Marta Zarraga, the CIO of BT Retail, initially said that she was “lucky” to have worked with mentors who have helped shape her career – but then she changed her mind.
“Someone told me once, ‘you are never lucky’. You have to be in the right place, have the right attitude, and work hard to be in that position,” she said.
Born in Spain, Zarraga grew up in Bilbao and has a computer engineering degree from the Universidad de Deusto in Bilbao. While there was an equal split of men and women on her course, she confirmed that in the corporate world, particularly when moving up the ranks, it is a different story.
“For the past 10 years, I have definitely worked with more men than females,” she said.
Zarraga says the catalyst for her career was in her first job out of university in 1995, with Sema Group Telecoms.
After 18 months based in London as a developer – she attributes her “very good” English skills to a year of study conducted in English at Lund University in Sweden, as part of her degree – she worked in Bolivia for 10 months developing a new billing and CRM (customer relationship management) system for a new telco in the country. Although she believes she mainly got the role because the company needed a Spanish speaker, she found it hugely rewarding to be able to successfully deliver a large project.
Zarraga then went on to be a programme manager of customer care and billing at Lucent Technologies from 1997 to 2000, and joined Accenture as senior manager of communications and technology, a position she held to 2005, when she joined BT. Until 2010, Zarraga was CIO of BT Consumer, and as director of service introduction and end-to-end test (SI&T), reduced the costs of the organisation by half.
Around eight months ago, she was promoted to her current role as CIO of BT’s retail division, where her customers include all UK consumers and SMEs.
Along the way, she said she has been fortunate enough to work with two key mentors.
The first, Tom Barry, is a former global partner at Accenture. Zarraga attributes much of what she knows about working in a large corporation to Barry.
“When I started, he took me under his wing. He taught me [a great deal about] corporate life, how to succeed, and how to deal with senior and corporate people,” she said.
“He also built a fantastic support team, who are basically part of my network as well.”
Zarraga regularly mines this business network, which she believes plays an important role in her knowledge development.
“I find it is a fantastic way to keep my finger on the pulse, to understand what the trends are. Every year I try and go to their big, global events, and I try to talk to them [people in her network] or meet with them at least once or twice a year.”
Her second mentor appeared when she joined BT. She worked on the team of former BT Group CIO Al-Noor Ramji, a man she effusively describes as an “inspirational character”. She witnessed Ramji transform BT - before he left last year to join financial services software firm Misys - and strongly believes that she learned her business transformation skills from him.
What these two mentors had in common was their accessibility, and their willingness to share their expertise, said Zarraga.
“They made themselves accessible to me. They took me to meetings, showed me how they operate on a day-to-day basis. It’s good that people talk to you and share their experience with you,” she said.
But Zarraga did not play a passive role either. To make the most of what she has learned from her mentors, she said she makes a real effort to understand the business.
“I fully understand the direction of the business and what they [the bosses] consider is important for the business, and what makes the business tick,” she explained.
Moreover, she is proactive in sharing her experiences, and finds that being on the end of the mentoring process is just as rewarding.
Zarraga, who mentors both men and women, said: “For me, mentoring is 100 percent part of my job. I help people grow, and seeing them grow is a great satisfaction. I make sure I’m accessible to people in the same way so that people grow, and it is a very rewarding part of my job.”