Women in Leadership: A Q&A with Joanna Robinson, one of CRN’s 2017 Women of the Channel


Joanna Robinson, Regional VP of West Coast Operations at Burwood Group, was recently named to CRN's 2017 Women of the Channel list. Each year, CRN selects an elite group of honorees based on their personal accomplishments, outstanding leadership, and unique role in driving channel growth and innovation. We sat down with Joanna to learn more about her leadership style and what inspires her to succeed.

The CRN Women of the Channel list recognizes the accomplishments of female executives within the channel. What do you believe are the key factors that have contributed to your success?

THINK BIG. Those are the words emblazoned on the wall of our San Diego facility. Beyond today, and beyond tomorrow is the unscripted future that challenges us to be BOLD and to be innovative. As a leader, my role is often to define and execute our strategic direction. It can be a challenge to prioritize initiatives, because everything seems important. I truly believe if you try to focus on everything, you focus on nothing. Being able to identify top strategic priorities and invest time and resources on things that move the ball forward is crucial. Last year, we set the goal to double the western region within three years. I am proud to say we are trending to achieve this in less than two.

My success is achievement through teamwork. I would describe myself as a tenacious, but highly collaborative leader whose success comes from the ability to build exceptional, dynamic teams that can execute against our strategic direction. This means, however, having a very selective hiring and recruiting process. Burwood is a very special organization to work for and has an amazing culture and entrepreneurial spirit. Smart, capable people like to work with other smart, capable people so we carefully evaluate fit before bringing in new talent.

Over the years, I have found that being a good listener is one of the most important leadership skills. I've learned to take those observations and use them to inspire a team and rally them towards a common goal. As a leader my goal is to bring out the best in every individual and help them leverage their strengths to create a stronger team unit. 

One of the things I strongly value, and Burwood strongly values, is operating with a high level of integrity and always striving to do what is best for the customer and our employees. In that regard, I have constantly looked to ensure that we are building a network of partners, subcontractors, and affiliates that are also culturally aligned with those foundational values.

What does the CRN Women of the Channel Award mean to you? 

It is truly an honor. It is a very exciting time for women in technology, and I am thrilled to be part of it. I am always inspired to see women who are strong, intelligent, and highly capable in leadership positions, especially in IT. It makes me very proud to be in the company of such an elite group of female executives. 

How would you describe your leadership style?

I would say that my leadership style is very collaborative. I invite discussion and debate, and strive for everyone on my team to be brought into the process of building our vision and goals. I have high expectations, both for myself and my team. At the end of the day, I believe my success is shown through the success of the people on my team. 

What are some of the toughest business challenges you're trying to solve right now?

Burwood's western region is growing incredibly fast, so keeping up with that rapid rate of growth is my biggest challenge at the moment. As we continue to scale, being able to add not just any talent, but great talent is also on my mind. Being patient and hiring for the 'greats' is worth far more than just hiring fast and bringing in mediocre talent. 

You joined Burwood exactly one year ago. How would you describe your time here so far?

When I started one year ago, I was charged with overseeing strategic direction for the west coast and bringing together a team that would reinvigorate Burwood's western region. I think of my first 30 days here as my 'assessment period' where I took time to observe how our teams interact with each other and with customers and listen to how partners and customers talk about us. 30-60 days in, I developed a plan and got the buy-in for the vision and strategy. We put forward a framework around innovation, accountability, discipline, and client service that has fed into everything our team does. 

My experience at Burwood has been the best I have ever had working for any organization. I think that is because Burwood really does live behind the core values of the organization. It goes back to what I mentioned before about operating with a high level of integrity, honesty, and having genuine care for our employees and customers. I also love the way the Burwood culture embraces creativity. Employees are encouraged to be entrepreneurial-minded and their ideas are accepted and acted upon.

As you continue to look for opportunities to drive channel success, who are the leaders or trailblazers you look to for inspiration? 

I am deeply inspired by other women in leadership, particularly in technology. Sheryl Sandberg's message in her book Lean In has been a big inspiration to me. It's all about having the strength to take new risks without holding yourself back, expressing your opinion, and having confidence in the value you're bringing to any given situation – even if you happen to be the only woman at the table. 

What advice would you give to young women aspiring to take on leadership roles? 

Be bold. Be curious. Don't be afraid to be the only woman in the room, or for that matter, the youngest or the smartest person in the room! I would also advise young women not to shy away from risks or opportunities that might at first seem daunting. I have taken risks all throughout my career, on things that seemed a little crazy at the time, but ultimately turned out to be the best decisions I have ever made. THINK BIG!


May 15, 2017