As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brandi Frye.
Brandi Frye is Qorvo’s corporate vice president of marketing, responsible for Qorvo’s corporate brand. She leads the strategy and execution for worldwide product promotions, public relations, corporate communication and employee engagement. Prior to the merger of TriQuint and RFMD to form Qorvo, Ms. Frye was TriQuint’s senior director of corporate marketing and communications, a position she held since January 2007. Formerly with Intel from 1994 to 2007, she held various positions of increasing responsibility in marketing and product line/program management, most recently as director of marketing responsible for $8 billion of branded product sales through Intel’s 70,000 channel members. Ms. Frye serves on the board of directors for Girls Inc. of the Pacific Northwest, empowering all girls to be strong, smart and bold. She earned a BS in Business from Linfield College and an MBA from George Fox University.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
You would think my parents had shaped my whole career since they named me Brandi, and what I do is build brands, but that’s not the case. Marketing semiconductors was not my original goal, and in fact it’s pretty far from the vision I had of setting up childcare companies around the world. That’s why I chose to major in business and minor in early childhood education, and later get an MBA.
My goal changed after my first job out of college; it didn’t take me long to realize that the future was in high tech. I started at Intel as a program manager, one of many roles I would take on during my 12 years at the company. I not only learned the amazing technology being used to create the connected devices we all rely on, but found that I loved everything about bringing a new product to market.
Coordinating between engineering, finance and marketing teams helped me build the skills needed for a corporate communications position, which I took on at TriQuint Semiconductor. That organization eventually merged with RF Micro Devices to become Qorvo, the company I work for today.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The merger between RF Micro Devices and TriQuint Semiconductor was interesting to say the least — I imagine that few marketers have had the unique challenge of reporting to two competing CEOs, at the same time! After the initial agreement, it took about ten months to get the formal merger approved. That meant months of two different organizations acting independently, and in many cases competing in the same markets. I developed TriQuint marketing campaigns and trained the sales force that competed with RFMD. At the same time, I interviewed for and was selected to lead the marketing team for the new company that would result from the merger. We were challenged to come up with the name, logo, messaging and all the assets — including a new website, employee intranet, sales training, advertising campaign, and so much more — all ready for Day One. We were both billion dollar companies — this wasn’t a little start-up; there were eight thousand employees to unite and inspire. I had two big jobs at one time, and even though it was daunting, it was an exhilarating career opportunity that I look back on with a lot of pride, and appreciation for an amazing team who made it all happen.
When it comes to funny mistakes, there is a particular sales conference that stands out. Team-building exercises are usually a great way to galvanize the sales team, the distributors and the marketing team — but one year it didn’t work out the way we’d hoped. We brought in a vendor to host fire-walking to unite the team to face its fears — complete with hot coals. The leadership naturally went first, not knowing that the company we had hired had not done a good job of managing the temperature of the coals. Most of the senior folks at the event got significant blisters on their feet. Everyone handled it with good humor, and we definitely came away with a good story and pride that we can do tough things.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of many people in my life, especially my parents who always supported me, and role modeled a strong work ethic. My dad was an electrician and my mom managed on-the-ground operations in the male-dominated utility industry. Another person who comes to mind is a former colleague at Intel, Valerie Wilkinson. She modeled how to maintain balance as a working mom, and I still rely on some of the advice she gave me. In particular, Valerie highlighted how important it is to start your children’s day out strong. If they have everything they need in the morning, you not only set them up for success but give yourself the peace of mind to focus on your work. I do my best to limit my early morning meetings for that reason. That’s not to say you won’t get calls from kids who need Mom’s help throughout the day, but it helps free up mindshare and makes the rest of the day run more smoothly. And releases a bit of that “working mom guilt” that tends to creep in.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
I love the rush of adrenaline that I get from my role, especially leading new product launches and global events, but there’s no question that too much of it unchecked leads to trouble. I find that if I’m able to keep my body healthy, I’m able to manage the everyday stresses of my role more easily. That means getting enough sleep, eating right and carving out time for exercise. I love Barre3, practice intermittent fasting and try to get about eight hours of rest every night. I know that if I take care of myself, I can handle pretty much anything that comes my way.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
I’m glad that the value that comes from having diversity of thought is becoming more obvious to organizations — as it should be. When you bring together people who have different backgrounds, cultures and passions, you have a richer perspective that helps teams arrive at better solutions more quickly. I also think it’s important that stakeholders have representation in the organizations they work with. Employees should see themselves reflected in their leadership teams. It’s a simple but powerful thing to have role models that your entire audience can relate to, helping you be more credible and authentic.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
I serve on the board of a nonprofit, Girls Inc. of the Pacific Northwest, and the majority of our efforts are focused on addressing this issue for the girls we work with. Our goal is not just to instill in young women the skills and confidence to achieve brighter futures; we make sure they have role models and aspirations. We inspire them to be strong, smart and bold. Younger generations of girls should have something to reach for and should be able to see themselves in a leadership role. That said, it’s not enough to simply inspire; we as business leaders need to be proactive in removing the obstacles that make it harder for less-represented members of society to gain access to leadership roles and positions.
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
An executive’s primary responsibility will always be ROI; there can’t be action without justification for how you’re spending the company’s money or deploying the company’s resources. But executives also have to define and communicate an organization’s vision. We’re not robots, so strictly focusing on generating short-term profits will limit growth as well as performance. It’s up to the executives to garner internal and external buy-in on where they want to take the company. Discussing market opportunities and aspirational goals in a closed room is easy, but without the communication to staff and stakeholders, it’s not possible to reach your company’s full potential. Executive leaders help ensure that everyone is aligned and working toward the same definition of success. And foster this success by hiring the right people and empowering them. It’s also important to have fun. I love what I do and work to build fun into the workplace, even during the pandemic when many are working in isolation.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
I think the biggest myths are always found on job descriptions for executive positions. Whether it’s marketing, finance, operations or even all the way up to the CEO, there is no way to capture the full range of actions that you’ll need to take on to be successful. My role as corporate vice president of marketing is not just creative marketing; the responsibilities go well beyond the pretty advertisements and social media campaigns that people ascribe to the position.
For one, the role is incredibly technical. I’m leading the development of our marketing technology (MarTech) stack, ensuring that our teams have what they need to reach our target audiences. The sophistication has grown significantly in the past few years, with digital marketing, customer relationship management platforms, website delivery, orders and samples portals; these are just the tip of a growing iceberg. The role involves sales enablement as well, providing our salesforce with the training and support to best showcase the value of our products. I’ve even been blessed to help design our new corporate Headquarters building.
No one handed me a list of these tasks when I started, and even I can’t guess exactly what I’ll be tackling in five years. The key is to be flexible and ready to learn, and to make sure that every action serves the greater vision of the company. That’s what I love about my job: it is different every day.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
It seems that women are typically the ones responsible for organizing home life for their families. That often means making sure that the kids know where they need to be, how they’ll get there and what they need for the day — which any parent can tell you is much easier said than done. For women executives, that’s made much more difficult by demanding work responsibilities. I have traveled all over the world in my career, and no matter what time zone you’re in, your kids will need their mother’s help. I remember one business trip to Asia where I woke up to a panicked phone call from the kids looking for hair paint from last Halloween since it was Crazy Hair Day at school. That was a tough ask, especially since Halloween was six months ago and that stuff could have been anywhere!
It’s a lighthearted example, but it’s these kinds of pressures that make it critical for women to be really organized in all that we do. In my case, I’ve become a nut for organizational systems. My kids would laugh and be the first to tell you that nobody else’s house is like ours. Every cabinet and drawer in the house has labeled organizers — one of them is now labeled “Crazy Hair Day” — and that’s just what it takes to keep it all manageable. Schedules are just as chaotic and require the same attention to organization and detail to make sure your children get to where they need to be on time.
That’s what I’ve found is necessary to be successful at work and be a great mom. That’s not to say that there aren’t men who have to manage this balancing act as well, but from my experience, it is a challenge that the majority of working women have to navigate.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be? Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
One striking difference from my expectations — though certainly a pleasant surprise — was the degree to which our senior leadership has been involved in developing our company culture. Culture is never easy to build, but in some ways it was more challenging for Qorvo, given the company’s creation from the merger of two equals, both about a billion dollars in revenue competing against each other. It required uniting as one, and selecting or building new systems, new approaches and a broad new direction.
My first priority was to establish a culture of giving back. Neither of the previous organizations had a formalized approach to community giving. I proposed that we create a comprehensive community engagement program — Qorvo Cares — that would work to foster employee connections to build culture and community within Qorvo. The response from the executive team was immediately positive. We’ve been able to build this program from the ground up, making sure that everything is structured around providing ways for employees to do good and connect with one another.
The success of Qorvo Cares can be attributed to our amazing employees, but it also is a testament to the leadership team. If you have a good plan, and you can demonstrate good value, our leadership team will let you take an idea and run with it. Our CEO creates a workplace environment in which there’s no idea that’s off limits if it serves Qorvo or our global team. I don’t take that for granted, and I do my best to make sure the teams that report to me have the same outlook.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
There’s no question that you need to have grit. Pushing through daunting challenges comes with the territory. Executives need to have the will to push through those challenges, along with the ability to take risks and make decisions with incomplete information. Without self-confidence in the face of the unknown, it’s very hard to be successful.
It’s also critical to be able to identify people’s passions. That way you can ensure that your employees’ job scopes align with their strengths and motivations. That will help everyone become more engaged and improve performance.
Lastly, you have to be able to trust in your team. Have the humility to recognize that you don’t have all the answers. Most of the time that means asking questions instead of giving commands. The people you lead know things that you don’t and likely have solutions that you haven’t considered. Have the awareness to ask them what they think and what they would do instead of telling them. Collaboration is key to team success. I have an amazing team and we all work together while having crazy fun and supporting each other.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
I’ve found it very valuable to spend time creating a village of support, simply because you cannot do it all yourself. I have relied on grandparents and friends to help me balance a successful corporate career with my mom role. I encourage other women leaders to reach out to others; don’t be afraid to ask for help. And give back and express your appreciation. There are phases in life and we can tradeoff giving and receiving as we all work together to be our best selves, support the next generation, and build strong communities through stable employment. If leaders can hold the bar high, inspire others, and be understanding about the realities of life, we can all grow together.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
I have spent the large majority of my career building brands, and through that work I’ve found five tips that can be applied across any type of brand-building project, whether for an organization or an individual.
Be bold — Take risks and be memorable; communicate your differentiation.
Right recipe — What’s important is the “how,” not just the ingredients. Be sure to not just focus on the product you are selling, but be mindful of how you interact with your customers and teams.
“A” players — Grow your teams and skills. Spend time celebrating and coaching those who are passionate about the work. It’s not just type-A personalities that should get all the attention; those who are less take-charge bring a valuable perspective, especially when it comes to method and process.
Never say never — Be open to new ideas. They are often what make your brand distinct from the competition.
Do good — Serving a larger, meaningful purpose is a powerful motivator. It helps connect your brand with every stakeholder. That starts with you. Inspire others and share gratitude. Modeling these actions will help them be picked up by your team and felt by every person that your brand interacts with.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
It’s not necessarily a movement, but I think we all overlook how much influence we have on the mental health of our peers, family and friends. At the same time, we underestimate how willing the people we know are to offer support. So please reach out if you are feeling down, go and confide in someone, and be there when others need to be heard. When we are all mentally healthy, we are able to do so much more for the world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Am I allowed to use one of our taglines? “Life is about connections” has stuck with me years after we used it in one of our marketing campaigns. It’s about connecting with your home family and your work family. It’s been especially hard with the pandemic — we’ve all experienced some very isolating times — but even if we haven’t seen people in person, we’ve still had the ability to reach out and connect with them. Taking time to appreciate these connections has enriched my life countless times over.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
The person who immediately comes to mind is Michelle Obama. I’ve read her book, and I took my daughters to see her when she came to Portland. I find her to be so inspiring but at the same time so real. I really respect her and would jump at the opportunity to have a conversation with her.
Social Media Sites to Link To: