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Spotlight on Athena CEO Champions: Zack Rosen of Pantheon

By | CEO Champion Spotlight | No Comments

zach rosen pantheon athena ceo championZack Rosen is visionary. As CEO of Pantheon, Zack envisions a world where developers can create amazing websites, fast, with effortless iteration and powerful collaboration tools. Pantheon makes it happen through a cloud-based website development platform that automates much of the backend nitty-gritty work that developers endure to build beautiful websites. Zack is a pioneer within the development industry, so it seems fitting that he’s a CEO Champion in ours.

He created the first large-scale Drupal website for the Howard Dean campaign in 2003, co-founded the world’s first Drupal development shop, CivicSpace, and then went on to co-founded another, Chapter Three. If that’s not enough, he also co-founded Mission Bicycle. As for Pantheon, what started out as a pressing personal need for a solution has evolved into a company of more than 100 team members.

Since partnering with Athena, Pantheon has secured Amy Vetter as an advisor. She’s a veteran expert in areas such as customer relationships and experience, growth and scalability, and entrepreneurship, who was most recently chief relationship officer for Xerox Americas. Read on to see what Zack has to say about his goals for growing his network, and the experience he’s had with Athena so far.


What sparked your interest in Athena?

Board searches are very difficult and incredibly important. Athena Alliance offers a valuable service for a challenge that is very top of mind for me and our company.


What’s the greatest competitive advantage gained from having a diverse board?

Research has shown over and over again that diverse teams outperform. This should not be a surprise. Teams that can look at hard problems from all angles will find creative solutions that homogenous teams would never see. It’s that simple.


How does a diverse board impact a company’s future success?

The performance of a board as a team will have an outsized impact on a company’s path to success.

Boards serve an incredibly important function for companies. They help an executive team plan and operate at a higher strategic level, in quarters and years versus weeks and months. They also weigh in on the most critical decisions a company will make. Before you add someone to your board, you must ask, “Is this the person I most want around the table when we must make the most vital decisions?”


You work with Amy Vetter as an advisor, who you met through Athena. How is that going so far?

Amy has the kind of experience we literally couldn’t find anywhere else. We spent years looking. We are so excited to learn from her and have her advise myself and our executives on our go-to-market programs and strategy.


What do you feel is the great barrier to scaling a startup?

The biggest constraint on scaling startups lies in access to leadership talent. Athena Alliance has built an incredibly valuable network of female executives you cannot find anywhere else. We hope to recruit an incredibly talented diverse board member via Athena Alliance’s network.


What’s your take on the Athena network and the connections you’ve made through this relationship so far?

The panel events are very insightful, filled with a lot of touching stories. I got a lot of practical advice from attending. The Athena community is incredible. I’ve made invaluable connections: two advisors and one potential customer, which I did not expect! I go to four to six industry events a year. The bar is just really high. Athena Alliance attracts a very impressive cross-section of executives across many domains: CEOs, board members, functional leaders. Everyone I met was a rare talent.


Smart Boards Practice Before IPO

By | Building the Modern Boardroom | No Comments

by Coco Brown, Founder & CEO of Athena Alliance

IPOs around the world skyrocketed in 2017—there were 1,624 and more than $188 billion raised. Not only was it a banner year for IPOs (the biggest since 2007), it was a nearly 50 percent increase in the number of deals since 2016.

Achieving IPO marks an incredible achievement for any organization. The path to get there tends to disrupt company operations as executives and boards of directors scrutinize the business from numerous angles. While many areas of a business experience transformation pre-IPO, what about the board of directors? IPO brings about many changes, including the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) reporting, a public view of the executive team, and additional financial and accounting responsibilities. IPO also means a sea of modern responsibilities and challenges—ones that boards of decades past did not deal with, such as the need for modern social media strategies, navigating with a demanding workforce, and massive cybersecurity challenges

To tackle these new challenges, smart boards must prepare—and practice—early. Getting to IPO typically takes many months, but private companies that know IPO is in their future can and should begin preparing as early as a few years in advance. Another way of thinking about this is guiding your company to a higher standard of operations. It makes a lot of sense to operate and act as an IPO-ready organization, even if you aren’t ready to make the move just yet.


Today’s public companies face modern challenges

Achieving IPO may not be a modern concept, but the world in which a newly public company operates is hardly anything like it was just a decade or two ago. It moves faster, it’s tech-powered and global. As companies prepare for IPO, they need to not only hit the regulatory requirements and button up their financial affairs, but their boards must also be prepared for an onslaught of contemporary issues. Here is an outline of the top issues facing boards as they consider an IPO:


Financial and reporting overhaul: Getting your financial and reporting resources in order is a top challenge for IPOs, a consistent challenge. Pre-IPO is not the time to run lean in the area of finance. Staff up, and make sure you’re confident that you have the right team in place to carry you through this transition. Boards must evaluate the chief financial officer as the leader of the entire IPO process, a critical member of the organization during this time of transition and preparation. Ask yourselves: does your CFO have public company experience? Can they communicate effectively with both the board and investors? A controller and possibly an SEC reporting expert will also be leading roles as reporting timelines and standards become a top priority.

If your CFO doesn’t have IPO experience, see if a financial expert on your current board does. This board member can help stand up the board audit committee and help you evaluate your financial reporting systems, track the right metrics, choose an investment banking partner and organize your roadshow strategy, among many other duties.

Even before you’re official, act like a public company by running through reporting deadlines and processes with your internal finance teams to ensure everything is in order. Practice may include mock quarterly conference calls and running through regulatory compliance aspects such as Sarbanes-Oxley. You may want to practice undergoing an audit as if you were a public company and having your work checked, and rechecked.


Document company policies: Many private companies operate without a set of standard policies and procedures; it’s just the way things have always been done and perhaps it works for them. But public companies are held to a greater scrutiny. You can’t just “get by” – you must have policies documented, such as codes of conduct, communications, social media guidelines, whistleblower protection, and so forth. There’s no reason to wait to tackle these policies; not only can you get ahead by starting early, but you can build up a lengthy ramp-up period to ingrain these policies into company culture and make them a thoughtful part of operations.

A crucial policy for public companies: the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which affects everything from audit committees to financial reporting and disclosure requirements. This act will require your organization to meet a variety of internal controls. As you prepare for the public market, it is essential that you must practice these policies first.


Prepare for crisis management: According to Harvard Law School, 65% of CEOs said their companies went through a crisis in the last three years, and 73% of CEOs expect a crisis in the near future. For any company, it’s best to take a proactive approach to crisis management, and this is especially crucial for public companies. Image is everything. Communication with the public and your shareholders goes from a “nice to have” to something that can break your company – or take it to the next level. Have a proactive, polished plan in place for crisis management of all kinds, ranging from data breaches that can crush consumer confidence and environmental responsibility to social media screw-ups and disgruntled (outspoken) employees.

The best way to approach these “What if?” crisis scenarios is to think through each potential one and consider how your company would respond, and who within the organization will own which piece of the communication. Run mock scenarios all the way through the processes you develop, up to the board level. These mock scenarios will help you discover just how quickly your team can react in a crisis. They will help you quickly pinpoint where the bottlenecks exist from recovery to PR to cybersecurity and beyond.


Settle your brand story: Why do you exist, really? What value do you want to add to the public – and how are you doing that today and how will you continue to do so tomorrow? Why should anyone invest in you and why should the greater community care? Your brand story isn’t just the story of your founding, but it’s the bigger picture about why you’re here in the first place. Today, your potential shareholders want to understand you beyond your products and services; they want a relationship with you, and a deeper understanding of how you operate and interact with your employees and the world as a whole. Be prepared to explain yourself.


Know your cybersecurity strategy: Today, everyone cares about cybersecurity, and it doesn’t matter if you’re in IT. It’s personal. When consumers hand over their credit card on your website or trust you with their private information, be it an address or health care records, they expect you to handle those details with care and respect. Cyber threats are real, and they affect organizations of all sizes – no one is immune. What does your current security infrastructure look like, and how are you monitoring and responding to threats? And, what does that response look like at a public communications level? Facebook recently experienced a data breach that affected more than 50 million users. That level of a breach isn’t something meant to be handled solely within IT; it must be tackled at the board level.


Evaluate your board with fresh eyes: This is a difficult, but necessary, discussion. Your board of directors may have areas of weakness or redundancy. What areas of expertise are critical to the success of your organization, but not at all represented on your board of directors? When is it time for certain directors to move on and others to move in? This should be a candid discussion between the CEO and the current board. As a public board, you’ll need board directors to run the Audit Committee, Compensation Committee, and Nominating and Governance Committee. Do you have directors experienced in these realms today, with public company board experience? If not, you may want to put them in place at least 18 months in advance to stand up those functions and help you confidently operate as a public board day one.

It’s more important than ever to begin these conversations early. Finding a new board member can take as little as six months or as long as several years. Don’t wait until IPO to undergo a board refresh.


Take a fresh look at employee engagement: Employees in today’s market hold more power than many organizations are accustomed to. This shift is accelerated by social media and the currency of brand power. Job seekers today ask for inside intel (“What’s it really like to work there? What’s the culture like?). Employees today aren’t afraid to make bold moves to demand change. Look no further than Google for a very recent example: employees worldwide walked out in protest of Google’s sexual harassment policies, resulting in Google making significant internal changes. This power – of the employee, of social media – is something unforeseen. Boards today must be strategic and proactive in their approach.

These are just a few of the challenges that modern boards face. While modern boards can’t control the world in which they operate, they can choose to get in front of these unique challenges. The time to do it is now. Start practicing now, well before IPO.


Kick Your Imposter Syndrome to the Curb

By | Executive Development | No Comments

By Danna Lewis, COO of Athena Alliance


We’ve all had moments where we’ve felt like we don’t belong. Maybe it was your first week on a new job. Perhaps it was an interview, when applying to a master’s program, or presenting to a group of strangers. This feeling, “I don’t belong here,” can hit all of us—even at the highest peaks of our career. It’s called imposter syndrome, and it’s even been known to rear its ugly head here within the Athena Alliance network. I’ve noticed that during calls (too many calls) a potential member will ask if she has the right background, skills, or experience to join Athena.

If you’re unsure about your path to the boardroom or hesitant about adding to your already demanding schedule, that’s understandable. The Athena network is impressive. Many of our members are well-known within their industries and have accomplished a great deal in their careers. These are women who have transformed companies, created high-performance teams, taken companies to IPO, and built them from scratch. Many of them mentor junior women and other rising stars within their industries. These women are considered experts at what they do. Skepticism aside, if you are a C-suite, executive-level woman, female founder, or female investor with a desire to become more board savvy, board confident, and board connected, you are in the right place at Athena.

Yet… the imposter syndrome, it lurks behind even the most successful women. Why is this?


Imposter syndrome doesn’t discriminate.

Here’s the deal about imposter syndrome. It turns out, it doesn’t discriminate based on title or career experience. It can affect everyone, at any stage of their career. Women are more likely to experience the phenomenon than men. In fact, the Athena Alliance wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for impostor syndrome. Back in 2002, our Founder and CEO Coco Brown was asked to step up at Taos to the role of COO, Board Member, and one of only three owners of the company. Then in 2004 adding the title of President (with all functions of the company reporting to her, and her as the one report to the CEO). She deserved all of this after leading the company through a turnaround post-dotcom bust. But, she had many moments of wondering if the world around her would respect a female non-engineer CEO as the leader of a deeply technical company where 90% of the buyers were male technologists. It was for this reason that she started a dinner group of female CIOs (representing her top buyer). As Coco put it to me, “I wanted to enable them to create community and strengthen their sense of belonging and learning, while also doing the same for myself. One thing we all had in common was not seeing ourselves represented around us, so I had to create a space where we did see it.” How that then led twelve years later to Athena is a story for another time.

And for me, as a first-time COO with more than 20 years of dynamic operations, business development, and marketing experience, it sneaks up on me at times.

Self-doubt. The feeling that you were hired by mistake. That you’re going to be found out. That you’re a fraud! That you don’t belong among your peers. These feelings persist despite all the facts that say otherwise—your hands-on experience; the respect you’ve gleaned from colleagues; the jobs you’ve had and the titles you’ve held including your current position; and the promotions and salary you’ve earned. These proofs of your ability and your expertise cannot be made counterfeit.

Even Facebook’s iconic COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote about imposter syndrome in her book Lean In: “Many people, but especially women, feel fraudulent when they are praised for their accomplishments. Instead of feeling worthy of recognition, they feel undeserving and guilty, as if a mistake has been made. Despite being high achievers, even experts in their fields, women can’t seem to shake the sense that it is only a matter of time until they are found out for who they really are—impostors with limited skills or abilities.”


Influence instead of commiserate

I talked recently about prosperity consciousness as the mindset that there is more than enough available of what you desire and seek in life and work. I question imposter syndrome having some foundation in a perceived lack of opportunity. It’s easy to fall into the comparison and competition trap of believing that someone else has better skills or experience; that someone else brings more to the table.

What if your unique set of skills coupled with your experience, personality, and knowledge is the value proposition that sets you apart and makes you the right and best fit for exactly where you are?

While there may be more than one right person for a job or a board role, what if supporting each other in our endeavors allows a place of abundance? Taking this approach may connect us to opportunities we weren’t even aware of simply due to a lack of connecting, follow-up, or following through.

I see confidence within women who take the time for action-oriented support, a confidence in knowing that there’s enough opportunity to go around. A confidence in knowing that you can look to your network for just about anything, including evaluating an offer or connecting you with an opportunity. It’s confidence in knowing that, without a doubt, these women have your best interest in mind.


You don’t need to be perfect to advance in your career

There’s been some well-circulated research put out there that women do not apply for jobs unless they are a 100% perfect match, whereas men will go for an opportunity if they’re just 60% qualified. As women, we’ve been conditioned to check every box, to follow every rule, to get everything tidy and right before we take the next step in our career. While organizations will always look for their “unicorn candidates,” the only thing women achieve by not going for an opportunity is to close the door before it’s even been cracked open.

You didn’t get where you are today by being a leader born from a template. Organizations, despite their wishlist requirements for executives or board members,  are looking for dynamic individuals, ones who know their strengths (and weaknesses). They want leaders who can motivate a team and get folks on board to achieve transformation. They want individuals who can make informed decisions, work towards a greater vision and provide a diversity of thought

Reach for opportunities —not because you check every box today, but because you know that you have a solid set of accomplishments and the tenacity to conquer just about anything. Be confident knowing that your skills and experience are more than stepping stones up the ladder, they are transferable across many industries, functions, and titles.


Act like you belong (because you do).

Your relationship with Athena is personal. It’s between you and us. It’s about the goals you set for yourself. It’s not about where others are in their journey. It’s not about who secured which board seat. It’s not about private versus public company, your age, or your tenure. This is about making a promise to yourself to continue to lead at a higher level of impact — whatever you deem that to be. For some, that may be a board seat. For others, it may simply look like becoming more board-savvy and board confident.

One of our core values is that we meet members where they are. There is much more to all of us beyond our polished LinkedIn profiles, resumes, and titles. Athena embraces women who are curious about their potential as well as those who know and own their potential.

For prospective members, this means asking yourself:

  •        What are your personal and professionals goals that you want support reaching?
  •        Do you want to become more confident in your leadership skills and your value?
  •        Do you want to feel empowered and prepared to present to boards and interact with boards?
  •        Can you succinctly describe what you do and the value you deliver, in just a few sentences?
  •        Do you want to cultivate and grow your personal brand?
  •        Can you confidently own your accomplishments and communicate those to others?

Only you can know where you want to go—that’s your job. Our job is to support you in your personal journey.

You’ve earned it.

Preparing for the Next Level of Leadership: Your Board Package

By | Board Savvy | No Comments

There’s no way around it: interviewing and preparing for board directorship is tricky. It goes against convention. It’s a wild card by nature: it may be formal, or it may look more like a series of casual conversations. It may feel almost serendipitous at the time—the phone calls, the handshakes, the meetings. Or it could be a process that takes years to unfold. This is why we refer to members’ paths to board directorship as a journey. Because it’s personal, it’s unpredictable, and it usually takes you on a windy path versus a straight line to the top.

The journey-nature of the board interview process underscores the importance of what we call your Board Package. And really, it’s an essential tool for all executive women, even those who are not aspiring for board directorship. The Board Package consists of all the key elements that you’ll need as you make connections, interview for a board director position, or simply prepare for the next level of your career. A Board Package includes a bio, a resume, an elevator pitch and updates to your personal LinkedIn page. Each of these elements speaks to your board-readiness. They integrate with each other and work together to present the absolute best version of you.


Your Board Package Coaches:

Adriana Azuri is our in-house Board Package mastermind. She leads a team of writers that work with each and every Athena Alliance member, one-on-one, to form a customized Board Package.

She’s good at what she does—she brings more than 18 years of executive writing to our organization. Her career began as a technical writer, where she honed her skills working in heavily male-dominated industries. Technical writing also shaped her skill for capturing and communicating details. Effectively positioning executives for their next career moves: it’s what she does best.

“When I engage with members, I engage them based on the totality of the value they deliver to a board,” she says. “We want to convey through writing what they bring to the table. What is their wheelhouse?”

Adriana starts with the Resume or “CV”. She works with whatever materials members provide her. This may mean a resume simply needs a solid edit, or it may mean a barebones LinkedIn profile. Through a discovery process, she asks Athena members detailed questions about their career and experience.

“I need to know—very specifically—what is the budget she delivers to? What are her revenue goals? How many people does she manage? I narrow down to the specific business achievements. I want everything metrics-driven.”

This process takes time. It may take four to six weeks, or it could be a few months. Adriana will move at the pace you move. It’s a back-and-forth process of sharing information, reviewing several drafts, and working through the documents with an eye for perfection.

“Through this process of discovering about a member’s career, I can tell you who they are and what value they deliver or have delivered. I then outline a member’s overall career achievements to bring out the best of the best. It’s crystal clear to me who they are and what their strengths are.”

Adriana uses the resume as the foundation for the entire Board Package process. Once the resume is complete, she’s able to craft a Board Bio. This takes all the accomplishments in the resume and puts them in a narrative format. In parallel, she’ll update the member’s LinkedIn profile. The goal: everything should mirror each other and work together to portray our members as the powerhouse female executives that they are.

And finally, Adriana crafts an Elevator Pitch. She pulls out key accomplishments from a member’s resume— quantifiable achievements, specific examples—and uses them to create a totally custom elevator pitch. This is for members’ eyes only. Think of it as a personal script or advertisement for your leadership talent: it’s two to three sentences that take about 45 seconds to say.


‘Show me the money’

Adriana offers a unique perspective not just on resume-building, but on the psychology of positioning yourself to others as a top leader.

“One of the most common things I see women doing in their bios and resumes is that they don’t have the numbers. Instead, women tend to speak in attributes and adjectives. I’m this type of leader or that type of leader. But instead, they should be adding numbers and metrics to everything. Show me the money.”

The same goes for the Elevator Pitch. “It may be a confidence thing. It may be a culture thing. It may be a generational thing,” she said. “For example, one client felt like she was boasting in her resume. But then she had a meeting with a CEO and she noticed all the questions were related to money—revenue, sales. She realized the power of the Elevator Pitch and her Resume, and she was so glad she had them.”


Give CEOs and boards what they’re looking for

Adriana has worked with dozens of male executives throughout her career. She knows how they present themselves, how they speak, and how they talk about their achievements. They are confident, clear and commanding in speaking about their experience, accomplishments and what they can contribute to that next opportunity whether it’s a job position or a board of director role.

“Women need to get to that point,” she said. “Or the next Board seat will be a man. And it’s not that they’re not capable, it’s that they didn’t say what they did in their careers. This is not a time to be bashful.”

The first step to getting there? Your Board Package.

Meet Our Members: Allison Watson

By | Meet Our Members | No Comments

We’re excited to introduce you to Allison Watson, a founding Athena member who now sits on the board of DoubleDutch, a marketing tech company that specializes in event management software. Allison has more than 30 years of experience in tech, sales, and marketing leadership. Today, Alison is the COO and CMO of Microsoft USA.  She also oversees sales for Microsoft’s small, medium, and corporate sales divisions.

In her first decade in the industry, Allison gained extensive sales, services, and marketing experience at Oracle and Microsoft. In 2002, she became Microsoft’s channel chief, and over eight years grew Microsoft’s five hundred thousand strong partner channel into one of the most influential assets in the tech industry. 

Allison is a fantastic example of an Athena member who fast-tracked her way to a board seat. Part of her success is due to timing (everyone’s journey is unique), but it was also because she knew she was ready, and she knew what she wanted. Allison Watson was also one of Athena’s earliest supporters. Her involvement helped bring Athena to Seattle, as she spearheaded Microsoft’s involvement as a corporate partner. Coco Brown, Athena’s founder and CEO, was connected to Allison through a mutual friend. This is fitting because, as Allison says, “It’s all about connections—connections at scale.”

Read on to learn what it’s like to work on a startup board and what advice she has for other members considering board service, including time commitment, shifting gears to an advisory role, and more.


What made you say, “Yes!” to Athena?

Statistics say that the presence of women on boards is a good decision—one that the U.S. is very far behind in achieving. What Athena is doing, bringing together a group of capable women and being their advocate, is incredible. The network has the potential to really grow. When I first joined Microsoft’s executive leadership, I was number 13. Now, we have 50 female executives.  We are trying to increase female board representation and increase female executive representation – Athena offers a way to do that.


What’s your experience been like so far?

It hasn’t been the most traditional journey. Coco and I connected and then she immediately connected me to board opportunities. I interviewed for three or four startup board positions and found a match quickly. In 2017, I joined DoubleDutch—a startup in marketing tech—where I can leverage my operational experience. I’m the only operational board member on board, and it’s been interesting and fun.


How did you know it was the right board position for you?

It’s important to get the right fit when it comes to the CEO and the rest of the board. I went through full interviews with all board members, as well as connected with the CEO three or four times. You should start with what you’re looking for and what you know. Think about the type of personalities you appreciate getting help from and collaborating with. The CEO of DoubleDutch is very creative and appreciates strong women; he appreciates opinions. He likes to ideate. There was a natural connection there. His vision for the business was very aligned to what I saw was possible.

I think the biggest thing is having a fit with the CEO and the other board members. You need to spend a lot of time with these people to make decisions. Ask yourself, is there a balance between the tension of discussion and the ability to move forward?


What was your experience like as you made the transition to a board role for the first time?

The shift to doling out advice, especially for board positions that are operations focused… it’s a significant move to an advisory role. This is where my Athena Alliance journey work really came into play. It’s designed to prepare and train members for this transition. But it’s quite different for women who are accustomed to driving operations. We have to make this massive adjustment to being an advisor. The most powerful tool for advisory roles is inquiry and curiosity, based on your operational experience. You have to take this approach even if it’s tense; it’s relatively hard to do. As a board member, sometimes you feel like you’re asking the same question over and over again. You have to get used to the pace of an advisory role, it’s just not the same as an operational role. That takes skill. There are different points of inquiry that you can use to bring the same point out in more well-rounded ways.


What do you love most about serving on a board?

It’s a startup board as opposed to a Fortune 500. What I’m loving about the startup board experience is that it’s very real. We are making cash flow decisions. We are making payroll decisions. I’m meeting incredible young people with such talent, and they are really changing the landscape of the future of our business. We’re making very real, strategic decisions that impact every day.

You enter into this knowing that you end up with a fiduciary responsibility to the board you’re joining. It’s a half a day monthly time commitment, plus prep time. For me, it’s been about a full day a month. You have to factor that into your work schedule. We did go through a seven-month period where we were meeting three times a week, for several hours at a time. There will be periods of difficult investment periods and personnel decision-making that only the board can be involved in. It’s almost like crisis management. Sometimes it’s an unscheduled thing, and you have to be there—nights, weekends, and cell phone calls.


What advice do you have to share for aspiring board members?

If you’re preparing for another phase of impact—and business is very exciting to you—then getting started on this journey when you’re in an operational role and learning the skills now is key. Decide if you have time for a board position as the opportunity arises. Do some soul searching on that. Go through the interview loops. If you want to make an impact and business is your thing, there’s no better way to do it than through board service.

In a World Where Brand Promise Means Everything, CMOs Need a Seat in the Boardroom

By | Building the Modern Boardroom | No Comments


By Coco Brown, Founder & CEO of Athena Alliance

In today’s business world, the way we engage our customers is more important than ever. This responsibility—of driving relevant, personalized interaction—traditionally falls to the chief marketing officer. While similar roles have sprouted in recent years, most notably roles such as chief customer experience officer and chief digital officer, the fundamentals of marketing still have a safe home in the digital era. In fact, I’d argue that driving brand relevance, dynamically adapting to the changing buyer and influencer landscape, and standing apart from competition in a (very) crowded marketplace may be more important than ever for business success.

For many businesses, this means chief marketing officers need to be in the boardroom.


A role born from change—and suited to lead through change.

The marketing role in the C-suite was sparked by change, so it’s fitting that the role has built a reputation for riding out waves of change in the business world: the rise of social media; the popularity of email and other digital communication; mobile marketing. It’s an ever-changing role, rooted in meeting the needs of an ever-changing customer base in a global market now ruled by emerging technologies. In other words, marketing is no small endeavor. It requires wild creativity, the ability to balance data with instinct, and an almost brash courage for trying new approaches. In the C-suite lineup, it is and always has been the Pioneer among its peers.

It’s also a revenue generator. According to Deloitte Insights, “One portfolio analysis shows that stocks of companies where a CMO is part of the top management team—often signaling a corporate-wide, customer-centric focus—netted shareholders significantly higher long-term returns than portfolios lacking CMO emphasis.”

As Lisa Campbell, CMO of Autodesk, explained, “CMOs bring a critical view of customers’ requirements and the business value of different segments of customers. They are expert in engaging digitally with customers throughout the entire customer journey to build stronger relationships, which results in better customer lifetime value.”


How we speak to the marketplace matters.

Let’s face it, consumers rule the world. The best businesses know this; they no longer speak “at” the public but “to” the public. Marketing is not just about sparking that first click or web purchase, it’s about crafting a lifelong brand relationship—one that revolves entirely around the marketplace (buyer, future buyer, influencer, etc.) It’s in this way that brands, when managed correctly, can extend far beyond on-point ads and become a major revenue-generating machine.

  • Brand affects buyer behavior: AdWeek reported that 91% of consumers will recommend a brand to friends if they feel it’s authentic.
  • Values mean everything: Consumers have become skeptics, especially the 80-million large Millennial generation, who will work for and buy from companies that they believe in. For them, the companies they purchase from should mirror their own personal values. But it’s not just Millennials. Edelman recently reported that 50% of consumers around the world now “buy based on their beliefs.”
  • Don’t underestimate the relationship. The brand relationship, that is. When customers feel taken advantage of, whether by a poor buying experience or a data hack, they’ll take to the Web to let everyone in their social circles know.
  • Stand apart from competition. The game has changed, and relevancy and timing of communication are key. According to one study by Accenture, “In the U.S. market alone, companies are losing $1 trillion in annual revenues to their competitors because they are not consistently relevant enough. Loyalty remains important, but this finding indicates that the future of marketing—and, in the big picture, many businesses—depends on serving a customer’s most relevant needs in the moment.”

Becky Saeger, a veteran CMO who currently sits on the board at E-Trade Financial, said, “Any company facing disruption, or planning to disrupt, will benefit from a CMO’s perspective at the Board table.  Because disruption starts with identifying and meeting customer needs and pain points. This is what marketers do.”


Demand for CMOs on boards is on the rise.

No doubt, market disruption is an imperative for companies worldwide. Kate Bullis is Managing Partner at SEBA International, where she leads an executive search practice that specializes in CMO placements. Her firm is increasingly seeing a rise in demand for CMO representation at the board table. It’s not necessarily about diversifying for sex or race—for most companies, it’s about digitization, transformation, and brand.

“Every industry is being taken over by technology,” Bullis said. “The companies having the most challenges are those that were not born in the digital era. They’re getting eaten by a world of digital and software. Marketers, particularly those that come from tech, have very relevant experience.”

But, Bullis said, even companies that were born in the digital age are scrambling to gain a better understanding of their customers and brand. Many tech companies found success by being focused on product versus brand.

“But now, companies are realizing, your brand is just as important as your product, if not more so,” she said. Digital has changed the relationship with customers. Customers react immediately to changes in a brand’s values or product line—and they often do so publicly, to thousands of social media followers.

“The reality is, customers today have more power than ever,” she said. “Product comes and goes. Brands are forever.”


Invest in your future. Recruit a CMO to your board.

Despite the wide range of opportunities and threats coming at modern businesses, boardrooms have long been ruled by a standard group: older, white men with career backgrounds of CEOs and CFOs. But in today’s fast-changing world, ruled by technology and consumers, businesses with this antiquated board construct won’t—can’t—survive. By welcoming people onto the board with modern, diverse backgrounds, boards strengthen themselves through the power of diverse viewpoints and the ability to close the gaps on blind spots.

CMOs with a seat at the board table are in a unique position to take an enterprise-wide stance on marketing and brand. They’re able to evaluate messaging, brand promise, customer interactions, communication, and customer engagement. This has the power to change the conversation for a company at the highest levels of impact—by putting brand relevance in the front seat and driving customer-centric conversations about strategy.

“Organizations are seeking out ways to engage customers with messaging that better speaks to their needs and values, establishing an ongoing relationship rather than a transactional one. There’s likely no one better placed to lead this customer-centric charge than the CMO,” reported Deloitte Insider.  

Organizations that truly put customers first must also put marketing first, and they can do this by giving marketing a voice in the boardroom—the Modern Boardroom, for businesses that want to secure their own relevance for decades to come.  

Five Tips to Prepare Your Key Messages for Media Interviews

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Journey Tip of the Month—November 2018

By Mara Brazer, Athena Journey Advisor & CEO of Brazer Communications

You’ve just been asked to speak to a reporter as an expert in your field or as a spokesperson for your company. What now? Preparing in advance for your interview ensures you will put your best foot forward (and not in your mouth). The following are a few tips to help you prepare 3-5 key messages for your upcoming media interview:


  1. Research and understand the content and reach of the publication and the reporter who is interviewing you. Find out what kind of articles they have written in the past and how they have utilized spokespersons or quoted expert sources. Are they friendly or hostile? A rookie or experienced at interviews?

  2. The most important thing to consider is: who is your audience? Will the media coverage reach decision-makers in your industry? Boards of directors who could nominate you for open board seats? The general business community? Your messages, which make up your core talking points, need to speak to that audience and address their needs. Also know what you need from the audience—if you are seeking a board position, speak like a board member who understands good governance and has vision.

  3. Depending on the subject of the interview, develop 3-5 succinct and memorable messages about the subject matter, yourself, and/or your company that must be made during the conversation. Support these messages with “proof points” or anecdotes that illustrate your core point—especially if they provide colorful sound bites or quotes.

  4. Every interview (and speech) is an opportunity to communicate your specific messages to your target audiences—and get the facts straight. Take time to craft your messages, practice them, and ensure you are delivering the information in a clear and concise way.

  5. Each time the reporter asks you a question, rather than allowing the reporter to take you down an irrelevant or difficult path, weave the message points into your answers or redirect the question so you can respond with relevant messages and ensure what you want to say is included in the article.

Athena Journey Advisor Mara Brazer helps Athena Aspiring Directors develop a “visibility strategy and plan” to determine their best professional positioning and become more publicly visible through traditional and social media, speaking opportunities, and contributed content. She has media trained dozens of executives to face media interviews with confidence and control, whether for a crisis, news, or feature story.


Businesses Helping Businesses

By | Announcements, Meet Our Partners | No Comments


Here at Athena, we are on a mission to see women lead at their highest level of impact—in and out of the boardroom. This could mean helping a woman realize her whole value and lead with confidence, or it may look more like providing a curated executive development experience for a leading tech organization. It could be a career-changing connection; helping a woman secure an advisory role, or even women helping women through the simple yet profound act of mentoring; sharing advice; or opening the door to opportunity.

Through these acts and more, Athena is set to transform what executive development looks like at the highest tiers of an organization. And through that, we seek to achieve diversity in the boardroom, to empower underserved communities and leaders, and to create strong businesses.

Ours is no small mission. But, thankfully, our community is large. Throughout the creation of Athena, we’re grateful that other businesses and influencers have come to us to ask how they, too, can play a part in our mission. These businesses have kindly offered us use of their services, their space, their influence, their software, their connections, and more. We are in awe of the generosity we’ve felt throughout our community and beyond as so many businesses have shown an outpouring of support for what we do.

This collective effort has opened the door for Athena to do more. We can reach more women. We can have a larger impact. We can partner with more organizations. We’re honored to have the following organizations by our side, as partners in our mission and as fellow leaders for change within our global community:

With sincerest gratitude, from all of us at Athena,

Spotlight on Athena CEO Champions: Nick Mehta of Gainsight

By | CEO Champion Spotlight | No Comments

Meet Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight. Gainsight is a customer success platform helping businesses retain and grow customers. The industry-leading solution provides valuable customer insights and analytics through a centralized view of customer health, builds outcomes-driven customer journeys, and helps prove the impact of customer success organizations in business. Since joining in 2013, Nick led the company through multiple funding rounds, raising a total of $156 million, and grew the company from a handful of employees to more than 500 people working in seven offices around the world. Gainsight partnered with Athena Alliance earlier this year in a customized program, designed to encourage female leadership among his community of customer success professionals.

Previously, Nick was the CEO of LiveOffice, where he led the company’s growth to $25 million in revenue before being acquired by Symantec. He’s held numerous operating roles for various public and private companies, including Veritas, Symantec, and XDegrees. Nick has also been an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Trinity Ventures and Accel Partners.

What prompted you to say “Yes” to Athena?

How I got introduced to Athena Alliance is sort of funny. I was at a conference in Hawaii (seriously, it was a work thing!) and they had this game—basically a human Scrabble on a giant court (you had to be there), and the woman next to me was actually Coco [Brown, Founder & CEO of Athena Alliance]. So from there, I was introduced to the opportunities Athena provides. Gainsight has a large community of executives, and so many are talented women. After I met Coco, I could immediately see how valuable a relationship with Athena Alliance could be. After several discussions with Coco and her team, we decided to work with them on their executive development program. To make that happen, Coco spoke at our Customer Success industry conference, Pulse, where she shared Athena’s mission with thousands of executives in the audience. From there, we sponsored scholarships for five talented female executives in the Customer Success community.

What’s been the response?

The recipients were so thrilled. That’s the best part of this—getting people excited about their potential in their careers.

What specifically about Athena’s program drew you in?

I like Athena because it’s very action-oriented. Athena is all about real impact. There are so many issues that need to be fixed with respect to diversity, and it can be overwhelming for some. But it’s awesome to see something that you can do by getting involved with Athena that can immediately help. Athena makes it tangible in terms of having an impact.

What legacy do you want to leave behind with your involvement in Athena?

I want to do my part in driving change. But we’re not celebrating just yet—there is a lot more that needs to be done to promote and support women in leadership. But if we can use the Customer Success Movement to help more women rise up to the board level, that will make us all very proud.

How has your relationship with Athena impacted Gainsight from a business perspective?

I’m always a little careful about this idea. Working with Athena is good for business, yes, but it’s also just right. It’s the right thing to do. It shouldn’t need any additional justification because of the economics. Even if there were zero business impact, it’s still the right thing to do. That being said, the partnership does have an impact on the business. Gainsight’s community is very diverse and in an industry where you’re serving a large population, having a diverse company and board just makes sense. We all benefit from having broader perspectives and pulling in people from different backgrounds. It drives diversity in both conversation and business approach. Having too many people who are alike means you don’t take the time to pause and evaluate appropriately, and we become blind to risks and opportunities. That’s one of the many reasons why intersectionality is so important.

What’s next?

Customer success is a profession that grew out of functions like customer support and service, and while those roles were always important, it wasn’t always considered strategic. But now that perspective has changed and it’s being seen as critical to business success. What’s exciting about this is you have a profession that naturally has more gender diversity and is proving to be a viable career. The risk in that, from what we’ve seen in the past, is when a profession becomes more important, it gets taken over by men. The all-time example of this is computer science, which had so many women in the ‘40s and ‘50s but obviously has major balance issues now. So we need to be aware of that possibility with the Customer Success profession and ensure we don’t repeat history.

Meet Our Members: Patty Hatter

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We’re thrilled to have Patty Hatter as a member of the Athena community. She’s a veteran leader in the cybersecurity and technology transformation space, whose leadership experience and digital expertise earned her a board seat with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Internet Security and Privacy Advisory Board, as well as a Board Member of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation. She recently joined as a Director of the Board at the Barrick Gold Corporation (NYSE- ABX), the world’s largest gold mining company.

Patty is unique among Athena members in that her journey to the boardroom was a bit fast-tracked (in our interview with Patty, she explains why she feels it was so—and the important epiphany she had along the way).

Patty serves as a trusted advisor to early-stage technology companies focused on key technologies such as cybersecurity, cloud infrastructure, and blockchain-enabled enterprise applications. Prior, she served as Senior VP of the McAfee Services organization, where she also held leadership roles as CIO and Senior VP of Operations, managing budgets of $250M and leading 800 staff members. Under her leadership, the company increased its Services business by an astounding 50%. Patty also led massive IT transformation initiatives, including multiple M&A and divestitures.

During this time, Patty also served as General Manager of Security and Software and CIO for Intel Security. There, she orchestrated a global reconstruction of IT and Operations—driving the overhaul of the Intel-wide security and privacy teams. Previously, she was Vice President of Business Operations at Cisco Systems Inc., where she set the strategy for their digital reorganization, driving innovation and collaboration.

Patty has received some of the industry’s most coveted awards, including “Women of Influence” and “Power Executive” by Silicon Valley Business Journal; “Bay Area CIO of the Year” by both Silicon Valley Business Journal and SF Business Times; HMG’s 2016 “Transformational CIO Award” and The National Diversity Council’s “Most Powerful and Influential Woman.”

What prompted your interest in Athena Alliance?

I got introduced to Coco and Athena Alliance through a friend of mine last year. At the time, I knew I wanted to put more effort into joining a public company board. Periodically I would get a phone call inquiring if I was interested in a board position. But it was never the time; I always felt too busy.

However, I knew I needed to take on a board position because I could see a growing interest in cybersecurity. A lot of my background is in cybersecurity, as a CIO, and years of doing digital transformation. I had a strong epiphany last fall that I needed to focus on this now. Athena helped me get the critical basics in place, like my board bio. It wasn’t soon after I got involved with Athena that a board opportunity presented itself that I was very interested in. I remember talking to Coco and her team. They were willing to do whatever the organization could do to help me pull the pieces together that I so urgently needed to go through the board interview process. That made a big impression on me; it’s very apparent that she and her team truly believe in the cause.

Your journey is very unique in that boards were knocking on your door. Tell us more about how you knew you had to go for it and make it a priority.

There’s being prepared and being proactive to seek out what you need to know, and then not going so overboard and worrying about a situation that you’re not even in yet. It’s finding that balance. To me, the thing that helped me the most was this: first, pick up the phone. Talk to people about these opportunities. You make your own luck to a certain point. Engage in all the networking opportunities where you can to find out what’s going on in the market. And then find out what other people’s experiences are; find out the hot topics. Discover what boards are interested in and what they need more of, and figure out what you can bring to the table. And then you need to communicate that you are the one to bring those skills to the table.

You have to be comfortable with selling yourself. How did that feel to you?

I’ve had a lot of front-facing roles where you’re out selling ideas, trying to get funding, trying to sell to a customer—selling all sorts of things. For me, it’s about believing what you’re saying. If I believe what I am saying, I automatically get passionate about it and it becomes easier. And it’s easy for me to sell things that I feel passionate about, whether it’s a technology or a solution or a proposed path to funding.

The areas I focus on are the ones that I feel are relevant to a board. And those are easy for me to talk about because I have a lot of passion for them.

It’s interesting how you relate your personal elevator pitch to sales for other aspects of your career.

It absolutely is an elevator pitch. You need to be able to explain your value to a board in two sentences. Just like you would simplify or coalesce a message about a product or service your company sells. It’s a different topic, but the need for an elevator pitch is just the same.

Were you surprised that a board directorship happened for you so quickly?

I would have been surprised if I hadn’t been previously getting phone calls. But based on prior interests and conversations I was having, it validated my value proposition. It is not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when, of finding the right fit. And it happens for everyone at a different time.

What about your current board position felt so right?

I joined McAfee in 2010. I had been through the whole lifecycle—of a public company / security company, acquired by Intel, wholly-owned subsidiary, integrated business unit and then spun out again last summer. But there are such current-state challenges that industrial companies are having in how to take advantage of new technologies and drive to a better place; not just waste your money by buying new technology that no one can get value from.

A lot of times, industrials companies haven’t taken advantage of emerging technologies as much as other industries. It’s a digital challenge, coupled with cybersecurity. And that’s something that is super interesting to me. I have experience in it from a subject matter expertise and industry perspective. I knew I enjoyed the topic and I also felt it was an important area for someone with my skill set.

What’s been the biggest surprise about this whole process for you? Or what have you found to be the most interesting?   

I’m so excited about the opportunity and I’m glad it came together as quickly as it did. One of the things that you know is coming, but it’s different when you experience it is the move to a guidance role. Everyone’s typically the first to make a decision, jump in, take the reins. But that’s when you’re in the operating role. And that’s what you’ve accelerated at and spent a whole career in. You know when you join a board that you’re not there for an operating role, you’re there more to govern and to guide. Even though you intellectually know that, what I’m finding now is that I have to sometimes sit on my hands and control myself not to get ahead of what the role should be. It’s not your decision to decide individual things; it’s your role to guide, ask questions, make sure the leadership team is looking at all the angles and the perspectives on the decision they have in front of them. It is hard to rein in your opinions.

For aspiring directors, what advice do you have for them?

Just know that it’s so helpful to have a group in your corner. I’m sure everyone who is seeking a board seat is doing all the things like activating their network, talking to their network about their interests, and talking to their friends. But it’s great to have a process and a group of people that are stepping you through the process for your first time, and working through fundamentals like your board package. These are people who have seen the bad and the good. They’re thinking about all the elements, all the different levers you should try to be moving to give yourself the best chance to secure a good position. That’s what I found super helpful, even though I moved through the process in an accelerated way.