Meet our Panelist: Francis Li

Conversations around inclusiveness in the workplace for women and minorities needs to be just that- inclusive. We’re excited to have Francis Li as a panelist for our Women in Tech : A Panel Discussion happening this Thursday. Francis will bring his expertise in IT and management, as Vice President of Information Technology at Softchoice. Today though, he tells us about how balance in life can make you a better leader, the importance of self awareness, and his avid aquatic avocation.

We’re so excited to have you on our panel. How did you hear about YWiB, and what inspired you to participate in our Women in Tech panel discussion?

Miranda from YWiB works at Softchoice and is also a member of the Shades of Orange ERG (Employee Resource Group) that I am the Executive Sponsor for at Softchoice. Being the father of a young lady (12 but going on 18!) I have become a lot more sensitive to issues involving women and visible minorities in recent years. I do believe that furthering these important social issues is a responsibility of anyone who seeks change. I also have a very male heavy management team at Softchoice, something that I’d like to see change.

Aside from your role as Vice President of Information technology at Softchoice, how do you like to spend your free time?

I am an avid fish keeper. I have 10 fish tanks in my basement that keep me very busy when I’m not working. Currently I keep fish species exclusively from Lake Tanganyika, which is one of the Rift Lakes in Africa. I like keeping and breeding fish that are uncommon and difficult to keep. Between fishkeeping and my daughter’s synchronized swimming, that takes up a lot of my time outside of work!

Tell me about your story. How did you get to be where you are today? 

I grew up and went to school in Toronto. I graduated from the University of Toronto with a HBA in Economics & Political Science. When I started out in University I thought I was either going to be an Accountant or a Lawyer, potentially in Public Service. I quickly discovered that I wasn’t very good in Accounting and the thought of going to Law School following graduation from University didn’t sit well with me either. So, I completed my degree not knowing exactly what I wanted to do but did feel strongly that I wanted a University degree.

I spent my early working years with Staples, a big box office supplies retailer. The majority of my time there was spent as a Buyer for Technology. As a Buyer I had responsibility for vendor relationships, MDF planning and supply chain management. For the past 15 years I have been at Softchoice in a number of different positions. I’ve spent time in Operations, Marketing/Business Development, Sales and now IT Leadership.

As for travel, I’ve travelled fairly extensively within Canada, the US and the Caribbean. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had jobs that have allowed me to travel regularly during the early part of my career. I’ve also spent some time in Germany, UK, France and Russia!

When you look back on your career to date, what is one important challenge, event, or achievement that stands out as a milestone?

I’ve actually written about the parallels of learning how to be a better husband and father and how this same learning had helped me be a better IT Leader. I was fortunate enough to have a Manager/mentor at Softchoice that helped me look inwards for the answer more often and developing my empathy. When I became more self-aware, it was empowering, and allowed me to grow as a Leader and individual.

When you think about your journey, what would you say was the one trait that helped you get you to where you are today. Was this a learned trait, or did you have it from day one?

I was not always very self-aware. Truthfully it was a bit of a blind spot. My journey to increase my self-awareness would not have been possible without my wife and my Manager at Softchoice.

Keep an eye out for Francis on an upcoming podcast with Neil Hughes, a tech blogger and podcaster on iTunes. Check out our Women in Tech: A Panel Discussion on Thursday, March 30th at RED Academy to keep the conversation going. You can buy tickets here