This Q & A is with Llana Golan, F-16 Flight instructor, Engineer, Founder & CEO of Stiya. Llana is innovating her field of work by breaking gender barriers in Israeli military and founding Stiya, a Storytelling platform for businesses using automation and allowing them to share more relevant and personalized content with their clients in a click.
1) What was a pivotal moment of reinvention for you?
I was an F-16 flight instructor in the Israeli air force. I worked around the clock but knew that only men became commanders in my unit. I couldn’t really accept this glass ceiling and was super motivated to prove to everyone that I can do this just as good as men. I worked really hard to prove myself and eventually it paid off. I became the first woman to become a commander and in charge of training of all F-16 pilots. It was a big moment for myself, for the air force and for women in Israel overall. But my days didn’t become any easier now that I achieved it. I knew I had to prove it was the right choice. With a lot of work from my amazing team I completely changed the training and education program for pilots in Israel and received the prestigious ‘Best Commander Award’. I knew that after such a success more women will become commanders and will get the trust we deserve. I also proved to myself that barriers are meant to be broken and with the right mind set and hard work – you can make the impossible happen. I live by this ever since.
2) Who has been a valuable mentor or sponsor?
In my first year of engineering school (Technion) I got a job as an engineer at Intel. Usually as a student in corporate (especially in the first years) you focus more on testing and doing small tasks. But due to an amazing boss my experience was different. My direct manager was a brilliant man called johny srouji (He is now SVP of Hardware Technologies reporting to Tim Cook at Apple). Johny could look at me and see right away what I am capable of and give me his complete trust. He let me own a big project and helped me do it right. He saw me not as a student, not as a woman but as a great engineer who is making things happen for the group (and he provided the support to make me successful). He sent me to business trips even though students were never sent abroad; he gave me a rank usually saved for experienced full-time engineers as he thought I was functioning as one etc. This taught me many important management and leadership lessons, which I apply ever since.
3) What is your biggest goal right now?
I want people to view me for who I am: A successful entrepreneur, amazing problem solver, great speaker and unique leader who can make the impossible happen. Not as a woman, not by age, not by title. I want to give this gift to others and provide the hope and tools for people everywhere to achieve whatever they set their minds to.
4) How did you get your first job? How did you jump to your second job?
I was in my first semester in computer engineering (out of 8 semesters). I saw that there is a job fair but usually only 4th semester students and onwards were going to these events. I figured I’ll just walk around to get an idea. I saw someone I know from the army days near the Intel booth. Figured its worth talking to him and before I knew it I was invited to an interview. I had 3 interviews because I was so early in my studies they had to test me on potential and problem solving. I passed and joined Intel as the youngest student they ever had. I’ve been 6 years at Intel overall (four as a student), breaking many records for the first time. I left Intel to explore the world and go travel for many months. A different experience and an incredible one altogether with many important lessons learned.
5) How did you feel on your 30th birthday? What were you doing at that time?
I believe life has many phases and in each one you have a goal. Before my 30th I was already the first woman to command the entire F16 pilot training, I was a successful engineer , I traveled solo for many months covering overall over 50 countries and climbed my first 21,000 foot mountain. On my 30th I decided my goal is to finish an iron-distance triathlon. I did my very first marathon exactly on my 30th birthday and had 7 months to train for the full Ironman (2.4miles swim, 112miles bike, 26.2miles run). Building your body to 13-14hours plus of exercise is not easy. I’d wake up at 5am every morning and train almost every single day. There were days I really wanted to stay in bed especially if it was cold or raining but I knew I had to do it. And I did it – I completed my first Ironman in a pretty awesome time. From this experience, I mainly learned how much stronger the mind is vs the body and even when you are tired, hungry and feel weak, your mind can push you forward. The power to not give up is in your head and you can train your head to keep going step by step because quitting is not an option.
6) What challenge / achievement are you most proud of?
I moved to the US to start the operations of Qualisystems in the US. It wasn’t doing great in Israel and Europe and I was excited about the opportunity to make such an impact. But after a couple of meetings with big US players like Cisco and HP, it was clear that our product as is will not work in the US market. I did find a real pain at our clients and I knew we could solve but I needed the buy-in internally and their trust to make this pivot. What do I do now? I moved my family to save a company but their product doesn’t make sense here. I tried to explain the situation internally but the upper management that wasn’t in the US thought that I simply didn’t know how to sell their product. I knew this wasn’t the case but felt defeated. I was letting everyone down including my family. But eventually I managed to get Qualisystems to bet on this direction and make a pivot and meanwhile I worked with our clients to make this successful. This pivot got us a remarkable growth and made us a standard tool in the industry, reaching within only a few years $15M yearly revenue.
7) What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Always know your audience and adjust your message to them”. Here is the story:
I was giving a brief to an F-16 pilot twice my age after training him in the simulator on air-to-ground combat. When I finished the brief, the pilot looked at me calmly, smiled and said “Honey, do you know who I am?” I knew his name but was I supposed to know more than that? “I destroyed the Iraqi nuclear plant in 1981 when you were about 6 years old”, he said. I knew exactly what he was talking about – the destruction of this plant was one of the most famous and dangerous missions ever accomplished by an air-force.
How did I miss that???
Obviously this guy knew how to do air-to-ground attacks in his sleep. Initially I was shocked and hurt by how he talked to and treated me, thinking to myself “even experts make mistakes and thats why I am here…to remind and train them on the basics”. It took me a few weeks to understand what I did so wrong.
I didn’t bother to take the time to learn who I was talking to and I thought one teaching approach could fit all.
Boy was I wrong. That slap in the face is still one of the best lessons I’ve ever learned. Always understand who you are talking to and always tailor your discussion to the person in front of you. The same message can be communicated in so many ways…Which way is right for your audience?
Check out Llana Golan’s full 40 Over 40 profile here!