“5 things I wish someone told me before I became a CMO” with Jessica Jensen of Sun Basket
An Interview with Phil La Duke
Build a fierce lady posse. Over the last few years I have amassed a group of amazingly talented, driven, funny, successful working women friends and we have so much fun and keep each other sane. We dish about work, marriage, kids, taking care of older parents…anything under the sun. I so wish I had invested in this building this group in my 20's!
As a part of our series about powerful women, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Jensen. Jessica comes to Sun Basket having led high performance marketing teams at some of the world’s leading technology companies. Most recently, Jensen spent the last five years at Facebook, where as Head of Platforms, Products and Insights, she oversaw B2B Marketing for the social media giant’s largest platforms, including Instagram and Messenger. Before working at Facebook, Jessica served as the Global Head of Product Marketing for Apple’s mobile advertising platforms and was the GM of two Yahoo! consumer businesses, Yahoo Health and Shine, which she built into the largest women’s website in the US. Jensen’s role as CMO of Sun Basket is focused on driving Sun Basket’s revenue growth, building an iconic brand, and creating strategic, omni-channel partnerships.
Thank you so much for joining us Jessica! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
My dad was an advertising agency creative director and my mom was a speech and drama teacher. So storytelling and writing ad copy were a big part of our dinner conversation as a family. We wrote jingles together, and I interned at my dad’s agency. I started out my career in management consulting, and loved that, but over time I realized that I am really a creative at heart. I need to be in a business role that fuses math and art. Marketing has ended up being the perfect spot for me on the business horizon.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
After many years working in digital media and advertising, I recently joined Sun Basket as CMO. I was eager to work on a mission and product that I adore and think can benefit people — bringing them delicious, healthy clean food to their homes every day. And now I’m in the food industry and spend a good deal of time talking about ice packs, produce quality, organic standards and watching sales grow and fall literally with the weather. Let’s just say raw fish does not hold up well in August in South Texas! It is a fascinating transition for me, and I love being surrounded by people who truly believe food is medicine.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I did some improv comedy back in the day and I can be pretty zany. I started my career at BCG and was definitely at the far end of nutty at that firm. One night we were all working late and I took over the office PA system and started rapping. People generally liked it, and it lifted tired spirits, but a couple of the partners let me know that I needed to learn how to channel and modulate my humor. I’ve been trying to execute on that very good feedback over the last twenty years.
What is it about the position of CMO that most attracted you to it?
I love to bring a group of people together in a company and unite us in convincing people that our product is the best. I only work for companies where I feel like our product is truly great for people who need it, and we get to show them the way to embrace it. That’s why I joined Sun Basket, because I truly believe that all Americans deserve to eat healthy, delicious food every day, and they need it to be convenient. Now I get to tell our story to the world! I love analytical rigor AND creativity, and CMO is a role that allows me to scratch both itches.
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CMO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
The buck stops with the executive team. They are fully responsible for the safety, quality, and customer satisfaction of the product or service they sell. The are responsible for the safety and satisfaction of their employees. They are responsible for financial performance and ethics. They don’t just oversee teams or function, they hold responsibility for the company’s execution of its mission, and its impact on people and the world.
What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?
I love building teams of people who are unified around a clear mission, who feel they are contributing to something big and important and who are growing and are cared for by me and all of the people around them. I view companies as our second families, and so it is important for us to love and support the people we work with every day. I also really love work dance parties — sometimes you have wave your arms in the air like you just don’t care!
What are the downsides of being an executive?
Well it depends on the role and the company of course, but I have been an exec where I have teams in multiple cities around the world, and you are trying to do team meetings at times that work for London, Dubai and Japan. That can mean meetings at very weird times. A lot of international travel is both exciting and exhausting and takes you away from your family. Overall, I would say the hardest part is that we are expected to be “always on” in today’s hyper-connected world, and making sure your kids know you are really there for them and paying attention can be hard to manage. But I also think it’s very important for kids to see their parents working and engaging with teams and thriving!
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being an executive. Can you explain what you mean?
I think there is a myth that if you are a senior executive you can’t have a rich personal life with your family. That your work will somehow rob your family of time and connection. Women feel this in particular, but also a lot of men. The truth of the matter is if you take divisions of time really seriously and WORK at making time for family and work, it can be awesome. And kids having role models of working parents is super important. It is especially important for little girls to see their mothers working outside the home and being valued for that work.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
No question, it is guilt. The working mothers I work with carry way more guilt than the dads do, in general. “I’m not doing enough for my kid”… “I am not at every soccer game”…”I didn’t make a homemade lunch”…Let go of the guilt ladies! If you love your kid they will feel that. And get your partner to step up to the plate. Moms take on too much!
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Nothing really. I’ve been working for 25 years at companies large and small — at this point I usually know what I’m getting myself into.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?
Flexibility is the single most important thing — the ability to think at a high strategic level one moment and review copy or budgets the next moment. Another aspect I’ve grown to realize over time is that it’s key to have the ability to compartmentalize psychologically; you have to be able to put your work concerns in a box and detach from it to have fun with your family. And you need to be able to put your family concerns aside for a bit and engage fully with work. If you are fully permeable between all of the different concerns we have in our minds, you can get twisted up in a knot.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
I agree with Sheryl Sandberg that the most important career decision you make is your choice of a life partner. Make sure you get someone to help and support you 100% — not 20% of 32%. And then exercise — once you have kids and a big job it is so easy to let go of exercise. Keeping healthy is the only way to stay sane and have energy, in my experience. Finally at work, I follow the “no jerk” rule very carefully — no teams deserve jerks, no matter how “brilliant.”
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
No question it’s my mom and dad. They have been huge cheerleaders for me for my entire life. They took me to museums and plays and foreign countries and made sure I got a broad view of human experience. And they had unflagging confidence in me. They always said “You can be Preside of the United States if you want to.” My well of self worth and drive 100% comes from them and their love.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I try to inspire women every day to reach higher and imagine themselves running companies. I mentor women around Silicon Valley and was the executive sponsor of Women @ Apple. I am also a supporter of Planned Parenthood and think they work they do to protect family health care is essential and constantly under threat. And I try to help my daughter learn to be self-reliant and advocate for herself, and to be the big, awesome person she wants to be.
What are your “3 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Build a fierce lady posse. Over the last few years I have amassed a group of amazingly talented, driven, funny, successful working women friends and we have so much fun and keep each other sane. We dish about work, marriage, kids, taking care of older parents…anything under the sun. I so wish I had invested in this building this group in my 20's!
- Get your fertility tested before the age of 35. I waited a bit too long to decide to start a family and I wish I had seen a doctor in my early 30's, which would have given me more information about my options.
- Don’t worry so much about specific stops on the career journey, just make sure you’re learning along the way. When I was leaving consulting I was all worked up over what was the right next job move for my career. Turned out I would make at least five more career moves and they would all be fascinating and I would contribute and learn very different valuable things at each stop. It’s all gravy, as one of my friends would say!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would love to get a “working moms helping other moms” movement together. It would be awesome to create virtual networks of working moms who support each other, provide mentoring and advice and connections. I’m a member of a Moms in Tech group on Facebook and we provide incredible support to each other. We help each other through tough career decisions and family issues. I think we need many more groups like this, so women feel they can get career and overall life advice, and so they can continue to stay in the workforce AND still thrive in their lives.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote of all time — “To lead the people you have to love the people” — I view as a statement about life and leadership. I think equal, kind treatment should be the underpinning of all we do a humans, as governments, as societies. And I try to infuse my work as a business leader with love and generosity, and a good dash of fun.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
I admire Oprah so much — she is both an incredible business empire builder but also shares her true self and life struggles. She always wants people to be and do their best and she shares such magical energy. I would faint from joy if I could meet her!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
About the Author:
Phil La Duke is a popular speaker & writer with more than 400 works in print. He has contributed to Entrepreneur, Monster, Thrust Global and is published on all inhabited continents. His most recent book is Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention listed as #16 on Pretty Progressive magazine’s list of 49 books that powerful women study in detail. Follow Phil on Twitter @philladuke or read his weekly blog www.philladuke.wordpress.com