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The Optimistic Leader of Mana Group
CFO & COO, MANA HOLDINGS LTD.
Antonietta Pugliese is the Chief Operating Officer and the Chief Financial Officer at Mana Group. Looking at the designations, one can easily deduce why she’s a part of our elite group of “The Most Influential Women Leaders of the Year” list. Mana Group is a reputed FinTech headhunter company located in London, England. Excelling in connecting top UK FinTech brands with the best talent in the industry, Mana’s clients are backed by leading names such as Goldman Sachs Growth, Blackstone Tactical Opportunities, and Blenheim Chalcot. Needless to say, Mana Group has become a stellar brand because leaders like Antonietta Pugliese are at the helm of it. When a woman reaches the pinnacle of her career, the destination takes precedence and overlooks the journey. With this article, our attempt is to throw light on the journey that paved the way and cover all grounds that resulted in this success. Starting from Antonietta’s childhood in Florence, Italy, until she cements her place in Mana Groups’ leadership, let us recount the story that deserves to be told.
Antonietta’s Upbringing in Beautiful Florence
Born and raised in the beautiful countryside of Florence, Antonietta had a normal upbringing. Working hard to put her and her sister through school, Antonietta’s parents instilled the values of hard work, love, and compassion that help her navigate life, even today.
Growing up with her sister, Antonietta reminisces about time spent at the beach, hiking up hills, doing artwork, and the beautiful home she was raised in. A home that overlooked the hills of Tuscany, Antonietta’s upbringing is a city dweller’s envy indeed.
At school, Antonietta enjoyed playing volleyball, and this was her first introduction to ‘teamwork.’
“Playing volleyball taught me how to look out for my teammates, think outside the box, play fair, and embrace sportsmanship. This sportsman spirit must not only include the sport you’re playing or your teammates, but it must also extend to your competitors.” – Antonietta Pugliese
Recollecting her school days, she says, “I loved playing volleyball, and being a part of a team taught me a lot. It taught me how to look out for my teammates, think outside the box, play fair, and embrace sportsman spirit. This sportsman spirit must not only include the sport you’re playing or your teammates, but it must also extend to your competitors. Because the fruit reaped from playing fair is much more rewarding”
Antonietta then went on to pursue law and obtained a bachelor’s degree from the Università Degli Studi di Firenze. She followed through and aced her master’s degree in business management, with honours, from the same university in Tuscany, Florence.
The values of hard work she imbibed as a2 child led her to the United States, where she pursued further education.
Journey Away from Florence
Antonietta travelled to the US strictly for educational reasons. Here, she took a few more post-graduation courses in subjects like business, communication, and international studies from the University of Washington.
She then moved to London and began her career in sales & accounts management, but the finance industry always seemed attractive.
In London, Antonietta had a handful of international clients she managed accounts for, but her love to explore the finance industry grew ever so larger.
“Although I was doing great in accounts, the field of finance always attracted me. When I made the switch from accounts to finance, I inevitably had to work my way up in the field, but considering how things worked for me, the effort indeed paid off.” – Antonietta Pugliese
Expounding about the move, she says, “Although I was doing great in accounts, the field of finance always attracted me. When I made the switch from accounts to finance, I inevitably had to work my way up in the field, but considering how things worked for me, the effort indeed paid off.”
Working her way up, switching industries from sales & accounts to finance paid off for Antonietta as this was when she joined Mana Group in 2017.
The Challenges along the Way
For a driven woman who grew up in the small countryside of Italy, Antonietta initially encountered cultural differences. These cultural differences were often attached to language and how people from different regions communicated with each other.
Moving from Italy to the United States and then back to Europe, Antonietta was steadfast in learning the differences in culture & communication and acclimated to them quickly.
Speaking of the acclimation, she says, “Hailing from Italy, I was often faced with cultural differences and language barriers. Be it in the US or the UK, I was the diverse member of the team, and I had to learn their ways quickly. Communication is key, and once you learn the way people speak, you immediately feel a sense of belonging.”
Other than cultural & communication differences, Antonietta faced gender-based challenges, until she found a place at Mana. Finance & technology is still male-dominated industry but Antonietta is happy to have found gracious & indiscriminate leaders at Mana Group.
“Working with people from different backgrounds, different generations, and different languages is a tough undertaking for anyone. In a male-dominant industry like FinTech, I am fortunate to have found Lloyd Wahed, the founder of Mana Group who only notices competencies in people and never the gender.” – Antonietta Pugliese
Speaking about the challenges she faced, Antonietta avers, “Working with people from different backgrounds, different generations, and different languages is a tough undertaking for anyone. In a male-dominant industry like FinTech, I am fortunate to have found Lloyd Wahed, the founder of Mana Group, who only notices competencies in people and never the gender.”
Breaking gender stereotypes and beliefs, Mana Group is making a difference in the FinTech industry as an organisation predominantly led by women.
Lloyd Wahed, who grew up in a household full of women, is spearheading the efforts to drive equality and diversity, and the company is proud of its endeavours. Today, three out of four members of Mana’s leadership are women, and it is safe to say that the FinTech industry is better off with this move towards gender equality.
Life at Mana Group
Right off the bat, Antonietta played various roles at Mana. Getting involved in the day-to-day operations and finance, she received first-hand experience, and it made axiomatic sense for her to lead the finance & operations of the company.
A perfect professional marriage took place as Lloyd was the creative genius while Antonietta took care of the commercial side of the business.
Recollecting her operations and her camaraderie with Lloyd, Antonietta says, “We work together well because Lloyd is creative while I work on the commercial aspect at Mana. Answering questions like how do we turn an idea into a product? and how do we make things work?”
Delving deeper into her previous work experience and C-level responsibility at Mana Group, Antonietta had a few gems to share.
“While ‘law’ is all about memory, listening skills, reading between the lines, connecting dots, and finding solutions, ‘business management’ is about creative thinking and commercial awareness. But when it comes to ‘finance,’ your responsibility is to figure out how payments work, see to your counterparts, understand what works for them, and solve their problem.”
Needless to say, Antonietta is attuned with applying her academic knowledge, her experience with various roles and her sheer intellect to take Mana Group to greater heights.
Mana Group - Thinking Ahead
As mentioned earlier, three out of four leadership members at Mana Group are women:
Lloyd Wahed (M) – Founder & CEO
Antonietta Pugliese (F) – Chief Operating Officer (COO) & Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
Heather Williams (F) – Chief People Officer (CPO)
Mimi Nguyen (F) – Chief Technical Officer (CTO) Mana Labs.
Proudly expounding about their endeavours towards equality, Antonietta says, “At Mana, we work very closely to make sure our values of inclusion, equality, and diversity are instilled in every employee working with us. As company culture, we encourage employees to practise these values in their daily lives as well. The profound consequence of this is I have the pleasure of working with proficient and intelligent individuals, who have supported me and constantly helped me along my professional journey.
Bringing back the attention to the company’s inception, Mana Group took flight when the founders identified a gap in the market in 2017, which is also the year Antonietta joined the company, coincidentally. The identified gap in the talent market was that no company provided holistic solutions covering research, talent, and venture services.
Founders of Mana also noticed a rise in venture-backed companies, so 2017 was a great year to capitalise on this gap.
Jumping into action, Mana assembled a diverse team of communicative and collaborative consultants, and today, the team represents 12+ nationalities.
“Moving forward, our vision is to become the global venture partner for select disruptive companies, to build the future of work”
– Antonietta Pugliese
Speaking on this, Antonietta says, “We work with the most innovative companies on the planet as their venture builder and obtain token & equity in projects where we are on the journey together. Moving forward, our vision is to become the global venture partner for select disruptive companies to build the future of work”
Mana Group is well positioned with its holistic suite of services to provide venture building over the next 25 years. Add astute, driven, and intelligent people to the mix; companies that join hands with Mana Group are future-proofed, to say the least.
With the mission to build communities of creative, technical, and pioneering individuals, Mana aims to provide cutting-edge & targeted solutions to build the future of work.
With that said, Mana is unlike any other headhunter in the space for one particular reason. While most companies are focused on chasing a deal, Mana is geared to provide the best solution for the LONG TERM. It is ideally positioned to provide strategic advice and assistance with the go-to-market strategy.
The company does this with the help of its domain expertise, a network of business partners, advisors, board-level executives, founders, and clients that enhance the partnership value proposition.
Never sitting on their laurels, people at Mana are constantly testing, experimenting, showcasing bravery, and creating & chasing opportunities rather than waiting for them to fall into their lap.
The Podcast Venture
In a stroke of genius, Mana Group recently launched its own podcast in partnership with the London Stock Exchange. Named Searching for Mana, this move is ingenious because podcast culture is the future of media entertainment, and it makes perfect sense for a FinTech company to get its feet wet sooner than later.
With over 875,000 listeners, the podcast that focuses on thought leadership with leading FinTech, Web3 founders, and Venture capitalists, is already off to a blazing start.
Companies like Coinbase, Kraken, FTX, and Tezos are already on board to be featured on the Searching for Mana podcast.
Striving Through the Pandemic
The Covid19 outbreak was a stressful time, and Mana Group was no exception to the wrath unleashed by the viral disease. For a head-hunting firm, the problems are exacerbated many fold.
Speaking of the tough times, Antonietta avers, “We stuck together, to the essentials, and remained happy with where we were as a brand. 2021 was when the company started to bounce back, and Mana Group is more than ready to take on the world. We have been good at prioritising. We are stubborn about our vision but extremely agile with the way we achieve it.”
Recollecting the hardships Mana Group went through during the pandemic, Antonietta quotes Christian Busch’s words, “ instead of pretending that we had it all figured out — and those unexpected solutions are about a loss of control — cultivating serendipity actually helped us gain control over uncertainty.”
The Future of Mana Group
Mana Group recently went through a restructuring, and its collaborative specialisations were branched into three segments. These three segments are poised to mitigate any & all challenges thrown at the company in the foreseeable future.
- Mana Lab – is destined to foster a future that is full of collaborative teamwork and purposeful creativity where humans and technology work harmoniously whilst efficient.
- Mana Venture – is designed to cultivate pioneering projects in the right ecosystems so that today’s ideas can become tomorrow’s reality.
- Mana Search – is dedicated to providing targeted talent solutions to make the industry a brighter, inclusive & more innovative space.
Bringing back the attention to our woman leader of the year, Antonietta Pugliese currently lives in Barcelona. Working remotely from her home, Antonietta takes care of her two boys and is quite eager to return to the office back in London.
Final Thoughts from Antonietta Pugliese
“Work hard and find something you’re passionate about. Take a long-term view instead of opting for short-term satisfaction, and invest in yourself as much as possible. If someone is training and investing in you, be grateful, say thanks, and receive it humbly.” – Antonietta Pugliese
PS: “Mana” is a Maori term that means mystical superpower, authority, or prestige. Search for your own Mana, make the most of it, and create your own luck by preparing for the right opportunity to arrive
CFO & COO
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