As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Ketchen.
Emily Ketchen is the Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Intelligent Devices Group at Lenovo. She has more than 20 years of global, progressive marketing experience in various leadership roles for leading Fortune 100 organizations and advertising agencies.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I grew up as a ‘third culture kid’ with an American father and Scottish mother while moving across many countries as a child. As a ‘citizen of everywhere’ growing up, my personal upbringing has lent a unique perspective in forming my leadership and career. For example, I’m fairly comfortable with being uncomfortable; always willing to take strategic risks; and love to embrace change, diversity and inclusion.
I’m also a lifelong learner, guided by a strong belief that the art and science of marketing are ingrained in our ability to be students of life, humanity, and ultimately of our customers. This curiosity combined with my passion for the rapid pace of technology; making the complex simple; and attracting, growing and retaining the most creative and forward-thinking talent have led me to a career in marketing.
Having joined Lenovo nearly a year ago, I now have the honor and responsibility of steering global marketing for the world’s largest PC maker that’s also boldly innovating in software, services, smart collaboration and emerging technologies from augmented/virtual reality to virtual healthcare solutions. It has been an exhilarating first year at Lenovo, and I’m committed to building and growing a diverse global team that will continue to accelerate the modernization of marketing.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The most interesting stories have come from the authentic connections I’ve made in the time I’ve been on board. Technology is a large and yet small industry and the ways in which we’re connected to one another have been fascinating. I’ve shared bosses and team members with some of my colleagues and it’s been a great journey of discovery as we’ve gotten to know one another to share in these experiences. It’s a small world.
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?
It was early days in my career, and I’d been given the honor and responsibility of getting our Vice President of Sales and Marketing to an event where he and the company were being honored. Instead of the Beverly Hills Hotel, I took us to the Beverly Glen Hotel! It was mortifying and such a ‘rookie’ move. Thankfully the executive was gracious, if annoyed, and I learned early on that preparation is everything. Be prepared, don’t just ‘wing’ it.
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?
In my agency days, about mid-way through my career I had an incredible boss who saw the potential in me and my work, and invested. I was given access to a coach, received my first 360 feedback loop and spent many hours on my own development with his full support. He propelled me forward in my career and in the years I spent working for him, I grew immensely. I work to pay that development forward and I enjoy investing in individuals and teams so that they can reach their full potential.
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?
There’s a physiological response our bodies have to stressful situations, which makes the heart beat a little faster, sharpens the senses and delivers more oxygen to the brain. When this is managed effectively at work, a little of that uncertainty can really work in our favor.
Each time I’ve started a new job, or come across a challenge at work, I’ve had to use that nervous energy. It helps me to lean in, listen harder and absorb as much information as I can to theorize how to solve problems quicker, and ultimately learn how to figure it out. Too many of us, especially women, are taught to fear this feeling, but over time I’ve learned to embrace it, and harness it to my advantage. It’s also something I’ve tried to encourage in others.
There’s also a Jack Groppel book on my shelf called “The Corporate Athlete” that draws on the parallels between sports players and business leaders. It applies the same principles of good nutrition, fitness, proper sleep and well-being, within the corporate setting. Back when it was published it was all about having the stamina and energy to “pull out all the stops on a big presentation, cut major deals and show up to a big meeting fresh off a plane” while still enjoying time with family and friends.
Although the parameters have changed, the concept still holds true to me. Having the requisite digital stamina to manage my day requires just the same athlete-grade discipline and physical, mental and emotional strength.
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?
Studies have shown that increasing the number of different voices from women and from different races and ethnicities at the executive level leads to better decisions, better innovations, and better business results. At Lenovo we believe great innovation requires diversity. To deliver our vision of enabling smarter technology for all, our innovation must be built by all. That’s why we’ve made diversity a cornerstone of our business — allowing Lenovo to stretch and adapt the values, policies and culture of diverse customers around the world. At the executive level, women represent 21 percent of all executive level positions globally last year. In the US specifically, historically underrepresented ethnic and racial groups make up 29 percent of our executive bench as of 2020.
It’s a long journey ahead, and as leaders, we must be allies and advocates for our teams and pave the way for other businesses. This remains even more relevant as we transition into a new hybrid work model where organizations need to re-think how to foster a culture of equality and inclusion for both an onsite and remote workforce.
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.
It’s important for business leaders to start with taking responsibility for social impact within their workforce, while continuing to give back to the communities where their stakeholders live and work.
At Lenovo for example, we’re committed to ensuring that our smarter technology delivers greater equity, sustainability, and access — for all. And philanthropy is a core element of enabling smarter technology for all. Last year, we provided $15 million in pandemic-related support to educators, community leaders and charitable organizations. During our annual Global Month of Service late last year, I’m proud that Lenovo employees around the world rallied together and led a record-breaking 132 volunteer projects and logged more than 19,000 hours in volunteer service, directly impacting nearly 40,000 individuals around the world.
These are just a few examples of tangible actions from businesses that can lead to real impact for a more inclusive and equitable society.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what an 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?
Well, typically an executive is responsible for running a business unit or organizational function, like marketing in my case. The buck stops with them. They take responsibility for decisions, the strategic direction, develop action plans and ask the tough questions, such as “What is right for the business, our culture, and our people?”
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being an executive. Can you explain what you mean?
One of the myths of being an executive is the need to be perfect. I think authenticity and vulnerability can go a long way to truly resonating and connecting with your teams, customers and stakeholders.
Another myth about being an executive is that you have to be extroverted and charismatic. I think it’s more important to embrace your strengths, know your relative weaknesses and channel your authentic self — even if that means being more naturally introverted and reserved.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
The dimension of gender unites organizations’ employees across locations around the world, and yet represents one of the biggest challenges globally in and out of the workplace.
Unfortunately, I think attitudes towards women making bold moves in business can be perceived differently from those same moves taken by men. Often men are encouraged, praised and respected for taking risks whereas in my experience, there’s more skepticism and distrust around women taking the same risks.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Interestingly, the job has been more aligned to what I imagined it would be but even better, more stimulating, more challenging and opportunity at every turn. What I have experienced thus far has been immensely gratifying and I am ready to continue to learn and to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
Do you think 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?
Being an executive requires stamina, flexibility and vision.
A day in the life of many C-Suite executives is going to be heavy on the meetings, but in between, I’ve learned to calibrate my own energy and mental acuity in order to expand ‘my range’ as a CMO. By that I mean being able to switch between a detailed program in one market and a more high-level, thought leadership presentation, for example. Switching up my energy for contrasting meetings and team member styles is just the first part of the story.
Specifically, for today’s CMO, the need for being multifaceted goes beyond the day-to-day requirements of a modern-day marketer. CMOs now must be multi-faceted and customer-centric, understanding how customers like to create, consume and connect. We must meet (and often exceed) their rising expectations, especially amongst the new Generation Z that’s starting to grow in spending power.
With the power of technology itself, the role of marketing has become a lot more technical too. Customers now expect tailored, hyper-personalized experiences based on their online behavior. An artful, multifaceted CMO must be aware of all of this while also having the wider business priorities in mind and have a deep understanding of the role of technology in the martech stack, the adtech stack and the salestech stack. That’s how we can effectively communicate and resonate with constituents across all channels.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
As I look back across my career journey to date, I’ve been blessed to have given and received guidance, support and advocacy through mentorship, sponsorship and allyship.
Every relationship involves give and take, so being a mentor, for example, also means being an advocate for your people. All of us as individuals, irrespective of our position, can heighten our awareness of workplace issues like microaggressions, and refuse to tolerate these behaviors. To set the example of what advocacy looks like, we must be upstanders not bystanders.
As a marketer, I also believe the role of the personal brand is incredibly important. Most of the top leaders in the world have a distinct reputation, or personal brand. Creating, crafting and curating that personal brand can be very powerful to thriving in the long run. But it’s got to be authentically rooted to who you are. You have to know yourself and consider the hallmarks of what you want to stand for and be known for. Think of it as a continuous journey across each of our careers.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I think it’s very important to give back. I spend time volunteering in my community with my daughters as part of a larger, national organization. We have the opportunity to work with a number of philanthropies where the focus is on active participation and taking the time to give back. In addition to modeling behavior, it’s about leadership, taking responsibility and watching the impact your actions have on others.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
First is to be a very good listener. Listen to your customer insights and always have the customer at the center of the dialogue and of the purpose of the work that you do. Listening to your team is equally important. I’ve been on an incredible listening journey at Lenovo in the past year — listening to the distinctions in our smarter technology, listening to the challenges our customers have and listening to the opportunities presented by our employees. This has been invaluable to my role as a leader.
The second thing is to be authentic to who you are, including embracing what you bring to the table and being okay with what you don’t. The role of vulnerability is equally important here. Authentic leaders can admit when they’re wrong. There’s a layer in vulnerability that makes it authentic, especially in a remote and hybrid working world.
The third comes from a proverb I love, which is ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ Learn to motivate and inspire teams to scale your impact.
Fourth is the element of challenging yourself and being courageous in leadership. If you want the strongest and most diverse team, don’t be afraid to bring in people who have complementary skills and viewpoints, and may be much better than you in different areas of work. You must be courageous enough to embrace them and to inspire them. And ultimately, to learn from them.
Last but not least is to aim to communicate in a way that can’t be easily misunderstood. Ambiguity can be problematic in communications. The clearer you are and the more understanding and empathy you have for the audience, the better.
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.
I truly believe in the concept of paying it forward. The movement finds a way. Tutor a student, mentor in your workplace, give back often and freely because you can. Listen when someone needs you to lend an ear and be generous with your time for others. Respond when someone asks for help: a referral, a point of view. Always pay it forward for your family as well.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite quotes is framed above my desk, “Blessed are the risk takers, for they shall bring us tomorrow.”
I’ve found that being in a slight state of discomfort usually means that I’m taking a risk. And that’s also led to accelerating my skills and a critical resilience that have served me well in my career in the long run.
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.
There are so many movers and shakers I’d love to spend some time with. Melinda French Gates and MacKenzie Scott for their incredible philanthropy and advocacy for women and those in need; Naomi Osaka for not just being an amazing athlete but also a mental health advocate; SZA for her musical artistry and environmental activism; and of course some of the most brilliant minds in technology from Satya Nadella to Dr. Lisa Su, Jensen Huang, and more.