As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Julie Giannini.
Julie Giannini is Chief Customer Officer at Egnyte. As Chief Customer Officer, she leads all post sales functions with a focus on customer growth, acquisition and retention. Julie works closely with Egnyte’s customers and teams to ensure the voice of the customer is highlighted in Egnyte’s strategy and execution. Julie joins Egnyte from cyber security leader Imperva where she was VP Customer Success. Previously Julie held senior roles at notable tech companies including New Relic, Microsoft, Yammer, TIBCO, Ariba and Oracle. Julie graduated from UCLA with a BA in Economics/Business.
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 actually began my career as an accountant, first at Arthur Andersen and then as a client, BHP Biliton where I spent 7 years. It was at BHP that moved from accounting to the sales and marketing side, only to return to accounting and help with our SAP implementation in 1998. That year I joined Oracle and the lightbulb went off for me. I realized I wanted to be more hands-on with the customers and began taking on roles in renewals and customer success. That trajectory eventually led me to where I am now at Egnyte.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Like most people, the pandemic created many interesting challenges. I began work at Egnyte on Monday, March 9, 2020, and by Thursday our office was closed. It was a huge disruption but I felt grateful to be part of this new team that was able to adapt to remote work so quickly with a great solution to support this. In many ways, it felt like the perfect time to join and be part of a thriving workforce.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’ve been on conference calls for much of my career. The thing I was not used to however, was being on camera all day. At the beginning of the remote work era, I remember being on a call with my headphones on and hearing the doorbell ring. I got up and walked away, headphones still in, chatting with my team and not realizing that I was still on camera. It wasn’t until I got back and saw the confused look on their faces that I realized I had just left the video call. I guess the lesson is that it might take some time to adapt to new situations. Take things in stride.
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 owe much gratitude to a long time colleague, Sam Loveland. We worked together at Yammer and after a few years, she hired me again at FinancialForce. Sam was SVP of Customer Success and showed me the roadmap to get where she was, while being supportive and encouraging along the way. On more than one occasion, she saw things in me that I couldn’t yet see in myself. Sam has become a mentor, colleague and life long friend who helped me to get into my position as Chief Customer Officer today at Egnyte.
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 used to be a marathon runner and because of that, I take preparing both my body and mind seriously. You cannot cram for a marathon, similar to the way you can’t just wing a career. When I take care of myself, I am able to perform at a high level and make better decisions for my teams. The three pillars of preparing my mind and body are a good night’s sleep, quality nutrition and regular exercise.
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?
It should go without saying that everyone deserves a seat at the table. With various backgrounds and points of views, comes greater innovation. Beyond that, the main focus is always on people first. Representation matters whether you are building or selling a product or supporting a customer.
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.
This starts with access to education. When children are able to access quality education and experience a broad representation of backgrounds in their educational circles, they learn at an early age to collaborate and innovate with each other. This translates into how they interact with peers in school, within their families and ultimately embodies who they become as leaders, coworkers and adults.
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 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?
There are a few differences. While most leaders within a company primarily focus on their teams, the role of the C-suite is to focus on the company as a whole–employees, product and customers. The focus becomes looking out 3–5 years versus next quarter. Strategic vision, strong executive presence at board meetings and a deep understanding of the company’s financials is also important.
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 myth about C-level people is that they sit atop everyone else. At Egnyte, our entire C-suite is very hands-on with our teams and gets into the trenches of daily tasks. It’s important to be approachable and available in order to effectively lead your company.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Coming back to the importance of diversity, people tend to hire people who remind them of themselves or who they are currently surrounded by. Thankfully, as the fight for equality continues, we are seeing more representation in positions of leadership. My hope is that getting more women at the C-level will inevitably encourage a multiplier effect and create a more diverse and inclusive workforce.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
When I initially joined Egnyte, my job was narrower in scope. Originally, my focus was on customer success, renewals, training and operations. I was delighted when I was asked one month in to lead professional services as well. It suits me to manage internal teams while being customer-facing with a focus on driving top and bottom-line results.
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?
Yes, everyone has it in them. It comes down to whether you are willing to do the hard work required. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You can’t cram for moving forward in your career, it’s about showing up everyday and giving it your very best but understanding you won’t see the results overnight.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Leadership styles are not one size fits all. Everyone on your team will need something different in terms of support, rewards and training. Being present and involved with your employees will enable you to be in tune to their needs, communicate more effectively and achieve company goals. The bottom line is that trust and respect are a two way street so it’s important that your team members feel valued.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Every community relies on its members to function and thrive. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the people who supported me in my journey, so I will always look for reasons to pay it forward and model that for people on my teams, people in my community and my sons. As a resident of San Francisco, one of my favorite ways to give back with my family is to do beach clean-up. It has always felt like a very tangible way to leave a place better than we found it.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- You have to take ownership of your career success.
- It’s important to condition yourself for the long term commitment with your mind, body and spirit.
- Always keep learning.
- Never be afraid to ask for help. Especially as a mom, you’ll feel pulled 100 different directions. There is no way you’ll be able to do everything on your own.
- Take vacations. Your teams will survive without you for a few days and you can’t replace time with family and friends.
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 have always been a fan of Salesforce’s 1–1–1 philanthropic model. The idea is to give back using technology, people and resources to make the world a better place. Giving back to our community is fun and rewarding and is something people can start to do early in their careers.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Always keep your promises. People count on you and it’s important to stay true to what you commit to doing. I’m proud this is a quality my sons have seen me model and they implement this trait in their lives.
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 would love to have lunch with Scott Gallaway. We actually went to UCLA and both lived in San Francisco after college. It has been fun to watch his career trajectory from Brand CEO to NYU Stern Professor. He has a great podcast called Prof G that I listen to every week when working out.