Lisa Butters is in an enviable position in the business world wherein she is running a ‘garage-style’ startup within the ecosystem of a Fortune 100 company. Based out of Phoenix, Arizona in the United States of America, this four-year old software startup aims to digitize the $4 billion used aerospace parts while making use of block chain technology.
GoDirect Trade is one of the many startups being incubated by Honeywell Aerospace. However, it functions as an independent business to the extent that the platform has sellers and buyers who are in direct competition with the parent company as well. Butters has been a part of Honeywell for over fifteen years, joining them in the capacity of a SAP developer and rising through the ranks to become the senior director of digital and business transformation. It was then that she moved to the position of General Manager of GoDirect Trade (GDT).
Other than her professional achievements, she has served as a board member on About Care which empowers people to live independently, Chandler Arizona Transportation Commission, The Connected Place Council which is sponsored by the Greater Phoenix Economic Council and a volunteer volleyball coach for the YMCA. She is also a mother of four kids. She talks to Women Icons Network about her experiences in male dominated industries (aerospace and technology), challenge of digitising sales in a high-end industry and gender equality at the workplace.
As a high schooler, Butters had no idea about what she wanted her future career to be like. “Growing up, I’ve always thought it was cool when children or young adults just knew what they wanted to be when they grew up, from scientists to doctors and engineers. I’m amazed by their strong convictions at such a young age,” she says remembering the confusing times.
Her father cut out an article in the paper about a degree in Computer Information Systems, saying it could open a lot of doors for her. That is what led to her taking up the course in Arizona State University and following it up with a Master’s degree in Business Administration from Arizona State University, and a Master’s degree in Finance from Harvard University.
It was only after taking up the course that she realised that she had always been a latent tech geek at heart. After graduating from college at the age of 19, she started her career in web development and database programming.
At her first job, Lisa Butters was excited to be a part of a team which was full of ‘big time, smart’ programmers. On her first day at work, when she introduced herself to them, only one of the ten developers lifted their head to greet her. “I can imagine how they thought I was the newcomer that was probably going to make their job harder because I didn’t ‘know enough’ to be efficient,” she says.
However, this made her determined to earn credibility and trust. For this, she had a two-fold approach: ‘Be helpful. Be humble.’ She signed up for as much testing as she could. She was honest about her lack of knowledge and understanding. She would ask as many questions as she could while being very respectful of people’s time. “I tell this story because I’ve carried these lessons with me throughout my career and at every level. In order to be successful, Be helpful. Be humble.”, she says.
Despite not having a set career course to follow, Butters has always harnessed an entrepreneurial spirit. So, when she got the opportunity to get the flywheel going and running the GoDirect Trade (GDT) marketplace, she thought it was an amazing fit.
Even though e-commerce has gained grounds in every other field, the used aviation parts industry transacted primarily via traditional sales channels before GoDirect came into existence. “If I had to sum up why the aviation industry users aren’t chomping at the bit to go online, it boils down to two things: firstly, aviation parts are really expensive (our average order is US$10,000 on GDT) and secondly, it is crucial to ensure that these aircraft parts that are flowing through our platform are safe enough to reinstall back into an aircraft,” explains Butters.
Considering the expenses they were making, it is understandable that the customers would prefer emailing and calling the salesperson directly over putting a US $20,000 aircraft part in their cart and click on the checkout button. In order to deal with the trust issues, blockchain technology was utilised to gather as much information about serialized parts in a highly secure way and then showing the ‘part pedigree’ information on the product listing database.
Ask her about the experience and Butters says, “I recognised from the get-go that there were going to be many challenges and hurdles that I would have to cross in order to get the platform up and running. But when I took a step back and looked at the bigger picture, building this platform didn’t just fulfil my personal interests and career development goals, but helped me understand the purpose of what we were building and problems that we were solving for the industry.” It is this realisation that keeps her motivated to work on the project till today.
Workplace Gender Equality
She is extremely encouraged by the progress made in terms of bringing gender equality at the workplace over the last couple of years. However, Butters still thinks more and consistent efforts need to be made in this direction. “The best thing that we can do is to try to influence and control what’s in our sphere of influence,” she suggests.
“As a female right at the intersection of the two traditionally male-dominated industries – aerospace and technology – in the last decade, it’s so common for me to walk into a meeting room and sit around a table with only men,” she shares. This has often left her feeling bad about men’s lack of interest or trust towards women’s opinion or profession. “But I’d usually tell myself that I’m going to show them what this force named Lisa Butters can do. I’m going to show them what women are capable of,” she says.
Butters believes that we can empower women in the workplace by having engaging and respectful male colleagues or leaders. She does her bit by recognizing and reinforcing other women’s ideas during meetings. “It’s really a great practice to repeat another woman’s viewpoints during a meeting and compliment the ideas. Besides, when you do talent or career discussions during the management reviews, it is advisable to make a list of three to five women who would be great candidates for future roles and growth opportunities,” she shares. She adds that Honeywell’s Women’s Advancement Program has provided her with the platform to serve as a role model to fellow females in the industry and to play an active part in creating equal opportunities for her peers.
She has even brought her husband, a software engineering manager, to the point where he makes it a deliberate point to have at least 50% female candidates to be interviewed, especially when his company does talent recruiting at universities. “He knows I’ll throw a fit if he doesn’t have an even male/female slate! I do think everyone should be given an equal opportunity for career advancement,” she reasons.