Level Up Leadership: Caroline Donahue

Listen to the podcast (FULL TRANSCRIPT):

Level Up is a monthly webinar open to anyone interested in improving their leadership skills. The series is designed to help you get to know the leaders of Experian and gain insight into the skills needed to grow your career.

You can subscribe to The Level Up Leadership podcast on iTunes, Google PlaySoundCloud and Spotify.

Most recently, we spoke with Caroline Donahue, a non-executive director on Experian’s board of directors, and former Chief Marketing and Sales Officer at Intuit.

Here are a few takeaways from our discussion with Caroline:

You don’t need to go into the field others expect you to.
Caroline was an English major in college, but broke out into the tech space and spent her entire career there. Even now in retirement, she serves on the board for companies like Experian and the Computer History Museum. You never have to feel tied down to one thing. As long as you have an eagerness to learn, a lot of different things are very possible.

Earn your respect.
Caroline learned very early on that titles mean nothing and that you have to earn your respect. No matter what your business card says or what corner office you have, the respect you have will be earned by becoming a great leader to your employees. Focus on cultivating a great culture for your team, listening to the needs of those around you, and engaging with your peers, and the respect will follow.

Establish a network.
This is straightforward enough, but Caroline recommends establishing a network that goes beyond your field, industry, function and level. Working with vastly different people is an underestimated power, and the network you create will help you learn more about the working world around you.

Don’t underestimate the value of “extra credit work.”
That “extra credit” as Caroline likes to call it is where you can make some of the best connections of your career. Caroline is involved in a wide variety of things that are important to her outside of day-to-day work. Here are some things you can get involved with at Experian:

  • Join any of our eight employee resource groups (ERG)
  • Participate in an Experian Club
  • Sign up for various volunteering activities

Always strive to be a learner.
Things are always moving very quickly, especially in fintech. It’s important that even amid the chaos, we remain learners above all. Connecting with others on a professional and personal level can open a lot of doors for learning things you otherwise wouldn’t have. You can never learn too much.

Try not to turn down a mentoring opportunity.
Of course there will be exceptions, but Caroline herself does her best to never turn down an opportunity to take on a mentee. In fact, she speaks with multiple mentees a week. Although you will be teaching your mentee a great deal, you’ll also learn a lot about what kind of leader you want to be. Again, we are first and foremost learners!

We were so happy to have the opportunity to chat with Caroline for Level Up.

Check out interviews with other Experian leaders.

Full Transcript

Mike: Hey everybody. Welcome to The Level Up Leadership podcast. My name is Mike Delgado.
Patty: My name is Patty Guevarra.
Mike: This podcast is designed to help you get to know the leaders here at Experian, and also gain insight into the leadership skills and traits needed to grow our careers.
Patty: In this podcast we’ll talk mentorship, career navigation, handling rejection, work/life balance, mental health, diversity and inclusion, and so much more.
Mike: A lot of our recordings are done through Webex so sometimes the audio quality is not perfect. We apologize. We’ll get better in time, but we hope you get a lot of information out of these shows, we certainly have. Enjoy the show.
Patty: Today, we’re talking to Caroline Donahue, a non-executive director on Experian’s board of directors, and former Chief Marketing and Sales Officer at Intuit.
Mike: Caroline first of all, I’m super excited to talk with you, because you’re an English major two, and it’s rare to find another English major in the tech space.
Caroline: You know, I’m a proud English major, and I tell people that all the time, because a lot of people think that you need to do STEM, or I need to major in E-Comm to go into business, and you don’t. Liberal Arts is a great foundation for business. Lots of people could do great at tech companies without a Computer Science degree.
Mike: So tell us about your transition, because I know when I was leaving school, I was thinking well I should probably go into advertising or some sort of comms role with my major. You took a different route. Could you talk a little bit about your… as you graduated where you were thinking about going next?
Caroline: So this is actually a funny story because it sort of happened by accident. But I did what a lot of English majors do, and I went into publishing. Which you probably considered also as an English major, right?
Mike: That’s right.
Caroline: And I moved to New York City, and I got a job with CBS Publishing, and the division that I worked in produced textbooks, and they stuck me as an Editorial Assistant in the software section. And the software group at CBS produced drill and practice software on five and a quarter inch floppy disks, believe it or not. This was in the 80’s, pretty funny. So my very first business trip was in early 1984 and I got to go to New Orleans to a show called Soft Con, and at the CBS booth, the executives were behind glass, and I was considered an executive at age 22 or whatever. And we actually had cigarette girls with a short skirt that would go out into the aisle and get the prospects to come into our booth, 1984.
Mike: This is 1984.
Caroline: And the Apple booth was all [inaudible 00:02:21], great young people in their ripped up denim, and wearing the [inaudible] Macintosh t-shirt. So I went to the keynote speech by Steve Jobs, and this is right after the Mac had been introduced. And I remember being the last person in the auditorium as they were closing up, because I felt like I had just seen my destiny. He ended it with the famous Orwell ad, which was one of the most famous ads of all time. The 1984 ad for the Macintosh. So I went back to New York and found the only Macintosh and Image Writer I could at Computer Land of Wall Street. And wrote a letter to Apple, I’ve seen my destiny and it’s to work for you. And I got hired.
Patty: That’s so cool.
Mike: So you went to the conference, you heard Steve Jobs, saw him in person, and were like this is where I need to go?
Caroline: Yes. It’s funny because I came from a family where both of my parents worked for IBM, and I thought that was the last route that I was going to go. I was the creative and the literary person, and here I was I’ll never forget calling my dad when I got my job at Apple Computer. So that was it. I worked at Apple, I ended up moving to the west coast with Apple. I followed Steve Jobs to NeXt, which was interesting. Then I worked at Intuit for 21 years.
Mike: Wow, wait so I thought it was interesting you said, you wrote a letter. This is back when we were faxing, right? We were faxing resumes, this is before e-mail. So when you contacted Apple for the very first time, you wrote a letter. How…
Caroline: And mailed it, I didn’t fax it.
Mike: You mailed it, right, you mailed it.
Caroline: Yeah snail mail.
Mike: What was that… did they call you back? What happened?
Caroline: I got a call from somebody in the New York office, and said come in and interview. What’s interesting is at that point in time, which again was early ’84 right after the Mac was introduced. Bill Campbell ran Sales and Marketing, and he turned out to be my mentor for the next 30 years. He had a philosophy, hire great people regardless of experience. Because they will really expand in the Sales and Marketing troupes in getting rid of these rep firms that they had. So I was timing wise, at the right place and the right time and I will never forget I went into my interview, and I interviewed with the Regional Manager, and he said on the spot I’m going to hire you, and I’m also going to introduce you to one of your best friends. And he did introduce me to one of my best friends to this day.
Mike: Wow.
Patty: [inaudible 00:05:29], this is an amazing story and I need to know more so. Did you write this letter in the hopes that you were going to be hired? Or were you just writing this letter to share your passion and your awe?
Caroline: Oh no, I wanted the job.
Patty: Oh okay.
Caroline: I wrote a letter, it’s my destiny to work for you. I need to work for you, yes.
Patty: What was in that letter?
Caroline: I wish I could…
Mike: This has got to be framed.
Caroline: Yeah pretty funny.
Patty: That’s amazing, so did you include your resume at all?
Caroline: Yeah, and my resume wasn’t much, it was a few months working at CBS. I think I’d been there a year. But I did include my resume and my proud English major ness from college, and got hired. And I got hired originally as a trainer, a sales trainer teaching dealers. Because it was a very retail centric business at that point in time. Teaching these dealer reps how to use the Mac and the Apple II. And then we had a big reorg and I ended up in sales. That began my long and storied sales career.
Patty: Okay, and how was pivoting from English to Sales?
Caroline: I will say in addition to being an English major, I was also a waitress for years and years, and I’m telling you that’s sales.
Mike: That’s right.
Caroline: You learn how to work with people, you learn how to work with customers, and the transition was not hard believe it or not. In fact as…
Mike: Oh go ahead Caroline.
Caroline: I was just going to say as a sales rep, I called on dealers, I got to drive all over New York, which is crazy, and the tri-state area. So I would go out to Long Island, and help them setup their merchandising for Christmas, and things like that. In fact after two years as a sales rep, I was promoted to District Manager, and I was the youngest District Manager ever at Apple.
Patty: Oh awesome.
Mike: Wow that’s really cool.
Caroline: Yeah it was fun.
Mike: So joining Apple in the early days, Apple broke so many rules, super innovative company, amazing leadership, top talent. Tell us about the culture joining Apple, and how that impacted you.
Caroline: You know I learned so much from Apple, and some of the first managers and leaders that I had there that I still carry with me. One of the biggest things was really being customer back and appreciating the customer. In this instance a customer was two tier, it was the retailers, the dealers and a lot of them were independent mom and pop shops. It was even before chain stores. The chain stores started while I was there. But it’s appreciating them and really appreciating the end users, and observing them with your product and making sure your product is really easy. And that sort of kept with me all these years, is sort of customer backed, the customer knows what’s right. And also this sort of focus on ease of use. Apple as you know was way ahead of its time and really focusing on UI and on ease of use and on beautiful design. It took the rest of the industry, in my opinion, a lot of years to catch up with that philosophy that is now embedded in tech. Which is it’s all about beautiful designs, easy to use, customer backed innovation, etc.
Caroline: So that was one thing, and also this is interesting, because Intuit was a consumer and small business company, and I got from Apple this love of consumers but also of small business. Because I got to see these mom and pop shops, and how they operated their business, and how hard it is to run a small business. So that was a big career movement for me also.
Mike: Caroline, being at Apple, being one of your very first jobs, and what a first job. This is your second job, but what a job to have so early in your career. Can you talk about the leadership that you saw exhibited there? Because often times as young leaders, you mimic the leadership that you see, especially the really, really good leadership. Can you talk about what you saw and things you were like, you know what? When I become a leader, I want to be like that.
Caroline: Well one of the most important lessons that I learned, was from my then Regional Manager Jim Saskill. When I got promoted to District Sales Manager, I had applied and I honestly didn’t think I was going to get the job, because something like 20 people applied, and I was 26 years old, or 25 years old, etc. I ended up getting the job, and he said to me, the first thing he said to me is Caroline, titles mean nothing. Earn your respect. And those three words, earn your respect, have stayed with me for years. Which is that no matter what it says on your business card, or what corner office you have, you have to earn it by being a great leader to your employees. That’s probably the biggest leadership lesson that I’ve had, is really earning respect, and really focusing on employees. Employees and customers.
Mike: What advice would you share for the young leaders here at Experian who are just getting started, and they’re hearing what you’re saying about earn the respect, and they’re like yeah that makes sense, how do I do that? Do you have any practical tips that people can do to begin earning respect from their peers? And also from other leaders in the organization?
Caroline: I’ll just touch on a couple things, one of which is really listening. Frequently we go into one on one user meetings, and everyone has left the things that they need to knock off. It’s like the checklist, because we’re all in execution mode. Especially in sales, well probably especially in everything. There’s a lot of focus on execution. But if you really listen, and you really focus on what employees are telling you, a lot of times the employees have the answers. And I really throughout my career spent a lot of time listening to employees, and trying to figure out how to make it better. I’ve also been a huge believer for any level of leader is employee engagement. That’s for managing teams, quite frankly. In that I really believe that highly engaged employees produce better results for customers and shareholders. We get these surveys every year, and really paying attention to what those surveys are telling you is important. Because you can really improve things by making it… you can improve your business by making it better for your employees.
Caroline: So those are a couple things. The other thing that I would say is establish networks, and networks don’t need to be formal. But for me, one of the maybe not as appreciated things in business is the ability to work across. I think working across is working with different people in different functions and different levels throughout organizations, is sometimes underestimated. The ability to really understand what are the different groups that you have to work with, and the issues they’re dealing with is important. It’s important for decision making, and it’s important for progress. So that’s something that I think is really important, is developing networks and taking time to talk to… is that my? Sorry. And taking time to address issues with various networks that you have.
Mike: I love too that you mentioned during the interviewing process at Apple, how the person was like I hired you on the spot, and by the way I’m going to introduce you to someone who’s really going to help you, and maybe even be your best friend. What a great way to kind of nurture a leader is those introductions.
Caroline: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m really big on… I’m sort of a joiner. So to the extent Experian and other companies have formal networks, like the Women’s Network, Pride Network, other networks that you have. The ability to get involved in things like CSR. Some of those extra credit things are where you can make some of your best connections for your future. So I’m also really big on volunteering for things, joining networks, creating your own networks. Just creating a group of people that you’ll always have through your career.
Patty: Yeah, speaking of those networks, I know you are very involved in what you call extra credit opportunities. Can you talk more about your involvement with the Women’s Professional Networking and Mentoring group that you do? C100, can you speak more about why you’re interested in those kinds of initiatives and why it’s important to you?
Caroline: You know I really again believe that we all need to be learners. Especially in technology with how quickly things are moving and changing. So I think the mindset, and my boss at Intuit was very big on this, Brad Smith. Very big on just being a constant learner, and having a mindset of learning and learning from others. And connecting with others on both a personal and a professional basis. C100 is a group at Northwestern where we mentor women, but we also learn from each other. And I’ve made some fabulous connections from my group that I’ve been able to use in other parts of my life. After this call I’m going to a Women on Boards meeting for two hours that I’ve joined in New York. And I’m really excited about this group, we have a [inaudible] today on women’s voice in the boardroom. So I’m really excited about it. And I love, I’m in the CMO group here in the New York, and we do things monthly. Everything from just talk about what’s going on in marketing technology, to next month we’re actually going to a aerobics class together in dance, and then dinner.
Caroline: So I started a book group, I have a lot of groups, and I consider them an area to learn and connect with people. Connections really do make the world go round.
Patty: Great.
Mike: I love that you start groups and I think that’s a big thing, I think sometimes people feel like oh I want to be part of a group, but I’ve never been invited. And I like how you’re like I’m just going to start a group. I’m just going to get people together.
Caroline: When I moved to New York in April I started a book group, and our first meeting it was me and my friend. Then our last meeting we actually had 6 women. I’m excited that the next one will have even more. Sometimes you have to start small.
Mike: What do you think, Caroline, what do you think made you be who you are? I’m curious about your drive, your passion, your willingness to just start groups, launch things, be so active in networking. I’m kind of curious what kind of drives you.
Caroline: I think we all go back to how we grew up, and this is kind of funny. I grew up in a jockey family as a non-jock. So my siblings are all really good athletes. And I consider yoga the only sport I’m good at. So I ended up reading books. I was really… back to the English major when I grew up. I was a big book reader. And my mother really fostered that and was a huge supporter, because she wasn’t a jock either. Just my dad and siblings. So I guess it comes from your parents and your upbringing, and I also started waitressing earlier. And that definitely had an impact on me. But I don’t know.
Mike: So…
Caroline: I will say this, my dad was in sales forever. And he was in sales at IBM and then Honeywell, and he was in sales management for a long time. And I’m the only one in my family that ended up sort of in the commercial sales and marketing part of the business. So that’s funny.
Mike: When I was reading your bio what I through was real interesting was that you had obviously moved Apple, very passionate, very excited, being at this amazing innovative company back in the early days. Steve Jobs leading the reins, and then Steve leaves to go to NeXt Computer, or founds NeXt Computer I should say. Then you went along with Steve. Could you talk about… because you’re at Apple, you could have stayed there and continued to grow your career. But you’re like no, Steve’s going to NeXt Computer, he’s going to found this, I want to go over there too.
Caroline: So yes, so that’s the interesting, it’s an interesting story. I had met Steve… and Apple still had several thousand employees in those days, it was smaller certainly than it is now but it was a big company. So I had met him but I didn’t really know him, and one day my phone rang at Apple, and the person on the other end of the phone said this is Steve Jobs and I want to talk to you about coming to work for us. And I didn’t even really believe it was him, and then he said Bill Campbell told me to call you. Of course Bill Campbell was again my mentor for a million years, and the one who used to do Sales and Marketing at Apple. I think at that point Bill was at Claris. Anyhow, my ears perked up because then I knew this really is Steve Jobs, and I’ll never forget climbing up, I was at Apple Regional Office in Southern California, in Newport Beach at that time. I flew up to Irving, California, and I met Steve at the NeXt office at [inaudible 00:21:17].
Caroline: I wish I had taken better notes about what we had talked about, because I really don’t remember. All that I remember is that we ate lentils, like three courses of lentils. If you’ve ever read anything about Steve, he has a lot of these sort of cooky diets over the years but this was the lentil phase. At any rate, I got the offer to come in and start up the dealer network actually for them. [inaudible] and Dealers. I took the job, Steve isn’t the best manager in the world. I think that’s sort of been well recorded, however I told Bill after Steve died I’d work for him again in a second. Because he really is this visionary, innovative leader that is just rare in this world. I actually learned so much by going to NeXt. Unfortunately the company wasn’t successful in it’s current incarnation as a hardware company. But it became a software company, and when it was sold back to Apple, which is a wild story, it was NeXt Software that created OS X, which was revolutionary in the history of the growth of the Macintosh. So the story really comes full circle with Steve selling that company back and using the NeXt technology there.
Mike: Wow, I thought it was interesting too because you mentioned Bill Campbell several times. Obviously that mentorship and that relationship you’ve had with him as he’s helped nurture your career, made a huge impact. Especially as you moved from Apple over to NeXt Computer. Can you talk about how important mentors have been in your life and now you being a mentor to others?
Caroline: Yes, and let me just say Bill was then the CEO and later Chairman of Intuit. This job was also Bill. So talk about the importance of mentors in life, he changed my life. The funny thing about Bill is a book was just published about him by Eric Schmidt who is the old CEO of Google. Bill had probably hundreds of me, he mentored so many people in the valley. The famous ones are the Google guy, the Twitter guy and of course Steve, who was his best friend and he was on the Apple board. But there were many others not famous like myself, who Bill mentored as one individual literally thousands of people that he affected. So I think part of my strong belief in mentorship was clearly influenced by him as a mentor. And how he would be able to give himself to so many people. The amazing thing about Bill is he was loving and caring and empathetic, but he was also very direct. He would tell you what your strengths and weaknesses were, what you needed to work on, he would give you the real feedback in a really empathetic way. So that was a huge learning for me.
Caroline: I try to never turn down a mentor opportunity, or an ask. I probably do a couple a week, it doesn’t need to be sitting with an agenda that’s 90 pages long. Sometimes people that used to work with me at my old company call me and say hey, I want to pick your brain on something. About my career or about a specific issue. I think those are really important to both paying it forward, but also being a good leader.
Mike: Yeah.
Patty: Caroline, you’re actually our first board member here on Level Up, and I would like you to explain to our listeners who may not know as well what a board member actually is. What you do and how you got to the point in your life where you were like I want to be a board member?
Caroline: [inaudible] board is a really special board, and has created a high bar for me when I talk to other companies about joining the board, because Don and the people before him just have created a really powerful board culture. One of the things we do at a lot of our meetings, not every meeting, but we meet six times a year. And we have frequently two dinners, one with the management staff, and we’ve really gotten to know a lot of the senior management which is great, and in different geographies around the world which is so fun. But we also have one that’s just the board. Through that we’ve really established great relationships, so that I feel like we could solve anything together. Given the strength of the culture that Don and Brian have really created. So when we found out Don was leaving, I think everybody was shocked. But at the same time, good for him, to be an American and run the London Stock Exchange, it was such a great thing for him. He’s also a total learner. He’s constantly looking at ways to learn and grow and I just couldn’t have more respect for an individual. He led that board so beautifully, winning the support management, having the support management, also making sure the board had input and was asking good questions in the meetings.
Caroline: I think we were surprised, happy for him. We went through a pretty extensive process with an outside firm to look for a new chair. It turned out that the right person for the job was sitting right under our table, Mike Rogers. He is a fabulous person. I got to do part of my induction with him, we went to Nottingham on a rainy day together. And we got to listen to calls [inaudible] there. I will tell you, Mike is awesome. He’s going to take what Don did and I’m sure he’ll come up with ways to take it to the next level to do and we have a great partnership with the management team. As sad as we are about Don, we’re excited for him and I’m really excited about Mike. Because I think he’s going to bring a lot of new perspective and experience to that role.
Mike: Caroline you spent, is it 21 years at Intuit, and I’m just curious about what kept you at Intuit so long, and also I’m kind of curious about your leadership journey there.
Caroline: You know it’s funny, because the 21 years went by so fast. Of course there’s ups and downs, but mostly ups. I love Intuit. I still do, I still call it us when I talk about the company. Even though it’s now been three years that I’ve left, because it’s a really special place. Like Experian, there’s a huge focus on culture. And I’m a culture person, and so that really spoke to me. In fact when I did join the board of Experian, after talking to Don and then talking to Alex and some other people I realized wow, this is the right company for me because they do believe in people, and culture and have really good values and high integrity as a company. That was Intuit, and that’s what kept me there all those years. It wasn’t just the job, it was the values and the culture. But I also had great leaders there. Intuit again like Experian is very focused on leadership, and employee engagement, and I had great leaders who took bets on me, and gave me a lot of segments to do. I started off as Director of Sales, and was promoted to VP of Sales and Marketing, I headed all of Marketing. Then I was promoted to SVP and I took the CMO role on, when I left I was running all of our global offices and our global operations which was really fun, opening new offices, doing acquisitions in various countries.
Caroline: So it just kept expanding, I had Corporate Communications under me. I had a lot of different groups that I picked up over the years and expanded my portfolio of my own learning, and I just loved it. We had great products, and still do today. We have really, really good brands that customers love. Just like at Apple, selling products, marketing great products, it’s fun.
Mike: I want to ask you about some of the transitions. Because as you’re at Intuit you’re developing your career, you’ve been moving up into these different management positions. I have to imagine with your network, you’re getting offers for other jobs. I’m kind of curious about those moments whether you were kind of questioning whether I should continue on this route where I’m at, or do I move over to this other company and do something entirely new. I’m just kind of curious about how you dealt those situations.
Caroline: You know what it’s funny, because I remember in the year 2000 everyone left. Not everyone, but a lot of people left to join, it was the .com craze. There was eStamps, and E this and Web Van, all of this, it was everywhere. Everyone left, I just loved my job. I loved my leadership, and I was constantly being given new opportunities. So yes, Intuit people are well recruited, and a lot of people don’t leave, and it’s for those reasons. It’s a good company, with great products, great customers and excellent management.
Mike: Was there a job opportunity that you had at Intuit that you would say really changed the course of where you ended up?
Caroline: This is interesting, because this is less of a job opportunity and more of a network. But I was chair of the diversity council at Intuit for five years, and the diversity council was a collection of leaders focusing on diversity and inclusion in the workplace. So we created the first, I’ll never forget we had our women’s network launch. We ended up with 12 networks, just like Experian, I think Experian called employer resource groups, we called them employee networks. We also did training and we did pipeline reviews for hiring and promotions to make sure there was balance and other types of diversity. Running the diversity council, with a bunch of leaders throughout the company, was probably one of the best experiences I ever had. As far as not just learning and contributing, but working on sometimes [inaudible] issues, with a bunch of other cross-functional leaders who I might not have worked with that closely, and I’m still close with those people today.
Patty: Caroline, your career has been very fulfilling and I feel like you’ve had so many different leadership positions, and you’ve gotten the opportunity to try a lot of different things. How did you know that you were ready to be done? How did you know when it was time to retire?
Caroline: It was just a feeling. I just felt like it was my time. I can’t explain what the exact moment was, but it was just a feeling I had. You know what? I’m done. I did have a thought that I wanted to leave at a total high, I knew that. I knew I wanted to leave with the best results and the best performance and the best time of my life.
Patty: Right, leave on a good note.
Caroline: My last couple year there were a blast. I hate to say they were my funnest because I know there was others, but I really learned and grew a ton my last year, and I loved running the global offices, and traveling around the world, and meeting with teams and starting new teams. I just loved it. But I felt like okay, this is the high that I’m going to leave on. I actually gave 12 months notice, it turned into a little over 13 months by the time I left. But it wasn’t a hasty departure, it was pretty well planned.
Patty: I feel like our episode with you can have one central theme, and that’s something you already stated before, and that’s connections make the world go around. I feel like a lot of the opportunities that came by were through networking and just connecting with other people that you knew in the past. Do you have maybe your top three networking tips to share with us?
Caroline: I would say number one is do things that you enjoy. You shouldn’t network just to network. You have to enjoy it and enjoy telling your story and hearing other peoples stories. Because it’s not just a a professional development task, it’s actually very personal. I believe in stories is the other thing that makes the world go around. Telling your story, really hearing other peoples stories is what networking is all about. Do what you like, I started a book club, I was an English major right? So really focusing on things that speak to you, not things you feel like you should do, but things that you enjoy doing. Companies like Experian and Intuit, there’s the Ultimate Frisbee thing. Not my thing, but lots of ways to connect with people through real meaningful things in your life. I also think finding people that not only you hear their stories but you tell your story and also ask for advice. And I have many friends, and some of whom are ex-peers at Intuit who I could call up and say “Hey, could you help me think this through?” That’s also very important I think.
Patty: I think one thing that you mentioned that caught my attention was that we should remember that networking is not just a professional development tool, it’s something that’s really personal. How do you personally connect with someone on that level and kind of break through that professional barrier?
Caroline: I think it is through telling stories and sharing, and asking the right questions. For instance, something I’ll say and this is going to sound a bit like Chauncey the Gardner and being there, being present is also important, showing up. Sometimes we have a tendency to just get so busy that we don’t make time for things. Even this afternoon, I’m going to this woman on board session for two and a half hours, I’m traveling to Europe tomorrow, I have a lot going on. But you know what? I’m going to show up, and the chair of this group has asked me three times and there’s no way I’m not going. I think once you make a commitment to something you really need to, we’re all juggling a lot, but make time for things, and do them. I do a lot of even now, with all the boards and things I’m on, I still do a lot of coffee to meet people and get to know them. Some of the Women on Boards group, I’ve met two or three of them individually just because you’re [inaudible 00:38:25]. That’s been hugely valuable, and interesting.
Mike: Caroline, when I look at your LinkedIn profile, I see so many of your successes, all of these amazing accomplishments, and I’m kind of curious as you’ve progressed in your career, now on boards, I’m curious about some of the things that you had to work on along the way. Some of those leadership skills that maybe weren’t comfortable for you, were hard to you, but you stuck with it and you mastered that skill. And I was wondering if you could maybe share a story, or maybe share one or two skills that you worked on personally that made you a better leader.
Caroline: Yeah I can share a couple. The first one you guys are probably going to crack up, and so are the other board members with Experian. When I first reported to the CEO at Intuit, I had been there for a few years, but it was in the year 2000. So I’m definitely a little bit younger and less seasoned than the other CEO direct reports. But when I first got that role, I’m reporting to him, the first year, maybe over a year, I wouldn’t say a word during the staff meeting. I was so sort of intimidated and afraid that I would say the wrong thing, that unless somebody called on me directly, I didn’t say anything. So our CIO at that point, took me out to lunch and he said Caroline, you have to have courage. A lot of us don’t know if we’re saying the wrong thing, but you have to have courage, you have a lot to say. You have good input and you need to speak up. That was a very simple lesson, and most people wouldn’t believe it, because I’m certainly not shy. But I was intimidated and it got to me. So having the courage to speak up and put stuff out there, we’re not always right. A lot of people aren’t, but your job is to contribute and to participate in the dialogue to make things better.
Caroline: So that’s one, the second one was early on in my career, and this goes back to when I was just a Sales Manager at Apple. Again I was 26 years old, and I was terrified to give people negative feedback. I only wanted to give positive, and they were all older than me and in their 40’s and whatever, and I didn’t want to tell them anything bad. I only wanted to tell them the good stuff. Feedback is really, really important and continuous feedback. It ended up being one of my better skills is to be able to give very balanced feedback, negative and positive. But early on, I wanted everyone to like me, and I didn’t want to do it. So learning that from coaching from others and watching my boss do it, was I think the big thing.
Mike: Yeah, I like that you mentioned courage, because I think that’s something that a lot of us struggle with. You’re in a big meeting, different leaders are there and there’s hesitation, your heart’s pounding, I need to say something. I’m looking for the right time to say it, and what if I don’t say it right, and what if people think I’m crazy. I’m kind of curious about what you did. So you got the advice from somebody you respect to say “Hey Caroline, you should really speak up in these meetings.” You got that feedback and are like oh great, I know I should but it’s really, really hard. I’m kind of curious about how you worked on that skill. What you practically did to go okay, next time I’m in a meeting I’m going to do X.
Caroline: You know, I think this is one of those practice, practice, practice, learn by doing. You just have to put it out there. I also worked again for people that were so good at positive reinforcement. So I’ve learned to do that to others too. When you know there’s people that you know aren’t speaking up and could. To be able to say hey that’s a really good point, [inaudible 00:42:59], could you expand on that? Or I really, really like that. So calling as a leader, calling people out that you know are thinking of something but they’re not the loudest voice in the room and they’re not going to jump into the conversation. Saying something like “Hey Michael, what do you think about this?” So I just think I worked with good people and I practiced a lot.
Mike: I like that. There’s a really good discussion right now happening on LinkedIn and it’s around imposter syndrome, and LinkedIn editors were interviewing the gender editor at New York Times, and she was saying that when this new role of Gender Editor came up, she worked really, really hard for six months to get this job, to prove this case of why she deserved to be Gender Editor. Then after six months of trying to get it, they finally offered it to her, and immediately Imposter Syndrome crept in, and she’s like oh my gosh, what am I doing? I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t deserve this. I’m kind of curious, as you have moved along in your career, moving into leadership roles, becoming Chief Marketing Officer, and doing things that you had never done before. I’m kind of curious if you ever struggled with Imposter Syndrome?
Caroline: Of course, I think everybody does a little bit. Like can I really do this? I’ll never forget when I took over a whole Accountant operation which is the big Intuit group that Intuit works with their small business. I can’t do this, Jill was so amazing, and she had left the company, and you really do have your doubts. But you’re given the opportunity for a reason, and people expect people to learn on the job. We’re all learning on the job. That’s for the networks, spending a lot of time with your networks, and being a good listener and listening to customers and employees. Again, they’ll tell you the answers.
Mike: That’s right, I like that. I was talking to one of our leaders of our Data Labs in the UK, and he was saying what you just said about learning, that’s part of the process. He said that’s exactly what we expect of our computers, machine learning, they’re learning how to do things. We’re the same way. Very good.
Caroline: Exactly.
Mike: So Caroline, any last thoughts, advice for young leaders at Experian to help them be encouraged to continue to improve their skills, and to grow their networks here at Experian?
Caroline: You know the last thing I’ll say is… because we already talked about having courage and using networks. But trying to do new things and volunteering to do new things. Some people say take the job that nobody else wants, I don’t know if I’d go that far. Signing up for assignments and trying to be involved in things that are a little outside of your comfort zone will help you be better in the long term. For me, I’ve always been in Sales and Marketing, so I’ll [inaudible] at a lot of jobs, I was never on the product side, or in HR and some of these other disciplines. So to do things like running a small product group for mobile, which I did. Or doing the diversity council work, partnering with my HR partners. You really do learn and you expand and you become better.
Mike: That was really good.
Patty: That was really good yeah. Thank you so much for being our first board member.
Mike: Awesome.
Caroline: Thanks guys, I had a blast doing it.

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