Ryder CMO Karen M. Jones: “It is a myth that there are not enough women mentors in Tech”

Authority Magazine
Jan 28 · 11 min read

By Penny Bauder


For me, the biggest myth has been around women mentors and Tech. Even when I started my career 30 years ago at Compaq, there were women in senior positions who I looked up to and who served as mentors to me. I’ve always found women in Tech to be fantastic teachers and role models as I moved up the career ladder and today I try to be a good role model in the same way. While women are limited in numbers within many companies, there are always a few daring souls who will go out of their way to provide advice, coaching and counsel if you simply ask. Additionally, I’ve found plenty of men throughout my career who have also been great role models, mentors and cheerleaders, contributing to my success. Find the men who are not challenged, but embrace diversity in an organization. You will instinctively know them by the people they surround themselves with.


a part of our series about inspirational women in STEM and Tech, I had the pleasure to interview Karen M. Jones. Karen is the executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Ryder System, Inc., a Fortune 500® commercial fleet management, dedicated transportation, and supply chain solutions company. Karen has been working in the marketing industry for more than 30 years. She joined Ryder, an $8.4 billion FORTUNE 500® leader in transportation and logistics, in 2013. In her role as chief marketing officer (CMO), she is responsible for all marketing and new product development efforts across Ryder’s business segments that lead to revenue generation and better customer experiences, as well as integrating the management of all marketing and brand-related activities across Ryder globally to drive growth and enhance brand value. Prior to joining Ryder, Karen was CMO for NRG/Reliant Energy, Inc. where she was responsible for launching the company’s new corporate brand in 2010. Prior to that, she served as senior vice president of Marketing & Corporate Communications for DHL Express in the United States. Her marketing efforts at DHL resulted in the largest awareness increases in the company’s history and within the logistics category, which was considered a major contributor to the advancement of DHL’s recognition in the “Top 100 Most Valuable Brands” by BrandZ. Prior to DHL, Karen served in positions responsible for worldwide brand advertising, sponsorship, strategic alliances, and product marketing for Hewlett Packard and Compaq Computer Corporation. Raised in Texas, Karen holds a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Houston. While she still roots for the Cougars, she now calls South Florida home, where she may — or may not — still own a pair of cowboy boots (she’s not saying). Ask her about her personal life, and Karen will tell you she is a wife of 32 years, a mother, a dog lover, a yogi, a sailor, and a lover of music.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

hen I graduated college, my goal was to work at an advertising agency in New York. Today, as CMO of Ryder, I instead manage several advertising and marketing communications agencies. What brought me to my career path is simply my decision very early in my career to say “yes” to opportunities. By saying yes, I helped create value within my workplace — for myself and the companies I’ve worked for over the years. Within six months of entering the workforce as a secretary, I was promoted to a professional position, and never looked back. In truth, you never know where your career will take you. When I started my career, I did not know what a Chief Marketing Officer did, but today, it is the perfect fit for me and my skills — and I got to where I am today by being open to every opportunity that came my way.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

I can tell you about the thing I am most proud of in my career. At my very first company, Compaq Computer, I was part of a handpicked group that developed a new product. As it turns out, the iPAQ — a first-of-its-kind handheld combination pocket PC and personal digital assistant — was revolutionary and paved the way for many of tech products we use today. I am most proud of that accomplishment, because it took the ultimate in creativity and innovation. Plus, as a young woman, it took leadership and courage to go against the grain and do something so radically different. To this day, I apply the same mindset.

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?

In my first job at Compaq, I was responsible for all the brochures and sales materials created for new products. As a result, I had to attend a press check and approve the blueline before printing millions of pieces of collateral. At 2 a.m. one morning I signed off of the blueline, took a press sheet and went home, meanwhile the presses began running. At 7 a.m. I discovered a mistake. Instead of 40MB (megabytes), I approved 40BM. I literally yelled, “Stop the presses.” I then had to go into my office and tell my boss about my mistake. Luckily, she was forgiving, and the vendor did not charge us. But, it taught me a very good lesson. When you are tired, never approve anything — you might end up making a costly mistake. Get a second set of eyes if it has to be done then. You won’t regret it.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Over the past few years, technology has transformed our industry. Ryder is an 86-year-old global transportation and logistics giant that is speeding into the digital economy, leading the way in the ideation, development, and implementation of several bespoke applications providing real-time visibility, load tracking, and fleet management with just one click. For example, RyderGyde™, the only app of its kind in the industry that allows you to manage a fleet or a single vehicle anywhere. It’s truly remarkable that a company like Ryder, in an industry that has been slow to change, is leading the way in technological transformation, and I am very proud to be part of it. For me, applying my tech skills in an industry that may not seem to be “techy” is both challenging and rewarding.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Five years ago, the transportation industry was largely operating on pen, paper, and fax machines. That’s why I’m so excited about COOP by RyderTM, a one-of-a-kind asset-sharing platform for commercial trucks that my team conceived and implemented. Think of it like Airbnb.com meets Match.com for businesses that have idle trucks and businesses that need extra trucks temporarily. The decision to create and invest in COOP is a bold move for a company that makes the majority of its $8.4 billion in annual revenue from truck leasing, rental and maintenance.

In January, we are announcing the expansion of COOP to the Dallas-Fort Worth market. COOP allows commercial vehicle owners to generate revenue by renting idle trucks and trailers within a network of trusted businesses. It is available throughout Georgia and Florida, and soon-to-be in Dallas-Fort Worth — a move that signals a growing demand for commercial vehicle sharing.

COOP has paid out over $1 million dollars to the owners who have listed their vehicles — vans, trucks, tractors, and trailers — on the platform (so it is helping a lot of people!). To date, there are more than 1,100 businesses on the platform and it has seen a 400 percent transactional growth since it launched in Atlanta in 2018.

So, we are excited about both the success of the program and the signal it sends that Ryder continues to innovate and grow.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

I am never a fan of the status quo. It does not challenge us to go further than we think we can and with women in STEM, we will never go further unless our schools, universities, and corporations put a focus and specific goals for developing women in this area.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

I do think there is an assumption that women can be in HR, Sales, or Marketing, but they could not possibly be the engineers or the technologist of a corporation. No one ever questions a man when he says he’s studying engineering or IT, but with women, there are still question marks even today. I believe that corporations should put specific goals in place for hiring and retaining female talent in these areas and actually in all areas of the business. It is proven that businesses who foster this and have goals to incorporate this diversity in the workplace are the ones who thrive.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?

For me, the biggest myth has been around women mentors and Tech. Even when I started my career 30 years ago at Compaq, there were women in senior positions who I looked up to and who served as mentors to me. I’ve always found women in Tech to be fantastic teachers and role models as I moved up the career ladder and today I try to be a good role model in the same way. While women are limited in numbers within many companies, there are always a few daring souls who will go out of their way to provide advice, coaching and counsel if you simply ask. Additionally, I’ve found plenty of men throughout my career who have also been great role models, mentors and cheerleaders, contributing to my success. Find the men who are not challenged, but embrace diversity in an organization. You will instinctively know them by the people they surround themselves with.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Saying yes to opportunities helps you create your value. Right out of the gate, I was told “no” when I wanted to work at an advertising agency. But, when I finally landed my first job I said “yes” every chance I had and it opened up so many opportunities for me.
  2. Find great mentors. While I grew up the tech world, which was male dominated at the top, there were some women in VP and SVP roles at Compaq that were mentors to me from the beginning. Stay close to them.
  3. Knowing what you are good at helps you build confidence. Working in such a male-dominated field, I’ve found that having confidence is so important. For me, that starts with leaning in to my strengths.
  4. Come to work every day with a unique point-of-view. Just five to six years ago, Ryder was still utilizing paper receipts and paper fuel logs. Because I have a unique POV and I am not afraid of disruption, I was able start COOP, effectively creating a start up in an established company.
  5. Look to grow your tech career at a non-traditional company. It’s counter-intuitive, perhaps, but some of the best opportunities to apply tech skills are in companies that may be in other fields. The rewards can be so great.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Stay true to yourself, don’t become something you’re not to get a job or advance your career.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Get the best people as your leads who are the best in their fields and empower them to do their jobs. Always hire people smarter than you about their discipline. It ultimately makes you look smart.

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?

Without a doubt: my parents. Still to this day, they are there for me with both wisdom and advice. They always told me I could be anything I wanted to be — if I just put my mind to it. My father taught me to not do anything half-way if I want to get anywhere in my life. Also my faith, which is the foundation for how I should conduct myself in work and life.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

On and off the job, I truly believe in doing things that matter. That’s why I find time to serve as an executive board member for the Jackson Health Foundation, which helps fund the not-for-profit Jackson Health System in Miami. I also have a special connection to the organization, thanks to a world-renowned surgeon who successfully performed a life-altering — and possibly even a life-saving — procedure on me when I was just 15 months old. I also serve as a board member for the Broward Public Library Foundation and am a former board member of Take Stock in Children, because I believe knowledge is power and that everyone has a right to it.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I went to Haiti after the earthquake in 2010 on a medical mission with my church. There were several doctors and I went to take blood pressures, temperatures, and dispense medicine — I qualified because I did a very short stent in nursing school, before I changed majors in college. Anyway, we went to village after village providing basic medical care for the locals. Many of the people who lined up did need medical care so for them it was life-altering and just in time, but many of the people just wanted to get in line to be touched and focused on by another human being. It really impacted me. I’m not sure what the movement would be other than “Operation Human Touch.” Simply touching the “untouchables” or “unreachables” in life and giving them hope if only for a day.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

In high school I heard a quote that has stayed with me ever since. It’s by Daniel Burnham, a noted architect and city planner for Chicago, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. He said: “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will themselves not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.” Another way to say: dream big as big plans get people excited.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the U.S. 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 have always admired Carly Fiorina, the first female CEO of a Fortune 50 company in America — with whom I had the fortune to work with in 2002. While known primarily for her tenure as CEO of Hewlett-Packard, she epitomizes an influential business woman. She demonstrated with ease the ability to make decisions quickly and succinctly, with complete confidence while always striving to achieve positive business outcomes — no matter how grand or challenging. I’d like to reconnect with her now, many years later to see what else she would inspire me with and what words of wisdom she would have today.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film…

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Authority Magazine is devoted to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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