04/29/2014 03:16 pm ET Updated Jun 29, 2014

Women in Business Q&A: Sarah Lahav, CEO SysAid Technologies

As the company's 1st employee, Sarah Lahav has remained the vital link between SysAid Technologies and its customers since 2003. She is the current CEO and former VP of Customer Relations at SysAid - two positions that have fueled her passion in customer service.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
There are lots of individual events and experiences that contribute to making me the person that I am today, but I would say that it's my customer relations background that has left the greatest impression on me. For the first ten years of employment at SysAid I worked in the customer relations department, which meant that every single action, no matter how large or small - that I took in my day-to-day work life had the customer as a priority. Now that I am the CEO, this is no different. Every decision I make in business is about SysAid's customers, it's not about shouting the loudest or going down the route that will make the most money, it's simply about meeting (and exceeding) the requirements of what our customers want and need. When I speak with our customers they don't look at me as "that's the CEO" that look at me as "that's the person who is going to do everything they can do help me".

How did your previous employment experience aided your position at SysAid?
When I first started out in my career I was a System Adminstrator. I loved the job itself, but what I found incredibly frustrating was that I would work one day to the next not knowing what my hours were going to be the following day, or at what time I was going to be leaving the office. I never knew if it was going to be me that was called at 3am to deal with the latest crisis, or whether it would be my colleague. It made it difficult to create a work/life balance and ultimately made me unhappy. When I became a manager at SysAid the set up was very similar, and so it was one of the first things that I changed when I became a manager. I introduced shifts into the organization for all levels of support, which meant that everybody then knew exactly when they would be working. Employees became much happier as a result of this, because it meant they could actually have a life outside of work. - I believe a work/life balance is incredibly important. Introducing shifts also eliminated the risk of their being a major incident with nobody on call to handle it.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
It's not easy, and I'll be the first to admit that sometimes it's difficult to set the phone and email aside to actually take a break and enjoy life outside of the office. However, my husband (who is also a CEO) and I have worked hard to create a work/life schedule that works for us. Two nights a week I stay late in the office, whilst my husband leaves early to collect the children from school. The other three nights a week we do it the other way around. I don't let work interfere with the precious time that I have with my children, and I avoid taking calls/meetings at home in the evenings until they are in bed. I'd much rather take a conference call with the US at 11.30pm at night then at 6.30pm in the evening when I could be playing with my children. I'm also a huge fan of Zumba (in fact I can't live without it) and three times a week after the children have gone to bed I head out to Zumba class. It's great fun, good exercise and let's you forget about work for an hour whilst you dance the night away.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at SysAid?
It sound cliché but everyday working at SysAid is a highlight for me. I'm fortunate to have an amazing job - I work with incredible and passionate people. Even a customer complaining of a problem on the phone brings joy to my day - I'm just happy to have the opportunity to talk to them! I think the biggest highlight of the job though is probably getting out to conferences and tradeshows and being able to talk to the ITSM community or actually spending time with a customer in their own environment. Talking to "real" people about their IT problems and requirements gives me great satisfaction, even if they use a competitors tool and have no intention of ever working with SysAid, it's still a pleasure to talk to them. Don't be fooled by the stereotypes that IT people are nerdy or boring, they're far from it. IT people are very intelligent and funny, and I take every opportunity possible to spend as much time with them as I can. It's these conversations that influence my decisions at SysAid.

In terms of challenges, the rapid change in the technology landscape always poses issues, but I think the biggest challenge we face is around culture. Providing a global product is difficult because people in different geographies have different expectations, both of the product and service. There's even differences between the UK and USA, so you can imagine some of the differences we see elsewhere. This issue goes beyond culture as well, because technology itself differs between geographies, as there is no global standard on IT equipment or infrastructure. It takes a lot of continuous research and effort to ensure we know how each country, large or small, operates and what their expectations are. It's not a case of learning once and that being it either, cultures are changing all the time so we have to keep up with those changes in order to continue delivering on customer experience.

What advice can you offer women a career in the IT industry?
The same advice I would offer a man - work hard, go above and beyond your job description if you want to make a difference, and ensure you have a sense of humour. The last one is particularly important, because if you can't laugh at yourself when someone is making inappropriate jokes or when you make a mistake, then work life is going to be tough.

When it comes to stereotypes, be it "women in IT" or "IT people are boring", remember not to let perceptions define who you are. Challenge stereotypes when they pose a problem and rise above them.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Stereotypes and prejudice. For example, my husband would never be asked "what is the biggest issue for men in the workplace?" It has always confused me and continues to confuse me now as to why there is a need to view men and women differently when it comes to business. Women are just as able minded as men (in fact there are studies out there to suggest that women may even, in some cases, be superior).

We have to push past gender stereotypes to come out victorious on the other side. Don't allow someone to prevent you from succeeding simply by saying "but you're a woman". The same is true with other stereotypes: why do we assume because someone is young they can't do as a good a job as someone who is older?

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
Sheryl Sandberg is a remarkable woman, and I command any man or woman like her who stands up for a cause/belief. I think that the book is a useful read for any woman who feels she is struggling to overcome stereotypes or reach her full potential. The stories that Sheryl shares can help women see the potential in themselves (especially where they can relate to some of the situations/scenarios she explains) to spur them on to find success for themselves.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I've actually never had a mentor at any point on my life, isn't not very common in Israel. I definitely see a need for it though, as there have been times in my career when it would have been useful to have had someone to talk to who has been in the same situation. I think it depends on what works for you though, some people like to make and learn from their own mistakes rather then learning from others.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Without a doubt I admire Marissa Mayer. I respect the tough decisions that she's had to make throughout the years and her resilience. Even when she was surrounded by negative feedback and everyone doubted her actions, she didn't give up and she overcame the challenges in front of her and came out victorious. I think she is an inspiration.

What are your hopes for the future of SysAid?
Truly, I want SysAid to make a difference to the IT community. Of course I want to grow the company and continue to be successful like any other CEO out there, but I don't want SysAid to be "just another IT tool vendor". I want to be able to offer value to IT people around the world regardless of whether they ever intend to actually use our product or not. We've started by publishing best practice articles and running webinars that are applicable to anyone in IT regardless of which tool they use, and we have plenty more plans for the future. At SysAid we strongly believe that it's not about us, it's about you.