As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Luanne Tierney.
Luanne is currently the CMO of Betterworks and has spent her career helping Fortune 1000 companies create best-in-class connected marketing and sales organizations. She is an active Board Director and Advisor for both public and private companies. Luanne is a frequent guest lecturer at Pepperdine Graziadio School of Business and she is active in multiple organizations that support and prepare women in technology to advance their careers.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! 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?
Well, I’ve always worked in technology. My first job in technology was at HP, where I was a Marketing Program Manager. I spent 15 years developing my management skills and taking on incredibly cool projects and mentorship opportunities at Cisco (more on that later), and all of this work has culminated to my time here at Betterworks. I love the pace and innovation of technology, and I’m fascinated by the rapid progression of the digital marketing space. It’s changed incredibly over the past 10 years!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I’ve managed large globally dispersed teams for years, but developing this team at Betterworks was certainly unique. This is the first time that I’ve built a marketing team from the ground up while every person was fully remote. It’s wild that I’ve never met a single member of my team in-person, and yet, we’ve developed an amazing camaraderie together.
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?
I was walking on stage to speak at a large Juniper internal event while I was a Vice President of Partner Marketing. I tripped in my heels and fell awkwardly on stage. But there’s an important lesson to learn from a public gaff — it’s all about how you respond and recover. I stood up, shook myself off, and had a laugh with the crowd. Taking ownership of a potentially embarrassing moment is a great way to dispel the tension and take back control of a moment.
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 had young children while at Cisco, meaning I had to juggle being a working mom before we as a society were having some of the conversations we are now about parental leave, flexibility, and support. Chuck Robbins, who is now the CEO of Cisco, mentored me, believed in me, and championed my career growth. Chuck consistently challenged me to push myself outside of my comfort zone, which gave me valuable experience that has made my career possible. He was the type of leader who stuck by his team, even if a mistake was made as people tried new things. A good leader stands by their team, trusts the growth process, and has your back.
Chuck trusted me to create the first Marketing Velocity, an event, showing the Cisco partners how they could grow their business during the 2008 economic downturn through embracing new digital marketing techniques. The inaugural event brought together over 200 partners, provided incredible thought-leadership sessions during a fraught time, and is still in existence today.
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?
It’s so important to create time to think away from your laptop. That’s when the best ideas are generated. I am a firm believer in throwing on some good music, swimming, lifting weights or going for a walk outside are ideal for my creativity and idea formation. As someone who has been in marketing for my entire career, I found I get my best ideas while running, swimming, and listening to music has contributed hugely to my creating the headspace needed for solving complicated issues.
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?
A diverse team delivers better results. As a global marketing leader, I’ve always worked to cultivate diverse teams in order to foster innovation. Truly this is a no-brainer for any organization hoping to better understand and create a great product for the world we live in. Diversity is so much more than “checking a box.” When teams prioritize diversity at the executive level, here’s a trickle-down effect that stands to uplift the whole organization.
Research shows that diverse teams make decisions faster, with fewer meetings. And it was reported in Forbes back in 2017 that “inclusive business teams make better business decisions up to 87% of the time.”
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.
Opportunities pave the way for equity. When I was at Cisco and Juniper Networks as a young working mom, I created a Leadership Program called “New Directions” for women which was a place to learn from experts, grow leadership and communication skills and learn from one another. I found it valuable to foster equity and create programs and places to connect because when I was starting out in the technology space, there weren’t nearly as many programs and support systems out there as there are now.
I also created a job share program and flexible working schedules for the numerous women who worked for me which was very novel at the time (20 years ago) to help create career opportunities for talented working women, who wanted to stay in the workplace and had young children. It’s a huge feat and an impossible task for one person to create an equitable society on their own, that’s why I’ve spent my career fostering the success of many. If I haven’t been clear already, I strongly believe in the value of ascending the elevator down to help others rise up in their careers.
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?
An executive manages people, works with their team to create goals and objectives for the business, and drives the results needed for everyone to reach their goals. The responsibilities are different in this role because an executive has access to a lot more information than other team members, and we can leverage that information to make broader business decisions.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
First, you don’t feel any different! You may have a new title, but you’re still the same person at your core. I still have the same habits I did earlier on in my career. I have a growth mindset, and I’m still always pushing myself to learn and grow.
Another myth I’d like to dispel is that when you’re in a leadership role, that means you just make big decisions on your own. In reality, your relationships matter more than ever, which is why I’ve made time to stay connected with many great people I’ve met and worked with throughout my career. These are the people I reach out to and bounce ideas off of.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
So much progress has been made, but with that said, for the most part, having a family places different pressures on women than men. When I was a working mom, I had far fewer role models than there are today, and it was tough to balance those roles. There’s a lot of guilt and pressure we put on ourselves to be present and excel at both at work and at home. We’ve seen the pandemic accelerate this with women once again. Over 2 million women have opted to leave the workforce in the U.S., with many reporting that it was becoming impossible for them to be both a caretaker, remote teacher, mother, and partner while working.
I truly hope that women are empowered to re-enter the workforce as the world begins to reopen.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Nothing to be quite honest! This isn’t the first time I’ve taken on the CMO role for a high growth technology company. I knew what the role entailed and I was excited to roll up my sleeves and get to work. Betterworks has an impressive leadership team led by Doug Dennerline, all of whom are highly involved in the work and committed to their goals.
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?
To me, being an executive is all about making a positive impact on people’s lives and the business. You’re fostering careers, educating your team, and working closely with others towards a shared goal. You don’t need to be wildly extroverted, but you do need to like working with people. You will have to brainstorm and strategize with others, make compromises, and vouch for your team and what you believe in a lot more challenging at the top. So excellent communication skills are needed.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Work from the start to authentically connect with your team and create a space where people can respectfully learn from one another. Focus on your team and keep one eye on your objectives and strategic initiatives.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Mentorship is so important. I’ve spent years mentoring young women and helping them chase their career goals. I also guest lecture at the Pepperdine Graziadio School of Business and Management, I speak regularly at Universities, and programs like ICA Christo Rey encouraging diverse young women to have careers in technology even if they do not come from engineering backgrounds nor have household role models. When I was at Juniper, I created a Young Woman’s Summit partnering with PBWC. Inspiring high school students and early in career professionals is incredibly rewarding because through a program like that you can positively impact their future
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- It’s not that glamorous. Regardless of your job title, you will still feel like the same person, just with more insight and responsibility.
- Everything you say is interpreted. What you say matters to your team, and politics can get more challenging as you grow in your career. Be conscious of your words and remember that everything carries meaning.
- Body language speaks volumes. Always project yourself with confidence.
- Growing the business is a blast. Creating a tangible, valuable impact for a business feels amazing. There’s nothing quite like it!
- You’re never finished learning! I’m always reading, pushing myself to do better, and learning new systems of work. There’s been so much change in the technology industry in the last decade, and if you choose to work in a competitive field, you will never not be learning.
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 would inspire young women to have the confidence to pursue a career that they are interested in.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”
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’d sit down with the Founder and CEO of Spanx, Sara Blakely. She does a great job of showing her life behind the scenes, the real, honest sides of personal life of raising a family and being a CEO of a company.