Never Stop Learning.

I recently attended a Board of Director2afcdb62e01b4cf35059f521731e5daa course offered by Kellogg’s executive education program that is specifically targeted at women.  We spent three days learning about the role of an independent director, the current landscape and expectations, key financial measures to know, and how to secure a position as a director.

I thought I would capture a few key takeaways for anyone that is interesting in pursuing a board seat.  The following can be helpful to anyone – any gender, any background, any industry, any executive position.

Preparation is critical.

Understand your key value for a company and board.  You need to know what you offer to the company. Conversely, understand what you will learn and bring back to the role you currently have.  If you are currently an active executive, discuss this with your CEO.  Get buy-in before you start to pursue board roles. If you cannot articulate your current role or your value to a recruiter or someone in your network, you may have more challenges securing a director position.  Your current resume probably isn’t sufficient and you need to develop a board Bio.  You need to make sure your resume, LinkedIn and other profiles are all current and similarly written for a board to review. You should also develop an elevator pitch to give your network and recruiters a view of who you are.  Here’s mine:

“Hi!  I’m a high energy and visionary Chief Marketing Officer that has positioned B2B and consumer brands and created world-class modern marketing practices that deliver results.  I have done this for technology companies including Sun Microsystems, Plantronics, SAP and several startups.  In my three-decade long career, I have driven positioning and strategies of key technologies and trends including Java, HANA, Open Source, SaaS, Cloud Computing, IoT and Big Data that have had an impact on the larger technology landscape. I am able to deliver tremendous insights and value for those companies that want to participate in digital and modern marketing transformations, and am now advising several startups.  As a key member of executive teams, I have actively participated in public company board discussions and strategies, and welcome the opportunity to deliver value from the other side of the table”

Getting Started: Network, Network.

Get outside of your own “echo chamber”.  Create a network map of all of your contacts.  Many very senior women from major Fortune 100 companies (including Fortune 1) attended the Kellogg course with me.  Some of these women had broad networks which will be very helpful.  Others, need to get started.   The truth is that so many of us are so busy, we fail to cultivate our networks or don’t even have a broad network.  Use every opportunity to build your network – examples – on Linkedin, ask your CEO, ask your non-profit fellow board members, at conferences, basically take the opportunity everywhere you go including on planes (introduce yourself to your seatmate).  Get on Nurole, Broadroom, Boardlist, etc.  Understand and articulate which industries and which geographies you are willing to consider.  Word of mouth also goes a long way.  Nearly 70% of board seats are filled this way!  The remainder are filled by executive search firms.  Connect with those firms as well and tell them that you are interested in joining a board.  BTW:  interesting feedback from the experts at Kellogg… non-profit board experience is for you, and you only. Do not expect that public board seats will now fall from the sky for you.  Public board seats are viewed entirely differently.

You got the call! Do your homework. (before the interview)

All that networking paid off, and you got the call to meet.  Be prepared.  A good board member not only understands the financials of the company, but the strategy, the people, the products and market landscape.  Fortune 100 or even Fortune 1000 public companies are less risk adverse.  Early stage startups have a lot of risk and may require more guidance from you.  Understand the financial statements and ask questions – lots of questions.  A good place to start on the financials is the annual report, but you should research earning reports and calls, 10Qs, financial analyst reports, etc.  Look at what the executive team is measured on.  Look at ROIC.  Look at the percent differences quarter over quarter of every line item.  If you are not a financial person, ask a CFO friend to help you (preferably over coffee or a glass of wine).  List your questions and bring them to your interviews.  Remember, this as much about you interviewing them as well.

Board relationships. Beyond chemistry.

Congrats!  They made you an offer.  Now would be a good time to understand board dynamics.   You must do this regardless of the size company.  Board member tenure is long lived and once you join, it is difficult to resign as it hurts both you and the companies’ reputation.  You have to trust and work with fellow board members.  One key consideration that we were given at Kellogg:  keep in mind that you may have to work long and hard during challenging times.  In other words, can you work with them when the going gets rough and you are all in the “fox hole” together?

The role itself.

The shift from operational role aka Management to Director is one that we from Corporate America need to understand.  The advice was, “Nose in.  Fingers out!”  As a director of a board, you are not management and are not there to micro-manage or do the job, but ask thoughtful questions and make decisions for the good of the shareholders (which you represent).  Making that mental shift is do-able, but you always need to remember it.  Another great piece of advise on your first board meeting, is to really limit yourself to one very thoughtful question.  And of course, read all the pre-reading, understand the company, expect to be on a committee, and offer up all your great experience.

Wish me luck as I pursue this next step in my career.  I’m excited to get started!


To be a “woman in tech”

I clicked on the WSJ headline (, because I couldn’t believe that in today’s world, there’s a suggestion that we would actually remove our names (and replace with initials) and remove photos of ourselves in order to be treated equally.


I’ve been a woman in tech since the 1980’s.  Oh, of course, now I’m showing my age too.  But dammit, I’m unapologetically proud of who I am and what I’ve accomplished.


The WSJ blog highlights exactly the problems that exist and continue.  We’ve got to change this.  Here are just a thoughts on what it has felt like to be a “woman in tech”:

The only woman in the room

For much of my career, I’ve been the only woman in the room.  This experience started as a college student as one of the only females in my upper division math classes, to then the only women in a code review as a new software engineer, to even in the last year, as the only female executive of a tech company.  Trust me, it takes guts to be heard in a room of 25 or 30 people, especially when you are the only woman.   My advice to women in tech:  don’t be intimidated by the numbers.  You can make a difference.  Learn to be heard.

Having a different voice

My strong opinion is that my opinion matters.  I refuse to be shut down.  Those that know me, know that I have strong opinions.  One CEO that I’ve worked with described me as being a really excellent marketeer, but “hard headed”.  I laughed.  Yup, I’ve got an opinion and this is business after all. I get high marks for being a great collaborator by my peers, so thankfully, I’ve never been characterized as a “bitch”.  That’s the double standard that drives me insane.  Even in the last year or so, I had a peer walk out of the room on me because he disagreed with my opinion.  Unprofessional and rude to say the least, but my advice to all the women in tech is to be firm.  Stand behind your convictions. And please, everyone, do not shut anyone down.  Stop, listen and learn.  Diversity of opinion does matter.

Always trying to fit in

Being one of the few female executives at many of the tech companies that I’ve worked for, I’ve tried to always fit in.  But there is a part of me that is tired of trying to fit in.   I will never be one of them.  I am uniquely different.  Thank goodness.   I could go on and on here about hanging out with the guys on the road, sports conversations, male oriented offsite and team building activities (skeet shooting and 4 wheeling), but I won’t.  I am proud that I am always true to myself and who I am.  I’ll participate when I can, but only if is something I’d like to be involved in.  My advice:  stay true to you.   And, yes, I did the skeet shooting and the 4 wheeling, it was fun!

So, how can we all improve the tech world to remove bias?  Let’s treat each other fairly, openly and honestly.  Let’s stop unconscious bias by training people to look for it.  Let’s treat each other with respect.  Remember the golden rule… treat others as you want to be treated.  That should go a long way to improving where we are.  It’s not about hiding our gender so we can get a foot in the door.  The door should be open for everyone.

“math is fun!”  A lesson learned.

“I was doing integrals during breaks this summer,” says my daughter, a rising junior at Santa Clara University.  This was an amazing statement considering that she only made it through Algebra 2 in high school and showed no desire to do anything in STEM once she reached college.  As an aside, she is very artistic and a creative.   She is also an avid learner that loves learning everything.  She had not picked a major when she entered college, but she continued to take math in college “just to get good at it.” Her counselors actually did not encourage her to do so, since she was likely to declare as a humanities major and they questioned her choice of loading up on too many credits and taking a “hard class” like calculus.  She asked me what I thought (thankfully), and I asked her if she loved math, and she said, “yes, math is fun!”  I told her to ignore the “advice” and continue to follow her dream of completing calculus in college.  82ee23c25aac891019b82d127f03512e She has since declared as a Communications Major with a Minor in Math and a Minor in Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies.  Wow, what a combo!  I’m not only super impressed with her ability to do all of this, but also to pursue her arts as hobbies, volunteer in the community, exercise, and smile through it all.  I guess the lesson here for every student and for every parent, and something I have watched and learned from all of my kids are:

  • Don’t assume anything
  • Don’t give up even when its hard
  • Follow your passions and love what you do
  • Be a life long learner
  • Question the status quo especially when you know what you want to do

I now (secretly) hope that she takes the computer science route in her math minor.  No matter what, though, I will be proud of whatever she does and whatever path she follows since she will be following her heart and dreams.

The 3 R’s of Marketing

It’s that time of year.  September. The last third of the year is in front of us. It’s Back to School and Back to Business.  But what about Back to Marketing?  This is a great time of year to kickoff new business initiatives and finish the year strong in anticipation of the new year.  This is especially true from a marketing standpoint.

At Back to School night we hear about the goals and objectives for the school year which invariably center around the traditional 3R’s …. reading, writing, arithmetic.   When students master all of these (and more), we consider them to be a well rounded, educated individual that can maximize their potential.

Similarly, every marketing organization at every company has to think through integrating the 3R’s of marketing for their biggest possible impact.  Today’s marketing is a blend of art and science, and there is definitely a business to marketing which the 3R’s of Back to Marketing comprise of: Reputation, Revenue, Results.

Reputation:  Provide Aircover!

The reputation and brand of a company can be considered one and the same.  Marketing’s role is to help shape and amplify the brand position and value both inside and outside of the company. But everything must begin with the message.  Content is definitely king and is the secret to success when used effectively for every marketing vehicle.  Understanding the importance of value based messaging by audience type will create the most compelling message to the market.  And today’s marketing organizations have a number of great tools and techniques that go way beyond old-school advertising to amplify the brand position and message in the market and build the companies’ reputation.  At a high level these include Thought Leadership platforms and initiatives, all communications vehicles, influencer programs, and every brand interaction whether it is physical (i.e. Events, briefing centers) or digital (i.e. company’s website, organic and inorganic, demand gen campaigns, social channels). By amplifying the brand message and position to the market across all touchpoints, the marketing team can provide aircover and help the company gain mindshare, which leads to gaining marketshare and more importantly, revenue.

Revenue:   Drive Demand for the Business!

Marketing must work directly with the customer facing teams in the company to drive demand for the business.  All demand generation activities must be done with an end goal of pipeline generated or touched, and if possible measure the impact on revenue.  The holy grail of every company is to turn interest into demand into closed sales opportunities.  It is important to have the alignment between the sales and marketing teams so that the goals can be agreed upon.  If, for example, a campaign is coming up short on the number of qualified leads or opportunities identified, the team must quickly understand this and make adjustments to the content, the program and message, audience and/or campaign mix. Finally, when demand generation activities are integrated with Reputation activities, that is when marketing is operating at peak performance.  Creating a small stand alone or one-off digital campaign, for example, without the necessary thought leadership and aircover, will likely not yield a lot of results.  Which takes us to the last “R” of marketing.

ResultsMeasure Everything!

Everything in marketing can and must be measured.  Clicks, impressions, marketing qualified leads, open rates, sentiment analysis, number of attendees, retweets, web rankings, etc are great indicators for a marketing scorecard.  But what about ROI? Almost all companies want to measure the ROI of marketing’s effectiveness, but not everything in marketing can be measured with a hard monetary amount.   This is where the science and analytics of marketing comes in.  For example, when a Q&A with the CEO is placed on a strategic online site, what is the ROI of that activity?  The measurement of this will not be ROI, but perhaps social pickup or traffic. There is a blend of hard monetary returns and other measurements that make up a scorecard which should give an indication of overall marketing effectiveness.  It is important to agree upon metrics and success factors prior to embarking on an activity so that there is no confusion about what is being measured and analyzed. If the results are not achieved, adjustments can be made and made quickly.  We always hear about “fail, and fail quickly” or “fail and move on”.  With today’s digital marketing we now have the ability to adjust quickly and more effectively.  When a program, initiative or campaign is done through an integrated approach with a combination of reputation and revenue activities, then results are likely to be achieved and the metrics will prove this.

All of the R’s seem fairly straightforward, but it isn’t enough to master one set or subset of activities, otherwise the full potential of marketing’s efforts will not be realized.  Integration and mastering Back to Marketing’s three R’s will yield the greatest impact for every company.

Milestones and Transitions.

Where to begin?  My family has passed through many major milestones in the last few months.  Starting with my son graduating from college and moving to South Africa to start his first real job, and one of my nieces also graduating college, and another niece getting married – and oh, by the way, all three of these events happened on the same day in May.  Other updates in the family include two daughters both getting their Masters Degrees on their way to their PhD’s, and we have been guiding two soon to be seniors – one in college and one in high school into important transition years.   It has been a whirlwind just keeping up.

I am also so proud of my husband, Joe Burton, who was just named as the next CEO of Plantronics.  He has worked hard throughout his life to achieve this major milestone. Congrats to my dearest husband, love of my life and best friend!

As for me…. about a month ago after a very successful Hadoop Summit and a year of major accomplishments at Hortonworks including new messaging, positioning and branding for the company, creating an integrated and digital approach to all of marketing and launching new ecosystem programs, I’ve decided to take some time off and go on a sabbatical.  Hortonworks is an awesome company that has a fantastic approach and technology for managing All Data plus the people are super smart, and the CEO had just recently commented and thanked me for “up leveling our marketing”.  Nonetheless, my plans are to spend time with family including my senior in high school.  I will also use this time to learn some new skills including taking a Board of Director course at Kellogg this Fall and get some much needed time to exercise, run a marathon, climb and ski mountains, volunteer for various organizations, network and mentor, and catch up on reading and writing.

What a great life!  I can’t wait to see how the future unfolds to the next set of milestones in the coming year.


Happy Birthday, Dad.

It was my father’s birthday last week.  He would have been 83 years old.  I visited him and told him how much I missed him and loved him, and when I left, I wished him a happy birthday.  It’s been 3 years since he passed away, and it never seems to get easier.

Version 2

It’s odd how the world and your view changes over the years.   When I was little, my father was larger than life.  He ruled the house and everyone in it.  He was someone I actually feared.  He was smart and he always let us know that he was smarter than everyone else, not only in the family but the world at large.  He yelled a lot.  He was not always nice.  But there were times when he was nice, and he did wonderful things for the family.  He was passionate about seeing the world, and took us around Europe, the East Coast, the Sierras and all of California.  He was a child of occupied Netherlands. I think that is where he got his fear.   A lot of fear.  He lived as if everyone outside of our home was the enemy.  I can’t even imagine what it was like to live as a child and young teen in Nazi occupied Amsterdam.  He never talked about it.  He never really wanted to hear about it.  His parents and he must have suffered.  His father, my grandfather, had four heart attacks and a stroke before he passed in his early 60’s.  His mother, my grandmother, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis immediately after the war, and was wheelchair bound when I met her as a child of 6 or so.  She passed in her early 60’s as well.  I think all of this gave my dad a fear of disease, death, life, and lack of control.

He was not always understanding.  He demanded that we obey him on everything.  But when he was nice and kind and treated us with respect, he was a good man as we became adults.  It was great to talk to him about finances, politics, business, people and the world.  He listened a lot more as he entered his retirement years.  He stopped fighting the world for the most part.  He was a good grandfather to my children.  He still would get uptight, but he tried to be a friend.  He was my friend for the last few years of his life.  He supported my decisions and listened to the difficulties I was having.  Although he never understood what I did for a living or what I had accomplished, he was insanely proud of me.  I thought his life would end more peacefully than he had lived it.  But that was not to be.

He suffered from aggressive Alzheimer’s in his last year of life.  The doctors at Stanford said they hadn’t seen anything like it.  He went downhill rapidly.  He got violent with everyone including my mother.  The caregivers at the home I eventually was able to place him in, said it was because he was so smart and that he was fighting the disease in his brain from within.  At the end, before he passed, he was kind to me.  He looked to me for his care.  We got along great.  We talked.  He listened.  His brain was weakening, and I tried everything to settle him down, but he finally was at peace with me, because he had to be.  I was at peace with him as well.  It was a fast, but sad ending to an amazing life.  He left Holland as a penniless young man and husband, became an American, and was successful in his career.  He lived a great life.  He left my mother well off.  He did well in this world.  I am proud of him and what he accomplished.  He had four successful children, and five amazing grandchildren.  His spirit, drive and zest for life live on in all of us.

Happy Birthday, Dad.  I miss you a lot and love you.

Women in Big Data

I’ve had an unbelievably amazing time since joining  Hortonworks.   One of the great things about a fast growth company, is that we are able to create new initiatives, try new approaches, and move the needle quickly.  We formed the women@hortonworks group late last summer after a few of us were asked to attend the inaugural Women in Big Data event.  There I was asked to give a talk about being a woman in technology and specifically in Big Data.  So as we began to plan our International Women’s Day (March 8th) and a week long of events at the company, I thought about sharing my talk more broadly in this blog.

What is Big Data?   I thought of all sorts of words to describe Big Data but also thought of the acronym – BD.  BD stands for Business Development.  BD stands for Big Data… but what else does BD stand for?  Why should Women be in BD?  It all came together in words that started with the letter B and words that started with the letter D.   B-words that sprang in my head included Big, Brilliant, Better, Beautiful, Build, etc.  D-words came in a jumble such as Data, Decisions, Digital, Delight, Discuss, Diversity, Driven, etc.

I spent a few days just thinking of B and D words and jotting them down on paper whenever I thought of a word.  Then I started seeing some really cool BD combinations emerge and thinking about how the B and D words actually told a story about Big Data, and related to Women in Big Data.  When I put my two lists together (B and D words), here’s what actually emerged in a random way:


Then I saw some really cool combinations and saw how these all related to each other.

Picture2Big Data is Beyond Dimensions.  We can’t even imagine how vast Big Data really is.   More data is being generated every split second of every day.   How can we harness this data?  We need more data scientists and bright minds to “see” beyond the dimensions of Big Data and into All Data.  Using Big Data to solve problems not solvable just a few years ago.  Everyone has a new opportunity to see beyond dimensions.


Big Data isn’t just a business challenge or opportunity; it is also an opportunity for developers.  It’s about Business and Developers. Together, business people and developers will be able to harness the value of Big Data and create unique insights for all of us – about our business, the market, our customers, their customers, and the world at large.

What do women bring to this equation of Big Data?   Because of the advancements in brain science and known differences in men anPicture4d women’s brains, all brains can work together to solve challenges and come together with solutions.  Women tend to think through problems differently than men, so let’s bring the power of all our unique brains together to solve challenges.  Think about people that have learning challenges such as dyslexia – they see the world in a completely different way.  There is sheer power in celebrating brain differences and harnessing the combined power.


Women need to be bold and participate in the dialogue about Big Data.  They also need to be bold and drive a dialogue about women in technology.  Women and men have a voice, and they need to be heard everywhere, not just at work, in the schools, in the community, everywhere.  Women in particular should take this opportunity and trend in Big Data to be decisive about their careers in Big Data.  Be decisive and bold about the answers they “see” in Big Data.   Make decisions, don’t hold back, be bold and make it happen.



Data is Beautiful.  Numbers are truth.  Big Data is about beautiful differentiation of the possibilities for a company, people and society.  We are learning so much from the data being generated.  Let’s celebrate the beauty and differentiation of the data.  See it for what it is.



I believe and dream of a world where we don’t have a discussion about Women in Big Data; that it is a given.  I dream of a world and believe this will happen where everyone has an opportunity in technology, in Big Data to make a difference in the world.  I believe and dream this for my daughters and sons, and everyone.


I love the word Brilliant.   It shines and sparkles, simply.  Brilliant diversity is key to all of our success as business people.  We need diverse opinions, viewpoints, decisions, because our end customer or consumer is more than likely one of us.  They are diverse.   Be as diverse as our customers and as brilliant as can be.


Do you see a combination of BD that speaks to you?  Big Data is another opportunity for all of us to change the ways of the past, to predict and lead to a better future, and to really leave a lasting legacy in this world.  Think through what this might mean for you, your daughters and sons, your business and our society.

Finally, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, I simply want to thank some of the  Brilliant, Decisive, Bold women of Hortonworks.