C-Suite Path Maker

Once Maggie Chan Jones made it to the C-suite, she founded Tenshey to extend a hand and pull other women up the ladder.

By Kimberly Olson

When Maggie Chan Jones was growing up, her native Hong Kong was home to only three colleges, creating a harrowingly competitive landscape. So when she was 14 and got an opportunity to move to the United States where her father lived, she jumped at the chance.

That decision put her on the path to earning a bachelor’s degree in management from Binghamton University and an MBA from Cornell University, then landing in tech during that industry’s initial boom.

A storyteller at heart with a passion for innovation, she excelled in tech marketing. Following stints at ADIC, Sun Microsystems, and Microsoft, Jones became the inaugural chief marketing officer of Level 3 Communications (which merged with CenturyLink, now Lumen). She then joined SAP, becoming the multinational software giant’s first female CMO, leading global advertising and brand experience initiatives, sponsorships, digital marketing, strategic events, and field and partner marketing across all markets. During Jones’s tenure at SAP, she spearheaded the transformation of the company’s brand, drove double-digit growth in marketing contribution to business, and advanced talent development for the digital age.

Having risen to the C-suite—and in a male-dominated sector—Jones realized that she was among a mere handful of women to do so. That prompted her to launch Tenshey (“angels” in Japanese), a start-up offering leadership development through executive coaching with the mission of advancing gender diversity in the upper echelons. As Tenshey CEO, Jones draws from lessons learned during her own career.

Frequently recognized as an industry thought leader, she has received numerous recognitions, including being named one of the Most Influential CMOs in the world by Forbes in 2017. Jones is a frequent speaker at industry and women’s leadership events.

Diversity Woman: Are there any career lessons from the early days of tech that have stayed with you?

Maggie Chan Jones: Yes, and in my new book, Decoding Sponsorship, I share many of the lessons learned throughout my journey in tech, and also concrete actions that people can take in finding their own career North Star.

First and foremost is being curious. Getting into tech was really about learning [and] trying many new things. When
I got my first job, I ended up at a small tech company called ADIC that was focused on data storage. I was in purchasing, but I learned so much about negotiations and operations excellence.

The second one is being agile. Things can change rapidly from a technology standpoint, [and] from a business model standpoint. So you always have to be on your toes and find new ways to connect with your audiences.

And while you’re doing that, listen for the learning [moments]. Understanding what works and what doesn’t is going to make a big difference in whether you can scale one of your ideas.

DW: You’ve benefited from mentorship, sponsorship, and coaching. How can each help someone advance?

MCJ: Mentors have competencies that you admire. Early in my career, I wanted to be a great people manager, so I looked for someone who is a great people manager, and then solicited that person as my mentor so I could learn how she cultivates high-performing teams. Mentors are people who have been there and done that.

Sponsors can have similar qualities but are the ones who have the political capital to help you open doors to new opportunities. They’re most likely people in your organization who are at a higher level than you. They advocate for you, especially when you are not in the room, in those critical conversations about promotions or new roles. They also open up their network to help you to connect with others who could be beneficial to you, and they give you visibility in the organization. Sponsors are key [to] helping accelerate your career growth.

Coaches are usually external to your organization. They are your thought partners. They are people [with whom] you feel safe being vulnerable and bounce ideas, help you crystallize your goals, and hold you accountable along the way.

DW: As you advanced, what were some of the biggest challenges along the way, especially in climbing to the C-suite?

MCJ: At the beginning, it’s getting through that learning curve quickly so that you are really contributing to the role that you are in. And then, understanding that political landscape is also very critical.

A lot of women are keeping their head down, focusing on the work, but are not necessarily cultivating their network. Who is in your corner? How are you aligning your goals and objectives with your sponsors to help you grow your career along with growing the company?

The other thing that has been a big challenge for women who have been working with us at Tenshey is building confidence. Confidence is not a static thing. As you go into a new initiative,
new role, or new environment, your confidence level may not be as high because [it’s] unfamiliar to you. First and foremost is on-the-job training. At the same time, are there other things that can help you build confidence, whether it is getting a mentor to help you or external training?

Along the way to the C-suite, understand what things are critical internally for you to feel confident. Your support system is going to be important.

DW: What prompted you to launch Tenshey?

MCJ: One of the differentiators that I had was working with my executive coach earlier in my career. I started working with my coach when I was only a director at Microsoft. That was a decade ago now, and I continue to work with her. Having a confidant to support you, to hold you accountable to your goals, has been critical to my career journey.

So that was really my light bulb moment. I don’t see a lot of women who got an executive coach until much later in their career journey. If more women and people of color can get a coach early on, maybe that’s one of the ways that we can see a higher percentage of women and ethnic diversity in the C-suite. That was the reason behind launching Tenshey.

In my own career journey, the higher I go, the less diversity I see. If we can create an equitable world, then talent will feel like, yes, I see people who look like me and I feel like this is a place where I belong. And that would increase employee engagement.

DW: What’s distinctive about the type of coaching that Tenshey coaches offer?

MCJ: Our mission is advancing diversity in the workplace and our coaches reflect that—86 percent are women, and 41 percent are ethnically diverse—which is something that you don’t typically see in a coaching company.

In addition to one-on-one coaching for high-potential talent, we also uniquely focus on a cohort-based sponsorship program. We work with enterprises to help them accelerate career growth of diverse talent.

In our programs, we have seen that 60 percent of the participants receive either a promotion or role expansion within the first year of joining that program. We know that companies that are more inclusive are more innovative and also contribute to positive financial growth. So it is truly a win-win-win—for employees, for leaders, and for the company.

DW: What are the big lessons you have learned about entrepreneurship?

MCJ: First and foremost is the purpose. It’s really about the passion for the problem that you’re trying to solve, because entrepreneurship is really hard. On those bad days, you want to remember why you are spending day in and day out solving this problem.

The second lesson is being comfortable with being uncomfortable. Being an entrepreneur, you are going to be wearing many hats. I am a CEO. I’m the CFO. I’m the chief product officer. You’re going to be absolutely uncomfortable dealing with some situations or learning about new things. But if you stay curious and try to learn the different aspects of your business, it’s going to help you deal with that. When I first started Tenshey, and as Tenshey continues to grow, I [relied and continue to] rely on my network of strategic partners for Tenshey. The majority of them are also women-owned or women of color-owned businesses.

And the third lesson is to be kind to yourself because everything is going to take longer than you expected. It’s important not to get discouraged and focus on the progress you have made and how you are going to continue to make that progress. Celebrating wins along the way—big and small—is key. DW

“[As] an entrepreneur, you are going to be wearing many hats. You’re going to be absolutely uncomfortable dealing with some situations … But if you stay curious and try to learn the different aspects of your business, it’s going to help you deal with that.”

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