of the company, to be co-owners. If we look at the new generation of companies that have come to the stock exchange, such as MADARA Cosmetics, Indexo, Delphin Group, Virši, all these companies offer employee stock options, which actually makes employees co-owners. They have skin in the game – we are all working towards the result and growth. The new generation of entrepreneurs is not afraid to give their stocks to employees.
From your personal experience: is it harder for women to run a business and care for their family? Do women have a different style of management?
I think women are more honest. That is why it is very important to have more women in politics. For example, we can see now that Riga Council has more women, they are more visible, they have a different agenda. I do not see other significant differences in women as managers. Women have a wider range of concerns: work and family, children. We are all dependent on the team we have at work and at home.
I suppose woman have two very important choices: one, of course, is a profession, and the other is the choice of a husband. Because we need people around us to push us up. If your family – husband or mother, say, yes, go and do it, you will manage – of course, your motivation is different. I think it is one’s mother who plays a huge role in whether a woman will become a manager and will be ready to take on new challenges. Because you mum is the one who influences you by example and can also support you best by giving advice when you need it. It is very important what people closest to you say to you at home.
It is clear that we cannot choose our parents, but this is what we can teach our daughters and daughters-in-law about.
What would you recommend or wish young professionals who are thinking about their further careers?
The most important thing is to understand what is it that you want to do. Find the sector, the thing that is of interest to you. It is important to do what interests you, to do it with people who share your values, and then further events will develop naturally. What is the worst thing that can happen? You will be back where you were, but many other paths and opportunities may open up for you.
Why have you chosen to support the Novatore conference? What did you find important in these ideas?
I had no doubt whether to support Novatore, I knew immediately that I will do it. I am a people person, if I sympathise with the ladies organising the event, I agree to support them at once. I believe in women’s solidarity.
Nasdaq Riga has always had a lot of female employees, and I understand them very well because I am a woman myself. I have had a responsible job and young children at the same time. I am trying to inspire women both in and outside the workplace. I believe we must help each other to develop and grow, and the whole society will benefit from it.
Maybe women in general spend too much time thinking. Sometimes ‘just do it’ may be the best approach. Some people measure and re-measure but never cut. If it can make you happier, just do it, what is there to measure!