Every year, the editors of CRN announce their Women of the Channel and Women of the Channel Power 100 awards to recognize women whose expertise, vision, and commitment to the channel has made a difference to the technology industry. This year, we’re thrilled to share that our own Gavriella Schuster, General Manager of the Worldwide Partner Group; Cindy Bates, Vice President of Small and Medium Businesses in the US Subsidiary; and Jennifer Heard, Vice President of Worldwide Corporate Accounts and Partner Sales, were honored for their extraordinary achievements!
In this time of rapid transition, leadership is more important than ever, and we’re fortunate to have some of the industry’s best leaders at the helm. We wanted to capture and share a little of the wisdom that got them where they are today.
What qualities do you think are most important in a leader?
Gavriella Schuster: Strong vision for the future with the ability to show people the way and the drive to see it through; confidence and clarity in communication, personal accountability, courage and conviction.
Cindy Bates: I believe it’s important to have a people-centric approach to leadership. I continuously emphasize setting inspirational goals and taking risks based on a culture of strong collaboration and teamwork. It’s also imperative for leaders to foster a sense of curiosity and a desire to seek a diversity of viewpoints, which helps build strong teams and successfully address challenges where the solution is not clear cut.
Jennifer Heard: I believe strongly that building organization capability, establishing trust, and the ability to provide clear direction with inspiration of where you are going are critical capabilities in a strong leader.
What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned in your career?
Gavriella: I have learned to stand up for myself, to respect myself and to value my own contributions because if I don’t no one else will. I have learned to socialize ideas early even before they are fully formed ideas and definitely before they are plans – as the input of others makes the idea much better. I have learned never to trade off taking the time for something that is important to you because no one will ever appreciate your sacrifice (and many times they won’t even know). I have learned that people respect you more when you have clear boundaries and know how to say no. I have learned that taking the time to help others out, to thank them and to support them pays you back in spades over the life of your career.
Cindy: I was fortunate to grow up in a very supportive family where I was encouraged to try new things. My mother talked about viewing experiences as “chapters in my book,” which was especially helpful when the experience was new, scary or challenging. I learned to view difficult situations through the lens of opportunities to gather the experiences needed to write my next chapter. Those early lessons gave me a sense of confidence, and emboldened me to embrace new challenges, including my education and career path. I was empowered to take many leaps – from majoring in molecular biology to a career in finance, then to marketing, and finally to my current role as an end-to-end business leader.
Jennifer: My career lessons include being comfortable being uncomfortable; stretch yourself beyond what you believe is possible; when a career crossroad happens, take a risk even if you don’t have all the answers. Having the courage to stretch beyond your strengths provides the fastest path for advancing your career.
What is the next evolution you’d like to help bring about in the industry and/or IT channel?
Gavriella: I would like to enable the next fly wheel wave of partner to partner ecosystem engagement. In the cloud and global economy, enabling partners to achieve global scale will be enabled by a strong partner to partner network, the ability for partners to build upon each other’s businesses, to develop strong upstream and downstream partnerships that provide value to our customers in the new cloud economy. Community, social media, networking and marketplaces will give partners the ability to scale, to differentiate and to build upon each other in ways you can’t even imagine today and I would like to be at the forefront of enabling that.
Cindy: Microsoft’s mission is to empower people and businesses to achieve more. It’s a mission I take very much to heart, and one that I feel comes alive in the SMB space as we deliver technology that helps millions of entrepreneurs and business owners to grow their businesses and pursue their dreams. In particular, cloud technology offers new and powerful capabilities to SMBs at an affordable cost. I am inspired every day by the stories of businesses that have been transformed by cloud-based technology like Microsoft Office 365 and Azure. My hope is that more and more SMBs come to recognize the value of technology in enabling their growth and success, and that Microsoft partners continue to play a role in that journey.
Jennifer: Driving a strategy for mid-market and enterprise customers involves having a strong partner ecosystem. In order to have a strong ecosystem, it requires a partner strategy that aligns to modern marketing approaches, connecting to new audiences (buying decision makers) and having the ability to respond with relevance/real time. Always on marketing, always on relevance delivering business solutions that enable customers to be competitive in the mobile-first, cloud-first world.
What advice would you give to young women who are considering entering the technology industry?
Gavriella: It is one of the most engaging careers you can have. One that never goes stale, where you can learn something new every day and where there is lots of opportunity. And it is not all about software development – there are so many visual, experiential and engaging roles you can play in the world of technology – there is a great job for almost any skill set you have.
Cindy: I would encourage them to go for it. The technology industry is transforming all aspects of our lives, and offers an incredibly exciting opportunity for women to build a successful and gratifying career. Once they’re a part of the industry, they can propel their career forward through these three steps:
First, make it a point to look for ways to add value. In practical terms, that might mean understanding the objectives of your peers and your manager so you can orient yourself around doing things that matter and that add the most value. People notice who adds value. By making it a priority to do so, you’ll earn a reputation for it, and opportunity will come knocking on your door.
Second, look at every interaction and new connection as an opportunity. It’s about making meaningful connections with people in all aspects of your life who might introduce you to new opportunities.
And third, be bold. If an opportunity is at least a bit outside your comfort zone, it most likely presents an opportunity for growth and professional development. My team knows well my favorite quote: “Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic and power in it!”
Jennifer: My advice to young women would be 1. leverage your strengths, 2. know that your EQ connections can bring tremendous value to an organization, and 3. have confidence to have your voice heard. Women bring caring, trusting leadership with an ability to connect to the emotions of reasoning. The fact is that 90% of the purchases in the consumer world are made by women; we should be at the table to build products/solutions and ideas that will connect with this buying power.
It’s tough for anyone, male or female, to succeed without a solid support network. What kind of support systems have you created for yourself and what strategies would you recommend?
Gavriella: I build out peer networks continuously. I find them to be the most rewarding and have supported me through many stages of my career. I actively seek out mentors and coaches and set up support groups through dinners, lunches and breakfasts. Being able to reach out and receive an objective point of view, an alternative point of view or having someone ask you tough questions in a low risk environment has been critical to helping me stay connected and authentic throughout my career.
Cindy: My mentors have been instrumental to my success and I encourage others to seek out similar relationships. Having the encouragement of someone who has navigated similar situations can be extremely empowering and provide added confidence just when you need it. I’ve also found it helpful to assemble a personal advisory board, even informally, of people I trust who can provide different perspectives when I’m facing big decisions or just need a sounding board. Surrounding myself with people from different industries, geographies and backgrounds has enabled me to lead with creativity, empathy and a well-rounded perspective.
Jennifer: Establishing a network internally and externally is equally important. Make every connection count, take time to have coffee/lunch with a skip level leader to share your brand and aspiration. First impressions do matter, so show up to those connection meetings with intent to be memorable. Ensure that your support network understands your brand and aspiration, make those connections easy for the other person. Be clear on what it is you are asking that person in your network (think about what is in it for them too). The more senior the leader the more succinct you should be in your connection: Be bright, be brief, be gone.
Those of us fortunate to work with these women are inspired by them every day. We thank them for their wisdom, innovation, drive, and commitment to the channel and industry, and we congratulate them on an outstanding, well-deserved accomplishment!
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