Top 50 Women in Technology
unknown, and even if the breach is very well hidden, using a set of advanced algorithmic techniques to do this. “I really enjoyed having the best technology in the market, and seeing it succeed where other systems had failed,” she says. “Damballa is in great hands - I had raised a new round of funding, and put together a truly great executive team. I still have equity in the company, and am sure it will be very successful. I keep in touch, and love seeing them continuing to win in the market. And I’m really enjoying working with several different companies, helping them get started and then get successful,” she comments. Currently a Board member of Teradici, which designs advanced image processing algorithms, enables the physical separation of the computer and the user, and ultimately will change the way enterprises compute, Rahmani is also a mentor to the Flashpoint accelerator program and the Advanced Technology Development Center in Atlanta (ATDC). She is also on the board of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, a member of the Executive Advisory Board of Atlanta Telecom Professionals (ATP) and a member of the Industry Advisory Board of the Georgia Tech Information Security Center. Growing up in the UK, Rahmani attended the Lycée Français de Londres, a French school in London, as it was close to where her parents worked, investing long hours getting a small printing company up and running, so they could see their two children every day. “I enjoyed Science and Math, and specifically loved the fact that you didn’t have to learn facts or do lots of reading as you did in other subjects. I was lucky that my Physics teacher, a wonderful lady, suggested that I should try to get a place at Oxford; I had never thought an ordinary person (no one in our family had ever been to college) could do that. So I applied. But, to her huge dismay, I chose Chemistry over Physics,” she reveals. After graduating from Oxford University with a Doctor of Philosophy in Chemistry in 1981, she assumed the next step would be working at a big pharmaceutical company, “but when I met the team at IBM I thought that sounded like a great place to be,” joining as a systems engineer in South London. “In school, I had been working on 92 | Silicon Valley Global
quantum pharmacology, modeling electronic structures of drug molecules, and I assumed IBM would give me a job in research. Instead, I was assigned a small territory in south London with retail and manufacturing clients,” she recalls. Of the roles she was to take on during her 18-year tenure with IBM, starting the global wireless business for IBM in 2000 as its General Manager of Wireless Solutions was a career highlight, as wireless technology was just beginning to emerge in Europe.
Mobile Technology Rahmani suggested to her bosses that the company became involved in mobile technology and was allocated a budget to work on the project at night and at weekends. After proving to her bosses how profitable the idea could be, she was asked to run the business globally, likening the experience now to leading a start-up within IBM. The company developed software allowing companies to offer data access on mobile devices, with one of the first applications for maintenance engineers taking off quickly. A year later, Rahmani was asked to lead IBM’s entire Unix business, later becoming vice president for corporate strategy. After suggesting to her bosses that IBM’s services should be based on software, she was given a new job overseeing a business that included computer security services. Making the decision to purchase some
companies rather than develop certain services, one of her first acquisitions was Internet Security Systems. When its CEO moved on, IBM asked her to run the division, and although she loved the work she realised she would rather run it as a standalone company, leading to her decision to leave the company in 2009 to pursue such a challenge, which presented itself in the opportunity to head up Damballa. Throughout her career, Rahmani has been “pitching to women, hoping to encourage them to get into Tech. In fact, we’re just about to have a STEM day here in Georgia, and many of us will be presenting to and meeting young women, and showing them how exciting and diverse a career in tech can be. I’m on the Board of the Partnership for Excellence in Education here in Georgia, and getting more women into Tech is a key focus for us.” Having women at the helm at major firms including IBM and HP has signalled that it possible for women to be represented in senior management positions at leading companies, she says. “I think women can achieve any position, but they have to want to. A real worry to me is that so few women want to take Science and Math at college. If they’re not there at that stage, they have less chance of getting to the top. In start-ups, women CEOs are so few in number in Tech. There are just not enough women wanting to do this. I think it’s improving, but nowhere near enough,” she says. To encourage more women to consider careers in the technology sector, “we have to stop Tech being presented as difficult, academic and geeky; then I think more young men and women will be interested.” A member of the British Aerobatic Association, which competes in European and world championships, Rahmani started flying planes about 19 years ago. She met her husband Nick Onn, when he invited her to fly in a two-seater plane with him. Asked whether women bring different styles of leadership to companies, Rahmani responds “sometimes. I do think women are more likely to shape and guide a team rather than manage it through brute force. But, of course, there are all types of leaders, male and female. The best adapt their style to the type of business and find a way of optimizing each aspect of the business.”
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