MYOB Women in Tech, part three: head of delivery at Trade Me Diana Minnee on how challenges didn’t predetermine her success
- Read part one in this series with Metia Interactive founder Maru Nihoniho here and part two with Banqer co-founder Kendall Flutey here.
If you work in agile, most would assume you’re pretty adaptable to change. With 15 years of experience in agile and lean practices under her belt, Diana Minnee is an expert at things like frameworks, methodologies and learning mindsets. She even has the word ‘Sisu’ tattooed on her wrist – a Finnish concept that has no English equivalent, but means grit, bravery and resilience.
So, how does the head of delivery at Trade Me apply the thinking that keeps some of New Zealand’s leading organisations ticking to her own evolving life journey?
Last year, Minnee wrote a candid blog about her life and why she was proud to look back on the things she had achieved. She reflected on how when she was months away from turning 17, she discovered she was pregnant.
Already seven months into her unplanned pregnancy, the shock rippled through Minnee, her boyfriend, their parents and the community.
“Upon letting my parents know, my step mother’s first response was, ‘How am I ever going to show my face to my friends now? I’m so ashamed of you! You have ruined your life.’ My father was silent, and I watched him grey before my eyes,” she says.
Minnee’s career choices from this point forward stem from her belief that, “Nothing is predetermined, success looks different for everyone, and the opinion you have of yourself is more important than other people’s views of you”.
Keeping this belief firm to her heart, Minnee found shift work as a waitress in a pub while raising her daughter in a new town with her first husband. As her confidence soared, she felt a desire to prove herself to the people who told her she’d ruined her life.
Armed with an incredible thirst to learn and give the middle finger, she zigzagged from shop assistant, to selling newspaper ads, to working in an art gallery, to owning her own salon. This wealth of knowledge in people, systems, marketing and operations has helped her carve a niche in today’s fast-paced tech industry today.
But while working as a salon owner, Minnee was hit by a storm of personal and professional challenges: she had a miscarriage, separated from her husband and lost her business due to fraudulent activity committed by a trusted employee in the space of a few months.
“Personally, death, poverty, divorce and a lack of family support are all as bad as they say they are. The lessons from these have meant I am ultimately stronger for it, but I wouldn’t wish it on anyone,” Minnee says.
“We shouldn’t need to be as strong and resilient as these things force us to become, and in many ways, this has been to the detriment of closeness to others, sharing the load, and admitting when I need support.
“Outside of these things, though, the hardest lesson I have learnt is being burned badly by people you trust. I mean big, harrowing, take-five-years-to-recover kind of throw you under the bus type of burn here. It is hard not to let that change your perspective from trusting first unless proven otherwise, to being closed off and having people earn your trust. I believe people are generally not out to be assholes to you, and thinking the best of them is always a place I go to first. There have been times when that has been very hard to maintain, but doing what is right is better than doing what is easy.”
For Minnee, it is easy to explain where she is now and she believes it is down to an intentional push to embrace a new phase in her personal life, as well as where she wanted to be professionally.
“My life has been filled with some hard yards, a tough road in many ways to get to what I would define as success. The last five years have been purposeful when it comes to my career, as some of the best advice I received about then was from the Chair of the Board at SilverStripe [where I had been since 2010] when he told me the fastest way of getting where I wanted was a straight line. I made a plan of what I wanted to do and be, and I have been true to that path since then.”
Minnee explains what delivery means to her and how this can be considered from a personal perspective – particularly if you’re going through a period of change or making intentional decisions that are aimed at leading you somewhere.
“People often wonder what delivery means – my seven-year-old niece asked if I was responsible for delivering all of the things that were sold on Trade Me to the people who bought them, and she was very disappointed with my real job when I explained.
“Delivery is about how we do our best work together in a safe way, smooth our flow through the end-to-end delivery life cycle, and consistently measure our results to know what’s adding value. This may be looking at processes, tools, team psychology, motivating factors, organisational structure or culture, and how it all relates to optimising our environment to create great things efficiently.”
Finding the right balance is something she has strived for and practiced daily after remarrying and having another child not long after turning 40, something she believes comes down to compromises and disclaimers.
“Both my husband and I are in senior careers that neither of us wanted to pause. It was not something I had considered very seriously until that moment, so we had to come to some very specific terms around how we could still sustain my career growth expectations while growing our family,” Minnee says.
“It’s been a hard road, one that takes discipline to do in a way that keeps everyone happy and healthy. I don’t know if I would recommend it to everyone, but luckily our personality types and lifestyle makes it work somehow.
“It’s difficult to do without someone compromising something fundamental to them, but we manage. All of this ‘women can have a career, and a family’ messaging should at least come with a disclaimer. It’s challenging, it’s constant, it’s expensive, but at least for us, it’s worth it.”