Things could have turned out
differently for Joan Mill, who recently joined CPA Global as
executive vice president for EMEA sales. From the age of 11 she
trained as an athlete, specialising in sprinting and the shot
put, before giving it up to focus fully on her studies.
Today, she enjoys watching various sports including tennis
and Formula 1, doing charity runs and is looking to take up a
team sport. But the old competitive edge remains: "You
don’t want to challenge me to a race –
unless I’m in heels!"
In fact, she says the skills that helped her succeed in
athletics – dedication, ambition, determination and
discipline – are the same ones that have guided her
career, which has spanned law, banking and business. And they
come in part from her family, where she learned that "Being
second is first loser". "As a child, I was very studious to the
point where my mother would have to force me to eat," says
From law to sales
It wasn’t surprising therefore that she
followed in her father’s footsteps by studying
law. She then worked for law firms Skadden and SJ Berwin in
London, before completing an MBA specialising in applied
finance. This led to two years working in fixed-income
derivatives at Lehman Bros, the investment bank that collapsed
spectacularly in 2008.
"In life you don’t have mistakes, you have
lessons. Smart people learn from those lessons and I hope
we’ve learned lessons from Lehman Bros and Bear
Stearns," says Mill. For her pesonally, the collapse of Lehman
led to a new opportunity as she was headhunted to join CPA
Global in Jersey, tasked with looking at how the IP service
provider could improve across its services.
This was followed by a move to Fusion Experience as director
of global sales and marketing, before Mill developed and
launched a new technology product for the IP market, NovumIP.
Then, last month, she rejoined CPA Global to lead its 32-strong
EMEA sales team. "My passion is marrying up IP with
technology," she says, adding that the company’s
vision about improving efficiency, data insight and
monetisation of IP portfolios perfectly fits with this: "We
want to pass on the benefits of using technology to our
Technology and change management
"Technology is an enabler: it provides insights, efficiency
and collaboration," says Mill, but adds that it often provokes
resistance. She cites the opposition faced by Carly Fiorina,
former head of Hewlett-Packard, when she tried to diversify the
company into the PC market. In IP, she explains where
opposition to technology comes from: "In one word: paper. Lots
of attorneys love it because it’s tangible, which
is ironic in the world of intangibles. I think in this industry
we are quite reticent to change."
The key, she says, is that technology adoption must be
accompanied by change management: "Once you have technology as
an enabler, you have to have change management too to overcome
any obstacles." And she says that, while artificial
intelligence will become more important, it’s not
a threat to people’s jobs yet: "I
don’t think AI can overtake the human interaction.
In some instances you need the human touch and what we call the
Where she does see technology having an impact is improving
efficiency: "We live in a just-in-time society –
everyone expects and can get information and insights at the
tip of their fingertips. In some industries clients expect that
as well." For example, that may mean using WhatsApp to
communicate with clients – but that in turn means
re-thinking how you communicate, how much formality is
appropriate etc. At CPA Global, Mill says she is excited about
the company’s new IP Platform product and how
clients can use that as an enabler for their own services.
Empowered women empower women
Although she has worked in different areas – law,
finance, technology development, sales, Mill says
she’s always been "pleasantly encouraged" by their
openness to women and "meritocracy": appointments and
promotions have been based on panel interviews and psychometric
testing, rather than favouritism.
But she adds that there is more to be done, in particular to
encourage gender equality. Her principle is "Empowered women
empower women" and she says that now she’s in a
senior role, "I think it’s my duty to do what I
can to help other women."
For example, she has a mentee at salesforce.com. "I
encourage her to speak up when needed. But women also get a bad
rep if they are feisty and there is a thin line there," says
Mill. She says that forming groups or networks can be helpful
and mentions a group of Ferrari-owning businesswomen, who raise
money to sponsor girls around the world to go to school.
Mill’s sense of competitiveness and ambition
remains strong. "My biggest competitor is myself," she says.
Now though it is directed not at athletics but at IP and in
particular marrying IP management and technology.
"Digitisation, AI, just-in time – these are the things
that will change the face of IP going forward," she says,
adding: "Corporates and law firms that are not already on the
technology train will find themselves left behind."