Be vulnerable. This is especially true for senior staff, because vulnerability instills trust. I admit that I do not know everything. In fact, when I look at the collective knowledge of my team, I realize that I actually know very little. So, showing that you are vulnerable fosters a culture where it is safe to fail.
As part of my series of interviews with women in the C-suite, I had the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth Salomon, the Chief Financial Officer at Xactly, a category leader in sales performance management software. A trusted executive with a consistent track record of providing sound financial guidance, Elizabeth has led Xactly through rapid growth since she joined the company in 2017. Elizabeth’s background includes CFO and other finance leadership roles at start-ups as well as multi-billion dollar organizations including Bank of America, startup MedCenterDirect.com and TicketMaster. She began her career as a senior manager at Ernst & Young and was selected for a highly competitive fellowship program at the Office of Comptroller Currency. Today, Elizabeth resides in Denver, Colorado.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Throughout my life, I have never been afraid to try new things. I love to take risks, get involved, and explore new opportunities. There is a certain amount of risk — calculated risk, I might add — that comes with the job of CFO, and I think it was what drew me to this career path early on. I like knowing that my decisions will have an impact on the trajectory of a company.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I joined Xactly just after it was acquired by Vista Equity Partners in 2017. Xactly has adopted a number of Vista’s best practices to help increase our growth trajectory. One of the cool things that I have been a part of is the growth of our Denver office. Our headquarters are in Silicon Valley and we have long had a presence in Denver, but after the Vista transition, we decided to make our Denver office our Center Of Excellence. I am the sole C-level executive in Denver, and that has given me the opportunity to represent Xactly in the thriving Denver business community. Over the past couple years, the office has tripled in size, and I am excited to continue leading us through ongoing growth and development while also increasing our civic presence. Plus, the Xactly name is in the skyline of Denver and it’s pretty cool to wake up and see that every day.
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?
My very first job out of college was at one of the large national public accounting firms in Atlanta on the audit team. Part of the job involved spending time at various client offices. During my second week, I was asked to go to my first client meeting. This meant me having to drive to their offices and at that time, we did not have GPS built into our phones or cars. Luckily, I happened to live near a senior auditor who was on the project with me who knew the way to the client site and she suggested that I follow her in my own car to familiarize myself with the route. That morning, as we were on our way, I noticed that it was a bit icy out. And, right as we entered the highway, she suddenly slammed on the breaks, and I subsequently did the same, but with the slippery roads, I could not stop fast enough. I ran right into her. To make things worse, this was our first face-to-face interaction. All of our prior communication was done over email. On top of that, word soon got around the office about the incident, but it was completely misconstrued. Everyone thought that I had actually hit her, physically! It was not how I expected my first few weeks on a new job to go, but it taught me to develop a thick skin and find a way to move on from uncomfortable situations.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our core values drive how we operate every day to deliver the best experience for our customers. We really do live our values of C.A.R.E (Customer Focus, Accountability, Respect and Excellence). Xactly holds an annual C.A.R.E. Week, a global, company-wide initiative celebrating our values with each day focusing on a different aspect of C.A.R.E. The week culminates in Xactly’s Global Day of Giving, when each office spends the day out in their own communities, volunteering for organizations in need. Giving back is another key part of what Xactly is all about. The company established a foundation dedicated to supporting organizations in our communities. During our C.A.R.E. Week this past August, I was able to volunteer at the Food Bank of the Rockies. It’s an amazing organization that has provided 145K meals across 30 counties in Colorado and the entire state of Wyoming. During this volunteer session, we split into groups and helped in each area of the process — from assembling boxes of food to sorting donations and working the dock to distribute food across across 600 programs, we were given the opportunity to have a hand in providing meals for those in need. There was a fabulous energy throughout the day and I know that everyone involved came away from the opportunity eager to volunteer again.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Our focus at Xactly is always on customers unleashing their potential. One of our major differentiators from our SaaS competitors is our data. We have fourteen years worth of aggregated data which helps our customers see how they compare to other companies in similar industries or verticals. From time to time, we slice this data and we learn some pretty fascinating things. For example, in 2014 we looked at compensation for sales representatives and leaders by gender. You would think that there would be minor differences, but the data proved otherwise. We learned that, across the majority of industries, women outperform men, but they were paid less. We repeated the same data pull in 2019 and we were surprised to learn very similar findings. Diversity and inclusion is not just the right thing to do, but is also good for business. By announcing this data on an annual basis, we are trying to shed light on the gender pay gap in the sales industry.
We have also been able to use this data to help our customers predict sales rep attrition, which is incredibly important for businesses. Losing a high-performing sales rep or leader can have a significant impact on the bottom-line, including the time and money needed to search for and hire a replacement. Being able to understand the likelihood of a particular sales resource to leave the company is extremely valuable.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
I have learned so much over the years. I love building high performing teams. I’ve always loved team sports. I played on many teams, including playing on the high school boys soccer team when we moved to a new place without a girls team.
Throughout my life, I’ve learned a few things you can do to help your teams thrive:
- Hire the best people. You should not be nervous or afraid to hire individuals who are smarter than you. You, and your team, will learn from them.
- Hire for talent, but also fit. Skills and ability to do the job are one thing, but if the energy and fit with the broader team is unbalanced, your team will not be able to thrive.
- Be vulnerable. This is especially true for senior staff, because vulnerability instills trust. I admit that I do not know everything. In fact, when I look at the collective knowledge of my team, I realize that I actually know very little. So, showing that you are vulnerable fosters a culture where it is safe to fail.
- Help your team members grow. I have always considered it part of my job to help each of my team members to grow and get to the next level and beyond, even if that might mean growing them for roles outside of the company.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
With a large team you need to optimize the structure so that it is not too flat or vertical. There is no right formula as every situation is unique. Finding that balance is critical. Again, I think hiring the right people and setting them up for success early on with the right resources and tools is critical. From there, it is a matter of getting out of their way. Be there if they need you — to listen or provide guidance, but otherwise let them get the job done, grow, and drive results.
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?
When I began my career in accounting and finance, it was a very male-dominated field. I was fortunate to have been given some unique opportunities over the years. One person in particular is Tony Reisz. He was a colleague of mine at a multi-billion dollar company. During that time, I was the divisional CFO and he led one of the business units in the division. When he left to become CEO of a private-equity backed software company, he called me and asked me to come in as the CFO. It was definitely a surprise. I did not think that I was ready, but he did. At the time, the company was in a very challenging turnaround situation and they were hemorrhaging money. They brought Tony in to turn it the business around. The stakes were high and they were in a position where they needed to restructure the organization. He believed in me more than I believed in myself at the time. It has been an amazing partnership and friendship. Since then, we have both been recruited to other companies, but I can attest that a lot of my strategic thinking and approach to lead executive teams was from what I learned from Tony.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
The success I’ve had has helped to establish a platform on which I can spread a positive message, and get more people involved in organizations that do good. As I mentioned, at Xactly we host a C.A.R.E. Week, during which time I can reiterate to our entire 300-person office in Denver the importance of volunteering. If those 300 people each take one hour out of their day, month, or even year to volunteer because of my message, that’s 300 hours to help those in need — it adds up fast. I’m also on the board for the Downtown Denver Partnership and have been involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters, so just sharing my love for those organizations, encourages people to get involved, as well.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
The value of maintaining relationships. The world isn’t that big and over the years, I have come to realize that key opportunities in my career (and life) have come from people in my network. I wish that I had known that 30-years ago when I was just starting out in my career. The ability to help others from these relationships is also extremely rewarding.
Be vulnerable. When I started my career, it was a different time and was a very male-dominated field. Admitting mistakes is never easy to do, and given the context and time that I was working in, it was even harder to openly say that something went wrong or could have gone better. I love today’s workplace more than I did back then. It’s important to be vulnerable and to make mistakes. You have to put aside the perception that if you admit to making mistakes that you won’t get ahead. In fact, it is usually the opposite.
Try something new and take risks. Today, there is so much that you can do in terms of a career. It used to be that people stayed at companies for 20+ years because they liked the security and stability of their roles and the organization. Opportunities to explore different types of work or experience different industries are endless. And, increasingly, the workplace is looking for individuals who have truly unique career trajectories and experiences that can help bring new perspectives to the table.
The power of EQ (emotional intelligence). Early in my career, I thought that IQ meant everything. I thought that being successful in your career came from doing the work. I’ve learned about the power of EQ — whether it’s using it to better understand what drives and motivates your colleagues or listening to it to better empathize with customers.
Surround yourself with a diverse group of people. Whether in your personal or your professional life, being around individuals with different backgrounds, approaches, etc. can have so many positive benefits. Over time, you realize how important diversity is. If you have the same types of people in a room and you make a decision, I often wonder whether or not we have looked at a product or a problem from every possible angle. Or, if we have considered the other side of the argument. Diversity creates better teams and better people — we need to continue to foster it.
You are a person of great 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. :-)
Personally, I have seen so much change in technology throughout my career. I remember life before it — I started working before PCs and cell phones were ubiquitous. I love how it has helped make the workplace more efficient and allowed us to connect in ways that we never would have thought were possible. On the other hand, in some ways technology is also taking over. If I could inspire a movement, it would be to encourage people to be more mindful and be present away from the technology. Be aware of how they use it and how often. I see my nieces and nephews as well as people that I mentor who are glued to it. Their heads are always looking down. A part of me worries about social media and the negative side of technology’s influence. I recommend that people try to be more focused on human interaction. Be present, put the phone down and enjoy the moment.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You don’t become what you want, you become what you believe.” — Oprah Winfrey
I have learned over the years that the impact of what you think and believe actually happens — it’s so important. I have lived that in good ways and bad ways throughout my life.
We are blessed that some of the biggest 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 :-)
Condoleezza Rice. I sincerely admire this woman and have had her on my mind for the past twenty years. As the second female Secretary of State in history (and the first African-American Secretary of State), she stands out as her own woman in a male-dominated world. Furthermore, as someone from the south, she has had to overcome challenges that not all Americans face. For me, she represents integrity, intelligence, and success against all odds. In addition to her political career, she is also a musician and professor. She loves sports, like I do, too. It would be a dream to hang out with her and watch a ballgame.