Square Peg, Round Hole: How leaders can support diversity in the workplace


My journey is not typical of a CEO, and my background is not particularly exciting - yet,  like all people I have faced my own set of challenges. I haven’t ever fit into a stereotype, which at times, particularly in my career, has been a disadvantage.

Recently I was asked to speak for International Women’s Day on how leaders can improve the systems and structures within a business to embrace diversity and bring about change - and I think there are lessons in here for everyone.

 Audience at the IWD event at Southwards Car Museum

Audience at the IWD event at Southwards Car Museum

I’m a natural introvert - always have been. I excelled rapidly at school in the UK, and was very interested in technology. However, being a bright student held disadvantages when it came to my interests.

I was fervently told that because I was a top student - this meant I was likely to find a husband and therefore should focus on sewing and cooking so I could better look after him in the future.”

Of course, this statement is now laughable - however, at the time, it was very much the norm. It impresses me how far we have come. Yet my daily experiences as a CEO show me how far we have to go.

There are small things that every leader can do to achieve embracing diversity and making everyone feel accepted.


One of the quickest and most efficient ways of doing this is through your physical working environment.

 Tekron International's office showing how spaces and working areas encourage diversity

Tekron International's office showing how spaces and working areas encourage diversity

When I first arrived at Tekron, a NZ technology exporter that specializes in world-class precision based timing, it was not surprising that there were only two females working there.

The first order of business was to create a space that reflected the brand and welcomed diversity into the team and business.

With a few small changes, we have created a space (see my blog on 'Do offices make a difference to staff culture?') that attracts female and male workers, has reduced the number of sick days and has created a happier, healthier and more productive staff.



What is most surprising to me as a CEO, is how outdated the traditional hiring process is. If you want to bring about change and diversity - change the way you recruit.

Recruiters and leaders tend to ask for certain backgrounds, but if we continually look for certain routes to a promotion we will leave out a lot of people. This was particularly applicable to me when looking for roles. 

Look for hobbies and how people spend their out of work hours – let's look at the whole person and let's value the efforts people put into the other things and how they spend their time.

I was turned away repeatedly by recruiters because I “wasn’t what the client was looking for” - however, I know I was - because the client hired me.

Explore different ways of recruiting - this will attract different types of people.


Good people that are great at their jobs won’t necessarily have high confidence. This is important to take into consideration when you are expecting someone to boast, particularly on a CV or in an interview.

As a CEO I see this all the time in my office. Men are most likely to knock on my door and tell me about something awesome that they have achieved, while the women will only bring it up when asked in their performance review. I have had to learn that just because they are not knocking on my door it doesn’t mean they aren’t achieving wonders for the company.

Speaking at IWD.jpg

I now go and talk to my team regularly and often. I set meetings to discuss what they have done and I work with them to set Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) that they have to report on.  I ask for feedback from them and so even out the playing field against those that are in my office frequently. 


It’s time to change what we see as the ideal CEO and how we judge who are good leaders. Nowadays leaders need to be more culturally aware, think differently and communicate more.

It’s time to ask for more from our leaders and to really benefit from leaders that build cultures that create wealth.

As a leader you have the ability to:

  • Change the status quo
  • Change the hiring process
  • Set fair and measurable KPI’s for staff
  •  Listen and learn from staff
  • Create flexible working environments
  • Understand that profit and culture are intrinsically linked
  • Mentor your team to shape them into a high performing culture

As a leader you have more power than ever before to support diversity and bring about real change. For more of my thoughts on this or to assist with your company culture - please fill in the form on the contact page.



Amanda Santos is Keynote Speaker at ExportNZ ASB Export Awards 2018

ExportNZ RGB (002).JPG

ExportNZ is holding their regional awards to celebrate exporters of all sizes throughout New Zealand.

Amanda Santos will be the keynote speaker at the Awards Gala Dinner held at the Intercontinental Hotel in Wellington 24th May 2018.

She will be speaking about Tekron International's export journey and giving funny and informative examples of some of her challenges and experiences since joining Tekron as their CEO two years ago.

Tekron International exports to 70+ countries world-wide and is an innovative R&D company producing accurate time devices that ensure all connected equipment is in sync and at the right time.  The GPS devices are proudly made in New Zealand and with so many locations buying Tekron products, the team face many challenges around shipping, currency, cultures and distance.  Amanda will share some of these stories and provide some useful tips for other exporters.

Amanda Santos  photo.jpeg

Do Great Offices Make a Difference?

The short answer is yes.

As business leaders we know that alongside strategy, sales, and people, culture is key to a successful company. I often get asked what are some of the immediate, practical steps that can be taken to have an instant impact on culture.

I truly believe transforming your workspace is one if the quickest and easiest wins with instant rewards.

Here’s how we changed the Tekron office, and the 10 immediate outcomes we have seen:


Walking into Tekron in 2016, a NZ technology company specialising in precision-based timing solutions around the world, it was really clear things would need to change if we were to achieve the high-growth vision we had planned. I knew we had to work creatively to attract the right people and where they felt inspired to come to work each day.

The first thing we did was change the physical environment. We moved the team into new premises opposite the Petone foreshore, fitted out the office to reflect the hi-tech company we are, and the outcomes were outstanding.

 This is what you see when you walk in - a great place to work and also relax or eat

This is what you see when you walk in - a great place to work and also relax or eat


● A bright office space with a stunning sea views,

● An interior design reflective of our company and values,

● Locally sourced wing-back armchairs to invite our staff to feel comfortable working away from their desks,

● A green room with grass,

● Working and resting spaces for employees,

● Casual and formal meeting rooms,

● Breakout spaces for people to work in comfort rather than at a desk,

● Imagery on the walls to provide motivation and different emotions to get them to think differently,

● Exterior and interior space complete with individual lockers and storage for bikes (and showers),

● Desk space dedicated to innovation with whiteboards and boards to show off projects.

 The Lounge - the most popular meeting room

The Lounge - the most popular meeting room


1) Cultural change – we see more teamwork as there are more spaces to work collaboratively. Casual clothing and branded t-shirts also rolled out at the same time which made us feel less stuffy and formal.

2) More innovative thinking - that was outside our core competencies.

3) Kick-started change - in better systems – and staff feel that they have more of a “voice” and are now not afraid to have a say.

4) More personable and fun - Morning teas used to be sitting at a table and playing cards. Now we have a large TV and big kitchen space where we invite outside speakers, to come in and inspire the team.  We have instigated a member from our team to present (weekly) things about themselves and this has been a huge win for us and as such the whole team knows more about each other and are also better trained on the industries we are in.

5) More discussions - Most desks are stand up and so this provides for more discussion – it seems that when people are standing they talk to each other more. We have more laptops than ever and so the workforce move about more and work in different locations in the office during the day

6) We get feedback regularly - on how friendly the team is to visitors and how welcoming this space is. This is possibly because the kitchen is what you walk into, a space that is light and open.

7) Less sickness - is the biggest winner from a financial perspective. Newer air conditioning systems and LED lights have made a real difference.

8) More flexibility - we’ve found that people are happy to stay later in the new office whether to work or just socialise. We also have very flexible hours and most people take advantage of this. I think we win as they do more hours. Some start very early and others start late and we do not mind. We also have a lot more part-time staff and the culture and offices have supported this change too. (We had only one meeting room at the old offices so catching up was hard) now we have plenty of places to sit and talk. As such people can come and go more freely as they have more freedom to work together.

9) Recruitment became a whole lot easier - The difference to recruitment can’t be underestimated, we now attract a more diverse workforce (more women) than ever before (we went from just two to seven), and we are getting a reputation for having a cool space as we all tell our story out there. I believe this will be the biggest contributor – we will continue to attract better staff.

10) More active - Bike stands and showers mean that staff are able to be more active, which of course contributes to better health and happiness overall!

11) Pride in our place – I know I said there were 10, but here’s a bonus one. Our marketing executive Rob Smith says “We now have an office that people love to show off to their friends and family, and we didn’t have to put in a spiral slide to do it. The extra boost in staff morale of working somewhere we’re proud to be a part of is huge.”

 Innovation is encouraged and risk taking is needed to get those ideas off the ground

Innovation is encouraged and risk taking is needed to get those ideas off the ground


Yes! Creating an appropriate work space changes the culture and makes a difference and it doesn't need to be an expensive fit-out either - we used residential grade and second hand office furniture which has been cost effective.



● Create nooks and meeting rooms with comfort and business mixed up.

● Large murals make a huge difference – we used photos, but you can get local artists to create as well.

● Mix standing and sitting.

● Bike storage and lockers are a must too!


Do you have a great office? I’d love to see it!

 Our view from the Kitchen area over the Wellington Harbour

Our view from the Kitchen area over the Wellington Harbour

Sales - A Foundation for CEO Leadership

According to a NZ survey in 2016, one in five Kiwi CFO’s are ambitious to move into CEO roles - this isn’t surprising when you consider that most CEOs are accountants, lawyers or technicians by background.

But what about Sales-led CEO’s?

A study by the American Marketing Association last year found a sales or marketing background was a good springboard to becoming a CEO. Conducted by Frank Germann, an assistant professor at University of Notre Dame’s business school, it discovered 25% of CEOs have a sales or marketing background.

 Image from: https://myvigour.com/marketing-best-specialization-mba/

Image from: https://myvigour.com/marketing-best-specialization-mba/

Germann’s work, with contemporaries from Stanford University and the University of London, looked at 233 of the largest public companies in America and examined 506 CEOs. It also found that 20% of CEOs had formative experience, after tertiary study, in a sales and marketing role.

But most importantly, Germann concluded that CEOs with a sales or marketing background tend to be “a little more agile, more versatile, and less risk-averse.”

Amanda Santos, CEO of Tekron, believes sales leaders have the core skills to make excellent CEO’s with their focus on strategy, culture, and people.

 Amanda Santos CEO, Tekron International

Amanda Santos CEO, Tekron International

“Financial competence is key in managing a company at the top level, accompanied by the ability to be evaluative and strategically-minded. Above all, salespeople must be good communicators and good leaders, who know how to develop staff and bring out the best in people. An understanding of people and what drives them is essential, and a positive attitude is also an advantage”.

Anne Mulcahy, CEO of Xerox from 2001 – 2009, is widely credited with setting the company on a better course. Indeed, she was named CEO of the year by Chief Executive magazine in 2008.  But well before that, she was a Xerox field sales representative.


 Anne Mulcahy, CEO of Xerox from 2001-2009

Anne Mulcahy, CEO of Xerox from 2001-2009

Likewise, Warren Buffett, with a net worth of around $66 billion, started out as a salesman.

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) recommended back in 2012 that CEO’s get serious about sales. It found that CEOs who put sales at the top of their agenda have experienced exponential growth, outperforming their peers by 50 to 80 percent regarding revenue and profitability.

HBR says companies would be unwise to ignore the potential of a well-developed sales force in a modern company, saying that sales are what drives a company.

Therefore, it is clear a sales background at the head of a boardroom will be the start of enormous success in any company.

Considering this, who better than a person with a sales background to be your CEO?

Amanda Speaking at CEO Summit: Leading change, culture and strategy to thrive in the digital era

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This year's 2018 CEO Summit aims to investigate key issues facing New Zealand’s leaders with input from thought-leaders, inspirational keynotes and successful CEO's. 

As an experienced CEO with a particular focus on people, strategy and culture, Amanda Santos has been asked to speak on the panel "Investing in your people - reaping the rewards of an employee-centric organisation," where the panelists will explore: 

  • Communicating the value of a ‘people first’ culture in your executive leadership team to cultivate resilience and create a thriving culture

  • Developing the ‘why’ of your business – why purpose matters to engage employees and foster loyalty
  • Creating an environment to foster thriving people and innovation – enabling curiosity, experimentation and a culture of trust
  • Investing in diversity of thought in your organisation and driving this in senior leadership teams

For more information, or to attend this event, please visit: https://www.conferenz.co.nz/events/2018-nz-ceo-summit

Amanda Santos speaking at International Womens Day #Pressforprogress

As the only woman nominated as a finalist in the  Business Category for the 2017 Welly awards, Amanda knows we have a long way to go regarding gender equality, but believes the problem go deeper in our business systems and structures.  


With a belief that as CEO’s, leaders and business professionals we can change our environments to create more balanced and fair workplaces, Amanda shared her real-life examples of how she has had to implement those changes in her work and companies.  



Amanda Santos is a high-growth CEO, sales expert and sought-after business advisor, providing governance and strategic support to more than 100 enterprises across New Zealand.

Currently the Chief Executive of Tekron - an internationally recognised global market-leader in high-precision atomic and GPS precision timing hardware for power, telecommunications and enterprise industries - Amanda is unafraid to break the traditional CEO stereotype.

Amanda is often asked to speak at events, and lead interactive business workshop sessions for NZ organisations. Her proven track record in accelerating businesses lead to her being a finalist in the 2017 Women of Influence Awards, as well as a finalist in the Business Category for the prestigious 2017 Welly Awards.

This event is a joint collaboration between Kapiti Chamber Women in Business and Kapiti Rotary to bring together men and women to mark the role of women in business and society on International Women’s Day, being Thursday 8th March 2018 with the theme of #PressforProgress

Bookings are essential using the Kapiti Chamber web booking form & paying online please.

Addressing the ‘Elephant in the Boardroom’

Boards and businesses thrive best when difficult conversations are part of strategic planning, however, knowing that considerable time and effort (and often confrontation!) will be needed can be rather off-putting.

Amanda Santos says addressing the elephant in the room needs to happen at a board level before the businesses’ strategic plans are created.


Engaging a person outside of the organisation to help guide the Board make its decisions, ensuring a holistic approach to designing a plan, and encouraging as many people as possible have input, will create a living, breathing document that will shape a positive future for your business.

A great strategic plan is about more than just a glossy document, it considers the full range of issues (good and bad) facing a business and signposts a clear way ahead for everyone but is nimble enough to adapt to any changes.
— Amanda Santos, Founder Amandasantosceo.com


Amanda Santos calls this opening the can of worms that everyone has put a lid on, and says results come quickly once the can of worms are on the table and the team works to clean the mess.

No business is straightforward once you lift the hood - there is often a jumble of issues to work through, and it can be hard to pin down precisely what you need to do. It can be even harder to define what success looks like when strategic planning becomes an annual conversation, rather than part of your everyday decisions – using your plan to guide your response to issues as they crop up will ensure you stay on track. My approach to strategic planning is slightly different as it encourages collaboration across the board including: A Board review, conflict or issue resolution, and regular meetings where all options (both popular or unpopular) are discussed. By not taking the easy road, a new way of thinking will become apparent to decision-makers.

— Amanda Santos, Founder Amandasantosceo.com

This approach seems to be working for Amanda's clients. Founding Director of Wellington owned business Tekron, Brian Smellie says that Amanda’s approach has been key in driving business success for his 20 year old company.

Tekron International Ltd has a history of having success in manufacturing and exporting high tech timing products around the world - having garnered a number of business and innovation awards over the years. However, in more recent times, the board has recognised the need to bring in “new blood” to take the company to the next level on the international stage. Amanda Santos took up her role as CEO of Tekron in April 2016. Since that time she has set about the process of totally rebuilding the tech company that I founded back in 2002. In little more than 18 months, the transformation is all-encompassing, across sales and marketing, office systems, R & D and production manufacturing.
— Brian Smellie, Founding Director, Tekron International Ltd. 

Amanda Santos is a high-growth CEO, sales expert and sought-after business advisor, providing governance and strategic support to over 100 enterprises within New Zealand.

Currently the Chief Executive of Tekron, a global market-leader in high-precision atomic and GPS precision timing hardware for power, telecommunications and enterprise industries, Amanda is unafraid to break the traditional CEO stereotype.

Often asked to speak as well as lead interactive business workshop sessions for NZ organisations, Amanda’s track record for accelerating businesses has seen her publicly acclaimed as a finalist in the 2017 Women of Influence Awards, as well as a finalist in the Business Category for the prestigious 2017 Welly Awards.

For strategic planning advice and to enquire about Amanda’s new Board Workshop Series, you can get in touch with Amanda Santos here