Maria Antónia Vestia is currently Schréder Group’s Chief Regional Officer for Western Europe, after heading Schréder Iluminação, S.A. as General Manager.
She has also closely followed the creation of the company's technological hub in Portugal, Schréder Hyperion, which opened in late 2019 at Nova School of Business and Economics, on the brand new Carcavelos Campus.
Why did you decide to take a degree in Engineering?
Well, I actually wanted to be a psychologist. When I signed up, I was so convinced that I would have grades to get into Psychology, that it was the only course choice I chose. But a friend said to me, “You can't just take a course because you know you will get in. Choose this new one, which is very good: Industrial Production Engineering. I followed that advice and… I really enjoyed it! I still studied psychology for a year to make sure I wasn't going to miss out on a great career. But engineering captivated me in the first year.
What did you do next?
I started working in consultancy in the Engineering field. But after a year, I thought I should look for a 'more serious' job. That was when I made my incursion into the public service. I joined the Port of Lisbon Administration, but I couldn't take more than six months. I then applied for a job at Schréder to join the sales team, which was my passion. At that time, the company was undergoing a transformation process and they wanted someone to do the company's ISO certification, which at the time was a very innovative thing.
Only then did I really go to the commercial area, as a sales engineer for the Algarve and Alentejo regions in Portugal. Then I became the commercial director for the South and then the national commercial director in Portugal. In 2005 I took on the position of General Manager of the Portuguese company - I was the youngest general manager in the group and the only woman. The Western European regional direction was the next step and that is where I am now.
How did the idea of creating a technological hub, Schréder Hyperion, arise and what made you choose Portugal to set-it up?
I believe it is the result of the good work that Schréder has always done in Portugal, with great consistency and showing that there are many talents and very good human resources here. In one year, we managed to build a team of fifty people, with a good balance between men and women, with fifteen different nationalities and a very dynamic spirit.
This is also a very strong action taken by the Schréder Group for the market: creating a hub dedicated to new technologies and what we believe will be the future of the outdoor lighting industry. We believe that outdoor lighting is the basis for cities to become more and more intelligent. Public lighting, which is everywhere, is the perfect canopy to make cities more versatile and smarter, using these luminaires, which previously only switched off and on, and which can now communicate with each other.
More specifically, what does Schréder Hyperion do?
It focuses on developing software and solutions to equip our luminaires. I would highlight two products in the beyond-lighting portfolio. The control system for smart cities, named Owlet, which allows towns and cities to remotely control luminaires namely through a computer or smart phone; and the Shuffle, which is a smart pole equipped with different modules that range from Wi-Fi, lighting, EV charger, loudspeaker, an electric charging payment system, etc. By installing one of these columns in a park or on a street, together we can make life easier for citizens, without the need for more equipment taking up public spaces.
Is having women in the team, and watching them progress, difficult?
I am very concerned with the progression of women within companies and the workplace environment, especially in more conservative industries like technology, because, despite all the efforts, there are still very few in senior positions. Building a career takes a very long time and women have motherhood in between, which interrupts their journey.
When they return, they are already at a disadvantage, competing with those who never left. And young women still have a certain weight on their conscience when they dedicate themselves to their family. Mothers should not be afraid to say that they need to leave early to pick up their children because that is part of and does not diminish in any way their abilities, their effort or their commitment to the company. They have to learn to deal with it.
*This interview was initially published in Portuguese for PC GUIA.