Woman in Tech: how Rasha Hasaneen is driving technology for sustainability at Ingersoll Rand
It’s evident where Rasha Hasaneen, Vice President, Product Management Excellence and Innovation, gets her go-getter attitude and drive from.
At the beginning of our conversation, she tells me her mother badly wanted to be a doctor, but her conservative Egyptian family did not allow her to apply to medical school. Determined that she would become one – a doctor of philosophy at least, she bagged a government scholarship to travel from Egypt (where they lived) to North Carolina in the US to study.
Rasha was just two years old when she moved with her family so that her mother could pursue a PhD in food and nutrition.
“My mum got the first PhD in her family as she was determined and passionate about what she wanted to do. As I got to move with her, I grew up in the US until it was time for me to start middle school. At that point in time, I knew I loved planes and wanted to be an engineer,” she says.
It’s exactly this passion that Rasha has brought to all her roles across top corporations and industries, whether it was General Motors, Lucent Technologies, SAP Labs, and General Electric to her present position at Ingersoll Rand, where she drives technology towards sustainable solutions.
Fuelled by a passion for engineering
Rasha’s family had to move back to Egypt after her mother completed her PhD. Soon, her parents found jobs in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where Rasha attended a private British school that she aced her way through.
Later, to fulfil her dream, the entire family migrated to Canada in 1990 where Rasha enrolled for a course in mechanical engineering at in McMaster University.
“While I was very much into planes, at that time, aerospace did not seem to be a growing field. People told me that mechanical was a broader subject and also included aerospace, and I could always build planes after five years. My dad, an accountant, was keen I also learn the management side of things, so I took up a course that had an extra year dedicated to it,” she says.
Rasha had a scholarship for four years and had to scout for another because she had opted for a five-year programme.
“I applied for a General Motors scholarship that came with a summer internship. By the time I got to the second semester of the final year, I had an offer from the company, a validation engineering job or what at the time was called speciality vehicles. My career had kick-started with GM,” she says.
It was the best job a twenty-something like Rasha could have asked for. She says she got to drive cars really fast and in the really cool areas of the world.
Bringing business to tech
A few years into the job, the itch to attend grad school at an Ivy League University surfaced. Rasha wanted to combine two of her favourite subjects - engineering and business - and zeroed in on Stanford University that had a joint programme between its engineering and business schools. She approached GM for a scholarship, but was turned down.
Determined to study further, she took a leave of absence and joined Stanford University, funding herself with a research assistant job. At the end of the programme, she was interviewing with a number of tech companies. In fact, GM’s central recruiting group also offered her a leadership programme.
“My billion-dollar mistake was that when Google was recruiting on campus, I didn’t attend,” she says with a laugh.
Rasha joined Lucent Technologies, and in the early 2000s, experienced her very first layoff during the dotcom bust. Speaking about the experience, she says: “They loved me, and I loved them. It was a wonderful product management job and in Silicon Valley. Nine months into the job, Lucent imploded.”
She later joined Hitachi Data Systems in a senior product management role and progressed very quickly - from product manager to senior director in just five years. And just at that time, she fell sick.
Doing really cool things in different roles
“I had a blood clot and almost died. This incident helped me revaluate my priorities. I told myself that once I reached the Vice President role, I’m going to slow down. I am going to do really cool stuff and not chase promotions,” she says.
Rasha, however, managed to become a Vice-President at SAP Labs. After a few years, the itch to do something new resurfaced, and this time Rasha wanted to be a doctor of engineering in sustainability from the perspective of technology, industry, business, and public policy at Texas A&M.
Soon after, she was recruited by GE to work in their power, oil, and gas business. And in 2017, she got a call from Ingersoll Rand for a product management excellence role.
Sustainable solutions from Ingersoll Rand
Rasha was excited because it also meant she move to North Carolina, where she grew up.
At Ingersoll Rand, Rasha now plays a critical role in creating technology solutions that are designed to make the daily lives better, and at the same time minimise environmental impact.
From enhancing the quality and comfort of air in homes and buildings, to transporting and protecting food and perishables, and increasing industrial productivity and efficiency, Rasha is the creative mind pushing her engineering teams to think further outside of the box. Rasha is also passionate about accelerating product innovation and helping her teams to innovate at the intersection of what’s next and what’s needed.
In her current role, she is focused on automating homes and buildings, enhancing industrial productivity, and delivering efficient and reliable small transportation solutions.
The scope of her work goes beyond the products that Ingersoll Rand (and its strategic climate brands Thermo King and Trane) delivers for its customers and partners. Rasha is also deeply committed to advancing the company’s operational sustainability through applying creative solutions and technology to reduce environmental impact.
A tale of two cities
As a senior person in tech, how does she perceive the evolution of women across this sector?
“Women in tech, for me, is like a tale of two cities. In some cases, we’ve come very far. In others, we have not. There is a lot of spotlight on disparity in salary. There are these unconscious biases that creep up. In the 90s, when I started working on the shop floor, the men would put up calendars featuring half-naked women; it was the culture of that time. Now, we have gone from being very overt to very subtle,” she says.
“People do believe there’s value in diversity and having women in the workforce. Also, organisations are becoming aware of the fact that the environment can either foster or kill diversity. It’s not just about numbers, but creating an environment that’s inclusive. It’s also becoming more and more okay to lead from the middle or the back than from the front,” she adds.
Rasha mentors the women’s leadership programme at Ingersoll Rand. “I mentor every woman in product management personally; that is around 300 people. It’s easy for me to mentor women cause it’s a subset of the population. I’m also responsible for talent development.”
As for the future, Rasha wants to continue her focus on sustainability and innovation. “I’m kind of where I want to be. The purpose around reducing the energy intensity of the world is something that’s very near and dear to my heart. And I love being able to work at a company that shares my personal purpose.”
(Edited by Megha Reddy)