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How I Became: Hayley Roberts, founder and CEO, Distology

How I Became: Hayley Roberts, founder and CEO, Distology

Founded by Hayley Roberts in 2014, Distology is a specialist IT cyber security distributor.

Headquartered in Stockport, the company now has three European offices following the recent acquisition of German software consultancy Squareball.

Roberts has had an inspirational career over the past 20 years, working with blue chip enterprise businesses in retail, recruitment and technology before founding and becoming the driving force behind Distology. The company specialises in identifying, representing and distributing the latest disruptive cybersecurity technology.

With her passion for encouraging more people into tech, she shared her career journey, tips and advice…

 

How did you first get into your industry?

Weirdly, my journey into the sector almost started straight after I graduated from university in business – I had the option of working on a graduate scheme for IBM or working for a toiletries company helping to run the retail accounts. I chose the latter, mostly due to the fact I could conceptualise the work and the supply chain was more obvious to me at the time. IBM and what the business did other than hardware was somewhat of a mystery to me. The universe, however, seemed to know where I was supposed to be and three industry moves later I landed at a security distributor.

I’d been working as a headhunter for six years (ironically setting up the Dell team in the business’ first Moscow office) when the position came up for me. Given my skill set was mainly in sales, marketing and leadership, I was able to transfer these skills to set myself up for a successful career in the tech sector. This is the message I’m always keen to convey to those who might be working in other careers and considering a role in tech.

This was 12 years ago now and I became the second in command at Codework – a small but successful security distributor which predominantly focussed on Symantec. The rest is history and having founded Distology in 2014, we’ve grown exponentially over the past few years. We’re currently exploring growth opportunities across Europe, after recently completing our first acquisition of Berlin-based Squareball, while looking into how we can build on the services we already offer. In the longer term, I’d love us to expand in to North America.

What do you love about your job?

I love the team we’ve built and the people I get to work with every day. Every person who joins our team encompasses our core values which is why we all work so well together. We really worked hard to nurture a unique company culture that encourages vibrancy and ambition – it is easy to teach a person the skills to do the job well, however it is hard to teach them our culture and community.

Who – or what – has inspired you in your career?

The people who inspire me are genuinely those around me – from my family and friends, to colleagues and strangers. It’s the people who are really excited about life and can see the positives who truly inspire me. A piece of advice that has always resonated with me and I feel really strongly about is to live your life how you want to and don’t live just to please other people. You have to really believe in yourself and stand up for your beliefs. Not everyone is going to be happy with the decisions you make but, as a business leader especially, you must do what you think is right.

What are the biggest challenges about your job?

The biggest challenge was definitely raising brand awareness when we first launched the business. It was really hard to build trust among vendors and resellers as they essentially had to trust us and, being a start-up, it was hard to build this when we didn’t have any clients or case studies to prove our value. I spent a lot of time networking and, quite frankly, pestering decision makers to give us a chance and show them the difference Distology could make.

When we signed our first vendor, we were able to show the world that having a distributor works and this is when we started to grow. Now Distology is award winning with several industry leading and respected awards under our belt, including CRN’s 2019 Distributor of the Year (sub £250m turnover) and Cloud Distributor of the Year at the 2020 CRN Channel Awards. We’re in a sector that is constantly evolving, so we have to evolve with it. There are new threats appearing regularly, while new software and solutions are entering the market. So, despite being our biggest challenge, we also know agility is the key to success.

What skills have been the most crucial to you succeeding in your career so far?

Being a female founder meant, on paper, my chances of securing investment for Distology were much lower than my male counterparts. Securing investment from private equity house NorthEdge Capital was a hugely crucial and successful moment! It was also a big learning curve but has propelled my understanding of investment generally, while building my knowledge of where true value is in business.

My previous experience as a headhunter and the skills I’d learnt in former roles also led to another key success – building a team of amazing, credible execs to help lead the business. We’re now in a position where we have a fantastic group of people who have diverse career backgrounds, which ultimately helps to generate new ideas and sets us up to achieve our ambitious growth objectives. Having the best team in the business has really allowed me to take a step back and focus on the overarching goals of the business and think strategically about the next steps.

What was your first salary and what could someone getting into the industry expect to earn nowadays?

My first ever job was washing pots, but my first salaried position was as a marketing executive earning around £10,500 per year.

What education or training would be most useful for someone looking to follow your career path?

As many skill sets in tech cross over, there tends to be plenty of opportunities to try new things out and it can be relatively simple to move over to other departments within an organisation. You don’t need to be ‘technically minded’ to succeed in a career in tech. In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth for many roles. What drives my recruitment strategy here at Distology is hiring based on core competencies rather than pure experience.

What advice would you have for someone looking to follow your path?

For those just starting out who know tech is the career they want to get into, and equally those who are in other sectors and want to use their transferrable skills to switch careers without starting from scratch, the opportunities in tech are endless and exciting.

An element of interest in the technology side of the sector is of course important but, ultimately, tech is a solution to a problem and these problems all have human factors. As one of the world’s fastest growing and ever-evolving industries, I’m on a mission to get more people – particularly women – interested in a career in tech. It really is an exciting industry to be part of, with endless rewards and opportunities to progress.

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