Kees Roks, servant leader, leads by example

Kees Roks, Head Region Europe at Novartis Oncology, has been an incredibly visible inclusion leader at his organization. A servant leader if there ever was one. Read on!

It’s hard to miss him. Kees Roks (pronounced “Case”) is close to 7 feet tall and usually towers over most people at a meeting. The Swiss native, however, could be the quieter person in a room, just taking in what all the stakeholders have to share. With over 30 years of international experience gained in Country and Regional organizations around the globe, Kees has most recently been the Head of Region Latin America and Canada at Novartis Oncology. In this role, he was a key sponsor of the women taking part of the Red Shoe Movement’s Step Up Plus leadership development program. He wore his red tie every week, made sure to meet and support not only the female talent in the program but any one who required his attention.

Kees Roks has built a career on inclusive principles, living them day in and day out. For his exemplary leadership and implementation of concrete actions to open doors to female talent we honor Kees Roks to the 2019 Hall of Fame.

RSM Hall of Fame

RSM Hall of Fame

Red Shoe Movement— What are some of the key traits of a great leader?

Kees Roks, Head Region Europe, Novartis Oncology

Kees Roks, Head Region Europe, Novartis Oncology

Kees Roks—Being a leader is not about the individual leading. In fact, the concept of servant leadership is one that resonates strongly with me. I see this as someone who offers support, is humble and removes obstacles. The idea of leadership being dictating is quickly vanishing. Being focused on my team, helping develop them and ensure they succeed is of utmost priority; after all when your team does well, so does the leader.

 RSM—Why do women make great leaders? 

KR—Diversity is a critical component of leadership and it builds stronger and more efficient teams. Gender is an important pillar and one we have to support.

I have had the pleasure of working with strong and capable women, now and in prior roles. In my experience, the female mind works differently from the male one. I value what female leaders bring to the table – sometimes offering better solutions because they are able to see an issue in a more 360 point of view and take into account the impact from all possible angles.

In my opinion, female leaders offer a different perspective on issues. They deal with challenges and situations with a more reflective and holistic approach; a man’s approach can sometimes be very solution-oriented and single minded. Neither is a negative but this is why we need to have more women in leadership positions to help find a good balance.

Don't miss Andrés Graziosi's interview for the Hall of Fame 2018

RSM— How open is your door for your associates to approach you and what’s the best way to do it? What do you expect people to come with when they ask for a few minutes to see you?

KR—First, at Novartis, we sit in an open space environment so there is literally no door (laughs). Figuratively, there is none because I believe in being fully accessible to my team. Going back to the concept of servant leadership of which the most fundamental tenant is that our people are our most important asset, I am never too busy to make time for them.

However, communication works two ways – as direct and as open as I am, I fully invite and expect them to be equally so. I want them to ask for time, ask for what they need and be proactive.

Kees Roks in meeting at Novartis East Hanover, NJ office

Kees Roks in meeting at Novartis East Hanover, NJ office

RSM— What do you expect people to come with when they ask for a few minutes to see you?

KR—Well, I never give a few minutes; I give as much time as they need. To dive deep into any challenges or have a deeper discussion, it is important to allow enough time to have the conversation.

Once we have that time, I fully expect and invite them to drive the agenda since they asked for the meeting. It is important to come with an opinion, come with what you need from your leader and what you need them to do. This means you are taking ownership and accountability – you are also being a leader. 

Kees Roks leads by example

Kees Roks leads by example

Kees Roks suggestions for men to become allies

RSM—What would you say are the most effective ways to get men to become female champions?

KR—There are many ways to have men become champions. Put them into a diverse environment – perhaps they are the only man on an all-female team and/or work stream. Women have worked this way for years, often being the sole female in a group or team. Invite men to experience it as well to provide perspective. Also, highlight the successes of women on your team. Show how well they are doing to everyone else – prove it with facts. Personally, I also try to create as diverse an environment as possible and find the right balance of women on my leadership team.

That said, it boils down to the organization – as an individual I can only do so much. Companies need to make D&I a priority and include gender D&I KPIs in the objectives. Of course there has to be a balance, it is not just about filling slots with one gender because forcing something is not good overall. However, it is possible. However, it is possible; for example, if there is a leadership position available, have gender equality and diversity in the candidates being invited to apply. More importantly, it is critical to have gender equality and diversity on the side of the key decision makers for these roles as well, so we really find the best candidate based on qualifications.

Kees Roks supporting #RedShoeTuesday at Novartis

Kees Roks supporting #RedShoeTuesday at Novartis

RSM— In your experience, how does having a diverse and inclusive team of executives impact your bottom line? 

KR—What I can say is that having a diverse team and a diverse organization already, we are doing quite well. We are having deeper discussions and making better decisions. 

RSM—At your level of responsibility, what do you spend most of your time on?

KR—People first. In fact, 80 percent of my day is talking to and helping my team. That can be anything from talking, debating, discussing various topics in both formal and informal settings. Being there for them is how I spend the majority of my time.

RSM—In terms of leadership lessons, is there a particular mistake or failure that you now “cherish” because of what you learned from it?

KR—Every experience is a lesson. I do not know that there is one in particular that stands out but I can say with certainty that, as a leaders, every time you come into a new environment you need to calibrate the need for context. I am not known to be always so patient (laughs.) I really force myself to step back and reflect and find the patience I need to help my team succeed. Mistakes and failures never end but how you handle them defines how you move forward. It is an ongoing journey of endless learning.

Kees Roks Head Europe Region Novartis Oncology

Kees Roks Head Europe Region Novartis Oncology

 

Lisa Wang Levels Playing Field in Investment Capital

Lisa Wang has an unusual background. A former USA National Champion gymnast, she used her ten-years of experience as an elite athlete to build a unique platform to help female entrepreneurs. Enter SheWorx.

RSM Hall of Fame

RSM Hall of Fame

Lisa Wang does nothing half-heartedly. The former USA National Champion gymnast, has not only founded SheWorx (a global collective that connects female entrepreneurs to capital, networks, mentors and knowledge) but has also become the host of the Enoughness Podcast and a high-performance leadership coach. She’s on the Forbes 30 Under 30 List of 2018, on the 20 Female Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2017 and 2018 by CIO Magazine, a Red Bull Hero of The Year, and has been featured in top publications including the Wall Street Journal, CNN Money, USA Today, Washington Post, The Atlantic, and others.  She is a national writer for Forbes and Fortune.

For her leadership in driving gender parity in the entrepreneurial space, we honor Lisa Wang with the 2019 Hall of Fame.

Red Shoe Movement— How does a world-class gymnast end up leveling the playing field in fundraising for women?

Lisa Wang, CEO, SheWorx

Lisa Wang, CEO, SheWorx

Lisa Wang—Gymnastics is a very competitive environment. It’s a zero sum game: There’s only one medal – If I win, you lose. When I was a gymnast, my teammates and best friends were also my competitors. It’s a very toxic competitive environment. As I progressed and retired from gymnastics, I continued to notice these competitive patterns in the workplace there was a sense of scarcity among women who fought to outperform each other rather than collaborating.

When I became an entrepreneur, my fundraising experiences made me realize the unique challenges women face when raising money. I wanted to be around like-minded, ambitious women who could support each other to achieve our goals. But it was very difficult. SheWorx was born as a result of my personal struggle. I wanted to create something for women who needed to raise capital, to have access to the skills and to investors and build meaningful relationships in a collaborative way. Behind every successful woman there is a group of other successful women who have their back. Our motto is: Closing the funding gap by collaborating not competing. Our duty is to support this generation of female leaders and teach people to think from a mindset of abundance. ‘My success is other woman’s success.’

Lisa Wang shares key traits to succeed as an entrepreneur

RSM— What are some key traits you need to succeed as an entrepreneur?

Lisa Wang—The most successful people are the ones who fail and always get back up, over and over again. I had to have a clear North Star as a gymnast. Every time I fell down I had to remember that North Star and get up again. What people see on the outside is the five minutes of the performance on the mat the day of the competition. But there are millions of hours of practice and tears behind those five minutes.

As an entrepreneur, you are inspiring people on stage but they don’t see the hours of pain, tears, and sweat that get you to that point. That’s a lesson everyone needs to learn. Understanding that any kind of journey that leads to success comes with millions of hours of hard work and failure. Only if you’re willing to slog through that and if you have a true North star will you be able to attain the level of impact you want to make.

Also, people don’t ask nearly enough: “What do I want? And Why do I want that?” A lot of people go into entrepreneurship because they want the external glory or the money. But that’s when they burn out. You need to find something you’re really passionate and curious about that will pull you through even the lowest lows.

CEO of SheWorx helps level the playing field by providing access to venture capital to female entrepreneurs

Lisa Wang, founder and CEO of SheWorx helps level the playing field by providing access to venture capital to female entrepreneurs

RSM— You went from hardcore competition to hardcore collaboration. What were some of the hardest lessons you had to learn?

Lisa Wang—The hardest lessons always have to do with people. One of my mistakes is mixing friendship and business and not differentiating intentions. Specially as you become more successful you attract more people to you who come with many layers of intention. Sometimes it is hard to decipher what those intentions are or if they are true. I had to learn the hard way to keep a close group of friends and advisors around me and to be more skeptical. I believe you are the reflection of the people you surround yourself with, so that’s why I’m careful with who I let into my closest circle.

Lisa Wang is leveling the playing field for female entrepreneurs.

Lisa Wang is leveling the playing field for female entrepreneurs.

RSM— SheWorx focuses on helping female entrepreneurs secure funding in a field that’s mostly male. What are some advantages women have in a fundraising situation? Can you give us concrete examples of seeing them in action?

Lisa Wang—Women are natural leaders when it comes to being team-oriented. We are great operators… we are more realistic about financial projections and what we can do in a certain amount of time. Entrepreneurs tend to think they can do more than they really can. In fundraising, women often get asked different questions as a result of unconscious bias. But in some ways, the fact that we have to prove more means we get tougher, we come in knowing all the data and numbers. We are consistent when it comes to showing progress. One example is Court Buddy, founded by two African American founders (a woman and a man.) She became the 14thever African American female to raise $1M who met their lead investor through SheWorx. Now she just closed her $6 million series A round.

Key negotiation tactics you can't afford to ignore!
Lisa Wang during Tech Week

Lisa Wang during Tech Week

RSM— Your generation is changing the way we think about our current workplaces. What would you say are some of the big changes that it will put into place in the next twenty years?

Lisa Wang—The entire workplace composition and dynamic will be transformed, and is already transforming. We’ll see a change in leadership. More women, more minorities, more diverse sexual orientation. There will be a massive shift in the workplace. The structure we see today of people working 9-5 in big corporations will completely fragment or disappear. People won’t stand for corporations that don’t represent the true makeup of the actual population.

70% of Gen-Z wants to be an entrepreneur. For 1 in 3 their dream job is to be a “YouTube star.” This is the most entrepreneurial generation in history. They are skeptical of big corporations, red tape, and bureaucracy. They care about authenticity, people creating good products for themselves and the environment. They hate being sold to. They are the most socially conscious and connected generation in history. Also, women are changing. Women are the more ambitious and more educated than we’ve ever seen. They are delaying children; there are more women with kids in their 30s than 20s for the first time in history; women are 60% of college students.

Advice to women contemplating entrepreneurship by Lisa Wang

Lisa Wang of SheWorx is changing the face of entrepreneurship

Lisa Wang of SheWorx is changing the face of entrepreneurship

RSM—For a woman contemplating whether she should strike on her own or stay employed, what exercise would you have her do in order to help her make a wise decision?

Lisa Wang—I’m a high-performance leadership and mindset coach and I have people do this exercise. I’d ask you to close your eyes and imagine your ideal day 5 years from now. Imagine it in as much detail as possible. From what you’re wearing, what you’re eating, where you live, who’s on your team. All of those things will help you understand your North Star and what changes you should start to make today. When you start by envisioning your perfect day you can start working backwards. If you care about having an office close by or a flexible day, etc., it will help you create your roadmap to get there.

RSM— In terms of leadership lessons, is there a particular one you’d like to share?

Lisa Wang— Embrace your own unique style of leadership.I learned to embrace my own style of leadership, which is not the same as that of the dominant model of leadership that’s been created by men. The narrative says that the most successful CEOs are the ones who are overconfident, command the team, and are aggressive. And my style is caring, listening, collaborative, individualized, it’s quieter than the aggressive, dominant one, it’s wiser. Over time I realized there was nothing wrong with me but something wrong with the model we were worshipping. There’s something to learn from that model but it’s also important to realize there is not just one type of leader.

Take the leadership style quiz to discover yours!

CEO Scott Scherr Leads Inclusion in Tech

A tech company that truly puts People First is not a glitch. It’s the result of the deliberate work of its founder and CEO Scott Scherr. In a business that provides HR solutions, Ultimate Software sets the example by taking care of its own associates first.

RSM Hall of Fame

RSM Hall of Fame

When in 1990 Scott Scherr founded Ultimate Software with three other people (two of them women who still work at Ultimate,) they decided one of their key priorities would be to take care of their employees. It’s proven to be a winning strategy judging by the long-term profitability of the company, their enviable 94% employee retention rate and the recurrent recognition as one of the best companies to work for. (Forbes, Fortune, Glassdoor, etc.)

Among his many leadership qualities, Scott has always stood up for inclusion of all kinds, paying particular attention to gender inclusion at the top. He’s fostered a culture of listening to people’s needs and taking quick action even when it meant changing a policy to accommodate one associate’s life’s circumstances.

For his commitment to improving the workplace for 100% of the talent, we honor Scott Scherr with the 2019 Hall of Fame.

Red Shoe Movement — What are some of the key traits of a great leader?

Scott Scherr, CEO, Ultimate Software

Scott Scherr, CEO, Ultimate Software

Scott Scherr — I was brought up in a small family business led by my dad, Reuben Scherr, and I saw first-hand how to lead by example and “walk the talk.”

The core values I learned, whether working with my family or coming up through Corporate America, were the same: treat everyone with dignity and respect. As a leader, take care of your employees. They’ll, in turn, take care of your customers, and the company will thrive.

We founded Ultimate Software 28 years ago on this principle, with a commitment to always put people first. “People First” is more than a mantra. It’s an ethos our more than 4,700 employees embody every day. It drives how we care for our people, design our HR technology, and serve our customers.

As a kid, growing up in the Bronx, I loved to play baseball, basketball, and soccer with my friends. Whenever it came time to choose teams, I always got to be a captain who hand-picked my players. I knew then, and I know now, how important it is to pick the best team and to motivate them to do their best.

I believe the key to Ultimate’s success is the strength of our team—the people who lead and inspire me every day. To symbolize the trust and respect I share with every employee, I give all our people a card with the word “Trust” on one side and “Forever” on the other when they join our team. The idea came from when I met a longtime role model, legendary basketball coach Pat Riley. Pat had given his players similar cards to reinforce the unconditional bond among the coach and his team.

I feel a similar bond of lifelong unity within our Ultimate family, a phenomenal group of leaders I’m honored to work alongside daily. This bond extends to our 4,400 customers, and many now have Trust cards (which I give out at our annual customer conference, Connections), symbolizing our lifelong partnership together.

Scott Scherr talks to a group of employees

Scott Scherr talks to a group of employees

RSM — Why do women make great leaders? 

SS— Ultimate transitioned from a four-person start-up, two of whom were women, to a publicly traded company with more than 4,700 global employees. I’ve witnessed stellar leadership first-hand, starting with my founding colleagues, Vivian Maza and Debra Sasso, both of whom are still with our company to this day, 28 years later. Today, women comprise nearly half (49%) our total workforce, and about 50% hold frontline manager positions.

I don’t believe Ultimate would be as successful as we are today without the unique abilities our female leaders bring to our organization. They’re relentless and innovative in problem-solving. They inspire others to achieve high performance. They collaborate and communicate effectively to make the lives of our employees and our customers better.

For example, Ultimate’s Women in Leadership (WIL) is a companywide group that’s flourished in helping women at all levels of our company achieve their maximum potential. At the same time, WIL encourages women to discuss their goals, ask questions, and collaborate with one another on ways to positively impact future female leaders at work, school, and in the community. WIL has over 65 sub-committee members throughout the United States and Canada and will host more than 90 seminars, workshops, philanthropic outings, and networking events this year.

Don't miss the interview with Hall of Fame 2018 Andrés Graziosi of Novartis
Scott Scherr inspires his team daily with his strong, inclusive vision.

Scott Scherr inspires his team daily with his strong, inclusive vision.

Hear Scott Scherr’s recommendation for approaching your CEO

RSM — How open is your door for your associates to approach you and what’s the best way to do it? What do you expect people to come with when they ask for a few minutes to see you?

SS — From the beginning, I’ve always had an open-door policy and answered my own phone. No matter their roles on our team or how long they’ve been with Ultimate, I want to hear their ideas. I value their feedback and hope to answer their questions and address any concerns.

Listening is vital to any organization, and it’s been key to Ultimate’s success. When our people meet with me, whether in small groups or one-on-one, I’m there to listen. I try to put myself in their shoes. I recognize it’s not always easy to talk with a CEO, but we’re all people and should treat one another with equal respect, value, and care.

When you have the opportunity to meet with company leaders:

  • Bring a Thought-Out Plan: Always know the purpose of your meeting and what you’d like to discuss or accomplish.
  • Be Clear and Concise: Discuss a specific product, service, or organizational issue, and how it impacts you, the company, and your customers.
  • Research Your Ideas: Learn how this might impact the big picture, and the company’s place in the overall industry. What do customers expect. What are competitors doing?
  • Offer Solutions: If you disagree with how something’s done, provide a new method that can lead to more efficiencies or greater success.
  • Remain Open to Change: Accept constructive feedback. Be willing to discuss how the entire team can build upon your idea. The outcome might look different than the original. Be a team player. Offer ways to collaborate with others to achieve goals.
Scott Scherr keeps an open door policy

Scott Scherr keeps an open door policy

RSM — What would you say are the key ways to make people feel like they belong to your organization?

SS — One of my favorite affirmations is “Everyone, Every Day.” This reminds me to always care for, respect, and trust everymember of our organization—and to treat every colleague like family.

From early on, even when Ultimate struggled toward profitability, I made the commitment to pay employee medical and dental insurance and provide everyone, from the receptionist on up, with equity in the company. This is our business. We’re all in it together.

Today, our company is thriving, and we’re about to reach our next championship milestone of $1 billion in revenue. I’m proud that Ultimate still offers 100%-paid healthcare premiums for all employees and their families (including same-sex couples). We also have a 40% dollar-for-dollar 401(k) employer match, with no cap; unlimited personal time off for all exempt employees; annual service days for volunteering in the community; and generous paid maternity, paternity, and adoption leave policies.

Ultimate’s goal is to value the whole person, emphasizing a work-life balance that fosters individual professional growth and development while supporting personal pursuits. That makes Ultimate a company where, we feel, everyone has a sense of belonging—a sentiment that’s illustrated by our 94% employee retention rate.

RSM — In your experience, how does having a diverse and inclusive team of executives impact your bottom line? 

SS — “Walking the talk” in a “People First” culture means we care for and treat all people equally. I believe that, by celebrating individuals’ unique qualities, experiences, and backgrounds, we can all learn a lot from one another and continue to strengthen Ultimate as a whole.

Our family-like culture welcomes all people, and we encourage our employees to bring their whole selves to work. We illustrate that commitment with our companywide Communities of Interest that support LGBTQIA individuals, women, veterans and active service members, and cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers.

Our teams and leaders come from diverse backgrounds, with nearly half of the highest-level management positions on our Software Engineering team are held by people from Canada, Colombia, Dubai, India, Romania, and Puerto Rico, making Ultimate a true melting pot.

I believe these differences define who we are as individuals and make us stronger and more successful as an organization. In Q2 2018, we reported $239.5 million in recurring revenue, up by 23%, and total revenues of $271.2 million, up by 21%. These results are in no small part due to our diverse, inclusive workforce. Our diversity makes Ultimate an inspiring, empowering place for anyone and everyone to work.

Scott Scherr Take Your Kids To Work

Scott Scherr Take Your Kids To Work

Scott Scherr helping promote more women in tech

RSM — As a leader, what are you specifically doing to level the playing field for women in technology?

SS — I believe any team’s success is based on “we,” not me. A company can only achieve its maximum potential if we create a culture that supports and empowers women as technologists, innovators, and leaders.

I greatly value the card we give every new hire, and to our customers. As I mentioned it has the word “Trust” on one side and “Forever” on the other. Every person joining Ultimate—from the first two women who helped me launch the company in 1990, to the more than 4,700 people with us today, including our original two—they’re all members of our Ultimate family, “Forever.” You should feel that inclusion in any organization.

We trust in the talent, innovation, and creativity of our people to make our products and services better every day. My job is to support programs that help us accomplish this.

Our TechStars internship program brings college students and recent graduates onto our development teams. They gain firsthand programming experience, develop their coding skills, and foster personal and professional growth through mentoring.

We’re extremely fortunate for what we’ve built at Ultimate. We pay it forward every year through programs like our Athena Scholarship. We award two college scholarships (up to $20,000 each) to graduating daughters or high school seniors of our employees. These scholarships make it easier for young women to pursue studies in technology and leadership.

Most recently, we introduced Unlimited PTO, to give employees greater flexibility in their work-life balance. They use the time to travel, recharge, or to care for children, parents, or loved ones. This goes back to my commitment of “Trust” and “Forever.” I trust our employees and respect their whole selves, not just their work. It’s a forever commitment from me, on behalf of Ultimate.

I’m proud our commitment to female technologists was recognized by AnitaB.org. This means we’re “walking the talk” in leveling the playing field for women in technology.

RSM— In terms of leadership lessons, is there a particular mistake or failure that you now “cherish” because of what you learned from it?

SS — Nearly 30 years ago, I took a leap of faith in leaving one of the top HCM providers at the time. I enlisted three colleagues to make the jump with me. We started Ultimate Software with two cubicles, and a shared “People First” vision.

I raised our initial funding from a group of peers. I believed in our company and what we were trying to do. I’m grateful for those who embraced Ultimate’s vision and got us off the ground.

It hasn’t always been easy. Throughout our history as an HR software company, we’ve faced great challenges. I call these “thunderbolts.” We’ve seen tough financial times, like when our stock price dropped to $2 a share. I felt tremendous pressure to keep the business moving forward.

In 2002, we made the strategic decision to become our industry’s first Software as a Service (SaaS) provider. It was a risky choice, but I believed this would help Ultimate reach a new level, better able to serve our customers while bringing on new business.

When you face thunderbolts, keep a clear vision. Remain relentless in execution. Stay true to your values and “non-negotiables.” (I refused to waver on healthcare coverage for our people, even when investors questioned the expense).

No matter your industry or business, you’ll have challenges. But it’s during these thunderbolts when you’ll likely do your best work and achieve your greatest success. Great teams are the ones that persist through adversity. They’re focused on one, primary goal as a team. They build upon individual strengths and contributions to reach their objectives—together.

As a company, we’ve seen lows. But when others called it the end for us, we remained strong. We remained committed to our people, and to our lifelong promise of putting people first (employees, customers, and the community). Today, we’re stronger than we’ve ever been. We’re about to become a billion-dollar company, and we have the greatest team of people to thank for it.

Scott Scherr takes a selfie. The organization feels like a big family.

Scott Scherr takes a selfie. The organization feels like a big family.

Cynthia Hudson Moving the Needle Inside the Newsroom

She’s one of the most influential women in Spanish media. Cynthia Hudson, SVP & GM CNNE, is all about having a team that matches her diverse audience.

RSM Hall of Fame

RSM Hall of Fame

Cynthia Hudson decided very early on in her career that she wanted to make the decisions about what stories got told, by whom and how. She quickly realized that in order to have that kind of power, it wasn’t enough to be in front of a camera. That it was even more important to be behind it. Since those very early days as a journalist she has had an impressive career as an executive in media organizations such as SBS, Mega TV Cosmopolitan Television (a Hearst Entertainment and Syndication Group division) and other influential networks. Hudson has won 8 regional Emmy Awards, been named as one of People en Español‘s most powerful women, as well as one of the most powerful Hispanics in Poder, Hispanic Target and other influential publications.

For her relentless work towards inclusion in the newsroom, we honor Cynthia Hudson with this year’s Hall of Fame.

Red Shoe Movement — You started your career as a news producer and reporter in Univision 23 in Miami and quickly decided that you rather be behind the camera calling the shots. Do you remember how you arrived at that decision?

Cynthia Hudson, SVP & GM, CNN en Español

Cynthia Hudson, SVP & GM, CNN en Español

Cynthia Hudson—I wanted to have an impact on the story choices and on the ‘gate keeping” process that is part of journalism.  I understood that great shows, news and any form of content is already cooked way before the first camera starts rolling and I wanted to be the master Chef in that kitchen.

RSM— What tools have you developed to deal with a job that constantly faces you with the unexpected, the unpredictable?

CH—I have learned that expecting change is a given in our field and trying to anticipate the impact of change is a much-needed skill for a leader. Sometimes, it is knowing how to react to a news event but in other cases, it is being able to anticipate the huge impact of technology changes, new media and audience habits that really affect the job of a leader.   I am always trying to understand how our audience is engaging with our content and where we need to be to stay connected with our audience.

Cynthia Hudson’s advice on negotiation

RSM— What have been some of your most powerful tools when negotiating budgets or other major issues with your board? 

CH—Although I don’t deal with a board directly at CNN as I have done at other businesses I have managed, I do deal with a complex and layered business units within one of the most important communication businesses today.  I feel that Transparency and being able to see opportunities for growth are important.   Negotiating a budget is asking for the trust of leadership and that means that you need to be able to understand the wider business needs and how your unit needs to deliver to help reach key goals.   Sometimes, it is about growth and sometimes it is about timing and knowing how to maneuver your overall business opportunities.  Being able to manage risks is critical to overall success. I have faced challenges that required my walking away from a project or plan I believed in, but knew that the timing wouldn’t work with the larger business needs.  At that point you simply have to bite the bullet, but doing it with grace is a sign of management maturity.

Cynthia Hudson is an example of how far you can get in your career when you do what you love.

Cynthia Hudson is an example of how far you can get in your career when you do what you love.

RSM— Would you share with us how you navigated one of the many crises your team has faced in the past few years?

CH— In 2017 we had back to back natural disasters with hurricanes and the Mexico earthquake. Our teams were stretched thin trying to give thorough coverage of these important Human catastrophes and they were working day and night to ensure that CNN en Español was leading the coverage in our region.  This was also a big hit on our budgets.    I needed to inspire my teams to persist even when they were all very tired.   I had to evaluate upcoming planned expenses and cut down so as to ensure that the human and financial resources would be prioritized where we needed them most.   That is a constant in the world of news but you can’t be afraid to say NO to the projects that don’t have the big overall impact while pursuing others.

Cynthia Hudson, SVP & GM, CNNE, is the winner of many Emmy Awards

Cynthia Hudson, SVP & GM, CNNE, is the winner of many Emmy Awards

Ismael Cala's show was a success under Cynthia Hudson's leadership.

RSM— In terms of leadership lessons, what have you learned from your mistakes?

CH—Mistakes are the best university of life.  Unfortunately, many people feel that if they make a mistake they have failed and they give up or pull back and that is when you have to push yourself forward, own it, and move on.   You will learn only if you understand what went wrong and evaluate how you might do it differently next time.  As I have gotten older, I am more aware of the impact that decisions have on all aspects of the business, but you can’t let that damper your sense of risk if the potential reward could positively affect your business.

Cynthia Hudson and Juan Carlos Lopez of CNNE

Cynthia Hudson and Juan Carlos Lopez of CNNE

Ultimate Software, a Tech Company Ahead of the Rest

Ultimate Software, a company that provides Human Resources solutions, is way ahead of the competition. Boasting nearly 50% female leaders in an industry where that number is in the single digits is a testament to the company’s lifelong focus on equality and inclusion. This is what makes Ultimate different!

Ultimate Software is the 2019 Red Shoe Movement Tech Lead. And there couldn’t be a better partner. They lived by our 7 Red Shoe Principles even before they ever met us! The strength of our partnership is evidenced in our interview with two of Ultimate’s top talent, Cecile Alper-Leroux, VP of HCM (human capital management) Innovation, and Heather Geronemus, Senior Manager of Media and Community Relations, who share what makes Ultimate a frontrunner for advancing women’s careers in tech.

Valeria Mendoza— When you think about female leadership at Ultimate Software, what do you see that is different from the tech industry?

Cecile Alper-Leroux of Ultimate Software

Cecile Alper-Leroux of Ultimate Software

Cécile Alper-Leroux—

At Ultimate, half of our employees are women, and approximately 48% of our leaders are women. It has always been that way, since our inception over 28 years ago (we began with four employees: two women and two men). That is a remarkable state of affairs in any industry, but it is unheard of in the tech industry!

Ultimate offers a unique working environment, where women feel they have an equal voice in decisions and are more likely to voice their opinions, disagree, or raise alternate suggestions, without fear of repercussions. Women feel they belong and are welcomed and encouraged tobring their best selves to work. It also means that we have a broader, and I believe, more innovative view of the future of work. Our HR management products are in large part being chosen by women decision-makers, and we believe we can always be better. Including other voices and viewpoints that influence our product creation and services strategy makes our product more competitive.

Scott Scherr, CEO, Ultimate Software, honored on 2019 Hall of Fame

VM— Can you share the story of a successful stretch assignment you had at Ultimate Software?

CAL—The most satisfying stretch assignment I’ve been given at Ultimate was to create a new team—the HCM Innovation team. We knew that, to make the thought leadership applicable for our sales teams, we would have to connect future and theory with the concerns of decision-makers in our prospect and customer organizations today. Because I was given significant creative license, we created a center of excellence and knowledge that has helped not only our standing in the marketplace, but has also elevated the conversations our employees have with customers and prospects. That is helping to shape the conversation about the future of work in a rapidly changing world. If I had not had a leader who trusted me and was patient as we designed the new function, we would not have had the courage to push our limits.

VM— Which ones of the RSM principles do you relate to most and why?

CAL—I relate most to principles 1 and 5, because I believe that they are inextricably linked and can have a significant impact on women at work. Principle 1: “Mentor younger or less experienced women whenever you have a chance.” Mentoring women is important, for all women at all levels and stages of their careers. I’ve learned from every mentoring relationship I’ve had, whether I was the mentor or mentee. Mentoring others helps us crystallize our thoughts and refine our beliefs, which makes us better mentors. Every person can use support and mentorship in their work lives, as it provides a necessary alternate perspective and enriches our thoughts. But I believe mentorship is a critical first step for women’s careers, and we all need to take the next step to become sponsors of the women we mentor. Principle 5: “Celebrate the accomplishments of women publicly.” Sponsorship is more than a one-on-one relationship. It requires a public endorsement of another person. It becomes a relationship in which a sponsor advocates for the mentee/sponsee to propel them forward in their careers. It requires a sponsor taking on the risk of publicly endorsing someone else, and the effect can be career- and life-changing. We need more sponsors for less experienced women in the workplace to ensure a future with equal representation of women in leadership roles.

Ultimate Software team

Ultimate Software team

VM—What is the mission of the group Women in Leadership at Ultimate Software?

Heather Geronemus of Ultimate Software

Heather Geronemus of Ultimate Software

Heather Geronemus—The mission of Women in Leadership is to help women at all stages of their careers at Ultimate reach their maximum potential and support one another. One of the most inspiring traits of female leaders at Ultimate is their willingness to spend time mentoring other women in the company. No matter how busy they are—whether it’s through our formal mentoring program or simply taking the time to give advice, provide encouragement, or answer questions—they’re always available or willing to make time. Our leaders are constantly helping the next generation of Ultimate leaders thrive. They are genuinely warm, caring women who are always ready to share their knowledge and experience with their colleagues, whether they have been with Ultimate for years or days.

VM—Can you share some of the benefits you derived from being part of the group?

HG— There are countless benefits to being part of the Women in Leadership (WIL) group at Ultimate Software. We provide opportunities for personal and professional growth, service to our communities, and networking with peers. I recently participated in one of our mentoring cohorts both as a mentee and a mentor. Without a doubt, this was one of the most rewarding opportunities WIL has provided to me. Naturally, the ability to have a mentor was amazing. But, the most surprising part of the experience was learning how much I had to offer my own mentee who is in a completely different part of the company than I am, and, more importantly, how much we were able to teach each other. Additionally, as a leader in the WIL organization, I have grown tremendously. Working and collaborating with a group of inspired, passionate women who are dedicated to helping other women at our company thrive has been so rewarding.

On March 8, 2019, International Women’s Day, Ultimate Software’s employees and customers join the Ring the Bell on the 7 Seas. They will conduct bell-ringing ceremonies in 18 locations in North America, Europe and Asia! On this day, a company whose color is green, is stepping into red shoes, ties and accessories to support our mission to accelerate the representation of women at the top. That’s just how they roll. Welcome aboard Ultimate Peeps!

Viv Maza, Chief People Officer

Viv Maza, Chief People Officer