February 7, 2019 Meet Our Community

Attention Chicago: Meet Helen Yu, Athena EVP for the Midwest Region

Interview By The Athena Alliance

Helen Yu is an experienced leader with a track record of transforming organizations. She’s known for her passion and sharp strategic thinking. Helen is an expert at improving and scaling business models and driving incremental revenue growth and profitability across businesses of all sizes.

Athena originally engaged with Helen for help in an area she excels in: go-to-market strategy. But Helen’s enthusiasm for helping other women connect with each other and other influencers was apparent from the start. As Athena’s regional EVP for the Chicago area, Helen invests her personal time and energy into supporting Athena’s growing Midwest ecosystem.

She’s quickly built a reputation for sharing practical advice, helping women prepare for board interviews, and helping rising leadership stars ascend into the C-suite.

At a Glance

Founder and CEO of Tigon Advisory, a consultancy that advises CEOs and founders in the development of their vision, operation strategy, organization alignment and cross-functional performance metrics.

On the board of advisors for Jebbit, VMSA, and the C-Suite Accelerator program

Serving as subject matter expert at venture capital companies including Andreessen Horowitz and OpenView.

Has leadership experience in nearly every functional area of a business, including finance, marketing, sales, and customer success.

Known for driving rapid growth and guiding organizations to success at global scale, in both SaaS and traditional businesses.

Tell me about your new advisory firm.

I started my own advisory firm a year and a half ago, and I have been working with a few companies since then. My primary focus area is to advise founders and CEOs on the development of their vision, operation strategy, organization alignment, and cross-functional performance metrics design—and go-to-market (GTM) strategy to drive sustainable growth. Most recently, I’ve been working with a female founder who is about to launch her product. I’ve been consulting with her on a strategy for fundraising, product-market fit, branding, GTM, and pricing.

How has your professional experience and expertise shaped your role with Athena?

My professional experience sets a solid foundation for a board director role. That’s how I initially connected with Coco and the Athena Alliance team. Initially, I started my Athena journey to advise Coco on her GTM and growth strategy. At the time, I had started my own firm and wanted to contribute more to the Midwestern ecosystem. It was challenging, as I spent the past 20-plus years working for companies out of Silicon Valley. I reached out to a few successful female leaders in my network and learned about the lack of centralized community that helps them grow from middle manager to C-level and then to the boardroom. There are some organizations that offer executive coaching, but none offer much of a hands-on journey experience all the way through the boardroom like Athena.

I want to act as a sounding board to those who are in need. Having gone through the journey myself, I am quite passionate about leadership development. I offer advice to those upcoming leaders who need guidance on how to best pivot their career, or advice on transitioning to a C-level executive. I also offer mock interviews for board roles, or simply review and polish their bio. Having been a speaker at many events, I moderate panel and co-host events for Athena Alliance. I am proud of the turnout at the Athena Alliance Chicago launch event last October.

What career accomplishment are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my ability to transition from an accountant, to a financial analyst, to an app developer, to a solution architect, to a consulting practice leader, to an enterprise sales leader, to a marketing leader, and to a global customer success leader. The vastly different nature of each role well prepared me for becoming a business leader who understands the financial impact of each business decision. It also allows me to advise companies on how to operationalize their vision to accelerate growth.

What qualities are you known for?

Grit and resilience. These are the qualities I learned from my grandma, who raised me. I have failed multiple times, personally and professionally. I view those experiences as the best learning opportunities.

What does serving on a board mean to you, both personally and professionally?

Personally, I want to become a multiplier. By that, I mean that I want to enable multiple companies/people to maximize their ability to succeed. My natural curiosity propels the process of learning new things. Serving on boards provides the opportunity to learn and contribute at the same time.

In the long term, I’d like to transition from being an operational executive for one company to a board director for multiple companies. I can then use my spare time to mentor and coach more upcoming leaders and get engaged with humanity-related initiatives.

What sparked your interest in taking on a more prominent role with Athena, helping to build our Chicago market?

After I began working with Coco on Athena’s GTM strategy, I realized how much my passion is aligned with the mission of the Athena Alliance. I’ve lived in Chicago for the past 18 years. I felt it was time to contribute more to the Midwestern ecosystem, and this was an opportunity to do so.

Why is this involvement important to you personally and professionally?

Being raised by my grandma, who played an outsized role in shaping my character of giving, being authentic, straight talk, and hard-working, I want to make positive impact on others so that my grandma would be proud of me. She was always there for me when I was in need. Her spirit always lives with me. Doing something to make her proud is important to me personally.

Professionally, I benefited from working for great leaders early in my career. Their servant leadership styles became my idol. I made a pledge to pay it back whenever I can. And, through my involvement, I have the opportunity to meet many talented leaders who I learned tons from as well. Giving back provides a sense of accomplishment and allows me to take pride in others’ success.

What’s been the interest so far in Chicago?

Chicago is quite different from the two coasts. When it comes to innovation, often it’s the coastal cities that first come to mind. In reality, the Midwest market is quickly developing into a force of its own. Coastal firms are increasingly making investments in the Midwest market and there’s been an increasing number of opportunities, investments, and more affordable talents. It’s an exciting time to be here. And at the individual level, I’m seeing growing energy and enthusiasm from women leaders who want to join Athena Alliance and invest in their senior leadership development and getting engaged at board capacity.

What are your hopes for Chicago in 2019?

I want to create an embracing and inclusive community where female leaders can have a sounding board whenever they are in need. I wish I had that experience when I went through my journey. Chicago is a very spread-out region. This might mean that leaders in our community have long commutes. I’m working to create sub-communities across Chicago so that people can get more involved, without traveling far to get to events or meet up with other members. Creating a thriving community where more organizations are engaged along with their leaders will pay dividends for the Chicago ecosystem.

How can Athena members get the most out of events?

As we further progress our career, the effects of networking become much more apparent. This is especially true for those transitioning into the C-suite or into a board role. We may meet people and, in the moment, not realize that person can help you down the road. I’ve had that happen to me many times in my career. I meet various people and we stay in touch and end up helping each other.

I’m a firm believer in the value of participating in events, the key is to not to just show up at the events, it is what you do during events and post events. The real value in Athena events is that they serve as an opportunity to elevate your network. Our event attendees include senior executives, powerful board decision-makers, and board influencers; these are people who can help push your goals further to reality.

What do you want members to know about you?

I want them to know that I am here to serve in different capacities as they go through their career growth journey. Athena serves women at multiple levels of leadership, from VPs whose goal is to get into the C-suite to aspiring board directors to founders or CEOs who are forming their first boards. My value extends to all these women. I can support them in various ways, such as offering advice on areas like business scaling and achieving rapid growth to product launches and raising capital, or simply be a sounding board as they evaluate growth opportunities.

I’m well-connected with industry influencers through LinkedIn and Twitter. If members have a question and I cannot find the answer right that moment, I am confident that I can connect them with people who can.

How can Chicago members best engage with you?

I’m open to nearly almost any channel and I try to be flexible. Email me, call me, connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter (@YuHelenYu). I’m happy to meet with members after hours or even on the weekends. Reach out—I’m looking forward to connecting.