Last week, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Vennesa Van Ameyde, Executive Vice President of Operations and the sole female on a 12 person leadership team at Kasasa. Throughout her 8 years with Kasasa® (formerly BancVue®) Vennesa’s tenacity has been vital to the company’s continued growth. She oversees nearly one-third of the company’s 350-person staff.
WHAT IS KASASA?
Kasasa is an award winning financial technology and marketing services company designed to take on the mega banks by providing community banks with innovative products, a national consumer brand, and turn key solutions. These local institutions can leverage the Kasasa brand reputation for of-the-moment mobile and desktop website creation, marketing material, teller training, research, and support in addition to the Kasasa suite of free rewards checking and savings accounts that give consumers real choice in their banking. WHAT EXACTLY IS KASASA?
Kasasa is at the top of the league in terms of workplace desirability and was ranked '30th Best Place to Work' in the world by Glassdoor's 2016 Employees' Choice Awards. Culture is taken very seriously at Kasasa, and its foundation of excellence begins with The Patch - the visual representation of how business is done through four key values: Interdependence, Five Star Leadership, Love, and Badassitude.
Vennesa ensures these values permeate her team and every client interaction – and there are quite a few interactions. Currently, she oversees approximately 400 client websites and 2400 financial products for 700+ clients. With almost 100 employees under her wing, it is essential to have a clear vision for motivating, training, and implementing lean practices across the entire company.
LEADERSHIP VISION: SEEING WITHIN AND ABOVE THE FOREST
Vennesa highlighted the importance of balancing both short and long views in leadership. She mentioned the need for great leaders to "see within the forest, be able to get their hands dirty at ground level and intimately know their business, but at the same time never lose sight of the view from above the trees so you can create a vision for where you want to go and make course corrections along the way as challenges arise." This initiative and desire to become knowledgeable on a company-wide level is just one of the qualities Vennesa views as a critical skill for creating high-functioning teams and leaders.
(PN): What do you see as the building blocks of team success at Kasasa?
(VVA):“Transparency and honesty. As a leader, it is my job to prepare my team for what's next. I’ve found the best way to do that is to be inclusive and direct, so there are few - if any - surprises.
I believe my job as a leader isn’t to create followership. Rather it’s to create other leaders and to help make others successful. My number one priority is to ensure I can empower and enable my teammates to get their jobs done: removing obstacles, offering advice and professional development as needed, and giving people autonomy to really own and drive their results.”
(PN): A big topic of discussion is scale-ability, and the need to expand culture across teams. At Kasasa, what tactics have you found successful?
(VVA): "“My goal is to get everyone marching in the same direction, with the same cadence, all focused on the same goal, and that’s a tall order in any company. I believe it starts with hiring and retaining really exceptional people, who not only are immensely talented, but who also genuinely care about our company values and mission. We have built an extraordinary team, and it shows with what we’ve been able to accomplish. From a young age, there was a certain drive instilled in me that ‘every effort is worth your very best effort’, and this passion is infused across all our teams. I encourage people to never accept mediocrity in themselves or others.”
(PN) What processes do you have in place to promote leadership and talent within Kasasa?
(VVA): "Within the Operations team, I have created leadership development classes to equip current managers and others aspiring leaders with the right tools to be successful. It is important to keep learning from the successes and failures of those around you. In these classes, we apply lessons learned from books and our experiences, and explore how to solve complex problems, while building critical business relationships. Additionally, I have a library in my office with leadership, business, and specific industry books for the team to borrow and learn from. And I have open office hours, where anyone is welcomed to come in and chat about any topic of their choosing.”
CAREER ADVICE: CARVING A PATH FOR SUCCESS
(PN): What suggestion would you give to those starting out, or maybe lost along the way?
(VVA): "Soak up brilliance. Make a conscious effort to learn from those around you, and surround yourself with people that complement your strengths and weaknesses. Resist being intimidated by others, and instead use that as fuel to grow personally and professionally."
(PN)What advice would you give to women trying to achieve leadership roles?
(VVA): "Don’t try to view it through the lens of male or female perspective; think instead of what you bring to the table, and then be at the table. Build credibility on data and knowledge, and be confident when you speak."
IMPACTING PIECE OF ADVICE FROM VENNESA:
"It is vital to give people the freedom to fail, to fail quickly and learn from their mistakes. If people are afraid, they won’t take risks. Exploring new paths leads to innovation, and innovation leads to accelerated, exponential growth. Most people say long-term success in business is a marathon not a sprint – but I enjoy sprinting the whole marathon; it keeps things exciting."