As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Eva Huston.
As CSO, Eva is responsible for creating and executing on initiatives designed to grow and build value for Duck Creek, spearheading development and execution of corporate strategy. She has extensive experience in market segmentation, pricing and competitive structures, organic and acquisition-driven growth, and numerous other strategic and operational areas. In previous executive roles, Eva served as Chief Financial Officer at Verisk Analytics as well as in various other roles at Verisk, including Treasurer, Chief Knowledge Officer, and Head of Investor Relations, leading the company’s strategic direction from its IPO in 2009 forward as it scaled up. Prior to that, Eva was a Managing Director in telecom, media, and technology investment banking at JP Morgan Chase & Co. She earned a B.S. in Foreign Service from Georgetown University. Eva has deep experience in corporate strategy and SaaS business models and has built her career on connecting customer needs with tailored offerings through a robust understanding of value creation.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! 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?
I was born in Australia and grew up in Oklahoma, and always had a love for exploration and new ideas. I took an unconventional path in my career, always seeking out new challenges and opportunities to learn. While math was my strongest subject in high school, I studied international politics in college and then took a job with a bank to try the business world. I fell in love with the pace of investment banking and learning about how new and established companies worked in the telecom media and technology sectors. That eventually led me to the corporate world in the data/analytics/tech space where I had the opportunity to own my decisions instead of just making recommendations.
My first corporate roles gave me a broad view of how a corporation works and specific knowledge about how technology and analytics in the insurance industry can bring huge value. After my last role as a CFO, the opportunity to join Duck Creek and build our strategy function is an exciting new creative challenge that I feel well prepared for.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I’ve been with Duck Creek for a little more than two months and I have not been in our offices in person yet and had only met our CEO, Mike, in person (before the pandemic began). I think the most interesting thing is that despite these unusual times, the Duck Creek team and company culture have made me feel fully connected through virtual means.
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 remember being in a meeting with a senior banker when I was early in my investment banking career. We were with a client and the senior banker shared an idea that just wouldn’t work structurally, so I spoke up and explained how we would need to adjust the deal. After the meeting, someone pulled me aside and told me I had just contradicted a “very important person” as he also observed that I was correct about the deal structure. It was funny because I never considered that giving good advice to a client could be taken as a challenge to authority. I learned from that to be more sensitive to the way other people may react to you based on various dynamics, and at the same time that you should always believe in your ideas even when they are different from those of higher “rank.”
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?
My mother has been an incredible force, always advocating for me to be challenged in school and encouraging me to pursue my passions. As a woman raising three children alone after my father’s death, it is amazing she found the time and energy to do all that she did to support us in so many ways.
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?
I believe you have to prepare and then trust yourself. Before an important decision, I remind myself of the work I’ve done that places me in a position for success, and then let go. I find taking your mind off the task as you are going in is the best thing rather than cramming until the last minute. I might listen to music, take a quick run if I can, or work on a small piece of art to help my mind be free to do its best. Then I just tell myself “you got this” and I also always think “what’s the worst that can happen?” Very few things in life have irreversible outcomes.
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?
I believe that our success comes from a diversity of people, experiences, and ideas. When you have a leadership team that reflects that diversity, it speaks volumes about your company’s values. That empowers every employee to see that diversity and the ideas that come with it is important. If your people understand that they are respected and important, they will let their talents shine and drive the success of the organization.
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.
I think it starts with being intentional about your goals at a high level and what success looks like. For example, ensuring that any candidate slate is diverse and not accepting a view like “we can’t find someone qualified who is a woman, of color, etc.” Then you also have to get to know individuals by working side by side and listening to what motivates them so you can be an advocate for their freedom to achieve their aspirations and dreams.
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?
You could say an executive generally has responsibility for a larger part of the organization, be that number of people, or as in the case of my role as Chief Strategy Officer, for working with our team to build and execute on our vision for the future. An executive is responsible for both seeing the bigger picture and serving as the connector between that and the day-to-day work.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
Because an executive is often seen through her or his business role, it might be easy to forget that an executive also has many of the same challenges of all people, like raising children, maintaining personal and family relationships with a limited amount of time, what to make for dinner, etc. We also have other things that motivate us outside of work. For me, in addition to being CSO, board member, wife, and mother of three, I play ice hockey and am a street artist. All of these things are part of who I am. We are all multi-dimensional.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I believe that sometimes women’s behaviors are interpreted differently than men’s due to cultural expectations. For example, I have been told when I state an opinion strongly that I am aggressive or that I don’t need to be angry. The same approach would often be accepted or even rewarded by a man. So we need to both be aware of these norms and at the same time stay true to ourselves and still do our jobs well! It can be tiring, yet I always try to look at it as an opportunity to move the world to a new way of seeing women in the work world.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I knew we had a huge opportunity to grow and to serve our customers, but I had no idea how many opportunities there would be that connected into the excellence of our core P&C systems.
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?
I believe to be an executive means to be a leader, and a leader is someone who aspires to make a difference in the world beyond just what they can contribute as an individual. To be a successful leader, you need to be motivated internally, not by title or what others will think of you but because you are making your people, your company, and your world better. I would say that if you are passionate about what you are doing and want to find more people to join you in pursuing that passion, go for it!
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Remember that each person has something to contribute of value, and it is your privilege to help them find it.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I work to give to my community in multiple ways. I donate money to support good causes because I am able. I also volunteer my time; in particular, I do kitchen work for God’s Love We Deliver (https://www.glwd.org/ ), an organization that delivers fresh meals to those with medical conditions who are unable to cook for themselves. Finally, I work to be a presence in my community, working with groups who support my children’s passions like hockey and chess, and also by contributing positivity to NYC through street art.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
I think there is only one thing to know, be yourself. If you do that and are motivated from the heart, everything else will work itself out.
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.
Inspiring those to leadership who might otherwise be overlooked. It would really be a grassroots movement taken up by those who have the ability to make a difference.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”- Albert Einstein
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
Two people come to mind, David Epstein (author of Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World) and Manon Rhéaume, the first woman to play in any North American professional sports leagues. I think they both would have amazing perspectives to share on how we blend the breadth of life with the specifics of the world.