Leadership

M.R. Asks 3 Questions: Jennifer Tejada, CEO, PagerDuty

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You can take the executive out of Procter & Gamble but you can’t take the P&G out of the executive.

Jennifer Tejada has worked in the technology industry for more than 25 years, yet her career’s early foundation in the consumer packaged goods world significantly shaped her achievements in software.  First leading Keynote Systems to acquisition in 2015 and now CEO of Digital Operations Management platform, PagerDuty, Tejada was recognized a gold winner in the 2017 CEO World Awards for her relentless focus on customer success. 

I spoke with Tejada about what tech companies still need to do to better serve their customers, what it’s like as a second-time software CEO, and what she’d tell girls who want to grow up to be a CEO.

M.R.: Why are technology companies still making “Marketing 101” mistakes in areas conquered by consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies in the 1950s? And vice versa: What can CPG companies learn from savvy tech marketers? 

Jennifer Tejada:  I’ve seen a mix of successful strategies from both the CPG and technology industries – it’s not that one or the other is superior. But there’s no doubt that my time at P&G hammered some foundational truisms into my head.

In the CPG world, we spend a lot of time understanding our customers’ hierarchy of needs. We research what a day in their lives looks like: How do they work? Live? Play? What problems do they face and what opportunities do we have to solve them? And what priorities do they use to evaluate purchases? 

Based on finding out more about their lives, what they care about and what they’re trying to accomplish, we try to understand their unarticulated needs and how we can become a partner in reaching that dream.

There is a tendency in the engineering-driven technology industry to focus more on the product than the problems of the end-users we aim to solve. Here is where we tech companies have a lot to learn from CPG companies in terms of better understanding how our customers are engaging with our products, brands. We need to figure out the ecosystem our customer lives in and how we can be a value-add in that system. There’s no point in building a massive Swiss Army knife that doesn’t fit in anyone’s pocket.

On the other hand, CPG companies can learn much from tech companies’ innovation processes and their willingness to fail along the way. You don’t always have to wait until all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed to get a product in the hand of the consumer.

I’ve built a career on not letting “perfect spoil good.” Bringing customers along on the developmental journey results in a more enlightened product offering and more empathy on both sides: Clients are more likely to cut you some slack when things aren’t perfect if they are involved in the process versus leaving them in the dark and doing a “big reveal” with your product – it is hard for companies to nail that.

Our enterprise customers and users are human beings just like you and I – and they make choices every day. They choose what to eat, how to spend their time, which apps to engage with at work and in their personal lives. If a technology isn’t easy to use or doesn’t get the job done, it isn’t good enough for the enterprise.

Tech firms used to develop products for companies, not for people. Today, I expect all my business applications to work as well and as easily as my Lyft application. I don’t use separate criteria to evaluate the effectiveness of consumer apps and business apps. My hierarchy of needs for each one is different but how I approach using them and evaluating their effectiveness is exactly the same. The web is littered with abandoned shopping carts with my name on them because the site did not make the shopping and transaction experience easy enough.

My technology-marketing role has always been “Director of Dumb it Down.” I can take deeply technical business algorithms that might take three engineers and an understanding of machine language to explain and translate it into a business solution that is meaningful to a layperson. I need to be able to explain my solution to my mother in order for it to resonate with potential customers.

M.R.:  This is your second technology CEO position after leading Keynote Systems to exit in 2015. What is easier/harder the second time around? 

Jennifer: I was well prepared for my first CEO position. I had held the no. 2 position to a software CEO and had run multiple functions in vertical industries around the world. You quickly recognize patterns of challenge and opportunity that recur when you are trying to build a business. For example, listening well to shareholders and striving for community are incredibly important. I also believe in the courage of my convictions in terms of our corporate vision and what we want to build for our customers.

The truth is CEOs cannot simply “lead” if they want to do a good job. We have to run, swim, shoot, hide, and exercise a variety of physical and intellectual muscles. The best CEOs have a combination of leadership skills, operational acuity, executional ability, and empathy for the customers, employees, and investors they serve. If that’s what it takes, then I’m more than ready.

At the same time, I want to focus on two additional items, in particular, to ensure I do an even better job the second time around. 

I want to be better at admitting I don’t have all the answers. I am reaching out more often to fellow CEOs – in software, technology and other industries – to seek counsel on challenging issues. Being a CEO can be a lonely, stressful job but by building a support group of peers and former mentors, I will be a better leader.

I also want to bring in more non-Silicon-Valley perspective. I am from a big Midwest family. My dad was an immigrant and we had a solid middle-class upbringing. I spent a big chunk of my career outside The Valley so when I got to California, I was blown away by the innovation, investment, operational skills, and talent pool. 

But the fabulous stuff in the Silicon Valley is only noise relative to the hard work and heavy lifting that will create a company and a legacy and will last beyond my lifetime. Sometimes this perspective is hard to see unless you make a point of spending time in other areas. For example, why are we talking about an “exit” if we are trying to create a company that will be around a long time? If you only focus on the end outcome and not the journey, you’re not going to get there.

M.R.: Would you advise a young girl to aim to grow up and become a tech CEO? 

Jennifer: Absolutely. I love my job. I love the tempo of this innovative culture. I love being surrounded by people smarter than I am. I love that we can completely change a paradigm with our products – that’s possible in only a few industries.

But do people act nicely to me and bring me lollipops every day? No. Being a CEO is a tough job – for a woman or a man. 

The perfect CEO candidate wants to learn and be challenged. She or he wants every day to be different. CEOs have to be good problem solvers and not afraid to be wrong sometimes.

In our society, girls are raised to try to be perfect – in their schoolwork, home lives, careers, athleticism, beauty – in every way! But good CEOs are aware that they don’t have it all figured out. And women are more likely to have to balance the feeling of being an imposter with their confidence and self-belief that they have the experience to do the job and drive their company forward.

That’s why I’m more demanding than ever about increasing diversity in the technology workforce. Our industry has solved much more difficult problems in the past. We need to create a positive environment where all people can have the opportunity to gain experience and be successful. In my career, I owned a P&L, restructured companies, ran development teams, and held a variety of other positions of influence and responsibility that prepared me to step into top leadership roles.

Going forward, I plan to be more intentional and articulate about why I believe increasing diversity is critical, how strongly I believe it, and why it is important for the industry and our business. I plan to be obnoxiously demanding and clear about what I expect from our executives in terms of expanding and creating equal opportunities at PagerDuty.

In doing so, I hope to make it a bit easier for a next-generation “girl” to step up and fill my shoes.

 

M.R. Rangaswami is the co-founder of Sand Hill Group and publisher of SandHill.com.

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