In 2017, shortly after ascending to the role of CEO of GFT Technologies, Marika Lulay was bracing for what she calls a “perfect storm”. At the time, the Stuttgart-based digital business solutions supplier was preparing for what seemed like a coming economic recession as well as the trade wars that were sure to erupt from Britain’s exit from the EU.

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Nonetheless, Marika thought, the situation would stay manageable if GFT could retain its largest two clients, with whom the company had spent years widening its footprint.

Suddenly, however, both clients succumbed to internal turmoil and were forced to close segments of their business and drastically cut their IT budgets. “There was no way this could not hit us or affect our revenue,” Marika recalls. “We were too big to be under the radar.”

The convergence of all these challenges kicked off the most trying period in Marika’s long career as an IT executive. Fortunately, the newly appointed CEO was perfectly positioned to weather the storm. In the 80s, she had decided to become one of Germany’s first women to study computer science. “I simply wanted to study something that was new and not mainstream,” she says.

For 15 years before taking the top spot at GFT, she served as the company’s COO, giving her the necessary insight and familiarity with the company’s inner workings to make consequential decisions about its future. “I used this moment as an inflection point to reinvent the company,” Marika says.

“We needed to build a bridge into other growth sectors and technologies with diversification, and we did. We still specialise in the finance sector, but we leveraged our technology skills and previous acquisitions to build a bridge into other industries such as insurance and manufacturing. The remarkable outcome was that, despite a drastic reduction in revenue from our top two clients, we were able to completely offset those losses with steady, ongoing growth.

“This says a lot about our deep technology skills, our competitive advantage, and the passion our management puts into this change drive.”

“Diversity if one of our core building blocks in our management culture. This leads to GFT having a very good female representation – without quota.”

Doing both

Marika’s takeaway from weathering her stormy transition has been that a successful CEO must be able to perform in two modes. “I think it is fair to say that my notable achievement has been the ability to handle both high-pressure troubleshooting and steady growth management.”

“I think it’s fair to say my notable achievement has been the ability to handle high-pressure troubleshooting and steady growth management.”

Since diversifying GFT’s portfolio, she is now able to enjoy the latter. “After two years of strategic new orientation at GFT, I have the satisfaction of now being back on the growth path again with a fantastic team and never a dull day. GFT is structurally much healthier, and we can scale much better. Our growth figures have improved, and we are less reliant on a few top clients. Most of all, I simply enjoy new client relationships and the insights they provide,” she says.

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One new relationship she touts is with a Texas-based oilfield services company to which GFT provides IoT devices for their oil-drilling equipment. The devices allow data to be streamed directly from the equipment to onsite vans, where the data is analysed to enhance performance and resolve issues as they arise.

“These projects are far removed from our normal working locations, so really on the frontline,” says Marika. “It’s fascinating to see pump trucks with the wireline to drop explosives deep underground, and then those same wirelines streaming the data right into the onsite vans for data analysis, all in the middle of nowhere!”

  
   

  • – GFT Technologies was founded in Germany’s Black Forest in 1987.
  • – Its global team spans 15 countries with a Global Delivery Workforce of 5,700 people.
  • – It supplies IT solutions to businesses in the capital markets, banking, insurance, and industry sectors.

Skin in the game

Her excitement reflects GFT’s philosophy of being ‘big enough to deliver, small enough to care’. The company’s 5,700 employees are spread across 15 countries, and each office adopts the culture and language of its host country so that clients feel GFT’s close, personal commitment – what Marika calls “skin in the game”.

The formula is clearly working, and observers have taken note. In 2018, Marika was recognised as one of the top 100 female leaders by a management magazine, and she credits the achievement to GFT’s overall commitment to diversity.

“We have been building a company that is open to all employees’ growth. Diversity and fostering IT talent are two of the core building blocks in our management culture,” she says. “This leads to GFT having a very good female representation – without a quota.

“It is important to support and grow female leadership not only in technology, but in every sector. Ultimately, though, it is about the best possible client service delivered with a highly experienced and motivated team.”