Innovating The Answer Company: An Interview with Katherine Manuel
Katherine Manuel, senior vice president of innovation at Thomson Reuters, believes technology skills are critical to being successful in business. Katherine began her career in consulting and climbed the ladder to become the global head of innovation for "The Answer Company." She takes a few moments to share her story.
BL: Why is being part of a network like WITI important for business women?
KM: Organizations like WITI or any groups where you feel like you have commonality with the members are a great support system. They have often experienced the same frustrations and celebrations that you have and can easily relate to your perspective. Having that network, whether it's outside or inside the company, is important.
BL: You graduated from Duke University with an MBA. How did you become interested in business?
KM: Business was discussed a lot in my home as a child. A natural part of the dinner conversation revolved around finance and the ebbs and flows of the market, making me interested in the corporate world.
After my undergrad, I worked for a technology consulting firm in New York City. It was at that time that I realized I wanted to get an MBA for a variety of reasons. One main reason was to gain experiences and learning to add to my credibility. Having credibility would give me more opportunities, as well as a sense that no matter what came my way, I'd be able to adapt and use different skills and capabilities for different situations.
I love the complexity of business and the opportunities it brings. There's something fun about both the competition and teamwork involved.
BL: How did you begin working for Thomson Reuters?
KM: After business school, I got a job with Thomson Reuters in what was then called "global strategy." I focused on the company's legal and regulatory business. I thought about international expansion and what the growth trajectories were in our markets abroad. I enjoyed the people I worked with, and the company was a great fit. I liked the connection between content, data, and technology. My technology background also came in handy.
Thomson Reuters provides the technology, intelligence, and human expertise to provide answers for our clients. I thought it was an interesting business model, and one of the things that appealed to me was the idea of working for a company like this. In the four years I had worked in consulting, I worked for seven Fortune 100 clients. All of these clients were doing different projects, implementing technology or innovations. While the diversity of project was fantastic, the end of the project would come, and I always wished I could see the outcome of our work. I knew I wanted to do the type of work where I could outline what the future could hold, and then see the results and learn from those results.
BL: Why is Thomson Reuters "The Answer Company"?
KM: It is our brand, so it identifies who we are through and through. There is a high level of trust between our clients and us. If you think about social media and how people get news and information today, it is not all trustworthy. One of the things that stands out about Thomson Reuters is this whole idea of trust. We bring together the data, with the technology, and add human intelligence. Why "The Answer Company" is so important to us, is because we provide our customers with the answers that they need, whether they are professionals in finance, compliance, legal, tax & accounting, or government. Those professionals cannot go by hearsay, but rather trusted answers.
BL: What is a senior vice president's role?
KM: Enabling innovation across all of our employees is one piece that is significant in the work that I'm tasked to deliver. At Thomson Reuters, we focus significantly on how we can drive organic growth and how we can create an engine for innovation within our walls, with our employees, and through our partnerships with customers.
It's important to figure out how we can make all 50,000 of our employees feel that they can innovate. No matter if they're sitting in Toronto, New York City, or Beijing, and no matter what their role is, we want them to feel that there's an opportunity for them to grow. Heading up our efforts to enable and support a culture of innovation has many components.
We have a catalyst fund, so anyone from across the company can come forward with a concept and have an audience with our CEO to pitch an idea. My team reviews the ideas and works with the "intrapreneurs" to build their own capabilities to strengthen their ideas and refine their pitches. On a monthly basis we meet with our CEO, Jim Smith, and the innovators pitch their idea and ask for funding to take that proof of concept forward. That's one of the things we do from an investment perspective, thinking about how we can put a little bit of might behind driving this culture of innovation.
We also hold workshops and innovation challenges. There are emerging trends in the marketplace and we want to bring the right people together to begin thinking about solutions, whether it's the way we deliver our products, the experience the customers are feeling, or even our operations. We strive to figure out how we can streamline things so that our whole organization runs more smoothly.
BL: Does being a woman have a positive outcome at Thomson Reuters?
KM: There are always challenges and opportunities, maybe not directly tied to being a woman per se. At Thomson Reuters, we define diversity as diversity of thought, style, approach, in addition to the traditional definition. It has become increasingly apparent to me that my role as an executive of the company empowers me to share my opinions and perspectives. Significantly, as a woman there is an added imperative to accept the position of role model for other young women and men coming up through the ranks.
BL: What advice would you give others following your career path?
KM: One thing would be to gain some sort of a foundation in technology. In my early days, I had some exposure to coding. I wasn't a computer science major in undergrad, but I happened to graduate during a time when there were great opportunities to learn those technology skills. Having that technology basis is increasingly important given where the industry is going. The world is becoming highly automated, and being able to understand the fundamentals of technology will only benefit them and their careers.
Another piece of advice would be to not undervalue yourself. Unfortunately, this seems to be a more female trait. There's a large desire in the world right now for gender parity. Just this month, and in honor of International Women's Day, our CEO took a bold step and announced a new target. We are aiming to have 40% of women in leadership positions by 2020. I am proud to be part of an organization that understands that diversity leads to success.
Many large corporations are getting on board and supporting this trend. This can open up many new opportunities for women who dare to be bold and push for their own or their team members' advancement. Women need to ask for the promotions and speak for themselves. They need to support one another, and make sure that they are their own best advocates.
When I think about WITI and the women that are reading this, having that technology background, but also owning your position and knowing that your voice is needed, is crucial. Speak up in meetings because if you're invited, you're there for a reason. Talk, share your opinion, and be an active participant. Make sure you're bringing other people along with you. If you see a young woman looking for a promotion, but she's not advocating for herself, pay it forward and reach out to her. Find out what she wants to do and how you might be able to help.
As SVP of innovation at Thomson Reuters, Katherine Manuel is helping to build a culture that supports and fosters innovation to create partnerships and growth opportunities for its customers, employees, and shareholders.
Prior to this role, Katherine was a member of the corporate strategy team, where she worked with corporate leadership to create a long-term strategy based on market understanding and access to customers and products.
Katherine has been with Thomson Reuters for nearly 11 years, holding senior positions within both the Legal and Tax & Accounting businesses, as well as leading Technology Strategy & Enterprise Architecture for Healthcare & Science. From there, she joined the Office of the CEO, where she worked on various projects within the News division and the company-wide Transformation program.
Before joining Thomson Reuters, Katherine worked for Accenture, focusing on the Media, Entertainment, and Telecom industries. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Davidson College and a Masters of Business Administration from Duke University. She sits on the advisory boards of Duke University's The Fuqua School of Business' Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, as well as SOAR Triangle, a non-profit established to support women-led startups in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina.
Brooke Lazar is WITI's content manager and digital editor. She has a BA in professional and technical writing from Youngstown State University.