Q&A with Catherine Pawlotsky, CIO of TCS

Catherine Pawlotsky

Each month we have the honor of interviewing WOMEN WHO INSPIRE US. This month we talked to Catherine Pawlotsky, CIO (Chief Information Officer) of TCS (Touring Club Suisse) – the largest mobility club in Switzerland. During the interview, we discussed Catherine’s path into tech and her passion for people and transformation.  

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background, and your current position.

My name is Catherine Pawlotsky, I am French and I studied Management, Finance and Marketing at a Business school in Paris. My background is not at all in tech.

I am married and have two wonderful daughters. I joined TCS (Touring Club Swiss) as CIO in April 2021. TCS is a non-profit organization and the largest mobility club in Switzerland – we have more than 1.5 Mio members.

I’ve always liked to manage men and women – being at the service of others is a must for me. As my family is full of doctors, I’m a bit of an outsider on what I do today. We connect through the passion we have for people.

What brought you into the tech industry? 

My first job at Colgate Palmolive brought me into tech but it wasn’t really planned.

Right after my MBA, I started at Colgate Palmolive as a project manager and on a temporary contract. It became an 8-year experience, where I developed my expertise in SAP. I learned a lot in this job, by being at the interface between IT and Business teams.

However, as I was ready for my next step, it was very clear that Colgate Palmolive didn’t promote women. I took the opportunity of a social plan to give my job to a woman, who needed it more than me: at 50 y.o, she was going to lose her job and on my side, I was ready for a change.

Team meeting

I planned my career with a goal in mind: to join the Executive Board of a company

– Catherine Pawlotsky

Did you ever plan your career? How did you achieve your current position?

After that first experience, there was an easy road for me: pick any job as an SAP expert in a large company and with a huge salary. All doors were open.

But I had a clear a goal in mind: to join the Executive Board of a company. I wanted to be heard and have an impact. Influence decisions and share my views on people management.

I was able to quickly get the job I wanted at Thomas Cook. The memories of the interview are still very vivid in my mind– they asked me if I soon wanted another kid. I did, I said so, and they still hired me. This was not so usual at the time.

I started driving a very complex 9-month project where we even implemented ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) before it became popular. A very good success story.

Overall, I stayed 8 years at Thomas Cook. Towards the end, unions made public that we, as women, were paid 20% less than men. Thomas Cook didn’t act so nothing changed. I left the company for personal reasons – to join my family in Annecy, as we could really feel the burden of the weekly travels to Paris.

In 2010, I joined CICR (International Committee of Red Cross) where I was CIO for 8 years (2 mandates of 4 years). I fell in love with the mission and the values of the whole organization. I was in charge of leading the global IT transformation, develop the teams into new roles and provide new services. Diversity & inclusion is a tough topic at CICR: many engineers are coming from the field where their roles require carrying heavy loads and local conditions are often very difficult. As a result, it is mostly a male-dominated environment.

I’ve mostly worked in IT all this years. You actually tend to be put in a certain category after a while, so it can be tricky to change career.

I’ve joined TCS recently. My mission is clear. Now, let the transformation begin!

You have a background in business but work in IT… did you feel sometimes you were not “technical enough”?

I’ve learned IT on the job, through projects and colleagues. Not being a geek has never been a challenge – I have been successful by surrounding myself with the right people and by adopting the right leadership attitude: humility, benevolence and empathy.

My skills in bringing people together and managing at all levels allowed me to be successful in all my jobs.

Catherine Pawlotsky

Not being a geek myself has never been a challenge. I have been successful by surrounding myself with the right people and by adopting the right leadership attitude.

– Catherine Pawlotsky

What motivates you at work?

I love driving and supporting teams through large and global transformations. Defining a vision and climbing together the Everest. Developing my teams by sharing my knowledge and experience.

I am also passionate about developing women and helping them breaking the glass ceiling.

Since 2019, I am part of Cercle Suisse des Administratrices. We’re aiming at promoting more diversity in Executive Boards – there are only approximately 17% of women in Executive Boards in Switzerland today and numbers are stalling. And I strongly believe that we will benefit from having more technology-enthusiasts in Boards as technology has become key to support the company’s strategy (digital transformation and innovation) and to manage risks (cybersecurity, customer data…).

Is there anything you wish you would have done differently?

Not really. I have met my goal and I keep looking towards the future. Now, I invest more and more time in mentoring and coaching younger managers.

Who has had the most important influence on you?

Without any hesitation: the women in my family.

My grandmother has always been a role model for my sisters and me. She was born in 1902 in Russia and was the first woman to be enrolled at a university in this country. She wanted to become a lawyer but had to stop her studies to survive during revolutions and wars.

My mother also had great influence on me. She had to fight to be recognized as a skilled woman in her job as a child psychiatrist. Working in a man’s world has been difficult troughout her career.

I’ve been lucky to grow up surrounded by strong women and supportive men.

Professionally, I have to admit that I’ve been disappointed by most of my managers. In my experience, men have a tendency to manage the upper level but not their teams. However, everyone is important, no matter their level.

Would you encourage women to work in tech?

Definitely. It is an exciting area – there are so many things to do and to learn. Every day is different.

We need however to be careful as the development on technologies can also bring suffering: we need to better anticipate the impacts on people and prepare them for the jobs of the future. We also need make sure we keep control as there is a real danger there – I have learned recently that large tech companies start losing control over their algorithms and do not fully understand them.

Are there any readings, podcasts or other resources that you enjoy or recommend?

I’ve learned «on the job» and through others – I need relationships to grow and to thrive. LinkedIn is the perfect tool for that: I can build new connections, help people and get inspiration.

I am particularly inspired by Sarah Saint-Michel, Professor at Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne. She is amazing in her TED Talk about leadership & gender – A must-see!

We would like to thank Catherine Pawlotsky for her time in sharing her journey. Catherine’s determination to meet her goals and her dedication to people development & diversity are truly inspiring for our community 💛

Author: Noémie Aung

Our Women Who Inspire Us series has already featured:

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