Harvard in Tech Spotlight: Nora Staebler, Senior Vice President of Global Digital at PIMCO
I spoke with Nora Staebler, Senior Vice President of Global Digital at PIMCO. After graduating business school, Nora joined Campbell Soup. At that time, the internet was just emerging, so Nora was a part of the group at Campbell Soup that first thought about how to leverage the internet for branding and how to execute on email marketing. After her time at Campbell Soup, she worked with many startups as well as large corporations to formulate strategies for how they can leverage their online presence to generate results.
One of Nora’s colleagues at Campbell Soup (Ainslie Simmonds, HBS ’97) was part of a startup that was later acquired by Northwestern Mutual, where she ran digital before joining PIMCO as a digital product manager.
Nora shared her advice for achieving strong performance, consumer understanding, and career growth.
Be intentional about metrics. While working in eCommerce, Nora found tracking content and other marketing campaign performance to be more intuitive and direct. In the financial industry, marketing metrics tracking is less straightforward given the different sales cycles and many teams involved in the go to market and growth processes. As a result, Nora is particularly intentional about measuring across a variety of factors to get a fuller picture and ensure she and her team can constantly iterate and improve.
Understand people at the individual level. When asked how her psychology concentration has shaped her work as a leader, Nora underscores the importance of truly understanding each person individually, not just as a collective entity at the team or department level. Understand people’s unique strengths, desires, and motivations.
As a coach (Nora has been a competitive rower for most of her life — she still competes on a travel rowing team!), Nora’s leadership style centers around identifying people’s strengths, empowering them to double down on them, and finding new team members with complementary strengths to cover all the team’s bases in laying a strong foundation for optimal performance. Looking ahead, she is excited to apply this approach in building out PIMCO’s new product management team.
Find the commonalities in your experiences. Throughout her career, Nora has worked in many different industries and different sized companies, but all of her roles have shared a common theme: a focus on consumer needs. From her time working in advertising to working in brand management at Campbell Soup to consulting for AOL and consumer focused startups to working on digital marketing for large pharmaceutical companies, Nora has always kept a focus on the consumer, understanding their needs and building products and messaging around them. Through each of her experiences, she has been able to leverage and build upon this deep consumer focus and ability to get to core insights that drive and shape their decision making.
Ground yourself in consumer understanding. Nora is grateful to have studied psychology at Harvard. Tech has evolved so much since she graduated college, but Nora feels that the psychology principles she learned have more permanence and have been more evergreen. Too often people are overly focused on the technical side and forget to ground themselves in the beginning: the consumer understanding. Even the most technologically complex products are ultimately built for people. Ground yourself in a deep understanding of your user.
Balance qualitative and quantitative information. To truly understand the consumer, you need to triangulate between many different data sources, both qualitative and quantitative. The quantitative data should help you prioritize what to build, but the qualitative should really inform the content of what you do and how you build.
Guide but don’t bias people. When asked about doing effective consumer research, Nora shares that it’s important to go into each user conversation with no assumptions. Don’t take them down a path based on your own preferences, consciously or subconsciously. But also don’t ask completely blue sky questions. People are very literal and respond much better when given something tangible to react to and provide feedback.
Don’t forget the final step. Looking back on her time at Harvard, Nora recalls a BASIC programming test all freshmen had to take in the computer lab. Students would complete the test on the computer, print it out, and hand in the printed sheet. Nora spent her time studying BASIC to ace the core part of the test and accidentally neglected to learn how to operate the printer network in the lab, which led to her test not being scored. Oftentimes we focus so much on the hardest part of a project that the lower hanging yet important fruit is forgotten.
Relax and enjoy the ride. When asked what advice she would give her younger self, Nora shares that there is no one “right” career path. When Nora graduated Harvard, tech and entrepreneurship hardly existed. The world constantly evolves, and new opportunities regularly emerge. Don’t be too rigid in your planning and don’t commit yourself to an overly linear path. Don’t be so focused on the intended outcome that you forget to enjoy the journey and process.