As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite” we had the pleasure of interviewing Mariann McDonagh.
Mariann leads WorkFusion’s marketing strategy, overseeing brand, demand, content and product marketing. Mariann was previously CMO at erwin, Inc, inContact and Verint Systems and her experience in software marketing also includes advisory and board roles at DQLabs and SparkPost. She is a member of professional associations such as National Association for Female Executives, Women Investing in Security & Education, CMO Council, and Greater New York Marketing Executives Council (founder).
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?
Absolutely. I was always a strong writer and a communicator but was encouraged to go to med school (which was common for smart women graduating high school in the late ’70s). After a semester at UVA of being lost in calculus and organic chem, I quickly realized pre-med was not my jam and declared an English major. From that point, I was on my way. When I graduated, I looked for entry-level roles in advertising and publishing — but in those days, the only way in was to type 55 words a minute as someone’s assistant. That did not appeal to me at all! So my journey to become a senior executive was less traditional than some other folks. I ultimately found my way to high tech, and the rest was history.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
One of the most interesting things I’ve experienced since joining WorkFusion is the convergence of people reconnecting. I am so fortunate to have “reincarnated” in this role with two partners: CEO Adam Famularo, and COO Jim McGarry. We built a great company with erwin and believe we can leverage our playbook to do the same or even more here at WorkFusion.
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?
For one of my first main stage presentations, years ago, I was mic’d up in advance of my dramatic entrance. As I was entering the stage from a poorly constructed side stairway, I tripped and snapped the heel off my left shoe, letting go a few choice expletives which were broadcasted to the assembled audience! From that point forward, I have always triple-checked that any mic I am wearing is not live until the moment I begin to speak.
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?
When I was a young CMO, I had the opportunity to work with an incredible visionary named Martha Rogers. She ran a boutique consulting firm and had most of the world’s leading CEOs on speed dial. Martha left a profound influence on my view of executive female presence, value creation and thought-leading public communication.
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?
Pressure on an executive at a growth software company can be intense. As such, I have a three-part daily practice that keeps me focused, energetic and grounded. The first is 20 minutes of morning journaling, which helps me sort through ideas and feelings to clear the way for inspiration. The second is daily meditation, which provides quiet centering before the day carries me off. Last, but definitely not least, is daily exercise which gives me the energy and fierceness to kick ass all day long.
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?
Well, certainly the only perspective I can provide is as a white woman in a very male-dominated software business. Throughout my career, I’ve frequently been the only woman at a boardroom table. I allowed myself to feel that this was normal or just the way of things, but now, in the senior stages of my career, I recognize the inequity that underpinned every one of my corporate experiences. It’s become my goal to pave the way for a more gender-expansive view of the boardroom.
Based on research from HBR, Forbes and many others, it’s crystal clear that companies with broad diversity are higher-performing than those which only embrace a limited, myopic and non-diverse point of view.
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.
In my experience, beyond driving recruitment and hiring with diversity as a key criteria, the most important thing that executives can do is mentor individuals within and outside of their organization. For example, I’ve been volunteering for a long time with organizations designed to help encourage girls in STEM 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?
There is a dramatic difference between an executive leader and a manager. A manager manages the output of work, which is a necessary cog in the corporate wheel. But a leader builds a vision and develops a following, driving change through the momentum of this “movement.” It’s a far more evangelical role, and one that requires an innovative perspective, the ability to clearly communicate what matters most, and the energy to lead through change.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Wow… where do I start? First of all, it’s about opportunities. In my personal experience, there are still fewer executive opportunities on the whole for women to pursue. Just look at the data: According to Catalyst, only 5.8% of the S&P 500 CEOs are women. How can we view this statistic and not conclude that there are systemic and institutional issues at the root of this terrible number? Especially in the face of the equally compelling statistic that companies with female CEOs are more profitable?
But beyond the massive institutional bias against women at the top of the business, one of the other key issues is how we are raised and socialized. Women are less likely to stick their hand up until they feel fully qualified for a role — whereas men just take that leap of faith. A Hewlett-Packard internal report revealed that men apply for positions if they meet just 60% of the requirements while women only apply if they meet 100% of them. This speculative claim has been backed up data from LinkedIn and the Behavioural Insights Team showing women are less likely to apply for jobs they view and for roles that are more senior than their current position.
So in order to change this dynamic, we need to create more opportunities for female leaders AND encourage women to take more “risks” when it comes to upward mobility. And needless to say, this entire equation is even more challenging for women of color and folks who are LGBTQ+.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
There is this mistaken impression in the business world that marketing is a glamour job and what we do is to “wrap things in a pretty bow”. Both these things are far from the truth. In my experience, marketing is one of the toughest and most ill-defined roles in any company. A great marketing leader is a great business leader. Period.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
Be an interest-based leader. By this, I mean invest in your people so that they know their best interests lie with you. Give them your time freely, as time is the greatest gift and the biggest commodity. If you do this, your team will give you everything they have and you can create magic, even if you are lean and mean. Trust them to do their best, unlock their potential and get the hell out of the way.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Beyond building some really terrific companies that gave our teams a great livelihood and quality of life, my most meaningful contribution has been with the many people I have mentored over the years. I am proud to say that my legacy has been in creating the next generation of leaders in the enterprise software industry and I hope to continue this until I retire.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- There are builders and maximizers. Figure out which you are and it will help guide your career decisions. For example, I was recently offered a position in a $1B company and know that, as a builder, this was not the best fit for my skills and interests. I like to plow new ground.
- Your primary job as a leader is to make your people more marketable. This might seem like a strange or counter-intuitive idea. What would I want my folks to be worth more to their NEXT employer? The answer: It is the best loyalty builder that money can buy. I’ve led teams through economic downturns, cuts, reductions in force (RIFs) and other significant challenges and kept them close because I invested in their careers.
- Always stay close to the revenue stream. Every Marketing team I have even run has been relevant to Sales, understands customers, opportunities, sales processes, etc. The time for ivory tower teams that are not synergistic is dead and gone. Companies that win are those that adopt a mentality that everyone sells.
- Be authentic and transparent. Smart people can smell BS a mile away. Tell the truth and do it with compassion, and with the good of the business as the only barometer. I’ve been effective even in very challenging environments with this approach and people truly appreciate understanding where you stand and what’s really happening in the business.
- Find a networking group of executives who do what you do. You’ll learn from their mistakes and their groundbreaking programs too. I’ve got a terrific network in the CMO Council and it’s helped provide ideas and support on everything from org design to ROI models. The power of the collective is real.
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’d like to inspire a nationwide movement to mentor and grow young women and LGBTQ+ folks to have successful careers in the corporate world. While there are many programs that have a similar goal in mind, my mobility movement starts working with people before college, mentors them through those years, and helps position them effectively as they join the workforce. Ongoing touch points provide coaching and guidance on surviving and thriving in office politics, how to ask for and get better compensation, new opportunities and much more. This mobility movement would be a long term commitment to individuals — staying with them and providing programmatic mentoring for the long haul.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have two:
1. Always bring your whole self to work
This has been one of my mottos for a long time and COVID has made this even more powerful, as people everywhere worked from home, juggled kids and family, etc. In my experience, the most productive and engaged employees are those that can leverage all their strengths in a work environment — even if they seem non-work-related. For example, I had a musician on my team and was always supportive of her boundaries on evening work, as that was her gig time. By recognizing what she needed and being supportive of her alter ego, we were rewarded as she brought boundless creativity to her role. She felt supported and appreciated for everything she is, not just what we saw between the hours of 9 and 5.
2. Don’t open your mouth if you can’t feel your feet
In growth environments, things can get pretty intense at times and I’ve always had a very passionate team of people. It can be easy for passion to quickly transform into something less productive. So the idea here is to breathe, center and be grounded before you jump into a challenging interaction or conversation.
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 have to say Brenee Brown. Beyond the work she does around personal enlightenment, I greatly admire her perspective on leadership and love in the workplace. I’d happily pick up that lunch check!