Karin Eibschitz Segal. 'Every half hour I need to make a decision about something' \ Eyal Toueg

Meet the Most Powerful Woman in Israeli High-tech

The director of R&D for Intel Israel, responsible for a work force of 7,000, talks about her special way of making decisions and how mentoring can help women advance in the world of high tech



“Every half hour I need to make a decision about something – about projects, technologies, manpower, employees’ personal issues, the work environment and more,” says Karin Eibschitz Segal. “Sometimes I spend an entire workday and feel like I didn’t manage to do anything. But then I think to myself, ‘Wait a minute, look how many decisions you’ve already made today!’”

She says this "marathon of decision-making" is the most significant change since she was named director of Intel’s development centers in Israel in August 2017 – making her the most senior woman in the country’s high-tech scene. 

Eibschitz Segal, 40, is in charge of development strategy at Intel Israel’s development centers, as well as vice president of the manufacturing validation engineering group, which develops integrated hardware and software solutions for the company’s testing. She says she sees her job at Intel as steering a technological vision of the 21st century.

In many ways she is the kind of manager one would expect to find in a large high-tech company. She was an outstanding math and physics student in high school, taught math and science during her army service and studied computer science at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. She started at Intel as a student intern in 2001 and rose through the ranks.

When the company needed a new development manager she was the natural choice. And thus, before turning 40, she became responsible for 7,000 employees at three development centers, in Haifa, Jerusalem and Petah Tikva.

\ Eyal Toueg

But she isn’t just responsible for employee management: Intel, the largest employer in Israel, also accounts for about 8 percent of the country’s high-tech exports. Eibschitz Segal has to make sure the Israeli development centers remain relevant.

Today, these centers are key to planning the company’s future processors, along with their role as one of the global corporation’s most significant profit makers. The Israeli operation accounts for an estimated $30 billion of Intel’s worldwide revenue. “A lot of what keeps me busy today is how I make a connection for employees between the technology and its significance,” Eibschitz Segal said. “After all, people want a pleasant work environment, a technological challenge and the possibility of promotion, but the main thing that brings them to work every morning is a feeling of significance. They want to know what’s happening with our technology.

“Two weeks ago, I sat down and read about Intel’s cooperation with cancer research centers. The trend today is toward personalized medicine adjusted on the basis of gene sequencing. This involves insane amounts of information, which we at Intel will help to preserve, transmit and process by adding artificial intelligence capabilities to the processor.”

Eibschitz Segal’s preoccupation with significance is no accident, and it goes far beyond the issue of recruiting and retaining employees. For a long time now, Intel has been working on rebranding itself, aiming to change its image from that of a boring hardware company to that of a diversified player at the forefront of technology. It is moving away from developing generic, multipurpose chips and toward chips adapted to the specific fields in which it wants to be a leader.

Teamwork is vital

When I asked Eibschitz Segal if she expected the appointment or dreamed of being a senior manager at Intel when she started out there, she laughed. “When I say I’m not a planner, people simply don’t believe me,” she said. “I have many goals – to obtain a certain project or learn to do a certain thing.

“The truth is that had they told me, ‘The CEO is leaving, do you think you’d be a good candidate?’ I would have said yes. It was clear to me that I had the right network of connections and the technological and managerial experience to do this, but I’m so busy that I never imagined this as a goal – and certainly not as a student two decades ago.”

Is the desire to be a manager something you enter the job market with, or does it develop over the years?

“For me, it’s something that developed over the years. Over time, I discovered what I’m good at and what I enjoy. It certainly wasn’t managing for the sake of managing.

“In Israel there’s a belief that everyone should aspire to be a manager, and if you don’t want to, perhaps there’s something wrong with you. I believe that everyone should aspire to develop themselves and excel. It might be that there’s one person who’s super-expert at the most complicated debugging, and he’ll never aspire to replace me, but that’s a superb job and an excellent career.

Intel

“Because we’re an American company, luckily we have very clear tracks, like that of ‘fellow.’ That’s a title equivalent to vice president, and [it means that] your job is to win the technological Pulitzer, so to speak, without managing anyone.”

What’s the first thing you learned as a manager?

“The realization that no one person can do everything; you need a good team. So the most important thing is choosing people.”

A well-known cliché.

“Yes, but clichés develop because many people have reached the same conclusion on the basis of experience. What I had to learn very quickly was how to let go. Our superb workers want some space and freedom of decision and to feel they’re influential; that’s what empowers them. And they won’t do this for micro-managers, for a manager who gets involved in tiny details and restricts them.”

How do you explain this problem among managers?

“Because we’re hard-working and achievement-oriented, and until age 30 we did everything by ourselves in order to succeed, and all along the way – at school and at university – we were assessed on our own and given grades on our own. So what’s the big surprise that when we become managers, it’s very hard to let go and learn to rely on others? I hope that in my children’s generation, that will change. They have more group projects and more group assessment.”

So what do you do? How do you learn to let go?

“The question isn’t exactly how, but to whom. You have to select good people under you, whom you can rely on, and that’s a difficult, exhausting process, and you can’t compromise on it, even if it means you need to fire people or move them around. After all, I don’t really manage all the organization’s employees on a day-to-day basis. My managers do this, and the managers under them do it, and there are another several layers, down to the level of the most junior worker.

“The same rules that apply to me also apply to every one of my managers. If I choose a mediocre manager, then his workers won’t be happy and the team’s productivity won’t be good and excellent people won’t remain, and I’ll have to fix the problem and intervene. So the key is to invest all my energy at the beginning in finding people I can rely on.”

David Bachar

In Israel, there are almost no executives who control organizations with thousands of people. How do you learn to do this without any nearby models to emulate?

“That’s true. Over the years I have gathered a handful of people whose conversation I know will help me, even if it’s [only] trying to deliberate together out loud. Some of them are senior executives at Intel Israel, and some at Intel in the United States – people I admire and who are in executive positions on a scale where they can provide me with a point of reference – and some from outside the company.”

What can you recommend to managers in large organizations?

“Part of the difficulty in large organizations such as Intel is that in order to advance a project there are many groups that are partners to the process. You have to learn to work without ego, to share the credit. My motto is Intel first – that means that if, for example, there’s a project I could have fought tooth and nail to assign to my group, but there’s another more experienced group that can do it more simply with a better chance of success – then I’ll support having [the latter] do it. There’s a sort of naivete in that, but if you do the right thing for Intel, then you also build trusting relationships and people are committed to you.”

How do you know what’s good for the company?

“When I make decisions I take the ‘elevator test.’ I think to myself – if they post a sign in the company’s elevator with the decision I made, and everyone is exposed to it – will I feel comfortable with it? Comfortable means [that] I stand behind the decision and am capable of explaining it. The notion of publicizing the decision helps in making decisions.”

Dancing as sport

It’s not easy to get Eibschitz Segal to tell personal stories. When I ask her what she’s reading now, she pulls an article out of her bag about a method of management of internet leadership. “Have you ever heard of Scrum?” (a methodology for project management), she asks, directing the question back to me. When I ask what has excited her recently, she describes the visit by a delegation of Intel executives in Israel last month (“It’s the first time in history that the entire management – 30 people – arrived together for a visit outside the United States”) and directs me to Facebook to look for the picture of Bob Swan, the CEO, photographed with all the workers holding the new chip developed in Haifa.

In preparation for this interview I found a short item from one of the lists of Promising Young People last year, which said that in high school you were a ballet dancer. Why don’t you tell me that?

Laughing, she replies: “It always surprises people that I was a ballet dancer. I don’t think anyone would be surprised if I had been a tennis player or a runner.”

You’re right. Maybe it’s just the unusual combination of dancer and programmer.

“I think the percentage of women in high-tech is so low that ballet [combined with] high-tech can’t be ordinary. It’s a sport I liked. I danced for a decade, but the disadvantage is that it’s impossible to continue at the age of 40, and since then I haven’t found a sport I like as much. Incidentally, you can project from any field and hobby to another field, and to learn.”

Please explain.

“Ballet teaches discipline and commitment, and what characterizes it is precision and serenity. Those are good qualities for managers.”

What attracted you about computer sciences?

\ RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS

“That feeling, the ability to create things – in programming or electrical engineering – it’s simply marvelous. It’s a language and a tool for expression that you should study the way you study English, already in elementary school.”

Are you burdened by the fact that you are in effect the most senior female executive today in Israeli high-tech?

“I know that I have a significant job, as a woman, to be a role model. That’s not a burden.”

What makes things difficult for women in high-tech?

“The first problem is recruitment, which doesn’t recognize that women are different. Men will submit their candidacy for a position when they have 60 percent of the skills required to fill it, but women will submit it only if they meet 100 percent of the requirements. Women are more afraid of risking failure, they’re more judgmental toward themselves. But I think that as recruiters, we’ve already become better at that.

“The second and main problem at present, in my opinion, is that women drop out more as they approach the age of 40, and as they advance in age, the disparities in salary also become wider. A study by the Finance Ministry demonstrated that, and I also see it in the field.”

How can that be solved?

“In my opinion, the solution lies in social connections within the company, and mentoring. Recently I asked for a list of promising women who could be assigned a mentor and helped to advance. The idea is that from the moment there are enough women in senior positions, the circle will fuel itself, because in organizations where there’s a woman in a relatively senior position – women get the message that they’ll have opportunities for advancement.”

Who does the mentoring?

“Anyone who would be suitable in terms of their job and their responsibility. My mentors were my managers. Most were men, but I also had a wonderful female manager. In the Harvard Business Review they recently published a study that discusses the importance of men being mentors of women, especially in the post-#MeToo era, which created a problematic situation of men who are afraid of professional relationships with women. The main message is that in general, men are in positions of influence in the organization, positions that can create opportunities for the women they mentor.”

How did you feel as a manager when they announced the dismissal of the CEO, Brian Krzanich, claiming that he had an affair with a female employee?

‘We were all in shock. I received the same press release that everyone saw, I have no idea what the story was, and at some point there was simply no choice but to move on. But after the shock, I think I also felt some pride, that at least it’s very clear that the company stands behind its values. The employees are required to adhere to a set of values – and so is the CEO.”

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