In 2014, Kiwi Stephanie Ogden was appointed managing director of Belkin having served as NZ country manager, then, based in Australia, director of sales, for a total of 12 years. “Even after 15 years at the company, I’m still just as driven,” says Stephanie over the phone from Sydney. “The people drive me on. I’m not a hierarchical manager, I believe in surrounding myself with people that make me look great! It’s all about empowering a wonderful team.”
Belkin was founded in California in 1983 by Chet Pipkin in his parents’ garage, and is now one of the world’s foremost designers and manufacturers of digital accessories (most notably for, though not limited to, Apple products) such as phone cases, charging docks, keyboards and smart cables. Beginning 2001, Stephanie set up the New Zealand operation pretty much from scratch, over a period of eight years increasing annual revenue from $150,000 to more than $11 million. “Because I started that business, I feel extreme personal investment,” she says. “It remains among my proudest achievements, an endeavour that began with me sitting on the floor building my own catalogues, to training and building a team that is still thriving today.”
Similarly, in Australia, Stephanie has just led the group through a three-year evolution that involved “significant structural changes”: “The end result is a group of intelligent, energised souls who love working here. I get quite emotional when I talk about them because they are so smart and passionate and I’m so proud of their dedication and hard work. It’s an honour to have been on the journey with them.”
You’ve clearly inspired others, but who has inspired you?
“I’ve always been fortunate enough to have been surrounded—and taught—by people that have found success due to their honesty and authenticity. My time with Belkin has led to me having a direct line to founder and CEO Chet Pipkin, and it has been a privilege to observe the care he shows for people, and his unwavering passion and energy for business. That has certainly been one of the biggest gifts in terms of mentoring. On a personal level, my mum was a single, working mother who was super independent. All of these things shape who we are.”
How has the art of leadership evolved over your career?
“I think it’s linked to a general societal change. The world has become less rigid, there are more grey areas, more room for opinion. It’s healthy to hear different perspectives. I’m interested in building a safe space where people aren’t afraid to step up and share ideas.”
Like most successful directors, Stephanie adheres to a rigid routine — up at 5.45am on office days for a brisk walk to clear her head, while weekends are reserved for her personal training sessions: “I also travel a lot for work, so always make sure I have some running shoes with me to hit the treadmill or explore a new city.”
Since childhood, Stephanie admits she’s always liked order. “My mum, being polite, would probably call me strong-willed,” she chuckles. “But I was always a very independent child, a typically stubborn Taurus. I was in Rotorua recently and drove past my primary school with my mum. She said on my first day she walked me across the street and I let go of her hand and said, ‘I don’t think I need you anymore mum!’ We moved around a lot as a family [Stephanie has a brother 18 months her senior] so had to learn to adapt quickly. I believe it was character building. I was never conditioned or stereotyped by a particular place and I still carry that open perspective about others, why they are who they are, and how they got there.”
As for having kids herself, Stephanie says that “it’s not a route she’s been able to go down”, but it has enabled her to “make certain decisions” about her career that have “supported my professional growth”. I ask about equality in the industry, and she’s keen to stress that sexism is something she has never felt she has encountered — but that’s not to say changes can’t be made for the better. “I’ve always sought roles that I believed aligned to my strength,” says Stephanie. “I do see a shift in women in management coming through, and I still think there’s room for more women to recognise their own ability. I realise that is a very broad statement, but it is of course important for women to feel empowered and comfortable with putting up their hand and showing self-belief.”
As for the immediate future, Stephanie says she’s excited about Belkin’s recent boom, and proud of the leading role she played: “There is a new level of stability and growth and I want to both support and celebrate the team’s achievements.” Eventually, at some point, Stephanie would “like to end up back in New Zealand”, but she adds, she’s most certainly far from done with Belkin yet.
Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces