As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Louise K. Allen.
Louise K. Allen is chief product officer responsible Planview’s Products organization spanning product strategy, positioning, and roadmaps for Planview’s Portfolio Management and Work Management solutions. She has more than 20 years of experience in strategic product direction with a passion for delivering innovative products and solutions to the marketplace. Louise has been a driving force in Planview’s diversity and inclusion initiative by co-founding [email protected] ERG.
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?
Funny enough, I never intended on going into business, let alone product management. I originally went to college to play tennis, which I did professionally as well. However, after a few years as a professional athlete, I realized I wanted to grow more and utilize my competitive edge to pursue a career within business.
After receiving my MBA in marketing, I kickstarted my business career specializing in product management at four different start-ups in Austin. I thoroughly enjoyed my time working for start-ups because it really helped me better understand the business and the products. All these experiences brought me to my current role at Planview, which is where I have been employed for the past 13 years. Still drawn to the product side of business and that competitive edge, I successfully climbed the ranks and am proud to say I now serve as Planview’s Chief Product Officer.
These experiences — both as an athlete and a businesswoman — have brought me to where I am today. Over the years I’ve realized I’m drawn specifically to the product side probably because of the “need to win” mindset I craved as an athlete.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Of my 13 years working at Planview, the process of getting to where we stand now as a company has truly been amazing to watch. Our transformation from a 20-person software company company to increasing total software annual recurring revenue for Q2 2021 to an all-time high in excess of $300 million, the company has proven to be one of the biggest success stories in the Austin-area, and I couldn’t be prouder of the team for the strides that we’ve made. As a global leader in portfolio management and work management solutions, we’re making real changes in the market that are designed specifically to support our customers as they navigate through new ways of working. As a company, we’ve moved beyond project portfolio management (PPM), and have successfully expanded our product offerings to support more agile working approaches.
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 transition between leaving school and beginning my business career was an eye-opening experience. As a student, you think you know everything because you have access to all the information and case studies you need to succeed at your fingertips. But the real-world experience is completely different. Learning the ropes working at start-ups early on, I made some mistakes — but they all were important in shaping me into the person I am today.
My advice for those who may find themselves in a similar position: Take everything with a grain of salt and think of it all as a learning experience.
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?
One person I’m particularly thankful to is Billie Jean King, who I had the pleasure of knowing as a professional tennis player. I’ve always looked up to her as a role model and mentor. Thanks to a reference from her, I was able to land my first job at a start-up in Austin. She was one of the amazing people surrounding me that helped provide me with the right perspective to succeed. It’s important to have a team of people around you who will move you forward, believe in your success and be in your corner — I’m so grateful Billie Jean King was one of them.
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?
An analogy someone once said that stuck with me throughout my career is, “You have five glass balls, and five plastic balls, and you have to know which ones are which. You’re going to drop things, but just know which ones you’re going to drop.” This resonates because it reminds me to keep my priorities in check, and determine which projects are most important and what should be put first — helping to make sure the glass balls don’t break. This mindset has helped me manage my stress levels and workload throughout my entire career.
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’s critical for businesses to have a diverse executive team as well as a diverse board, it doesn’t do the company any good if everyone comes to the meeting with the same background or mindset. Having women specifically in the room is something that needs to be mandatory, and I look forward seeing more women in executive positions within the workplace.
But this change starts within the company, and I’m proud to work for a company like Planview that is passionate about diversity, as seen through its [email protected] program. [email protected] is focused on the professional and personal growth of women at Planview. The program focuses on mentoring, quarterly speaker series, sponsorship in leadership conferences and forming a sense of community, and support from both men and women who work at the company. This program has been created specifically to advance the conversation and promote diversity in the high-tech industry — starting with its own workforce and the local community.
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.
To create an inclusive representation, it needs to prioritized as a corporate initiative. Companies must be intentional and willing to inspect and adapt all of their practices, not just assume that “diversity, equity and inclusion” will just happen. When Razat Gaurav took the position as CEO, he joined with the intention of creating a more inclusive environment within Planview. Programs created to support the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities, as well as women in the workforce like [email protected], truly help to build community spirt and camaraderie within the company, overall creating a more efficient, inclusive environment.
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?
On Planview’s executive team, I serve as the Chief Product Officer and therefore am responsible for leading product management, strategy, and positioning. Every position in the company is important as it is what truly drives success, but at the executive level, we must also consider the future of the company. For example, looking three to five years ahead to see how we can prepare and evolve the company with that vision in mind. This can be accomplished by analyzing the evolving marketplace and listening to customer feedback. In doing so, we can look for ways to shift our product strategy to meet the needs of our customers, as well as the industry, and work to bring full value to the marketplace to help keep Planview top of mind with consumers.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
One myth is that executives are the only key decision makers within the company. As executives, yes, we’re responsible for being decision makers and changing our mindsets to consider more of the company’s outlook. However, each decision reflects the opinions of core teams throughout the company — not just that of the executive board. At Planview, we strive to include diverse opinions in company decisions to ensure everyone’s voice is heard and to foster an inclusive environment.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Throughout my career, there have been times when I have been the only woman in the room, and I had to consider my approach to ensure that my voice is heard. As women, we sometimes struggle with balancing how to stay authentic and how to remain respected — making sure we’re not coming across too soft or hard. And this is something that men may not experience as often, but one that we must take into consideration in order to be effective female leaders.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
As I mentioned before, coming into my business career, I expected it to at times be exactly like the courses I took in school — and it definitely was not. Yes, the fundamentals we learn in school help prepare us, but nothing compares to the experiences we learn when we step into the workforce.
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?
Not everyone is cut out to be an executive — and that’s okay. If you’re determined to sit in an executive position, it is imperative that you’re the type of person who has thick skin, can take things with a grain of salt, and is always ready to rise to the challenge. You must be prepared that not everyone is going to like you or agree with you, so if you’re the type of person who feels you always need to please people, an executive position may not be the best fit for you.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Don’t get discouraged if you’re the only female leader in the room, embrace it and make your voice heard. It’s important to encourage young female leaders to also want to sit in these executive meetings and help guide them on their paths towards success.
Mentorship is a passion of mine and participating in programs like Ceresa in Austin have allowed me to encourage young women to take leadership positions in the business world, especially within product management. I enjoy being able to showcase to these women that it’s possible to balance personal and professional success–hopefully this resonates and will lead to more women pursuing executive positions.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
One of the things I feel most honored to be able to do is to lift up and support highly skilled younger-in-career leaders, by sharing any lessons I learned along the way and empowering them to be successful on their paths. Change needs to happen one person at a time — and I encourage them to pay it forward when they are in a position of leadership.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- You’re going to have to work hard, but it’s going to be worth it. Obviously at the end of the day, every job is a job, and that requires work. But not every day is the same, and some days require that additional push. Try not to get lost in work itself, but focus on how amazing the outcome can be.
- Remember you’re not superwoman. As women, we sometimes struggle with balancing our personal and professional lives, and that’s normal. It’s our natural instinct to feel as though we need to be everywhere at once, but that’s not the reality. Therefore, it’s important to take that into consideration, and not go into every situation — whether it be in the office or at home — thinking you must unleash superwoman-like powers to succeed.
- Don’t be discouraged if you’re the only woman in the room. I think this is something most women can feel intimidated by, especially those who work in tech, which is still considered a male-dominated industry. As mentioned, there have been times I have been the only woman in the room and had to learn how to have my voice heard. Although women have made progress in the workplace, there is still more work to be done. l look forward to continuing to see these changes in action and helping make young female leaders more comfortable in executive positions.
- Stay Authentic. Know what you’re comfortable with and stay true to yourself. It can at times be difficult to not feel discouraged, or think you need to change yourself to have your voice heard. As you grow in your career, you’re going to come across people who are going to challenge you. But if you remain authentic and aware of what you’re comfortable with, that’s what will help you to stay true to who you are as a person — which is most important.
- Be Open to Change. Not everything is going to happen exactly as planned, and that’s okay. Even for my career, I thought being a professional athlete would have been enough for me, but it wasn’t. Be open to new opportunities that may come your way. Every experience is a learning opportunity and has an impact on your future, so it’s important to take advantage of any and all that may come your way throughout your career.
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.
Mentorship is a personal passion of mine. Therefore, continuing to participate in programs like [email protected] and Ceresa where I can encourage young businesswomen to feel confident pursuing executive leadership roles is something I look forward to doing for years to come.
I have probably worked with 20 young women throughout the years — and I am still in touch with most of them. These women also serve as incredible mentors themselves and it makes me so proud to see them thrive and gain confidence as they progress 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?
One of my favorite quotes is by Albert Einstein — “Wisdom is not a product of schooling, but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.” After my transition from school to professional life, I realized learning goes beyond what we absorb in our classes. We’re always surrounded by new learning opportunities — whether that be in our personal or professional lives. In order to continue evolving, we must accept that learning is a life-long job and be open to the opportunities that come along the way.
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 am lucky enough to already have had a conversation with someone I always admired: Arthur Ashe. As a young professional tennis athlete, I had the pleasure of speaking with him for 20 minutes at an event. I was so grateful to him for taking the time to speak with me about his career, personal life, and even advice on how to balance both. This conversation is something I will always cherish and hold close.