As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Hope Neiman.
Hope Neiman is the Chief Marketing Officer of Tillster, a leading global player in the burgeoning restaurant technology space. Hope and her team drive outcomes by combining data and technology to expand sales and increase consumer engagement in a measurable way. Through Hope’s marketing expertise and brand vision, Tillster grew from a kiosk company into a best-in-class, metric rich engagement and ordering solutions provider for multi-unit national and international restaurant brands. The Tillster platform provides visibility and impact on millions of transactions daily, around the world, for more than 50 of the world’s largest QSR, Fast Casual, and Casual Dining brands.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The most interesting thing that has happened since I took the reins of marketing at Tillster has been the flourishing of an industry we really helped create. At the very beginning, when the next generation of restaurant technology was in its infancy, I remember meeting with the then CMO of a major fast-food organization and asking, “who is your audience?”
“Men and women between the ages of 18–54 who eat,” he replied.
It was then that I knew: our ability to generate customer-specific information, motivate subsegments based on their needs and desires, and drive targeted actions across platforms and user bases … we were going to revolutionize the way restaurants market to customers and build loyal enthusiasts. The best of ecommerce was about to explode for restaurants.
So, participating in this industry-wide transition towards impactful, targeted digital programs for restaurant brands worldwide has been a wild thing to see and support as we’ve grown from start-up to industry leader.
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?
Years ago, when I first started at Procter & Gamble, the company had a program built to align marketing and sales better. Previously, if you joined the company as a product manager, you would also have to spend some of your time working in sales and attending sales training. The company believed that more understanding was needed and started an experiment to have people split their time between sales and marketing, hopefully gaining a better understanding from which to build programs.
So, it was through this trial, having joined through marketing, that I found myself in front of a prospective customer, ready to sell a program I’d conceived as a marketer and that I thought was essentially brilliant until I completed my presentation. Then, he said it was “the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”
It was then that I realized several important lessons, almost all at once: First, the importance of listening to what your customers are telling you they want and need. It’s important to be creative, yes. But in business, we create not for the sake of creating but to achieve goals.
Second, I learned never to lose sight of the sales organization and its institutional knowledge. Marketing can often learn much from the sales teams and the things they understand by interacting with customers. So it’s fair to say that sales could learn a thing from marketing, too.
And third, I learned the importance of respecting everyone’s vision for the company no matter what. Employees at every level have something to say, and the flexible thinkers that seize tomorrow won’t come into today with many preconceived notions.
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 came to work at McKinsey & Company through an award I’d won at Wesleyan; it was an award I’d been nominated to by Richard Miller, a professor at the school. Thanks to what he saw in me, I became the first woman and the first student to major in something other than economics ever to win the award. I’m forever grateful because that award, and Mr. Miller, gave me my start in my professional career.
I am also forever grateful to Brigadier Harry Langstaff, the man who oversaw my time at McKinsey & Company. While he was very formal and decidedly British, he was also a great teacher who taught me the balance between staying true to oneself and adapting to circumstances.
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’ve done many stressful things in business: from layoffs to business closures to raising money from private equity. In every case, I find the most important step in preparation is to ask myself, “what are the questions I don’t want to answer,” and then prepare my answers for those in advance. If you are confident in your preparedness for those hardest questions you might face, then most other interactions tend to fall into place.
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?
In high school geometry class, I remember when I discovered my talent for solving proofs using unorthodox mathematics. Of course, it wasn’t by the book, but my answers checked out.
It’s been my experience that the world operates a bit like solving for proofs, that unique backgrounds inform unique world views, and unique world views offer innovative ways to solve problems.
At the heart of every business is the need to solve problems, answer questions and build solutions. To achieve those goals, the most successful companies deploy globally diverse perspectives; whether its inclusion in matters of gender, race, or socioeconomic background, it’s only by inclusion that we can think about our broadest and arrive at the best possible answers and outcomes.
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.
Much has been written about the impact an inclusive, representative, and equitable Board of Directors can have on building a more inclusive, representative, and equitable business. Boards bring perspective, and at their best, they push the businesses to think about problems in ways they usually wouldn’t.
Another way to build a more just and equitable society through business is job shadowing. By mixing people from every role with those from other kinds within the organization, people can learn to see one another more wholly by spending a day together, working alongside one another and engaging in dialogue that would probably never have happened in the absence of such a program.
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?
As executives, we are defined by the impact our solutions have on difficult problems. Someone once told me that the measurement of a great leader is by the scars on their tongue, because so often you must bite it to let others assume appropriate responsibilities.
Often, as leaders, we face tough choices with no clear solution. Yet, whether we succeed or fail, the buck stops with us. Sometimes, that means taking the heat. I’ve had to take companies into bankruptcy, close doors, tell people they’ve lost their jobs. These are burdens in leadership that nobody can truly prepare you to carry.
But on our best days, we set a vision and build visionary teams. The best-run companies have a seemingly endless vision at every level of the company. I can promise you one thing about those most admired brands: the visionary thing — it starts at the top, where it is sought and fostered and revered by the forward-thinking executives who know magic when they see it.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
There is a myth that executives make a lot of important decisions while others do the “actual” work. But the reality of serving in an executive leadership role comes with quite a lot of work.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Gender role assumptions are a clear standout.
Earlier in my career, a cement company executive in France was expecting the consultant H.W. Neiman to arrive at the onset of a project. When I showed up, the man assumed me to be Neiman’s secretary, sent in advance to prepare for his arrival. I graciously explained that I was, in fact, she, not he.
There are similar gender role assumptions as employees start families. The assumption is that women must juggle family and work. I was six and half months pregnant while taking one company public. During our roadshow, we were repeatedly asked what my plan was, what the impact of any time off would be on the company, how long I would be taking off? I doubt a male executive in a similar position would’ve faced similar scrutiny.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
It’s striking to me still how few women are in tech, especially earlier stage tech that are not women led. This industry lacks female leadership and female talent. Perhaps even more striking is that it’s not the men alone perpetuating the gap. Among women in technology, there is an idea of “I went through this, so you should too.” I was told in no uncertain terms by two different female executives that if I wanted to move up in the organization, I should start preparing my husband to be a stay-at-home dad because I could not be burdened with kids if I wanted to succeed. What kind of lessons are we, as women teaching other women when we lend our support to such unsupportive, competitive internal culture? It’s gotten better over the years, but even today, much of the gender equality talk in business remains little more than lip service.
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?
Success in the front office starts with leadership and delegation.
If you don’t like managing teams of people, building culture and setting the example for everyone around you, then the daily exercise of executive work might not come naturally to you. And for every great executive, there came ten before her who could never learn to relinquish or delegate and therefore could not build a successful team.
But if you can lead by example, build culture and delegate, then your success becomes scalable beyond what you alone could ever reach.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
The first piece of advice I would give relates to the team building aspect of leadership: When you look at your team members and how they work with each other, help them also understand each other as people. I once spent an entire day getting to know the Meyers-Briggs profiles of everyone in my company, and I was surprised to learn that my boss had essentially the opposite personality type of mine. With that knowledge, I vastly improved our relationship because I came to understand the nuances of his unique worldview and together we learned how to better solve problems by changing how we dealt with one another.
The second piece of advice I would give women leaders is to be as willing to champion their own successes as their male cohorts. Don’t let anyone, especially yourself, demure your successes.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
My professional success has given me access to leadership roles around the community. I serve on a number of non-profit boards in the L.A. area, and I give more than just money. I give time, too. I mentor women who’ve never had positive female role models through my work with the Fulfillment Fund, as one example.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Don’t expect all women to help you along the way. Sisterhood is not as alive and well as one might hope among the upper echelons of a competitive marketplace.
- Pick a partner who will share the responsibilities with you. Navigating the many roles you play as a female and an executive can be complex, but the right spouse can help you make a world of impact.
- The mom guilt is real, be present for everything you can. I am fortunate in that my daughter, remembers the times I was there for her most special moments in life. But in my own memory, I’m pained by the handful of times I could not be present. Part of the reality of business is that the higher you climb, there will be moments you miss at home. Make certain to be present and in the moment when you are with those that matter most.
- People matter more than the business. This goes for people in your work life and your personal life. They matter more than the business decisions you choose. Dwell less on the business itself, and more on the people with whom you can make great things happen.
- You don’t need to have a personal 5- year plan. Many of the opportunities I’ve had in life came by surprise, and if I’d had a strict plan to follow, perhaps I wouldn’t have had the vision or the bandwidth to take them on.
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.
Diversity is more than race or gender. Socioeconomic concerns are also very important. There’s far too much ageism out there, for example.
The other thing I’d love to see more of is kindness. What a forgotten skill it’s become to take a moment and show kindness to one another. In the fast-paced, digital world, something about our thoughtfulness and our kindness has gotten lost.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Life is like rocky road ice cream. You’ve got the marshmallows to represent those great and wonderful moments in life and the challenges represented by the hardness of the peanuts, all bound together by the sweet, everyday chocolate ice cream. Put them all together, and though they might look a bit unusual together, the trio of the soft, the hard and the everyday sweet come together magically.
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.
I suppose if I could have lunch with anyone, I would choose Apple CEO Tim Cook. I have the utmost respect for Mr. Cook and, of course, the Apple brand, but also for his ability to achieve the impossible in following Steve Jobs, and for the way he controlled the narrative when details of his personal life became media fodder. He meets great challenges with tremendous grace.