Rosalyn Arntzen was drawn to the math and science fields at an early age. The president and CEO of Amaxra was born and raised in Australia; moved to the United Kingdom after completing studies in science and law in Sydney; and started her career in 1989, when she founded SHX plc, a company that trained corporate employees on the latest software from Microsoft, Novell, Corel, and Lotus.
It was a fledgling enterprise funded by an initial investment from her mother. “Looking back, it seems I was very young to be running a business so early in my career,” she said. “Although it seems to be more the norm these days.”
Arntzen eventually caught the interest of Unisys, the global information technology company, and was hired in 1992 as a technical consultant working with Shell Oil, British Petroleum, and Microsoft. Four years later, she joined Microsoft’s Australia subsidiary, where she managed a team of technicians. By 2001, she relocated to Microsoft’s corporate headquarters in Redmond, and joined the company’s Windows XP launch team.
“I started at Microsoft in a really technical role in the U.K.,” explained Arntzen. “By the time I (left Microsoft in 2007), I was an executive communications director.”
After years of working long hours and in highly visible executive roles at Microsoft, Arntzen left the company for what proved to be a brief hiatus. “I literally ended up back at Microsoft, helping my old team as a contractor,” she explained. Thus, Amaxra, a business management and technology solutions firm in Redmond, was started.
Today, the company employs 59 people, and Microsoft, Google, and T-Mobile are among the company’s clients. Amaxra celebrated its 10-year anniversary in October and is in the process of rolling out its first product — a membership solution program for companies on the Dynamics 365 platform.
With the success of her business, Arntzen feels it is important to give back to the Eastside community. Every summer, she closes the office for a day and takes her team to volunteer at the nonprofit Food Lifeline. Amaxra also makes donations to various charities each holiday season based on the staff’s interests.
Arntzen discussed her career in business, shared her interest in seeing more women in the technology industry, and offered advice to aspiring entrepreneurs.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who is starting a company?
A: When building out a team, you’ve got to think, “Do people have the same passion? Do they have the same commitment? Do they respect their colleagues?” This does not mean they have to work all hours, or they have to be best buds with everybody. But is there a level of respect, a level of working together? If that isn’t working, it can go downhill quickly. It doesn’t matter how well the business is doing, it will affect the business. Hiring for fit is as important as hiring for capability.
Q: Have you had a mentor throughout your career?
A: I have had several along the way. My uncle, who was an international partner in Baker & McKenzie — a multinational law firm — is a mentor. He retired about three years ago, and he now mentors and coaches people, mostly other attorneys. He is a really good sounding board. A former colleague at Microsoft, who was more senior to me, now mentors a couple folks on my Amaxra leadership team and myself. She is good at offering a different perspective and helping consider all angles before making a final decision. You need to have mentors, and you need to evolve those mentors to where you are. Some people will stay mentors all the way through. Others will have made their contributions at that time, but then you evolve and need something else.
Q: What are the positives and negatives of working for yourself versus working for somebody else?
A: When working for somebody else, you don’t always own your career and direction, but when it’s your company, it’s all you. When you are the one running the ship, the buck stops with you. If somebody is not doing their job, no matter how committed you are to your work-life balance, ultimately it is your baby, and you have to keep delivering on what was committed or promised.
Q: What kind of preparation do you recommend for a startup company?
A:Make sure you’ve got the right advice, and read some good books. It’s not just about envisioning the next product that is going to change the world. How are you going to make it, how are you going to deliver it, how are you going to ship it, how are you going to keep up with reliability and fixing problems?
Q: What advice would you give young girls interested in science or math?
A: I gravitated toward the sciences and math, and I loved it. As I got higher up (in school) — not higher in difficulty, but higher in years — the girls would drop away. By the time I (was) doing my nuclear chemistry units at college, I was the only girl. At Unisys, I was one girl in a team of 23 guys. My boss would send emails to ‘Ros and gents.’ It is harder. But if you persevere and you’re passionate about it, the opportunities are very much there.
Q: What are your thoughts on gender discrimination in this field?
A: I think one of the challenges women have — and this is never going to go away, really — is a man, or even a woman, will look at a (potential hire) and think, “Well, what if she is out on maternity leave? How do I keep things going?” It shouldn’t come into work, but it does. Parental leave for both parents helps here, but it’s important everybody, male and female, fights these attitudes.
Q: What’s your advice when it comes to finding a work-life balance?
A: It’s hard, and I’m still a work in progress. Find a way to get the balance. Find something that helps others hold you accountable, whether a program, gym trainer, friend, et cetera. I recently invested in a Peloton bike because I love indoor cycling, and having it right in my home removes the time it takes to travel to/from the gym several times a week. If you are a startup and you think you’re going to work like anything for the next five years, something could blindside you — illness, personal (issues), family, or — I’m ever the eternal optimist — even winning the lottery. The point is to find something that will help you.
At A Glance
Mike Arntzen, husband of 14 years. Stepmom to Ashlee, Danielle, and Ben, who all now live in Australia, and two granddaughters — Anna and Millie.
University of New South Wales
Digital Marketing Board at Bellevue College; Win with Washington; Women in Wireless (Seattle Chapter); Homeward Pets
What was your first job?
I worked at McDonald’s at age 15.
In Her Free Time
Hello Fresh, Peloton Bike
Microsoft Dynamics 365 for what it can do for a business, and Kindle on my iPad Mini.
Winning Lifelong Customers with The Five Abilities by Rick Wong; Hit Refresh by Satya Nadella; My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella