Guest Q&A with Jen Grant On Her Journey To Become CEO of Turbo Systems￼
Jen Grant was just appointed as CEO of Turbo Systems. To celebrate her success and share insights with Women in Revenue members, here is her journey. With Guest Interviewer: Luann Abrams, Founder CEOX, Partner with Women in Revenue.
QUESTION: Congratulations on your appointment as CEO of Turbo Systems, tell us about some highlights of your journey that got you here?
ANSWER: I spent the last 20 years building companies from the ground-up and taking multiple companies to over a billion dollar valuation. As CMO, I led Looker’s marketing until the 2.6B acquisition by Google in 2019, led the rebrand of Elastic and built the team that took the company public for 2.4B in 2018, and grew Box from a small start-up to an industry-leading enterprise content company with a 1.7B IPO in 2015. I’d say some of my favorite moments were the first Box billboard “Box vs. Sharepoint: Sharing should be simple” as well as developing, launching and MC-ing Boxworks and JOIN, keystone customer conferences for Box and Looker respectively. I was also instrumental in creating the culture at both Box and Looker by bringing everyone together to create company values that were fun, inspiring and authentic. And, even after all these years, those values are still there and still a part of those cultures.
QUESTION: What are some of the goals you have for Turbo Systems now that you have taken the lead?
ANSWER: This year my main goal is to build a repeatable go-to-market engine. We have seen that our mobile app for field service is a hit, and now it’s up to us to get the word out, share this product with as many companies as possible and show how we can continue to successfully deploy customers at scale. We’ve got 30 customers today and are in the hands of hundreds of field technicians. I’d like to get hundreds of customers and thousands of technicians. At the same time, I’d like to explore other common pain points that Turbo could solve. Many companies are paying a lot for software and only using 15% of the functionality. Turbo makes it easy to create an app that molds to exactly what you need without all the extra functionality and cost of traditional software solutions. Especially in this time of crisis, companies can’t continue paying as much for software and must look at how they can cut costs and preserve jobs. Turbo can help, so we want to make sure everyone knows about that.
QUESTION: What about your skills, abilities and experience made you the perfect candidate for Turbo Systems CEO?
ANSWER: Turbo Systems was founded by Hari Subramanian who is a brilliant product and engineering leader. He spent 15 years building ServiceMax as co-founder and CTO and deeply understands field service companies and what they need. I bring 20 years of experience in building marketing, sales and customer success engines at some of the most recent unicorn successes. In all of my companies I have been behind building the culture, values and strategy that ultimately drove each of them to a successful outcome. The partnership between Hari and I is the perfect fit of skills that we need to make the next billion dollar company.
QUESTION: How do you envision building a diverse team at Turbo Systems, especially in the highly undiverse departments like sales?
ANSWER: Building a diverse team is very important to me and I was drawn to Turbo in some part because the team is already quite diverse. I was very happy that our first sales rep was a woman and a Latina. The US team is two-thirds people of color and I’m hopeful we can continue this trend as much as possible. But it won’t be easy to maintain that ratio, so we will need to be deliberate in our hiring process and make sure we are considering a diverse panel of candidates when we hire. From what I’ve seen in previous companies, taking the time to field a diverse group of candidates (and avoiding the “opportunistic hire!”) can make a very big difference.
QUESTION: You have joined the company at an incredibly unique time in history amidst a global pandemic. What are you doing to help your company get through this challenging time and what advice would you give to others?
ANSWER: I’m thinking about it in three ways:
First, part of my role is to check-in with my team and keep asking “how are you doing?” and “are you OK?” to make sure everyone is staying healthy and sane. At Turbo we’ve started weekly Appy Hours to just see each other on video, toast whatever success we’ve had that week, and share funny stories about how we’re doing with our pets and kids running around in the background.
Second, I look for ways we can get back to the kind of productivity we had when we were all together. What tools do we need? Sometimes it’s a daily “stand-up” meeting where we quickly check-in, sometimes it’s just a few updates, sometimes it’s a fun brainstorm, but either way we’re trying to replicate the hallway conversations that we used to have in the office. Sometimes it’s literally a tool. We’re currently exploring how we can replicate sharing a whiteboard as we brainstorm solutions. Lots of different tools, iPads, Apple Pens, and there isn’t yet a stellar solution, but I’m sure it’s out there!
Third, I am asking the team to think about how we can help our customers and the small and medium sized businesses we serve. We know these companies are looking at their bottom line and wondering why they are paying so much for software. We’re offering 3 free months of Turbo to help: in just a week we’ll help build an app tailored to exactly what their company needs without spending a dime, then they can turn off the expensive software and save money. We’ve also built a safety checklist app that makes it easier for their field technicians to do their jobs with the confidence that they are protecting themselves. I’m sure there is more we can do, so we are continuing to brainstorm how to help.
QUESTION: With only 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs female, what do you think will need to change to improve these figures?
ANSWER: Women need to pull each other up. That’s what the Boys Club was right? It was the “opportunistic hire” of a friend and a “guy I know who’s great.” While it would be lovely to say we can change decades of unconscious bias against women, it is unrealistic. Yes, there are some men that are wonderful (such as my husband) and some that are ‘woke’ to the realities of unconscious bias, but there’s no way we will change the perception of everyone. However, there are enough women in executive positions today that we can do this on our own. Those of us that are in these positions, we need to give a hand-up to other women. Give someone their first Director role when they are ready (and not 5 years later), fight for those women in your organization that deserve their VP promotion, notice when someone is struggling to move up and give them feedback that can help them succeed. And when you leave a role, pull someone up behind you. I was so thrilled that as I left Looker, there was an incredibly talented woman ready for her CMO role that could step right in my place. And, of course, organizations like Women in Revenue that bring us together, allow us to create our own networks of exceptional women leaders that we can use when we start to hire. It’s all doable and it’s all in our own control.
QUESTION: At what point in your career did you start seeing yourself as a potential CEO?
ANSWER: My mom might say it was very early that I started bossing everyone around! But in reality, for a woman, that’s a hard question to answer. There is so much internal struggle with accepting and asking for leadership roles. We are taught to be humble (at least in the 80s we were!) and so we sometimes don’t raise our hands enough for opportunities. It is also hard to even imagine yourself as a CEO, if there aren’t any women to look up to. I worked directly with CEOs for 15 years, helping them with their messaging, their vision and their big strategic presentations, but I always was in the background. I think at some point during those moments I would wonder, “why aren’t I on stage?” and it was then that I started to let go of my humble attitude and realized I was not only ready, but I had all the skills I needed.
QUESTION: Did you have any advocates/sponsors who helped you achieve your career goals?
ANSWER: There are so many people who have been there for me, it’s hard to point to just one (and harder to risk forgetting someone!). If I was forced to answer, first I would say the group of Box women that continue to be my friends, mentors, support group, and network of amazing business leaders. Second, I would say my husband. He gets to see those moments of weakness when I doubt myself or doubt what I’m doing. He tells me to repeat in my head: “I’m Jen “F-ing” Grant” when I’m feeling a bit less than myself and I’d have to say that it works in bringing me the confidence that I need.
QUESTION: There are numerous leadership skills that women tend to score higher on than men (such as taking initiative, resilience, self-development, high integrity and honesty, Developing, inspiring and motivating others, building relationships) which do you think you excel at and how have you used them in your career?
ANSWER: At my core, I am also most inspired by developing the people on my team. I can think of no greater joy than seeing someone grow from their first-job to being an executive. I’m often told that people love working for me because I let them do their work, cheering their successes, and giving them clear specific feedback on how they could do it better. I am always looking for a person’s superpower. What do they do that is exceptional? Find that guiding light, and then give it room to grow, put them into projects to make it work for the company and for their career.
QUESTION: You know that being a tech CEO is a rarity for a woman. Some women want to be known just as a CEO and others embrace being known as a “woman CEO.” Where do you fall on that continuum and why?
ANSWER: While it would be wonderful if a woman CEO was a normal thing, it’s just not the case today. And because of that, I have a responsibility to stand up and be counted. Does it mean an extra burden on me to speak more often and to talk about being a woman CEO? You bet it does. But I do it for all the women out there who need to see that it’s possible, and for all the men that need to see it too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say “But there aren’t any women CEOs <insert Sales Reps, Engineers, etc.>” and it is just flat wrong. I believe I can help by being visible, so that is a burden I happily will bear.
QUESTION: Women in Revenue ask each of our leaders, “What advice would you give your younger self?” and would love to hear what this would be for you?
ANSWER: I think earlier in my career I took everything so very seriously. There are always going to be aggressive people and those that want to push you down. But there’s no reason you have to let them get to you. Take a deep breath, avoid reacting, lean back and ask questions. Sip that latte, slow down the conversation, and even meditate when you get hot. Every time you stay calm while someone else gets aggressive, you win.