Builder, storyteller, cheerleader, contrarian: Meet Hootsuite’s Senior Director of Product

Michelle shares her views on how Hootsuite’s product impacts lives, the importance of simple gestures, and why being a good human is more important for leaders than voracious consumption of the Harvard Business Review.

What is your role at Hootsuite?

I am a builder, customer experience fanatic, storyteller, mentor, listener, cheerleader, communicator, problem solver, analyst, decision-maker and contrarian. At Hootsuite, they call that the Senior Director of Product ;)

On a day-to-day basis I lead a team of five exceptional product managers, and together we are responsible for the “core” Hootsuite product. We ensure it’s meeting the ever-evolving needs of our 17 million users and delivering value to the business along the way.

Tell us about your career journey so far leading up to Hootsuite.

My journey to this point has been a long and winding road! I could never decide whether I preferred my business studies or art classes and I was decent at both. So, following acceptance into law school in Ireland, I did what every sane person would do and went to a design school instead! I love building and creating things and at the time didn’t realize that there were other ways to be part of that process without being the designer. It would take me a few years to figure that one out.

In 2006, I moved to Vancouver and soon fell into a role working as a recruiter with Aquent, the world’s largest marketing and creative staffing agency. There I specialized in finding talent and building digitally focused project teams for my customers in Vancouver, Denver, and Phoenix. Through this experience, I finally recognized the opportunities that existed within the creative industry outside the obvious “doer” role. I also realized a love of project management, which is where I set my sights next — moving into a project management role with Strutta, a technology startup in the social marketing promotions space.

I remember distinctly during the development of a new product line at Strutta, we reached a stalemate regarding which direction to take. As a small company we didn’t have a product manager (nor did I know at the time that such a role existed), so the team looked at me and suggested I make the final decisions. I began to perform the duties of a product manager — speaking to customers, understanding the market and competitive space, prioritizing the roadmap and bridging the gap between the various teams internally — and I loved every second of it!

While reading an article online one day, I came upon the term “product manager” and gleefully realized there was a name for this thing I was doing. It was such a revelation! I must have devoured everything written on the topic in that first week. Until that point I felt like I was meandering in my career, jumping from one seemingly disconnected thing to another, but with product management, all of these separate interests and skills came together and finally made sense!

Strutta — which, as it turned out, was a competitor of Hootsuite Campaigns — was acquired in 2014, which is when I began to seek out my next opportunity. Luckily Hootsuite had an opening for a product manager and the rest, as they say, is history.

Why did you choose a product manager role at Hootsuite?

There were many things that attracted me to Hootsuite. Despite being a relatively young startup at the time, Hootsuite had exceptional brand recognition both locally and globally. Having cut my teeth at a smaller company I wanted to round out my experience and continue to challenge myself with exposure to a larger, rapidly growing business.

As the sole product manager at Strutta I also craved the opportunity to learn from more senior PMs and business leaders, so the potential for mentorship in this area was also a very attractive proposition.

At the same time, I was tempted by the idea of a more secure, less frantic work environment, but when I met the team at Hootsuite I was so impressed with their openness, energy, enthusiasm and the optimism that emanated from every single person I met. I truly felt like working here would allow me to be part of something very special. 4+ years later and hand on heart, I can say I was right.

What Hootsuite Leadership Principle resonates with you?

Hootsuite has three leadership principles;

1. Be a teacher and a learner
2. You are a producer of talent, not a consumer
3. Build a performance culture through challenge and support

To me these principles are humble, forward thinking and very tightly interwoven so choosing one that resonates is tough! I feel very fortunate to work at a company whose leadership philosophy is so closely aligned with my own.

OK, if you twisted my arm I’d choose “building a performance culture through challenge and support.”

Share with us a valuable leadership lesson.

As I was leaving a previous role, a member of my team told me that she really appreciated the fact that I would thank her and the team for their work at the end of each week. I had never given it a single thought so the outsized impact the simple gesture had really resonated with me.

It taught me that being a good human and treating people with respect and dignity are more important than fancy leadership strategies and voracious consumption of Harvard Business Review.

Be human, be yourself, admit when you’re wrong and say thank you. When chips are down and you’re asking people to follow you in a difficult decision they are far more likely to when it comes from a place of trust and mutual respect.

What advice would you give to someone considering a leadership role at Hootsuite?

DO IT!

Seriously though, there are a few things to consider, not least of which is whether you can get behind the three leadership principles that I mentioned earlier. Those principles go deep, so sharing a similar approach to leadership will be important to your success.

Our industry is helping to write the future of communications. It’s incredibly fast paced, change is constant and it requires a lot of thinking on your feet and quick decision making. Ask yourself honestly if this is this the type of environment you will thrive in.

I am privileged to work with such a fantastic, diverse group of leaders. We have a voice and are heard. We obsess over our customers, feel real ownership of the business we are all building, have meaningful impact on the company outcomes and are passionate about elevating others. On days when the job is hard, building a better way with these people is what keeps me coming back. We are not a flawless organization, but if this depiction — warts and all — sounds interesting, consider getting in touch!

What are you proud of in terms of what you’ve accomplished?

When all is said and done people and relationships matter above all else. One of the reasons that I find my job so fulfilling is that I get to impact this in two ways.

Firstly with my team. On a daily basis, I get to help them grow their capabilities, find ways to help them realize their potential and shape their careers. My hope is that in future they will consider my influence a positive one in their advancement.

Secondly, we spend our days building products and features that are designed to make people’s lives better and it can be SO rewarding. One of our customers — a government entity that assists in disaster zones — told me that one of the products we built helped them find survivors and save their lives! I can’t even begin to tell you how humbling that was.

We recently released a new collaboration feature in Hootsuite and another customer told us that as a result of this feature she was able to take her first vacation in a long time and not check into work. She, her husband and her kids emailed the team to thank us for the family time we allowed them!

I am proud to play even a small part in enabling these moments and life experiences for people.

If you could pick up a new skill in an instant what would it be?

Can I say seeing into the future? That particular skill would make my job (and life in general) a whole lot easier. ;)

Fantastical skills aside, I would love to be a skilled cook and baker. I envy people who can concoct a beautiful dish without a recipe from whatever ingredients are on hand. The results provide so much joy and opportunities to share and bring people together. Full disclosure: I harbour a secret desire to have my own bakery. Since I’ve never so much as baked a cake in my life, perhaps seeing into the future is less far-fetched than this one!


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