Meri Williams, CTO, Pleo
Meri is currently the CTO of Pleo, a leading SaaS Fintech business offering businesses smart payment cards for their employees. In December 2021, Pleo raised $200m in Series C funding – making them the most funded B2B spend management service in Europe.
Meri is a seasoned SaaS executive with extensive experience across a broad range of companies and domains, including her notable work as CTO of Monzo. However, Meri’s experience spans far beyond SaaS, with experience in Advisory, Chair and NED roles throughout her career. Meri is also a published author and international speaker, with a focus on inclusion and diversity.
Meri believes their role as a leader is to create an environment where fantastic work can happen – this means ensuring autonomy, empowering staff and encouraging mastery. Meri firmly believes that anyone can be themselves and be successful.
What attracted you to your current organisation?
The usual things: great people, great culture, great product. I also really relish the challenge of taking a reasonably large organisation and growing capacity and capability without necessarily growing the team particularly. I’d done a few hyperscaling journeys in a row in the last 10 years or so, so not spending half my time just on recruitment is a nice change of pace! I also really like that Jeppe (our CEO at Pleo) really believes in the executive team (which we call the Lighthouse) being a real team, rather than just a collection of individual specialist leaders. So we do things like spending real time together offsite every month, which I think really helps break down barriers and silos and prevents misunderstandings, because our relationships between each other are so strong.
What part of being a CTO excites you the most?
Probably a split between making sure tech is an integral part of the company’s success (including being a general executive and contributing to the overall company strategy as well as technology’s place within that) and growing and developing and getting the most out of the people in the team. I moved into leadership roles because the technical side of things wasn’t quite challenging enough for me, so the people aspect to things is always a major focus of my work, alongside technical and business strategy.
What was one of the biggest challenges you had in growing from a VP of Engineering to a CTO?
I mean the biggest challenge was probably that I never was a VP of Eng! I had a bit of a strange path in my career, starting out as a dev then architect, but then moving into project, product and programme management for a few years when the corporation I worked for outsourced all the technical work. They then realised they’d outsourced a bit too much and brought a load back in-house, so I led teams owning all the financial systems for the world’s biggest fast moving consumer goods company for a while, before going on a broadening assignment and leading all of north european operations. I then made a big career change and went into government for a while, notably building the team that built GOV.UK before first going back into the corporate world and then into a startup directly as a CTO without having been a VP of Eng officially ever.
I think in general one of the most challenging inflection points is when you go from managing individual contributors and managers, to managing managers-of-managers (Senior EMs, Directors, etc) and like many I found that journey quite intense and challenging.
What is the best (or worst) piece of advice you’ve been given?
Figure out what you can’t stop yourself from doing. If, like me, you aren’t really sure what makes you happy or fulfilled per se, sometimes noticing what you can’t hold yourself back from working on or fixing is more insightful. In my case, realising that I couldn’t stop myself from trying to solve people problems even when it wasn’t my job is what led me into leadership roles.
What advice do you wish you had been given in your first leadership role?
Your job isn’t to know everything and tell everyone what to do. Your job is to create the space in which great work can happen. Space to be awesome includes:
- Purpose – believing in WHY
- Autonomy – having a say in WHAT
- Mastery – being proud of HOW
- Inclusion – feeling a sense of community (WHO)
Our thanks to Meri for taking the time to talk to us!