Women Of The C-Suite: Cindy White of Mitek On The Five Things You Need To Succeed As A Senior Executive
…Celebrate milestones. If your plan entails a workshop, celebrate the completion of the first workshop by scheduling another one. If your plan entails inviting in a guest speaker to talk at an all-hands, celebrate by getting folks connected post-event. If your plan is around recruitment, celebrate each new hire at a monthly or quarterly meeting. Show progress against the plan and gather feedback from participating members or teammates. Remember the right level of change is often slow, so keep the momentum high.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, we had the pleasure of interviewing Cindy White.
Cindy White is Mitek’s Chief Marketing Officer responsible for leading company’s global marketing, brand, communications, product marketing, customer acquisition and partner programs. Before joining Mitek, Cindy was Vice President of Marketing at FICO, where she developed a deep interest and expertise in fraud prevention. Cindy has spent 20 years in technology, most of that time at Microsoft.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Like everyone’s backstory, there are twists and turns that you don’t quite understand at the time, but soon realize that every new role brings a learning opportunity and a time to hone your skill or learn more about what you don’t want. I consider myself very fortunate to have started my marketing career in the consumer goods industry in the late 1990’s when big budget television advertising was both the science and the art of communication. As a brand manager, I learned the very best disciplines in customer centricity, and I sweated the tangible results. We constantly asked, “Does the consumer buy in to the message? Do they believe?” I learned the analog basics that have informed the digital era of today and it was through this large multinational (YUM today, PepsiCo back then) that I developed my passion for global marketing.
Microsoft South Africa recruited me for my global experience and that started my 20-year career in technology. Once you’ve worked a year in technology, it becomes very difficult to work as a marketer anywhere else. Who doesn’t want to be at the epicenter of innovation and change? From the pace and demands, to the impact and rewards, it really is unique.
I feel honored to be a woman in technology.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve experienced the resilience and flexibility of the Mitek teams, our customers and partners. As a marketer, it’s been super interesting to witness the power of human need and how demand drives adoption, particularly in a moment of crisis. Within the first six weeks of stay-at-home orders, search volumes for “identity verification” increased 69 percent. The pandemic rapidly accelerated digital transformation, and our company found itself responding to inquiries well beyond fiscal expectations. Consumers’ needs were driving digitization and many businesses needed to respond and offer their goods and services through an entirely new channel. Previously, taking a selfie to prove a person’s identity was considered high friction, but with countries and businesses in lock-down, consumers adapted and immediately perceived it as an enabler.
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 was hosting at an all-hands meeting, and I was so focused on my colleague’s presentation that I forgot my queue to enter stage. I made it on time and whilst I was frazzled, I’m not sure the audience noticed.
Mistakes can happen but we need to be flexible enough to brace them. “Roll with it!”
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?
There are too many to share them all here. My success in the U.S. was definitely shaped by the support and coaching of Takeshi Numoto who was leading the Microsoft Office/Office 365 product management group. I had been recruited to the U.S. Office team from South Africa and I was one of a very few team members working on B2B marketing for small and medium business (SMB). When you move countries mid-career, it feels you are starting over again, particularly from a networking perspective. I was fortunate to have both a broad and deep network in South Africa and many champions to support me. As a transplant in the U.S., I had to work hard to forge connections and advocates from scratch.
About five months into my new position at the Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, WA, I presented at an all-hands meeting on the growth opportunity for SMBs. Takeshi showed immediate interest and invited me to shadow him on his upcoming European business visit. This five-day, six-city trip turned out to be career changing for me. Not only did I learn five years’ worth of Microsoft insight in five days, but I got to share my experiences with Takeshi relative to the retail and consumer businesses that I had led in South Africa, and many conversations relative to the differences between B2B and B2C then pursued. Fast forward a few months and an opportunity to lead consumer marketing for Office appeared, it turns out that Takeshi was my advocate and helped me land that role. Today Takeshi is the CMO for Microsoft’s commercial BU.
I will forever be grateful to have had the opportunity to work on the worldwide release of Office 365 representing consumers — in particular the packaging, branding and consumer messaging of the first ever subscription product.
My message for readers is to never let an opportunity to tell your story go. Be bold and share. Your talent and skills are needed.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
Know your audience. Know them intimately.
Preparation is, of course, what will ensure that you thrive in stressful periods. I learn about not only the content and subject matter, but my audience, surroundings, and the technology I will be using. That said, for me, the most important of all of these is intimately understanding the audience for the meeting, presentation, or interview.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
We’ve all seen the data that supports the fact that “diversity drives greater results” and it’s as simple as that. Diversity is about diverse perspectives, diverse experiences, diverse strengths, diverse competencies and diverse abilities. When we hire a head of engineering, we are hiring a person for competency and strength in the engineering area of expertise, but we wouldn’t hire a head of engineering to lead marketing or to lead finance. So, why then would we want all the leaders of our organization to have same experience, ability, and competency?
Empathy helps us understand this better. I had the privilege to start my career at the early stages of transformation in South Africa led by Nelson Mandela, one of the most empathetic leaders of all time. There were so many lessons learned during this time but for me Nelson Mandela was the ultimate male feminist. Mr. Mandela knew that he needed all South Africans to support his strategies and policies, regardless of gender, age or ethnic background. To secure their support, he needed to understand their needs intimately and communicate in their language. Support brought national peace. I think that’s success right there.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
Nelson Mandela’s method has hugely influenced my approach because it worked.
- Acknowledge that there is a problem. To truly understand the extent of the problem, we need to listen and learn. We need to dig deep so that we can truly empathize. This is often painful, and we will be exposed to stories we wish we had known or heard decades ago, but we can only look forward and change if we experience the loss of the past.
- Be committed. Commit to the change, the process and follow through. Without commitment, it will just be business as usual. Commitment requires a plan which leads to outcomes.
- Lead by example. Identify early on where you can personally make a difference, and pursue some quick wins, so that the rest of the team, group or organization will be inspired.
- Celebrate milestones. If your plan entails a workshop, celebrate the completion of the first workshop by scheduling another one. If your plan entails inviting in a guest speaker to talk at an all-hands, celebrate by getting folks connected post-event. If your plan is around recruitment, celebrate each new hire at a monthly or quarterly meeting. Show progress against the plan and gather feedback from participating members or teammates. Remember the right level of change is often slow, so keep the momentum high.
- Be infectious. If positive change is transferrable, we will achieve equality quicker.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO 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?
Responsibility. Everyone has a responsibility to show up each day, do the work and do it to their best capability. As an executive our responsibility is to the people that make up the company. We are needed to make the best decisions on all accounts that will protect their livelihood, create opportunity for growth and longevity for employment.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
We don’t have glass offices! Today, we work at home with our pets.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Labeling. Women, like other minority groups, have to first work through subliminal bias, before they can lead a convention, reflect on success or announce a new role. Unfortunately, I hear of lot of prejudice comments such as “she only got that job because she’s a woman” or “it was a diversity placement.” The simple label of female leader detracts from the actual contributions and impact of the individual.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
My colleagues keep getting more supportive and more amazing. Whoever said it’s lonely at the top has not met my peers or my boss!
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? Can you explain what you mean?
Those who listen to learn will have a better chance of being successful. Every customer, every team member and every colleague has something to offer that I don’t know. By paying attention to every engagement, we are able to better provide responses to the needs that they are telling us about. I have a personal passion about quality, and I try not to accept mediocre. No customer deserves average, and no team member deserves ordinary. Whether we are showing up for a one-to-one meeting, or delivering a live podcast and everything in between, always put in the effort and do it to your best ability.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Now is our time, leverage it wisely. Thrive.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Firstly, success is a relative term, and I feel I have a very long way to go. I am a woman working in technology, for which I am so grateful, so I try to give back to women in technology.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
I wish someone would have told me that:
- I would see fewer customers. My team leads are initiating those meetings and thriving. I miss the frequent interaction, but also value the engagements I have now.
- I need to manufacture time. Scheduling time to learn, review and challenge is now a part of my Monday. If I don’t schedule the time, it won’t happen, as days become consumed with meetings. It’s imperative that I uphold my responsibility to provide on point, up-to-date insights.
- I need to schedule “skip-level” 1:1’s if I want to get the real news. Just this week I joined a product marketing team meeting early and so did one of the product marketing managers. I realized that I hadn’t had a one-to-one with her in over four months and I miss it and her.
- Hone my leadership skills. Take a class. Listen to a podcast. Read more. There is so much material out there, and there are so many exceptional leaders that I learn from. It’s a high priority for me.
- Stop feeling like an imposter. I constantly ask, “do I deserve this?”. Honestly, I have to pinch myself that I get to have this role in a field I’m so passionate about and that I lead teams of such high caliber.
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 inspire a movement to stop domestic violence against women. I have never personally experienced any domestic violence, so I cannot comprehend it. But through news and articles, books and interviews of victims in the rural parts of South Africa, I realize that we can all do better.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Dwayne Johnson may have coined the phrase, but this was my father’s mantra and ethic: “Be humble, hungry and always be the hardest worker in the room.”
There are always going to be people more talented, more experienced or more charismatic — competition is real. There are so many amazing people in this world. Drive, passion and hard work will get you from A to B. Make sure you know your A and your B.
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 wish to thank Bill and Melinda Gates for all they have done in Africa, both as part of their foundation but also before the foundation. When I was working in the South African subsidiary of Microsoft and they heard our cry for help around the need for free software and investment in education, they acted. Microsoft, then and now, continues to invest in learning centers, scholarships and ongoing free software. Their commitment to HIV/AIDS and malaria is unparalleled and while these extra efforts are somewhat unknown in the U.S., they have positively changed lives of so many in South Africa and all of Africa. I will always be proud of the work that Bill Gates and Microsoft enabled us to do in South Africa.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.