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Anna N. Schlegel | Globalization Executive and Author

Innovation and Sustainability: Anna N. Schlegel’s Synthesis of Global Leadership at Scale

The intricacies of enterprises venturing into international markets involve seeking to seamlessly deliver and scale their products across diverse cultures. In this dynamic realm, Anna N. Schlegel emerged and has remained a major guiding force—a top ranked Globalization Executive and Author with a penchant for unraveling the complexities of global expansion. Anna, also known as Anna Navarro Descals, creates a narrative in ‘Truly Global,’ offering an insider’s perspective gleaned from 30 years at the forefront of the technology industry.

Embarking on a journey that spans notable names like Cisco Systems, Google, VMware, Xerox, and NetApp, Anna has consistently elevated organizations on the global stage. Either as GM or Vice-President of Enterprise Globalization, she has managed a remarkable ascent, propelling Japan’s NetApp business from the 12th to the coveted 1st position in data storage.

Currently serving as the Head of Globalization at ProCore Technologies, Anna strategically navigates the realms of the full globalization orchestration, partnering with PLC, global engineering, international product, technical content, corporate strategy, customer support, legal, HR and marketing. Basically, she navigates the company to align it to go global. Her expertise extends beyond corporate realms with published works in prestigious platforms like Forbes, Fortune, and the European Union.

Anna’s impact transcends the boardroom—she sits on three global boards, presides over the Catalan International Economic Circle study on Women and is a recognized philanthropist. Co-founder of nonprofits like Women in Localization and STEMentors Silicon Valley, Anna’s commitment to societal betterment is staunch. Her illustrious career and contributions were recently acknowledged with the ‘Creu de Sant Jordi’ Medal of Honor by the Catalan Government, an embodiment of her unparalleled achievements in technology and business giving her a title of her excellency but one would never know when talking to her.

Let’s explore how in every endeavor, Anna personifies the essence of being Truly Global!

Global Brands and Cultural Connections

Anna’s journey into leadership was not a predetermined path. “I did not start as a leader, but I was always interested in seeing how I could support them; it was always the other way around. I wanted to help them do incredible things by going global,” she reflects. In her early 20s at Cisco Systems, Anna found herself on the leadership track as a Program Manager, learning the intricacies of managing both direct and matrix teams. The experience paved the way for her to take on additional teams, requiring her to undergo numerous leadership classes. “All of a sudden, I was managing other people, and I had to make myself a leader, and that is when many classes started, especially because I felt very much like an immigrant!”

Her ascent was not solely self-driven; her managers and leaders played a crucial role in pushing her to take on more responsibilities. “It has also been my managers and leaders who pushed me to take on more or thought that I managed a team well, so they trusted me to give me more, I have had incredible sponsors cheering me on!” Anna acknowledges. Despite the challenges, she always embraced opportunities, even if it meant returning to university. “I always said yes.”

Fast forward three decades, and Anna finds herself at the helm of global expansion. Her passion lies in making products, solutions and technologies accessible to as many people as possible. “Global expansion came because of my passion in seeing products and technologies that I think are great for humanity be accessible to as many humans as possible.” Her academic journey, spanning five stints in university, focused on English philology, German philology, telecommunications, board management, senior leadership management, and gender and minority studies, all European and American universities honing her skills in leadership to be able to adapt companies for diverse markets.

How do you speak to folks in different countries so that they can collaborate and achieve big goals?” Anna poses a question that underlines her commitment to understanding and bridging cultural gaps. Her fascination lies in building global brands by recognizing the immense opportunities for products to transcend borders. “Building global brands is what fascinates me, huge opportunities for products to go global and help so many humans, it’s always the same theme for me!”

Shared Values and Exceptional Teams

Anna’s leadership philosophy has undergone significant evolution emphasizing the essence of being a ‘people-first leader.’ Recognizing the relentless efforts put forth in the high-tech industry, she underscores the importance of leaders being deeply connected to their teams. “Everyone in high tech works so very hard that leaders need to be very attuned to their teams,” Anna asserts, highlighting the psychological aspects of motivation within the tech realm.

A pivotal aspect of her leadership journey involves the meticulous selection of her direct team. “Who you have in your direct staff is super important because they will make you or break you,” she states, emphasizing the critical role her team plays in her success. Her approach extends beyond traditional leadership—she sees herself as a ‘coach’ and ‘orchestrator,’ a ‘consultant,’ and a ‘visionary’ for her team.

Central to Anna’s leadership style is the establishment of shared values within her teams. “Wherever I work I make it a very strong point to have values we all agree to and show up as a people-first leader,” she notes. Her focus on building exceptional teams revolves around selecting individuals who surpass her own capabilities. “You want to hire the best, better than you!” This exemplifies a learning process, marked by the cultivation of teams that complement each other, possess role clarity and exhibit intentional direction.

Decoding Global Markets

Anna emphasizes the importance of understanding one’s capacity and feasibility before embarking on global expansion. “You need to really want to do it and know you can do it,” she advises. Her strategic approach involves starting small and piloting in a few markets while also recognizing the complexity of going global. Anna highlights a crucial aspect often overlooked by-product leaders—acknowledging that “your product will need different market fit and compliances in other markets.”

Having witnessed companies attempting too much without grasping the intricacies of global expansion, Anna stresses the need for a nuanced perspective. “You have to treat globalization and driving global growth as a very delicate exercise,” she cautions, emphasizing the scarcity of companies hiring the right leaders for this journey.

Drawing from her extensive experience, Anna notes that driving global market growth is a time-intensive effort that requires the collective involvement of the entire enterprise. “All teams and departments need to collaborate. It is a huge effort.”

Anna’s insights extend to the timeline of global success, particularly in the high-tech sector. “Some of the best products that have gone global take years to do so,” she shares, underlining the commitment and patience required. Her expertise is further encapsulated in her book, ‘Truly Global,’ a resource tailored for leaders aspiring to take their companies and products to a global scale offering practical guidance derived from her own journey.

Championing Globalization

Anna approaches global expansion with a structured framework she co-developed, known as the ‘Globalization Maturity Model.’ This model goes across the company, horizontally. The first step involves alignment with the strategy office, focusing on countries, product-market fit, and upfront investments.

As the heads of globalization become massive orchestrators, collaboration with various departments such as finance, product and engineering, support, marketing, and close customer engagement is crucial. “To make a cohesive strategy, you need a model, many champions, executives who know and want to go global, the funding and a paceyou phase the approach,” Anna shares. Her emphasis on a strategic, phased approach underscores the importance of a well-managed and collaborative effort in navigating the complexities of global expansion.

Bravery Beyond Borders

Reflecting on a pivotal moment in her career, Anna recalls, “This was one of my best experiences ever.” In a daring move, she spearheaded the localization of NetApp, a Fortune company’s product into Japanese. With a small, covert team, she boldly hacked a top product into Japanese without informing anyone.

Despite facing backlash from engineering, Anna’s gamble paid off when she traveled to Japan, showcased the adapted product to customers and generated a remarkable $60 million within a quarter. The move, though met with challenges, exemplifies Anna’s bravery and determination to propel NetApp from ‘a number 11 position to number 1’ in the Japanese market over her years at NetApp. This serves as a powerful testament to the impact of bold decision-making and a willingness to put everything on the line for success.

Lessons Learned

Anna’s leadership wisdom stems from over ‘3 decades in the workforce, where she’s navigated various roles and observed different models and executives. “Once you have seen them in the number of companies I have worked at and seen different models, seeing different executives do great or fail at it has taught me a lot!” she shares.

In her experience as an Executive Producer, General Manager, CEO, or Vice President, Anna believes in finding the best leaders for each function. While acknowledging that many VPs may manage a specific product line, or solution or program, Anna emphasizes the value of leading globally diverse teams by demonstrating that connectivity among team members is ultimately beneficial for the entire organization if they want to go global, you can’t forget that customers are different around the globe, it is definitely not one size fits all. Her insights underscore the importance of adaptability and a holistic approach to leadership in diverse business environments.

Symbiotic Wisdom

Anna stresses the importance of a crossover between corporations and academia, stating, “The world of academia can sometimes be protected and swirled inside its own learnings, and we need bothcorporations learning from their research and new studies along with the institutes and universities need to pull experts in the field.” She emphasizes the mutual benefit derived from this collaboration, noting that scholars gain real-world insights, while corporate professionals stay informed about academic developments.

Anna expresses her enthusiasm for this symbiotic relationship, highlighting the value of bridging the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application for a more holistic and dynamic learning environment.

Wired to Serve

Anna’s commitment to philanthropy traces back to her childhood, instilled by her father at the tender age of 10. She envisions a world where collective efforts and community orientation lead to a better society, stating, “If we could all lean in, help others, be more community-oriented, we would be a much better world.” Despite acknowledging the potential naivety of this belief, Anna passionately adheres to it in both thought and action.

Her mentoring endeavors extend beyond personal connections, as she shares her insights with individuals who reach out, emphasizing, “I mentor people all the time who I have never met and ask me to talk to them.” Anna’s altruistic spirit is evident in her desire to serve those in need, supporting organizations like Doctors Without Borders, Open Arms and the Red Cross in impoverished areas globally.

Anna’s philanthropic reach extends to non-profits serving villages on the Tanzania-Kenya border where the Maasai live. “I am wired to serve. My love language is community,” she declares. This commitment manifests in practical actions, such as serving food and encouraging her children to engage in community work.

One notable initiative spearheaded by Anna is Women in Localization, a platform with global reach. Celebrating its 15th anniversary which she co-founded, and it is spanning 30+ areas worldwide, the organization has empowered thousands of women, helping them secure jobs, and acquire new skills.

Beyond Technical Skills

Anna observes the contemporary business landscape, noting a ‘more cut-throat environment,’ possibly influenced by widespread layoffs, or the lack of in person work, she thinks Covid toughed it all up a bit. However, she also acknowledges the rapid pace of innovation, highlighting the transformative impact of technology. “I used to have to drive a floppy disk… now I get metrics on anything I wish to pull from systems at any given second,” she remarks underlining the profound shift in information accessibility.

To aspiring leaders, Anna offers valuable advice beyond technical skills, emphasizing the importance of personal development. “Do not just learn ‘what,’ learn how to be a great human,” she advises. Anna underscores the ongoing process of becoming a great human emphasizing essential skills like active listening, the ability to engage in crucial conversations and the art of succinctly communicating key points.

Her counsel extends beyond formal education at 5 universities, recognizing the significance of values in the real world. “It is not just what you learn in university. It is what comes after, when you are in the real world, the values you learned or not will help you.” Anna stresses the correlation between leadership behavior and trust, asserting, “If you are behaving like a poor leader, people will not trust you, and they see it fast.”

Solidarity in Action

Anna fondly reminisces about her impactful role in expanding an organization from ‘200 women to 1300 women in technology in the Silicon Valley.’ Describing it as “one of the best roles I have ever served as Chair,” she outlines the vibrant initiatives implemented. These included mentoring programs, technology classes, guidance on personal branding and effective communication with managers. They had metrics to make sure women stayed, were nurtured, and given paths to promotions. Anna expresses the joy experienced in these efforts, stating, “We had a blast. We attended Grace Hopper every year. I loved it.”

Upon departing NetApp, the outpouring of support was evident with ‘600 letters of please don’t go.’ Anna underscores the importance of women supporting each other, quoting Madeleine Albright, who said, “Women who do not support other women have a special place in hell.” This anecdote encapsulates Anna’s commitment to fostering a supportive community for women and the collective strength that emerges from such solidarity.

Anna’s Dual Passion

Anna expresses her ongoing commitment, stating, “I want to keep supporting my team, our innovation.” Currently focused on Generative AI, she actively collaborates with vendors in this realm. Beyond technology, Anna extends her gaze towards global sustainability, sharing her deep concern, “it concerns me highly.”

This succinct insight encapsulates Anna’s dual passion for technological advancement and her profound dedication to addressing broader global challenges, underlining the multifaceted nature of her professional endeavors.