Featured Profiles

The Agile Approach: Maria Semkina on Leading Finance through Change

Maria Semkina‘s path to becoming Chief Financial Officer of Lenovo for the Middle East, Africa, Turkey, and Eastern Europe has been anything but straightforward. From a childhood in Russia marked by financial hardship to managing a big corporation in the global tech industry, Maria has met every challenge with poise, purpose, and an openness to learning. Our conversation revealed how she has developed the resilience, inclusive style, and business insight to thrive through uncertainty.


  • What early experiences shaped your path in life and career?

I grew up in a small Russian city in a family that struggled financially. My parents worked tirelessly to provide opportunities they never had. They stretched our limited means for tennis, music lessons – anything to expand my world. 

My father, especially, was my mentor. Despite his multiple degrees, he never stopped learning and inspired my endless growth. As a shy child, I coasted on disliked subjects, focusing just on my passions. One day, I brought home a terrible French grade. My father and I had a discussion that I still vividly remember. He showed me the gap between my potential and my effort. I realized then that I wanted a career where I could support my family while positively impacting others. I saw the value of developing my mind.

After that, I went from failing French to acing it the following year. My parents instilled in me an early drive to live meaningfully, maximize my abilities, and share prosperity. Their perseverance through hardship shaped my purpose-driven outlook.


  • Could you walk us through your career trajectory and the significant challenges and milestones you encountered?

My career has been defined by seeking challenges and opportunities to expand my skills. I rapidly rose from intern to management trainee, leading complex projects at British American Tobacco. But soon, I felt unchallenged and raised my hand for more.

I pivoted into the agricultural firm Syngenta amidst major restructuring. It was overwhelming, but I embraced the ambiguity. Within months, my boss proposed an additional CFO role for Belarus, Caucasus, and Central Asia. Despite no raise, I didn’t hesitate – the leadership development outweighed the immediate rewards. That dual role rapidly matured my strategic thinking and resilience as I guided teams to drive profitability in nuanced markets. It was baptism by fire, but it honed invaluable skills.

I then explored my diverse passions – advising fledgling startups, creative design pursuits, and even a foray into the culinary arts. When the opportunity at Lenovo arose, I was drawn to the company’s familial, transparent culture. I joined initially as CFO for East Europe and was soon offered the more prominent role of CFO for the Middle East, Turkey, and Africa region. Though it meant relocating with my son to Dubai – a city I had never visited before – I could not pass up the chance to take on this impactful leadership position. The move has proven to be one of the most enriching experiences of my life. 


  • What’s your guiding philosophy when it comes to leadership? How do you balance financial prudence with fostering innovation and growth within the company?

True leadership isn’t just a title. My team matches or exceeds me in knowledge and intellect, so I actively seek their counsel. To me, leadership means illuminating purpose and long-term goals in a fast-changing world—steering through lefts, rights, AI, and data. As the world transforms, I believe in transparency, not hiding my team but helping them shine and grow. I call them family because I’ve walked their path from Perm to Dubai. I want to guide them into leadership roles by opening the same doors. People may push new directions, but sometimes, you need to show the right path. That’s leadership to me – maintaining vision amidst change and guiding others to grow into leaders themselves.


  • How does the evolving role of finance with rapid technological advancements contribute to the long-term sustainability and growth of the organization?

For me, the key focus is the learning curve. With Saudi Arabia’s RHQ and other dynamic initiatives, there’s pressure to rapidly find the most efficient path, ensuring gains over losses. Finance offers flexibility within compliance, though its principles are fixed – two plus two always equals four. But my primary role is enabling organizational goals, a crucial aspect for me.

Finance acts as an organization’s skeleton, governed by debit, credit, and accounting rules. But finance teams now need to provide more than numbers, with data demanding solutions for growth. Agility is vital in this swiftly changing world, reacting deftly to arising tasks. 


  • What advice do you have for budding leaders in the industry?

I live by two mantras. First, life doesn’t challenge you; it presents opportunities. Second, never stop learning. Collaboration is essential, too – I engage with every stakeholder to stay current on market dynamics. I took a hands-on approach at Syngenta, walking in the fields with farmers to grasp their challenges firsthand. True understanding requires immersion.

The CFO role now involves more than number crunching – it’s decision-making. To enable growth amidst this evolution, develop your team, engage partners, and immerse in the market. Leaving your comfort zone exposes new perspectives, enabling innovative decisions. I believe life hands you opportunities so long as you stay curious, collaborative, and grounded in real-world experiences. This is how you evolve alongside your role.