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CMO Files: Randi Barshack, CMO xMatters

CMO Files: Randi Barshack, CMO xMatters

Get inside the mind of the world's top marketing professionals. In 20 questions we find out what they love most about their job, what their biggest achievements are... and what keeps them awake at night. Read 'The CMO Files'.

 

Name: Randi Barshack

Organisation: xMatters

Job title: Chief Marketing Officer

Location: San Ramon, California with UK offices in London

 

(1)   Where were you born and raised?

Baltimore, Maryland USA

(2) What was your first job?  

My first job was as a production assistant for a television producer.

(3) What was the first product you got really excited about?   

In 1994, I saw my first interactive CD-ROM. At the time, I had been working in film and television and the notion of non-linear storytelling fascinated me. It’s amazing to see how that very concept has changed the way in which we consume information these days. I feel like those early concepts of linking and multimedia were a key foundation to the biggest technological changes we’ve seen in recent decades.

(4) Who has been the biggest influence on your career?

My four siblings. It was chaos in our house growing up and if you wanted to eat (or even survive) you had to learn to fend for yourself. As a result, I never learned to go through the process of holding back or second-guessing myself. As a woman in the business world, this is so important. I know there are a lot of recent studies showing that girls’ confidence levels decrease around age 11 or 12. Having 4 tough siblings (3 of them brothers) meant that I had to bypass this unfortunate stage that so many women go through.

(5) What has been your greatest achievement?

Achievements (and failures) come every day on minute and massive issues as well as personal and professional, so this is so hard to answer. I guess I’ll have to go back to fundamentals on this one and say the greatest achievement has been working and living in various countries (Japan and Israel for 5 years each) - the way in which these experiences broaden ones world view is something that comes in valuable in every company, every position and every interaction.

(6) What has been your biggest mistake?

Honestly, I don’t feel like I have any regrets. That’s not to say I don’t make mistakes - I probably make dozens on any given day - but I really don’t focus on them. I worked for one company for 3 years that ended with the company running out of cash and a huge miss on what we all thought would be “sure thing” in terms of a great exit.  So many people would have looked at that as a big mistake. The truth is, the whole thing was a tremendous learning experience and has benefited me ten-fold in subsequent positions.

(7) What is your greatest strength?

Curiosity. I always have a million questions in my head about how things work, how prospects buy, what competitors are up to, what might be a better way to accomplish tasks. From a career perspective, this has driven me to pursue positions in varying technologies and learn a tremendous amount in each one of them. Even with 25+ years of work experience, it’s the learning that gets me up in the morning each day.

(8) What is your biggest weakness?

Curiosity. The dark side of the coin. I’m never satisfied with a job done or the status quo. Whilst it can be a great asset, I can drive others (and myself) crazy over-thinking or second-guessing situations. Honestly, I need to get better at just making decisions, moving on and not imagining 30 different parallel scenarios.

(9) What do you think is the aspect of your role most neglected by peers?   

That marketing is a key part of the business and not just a ‘fluffy’ add-on function. In a well-run company, marketing should be heavily influencing the core identity and thus strategy of the company, the trajectory with which investments are made to grow the business - balancing market opportunity with the business’ ability to grow. In technology especially, marketing is working with industry influencers and analysts to define the future market. This involves deep understanding of technology, trends, markets and numbers. Yes, we have meetings to decide the “color of the t-shirts” but there is so much more to it than that.

(10) Which word or phrase is your mantra and which word or phrase makes you squirm?

It’s not a word or phrase that is my mantra - it is the sound of laughter. I had a boss once who would laugh at what seemed like the most disastrous business issues. In the scheme of things, you have to learn to laugh it all off and remember to ground yourself. As well, in work environments, laughter is so important. We laugh so much on the marketing team at our company. It sets a perfect foundation for getting through those tough times. Laughing together creates an incredible bond.

The phrase that makes me squirm is “we can’t”. We might decide not to, or it might be difficult, or it might not be worth it in the end, but every idea is worth exploring.

(11) What makes you stressed?

Feeling like I’ve let people down. There are so many groups and people that I feel like I’m servicing. Our sales teams in helping make their jobs easier, our customers in making them proud to be associated with us, our board and management in articulating the value of our company and – as a working mother- being a present parent for a growing child. Perfection and reality do not play well together but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to give everyone everything they want, need and deserve. As a result, I rarely allow myself to truly turn it all off (even when I’m not very productive) and there’s a sad irony in knowing that a good rest would revitalize me and likely make me more productive overall.

(12) What do you do to relax?

Well, I just admitted to not really relaxing all that much. I shouldn’t admit it, but a nice bath with a gossip magazine is a great way to get away for 20 minutes or so.

I also work from home on Fridays which allows me time in the morning to take my son to breakfast and drive him to school. Even though it’s less than an hour, I cherish that time. We go to a place where they cook bagels fresh so we eat them piping hot out of the office, indulge together and then discuss the trials and tribulations of 4th grade. It is the highlight of my week every week.

(13) What is your favourite song?

Imagine by John Lennon. Most beautiful message and concept ever.

(14) Which book taught you most?

From a business perspective, Crossing the Chasm is my bible and I require that anyone working on my team reads it.  While the book is now somewhat dated, the messages in it still ring true in technology adoption today. I re-read it every 2 years or so.

On a personal level, Dr. Seuss’ (with whom I share an alma-mater) The Sneetches has one of the best life lessons ever. It’s essentially a message about racism and discrimination based on superficial criteria. I first read the book as a young child and have an original print (with an image of a ‘star-bellied’ Sneetch and a ‘plain-bellied’ Sneetch shaking hands) on our bookshelf.

(15) Do you have a team or sport that you follow?

The San Francisco Giants (baseball team and World Series winners for 3 of the past 5 years!!!). Our home in San Francisco overlooks the stadium. Games aired on television have about a 10 second lag, so we’ve learned to open our windows and guess the plays based on the cheers of the crowd.

The manager, Bruce Bochy is an inspiration to watch as a leader. The professional respect he shows to all of his players regardless of whether or not they are performing is inspirational to watch. Like I said, I rarely turn it off, so watching Bocy coach is an experience I take back to work with me and attempt to mimic with my own team.

(16) Which country would you like to work in?

I live and work in the Bay Area, but that doesn’t mean I work solely in the US. My job is global so I work for all countries at the same time. That, to me, is the perfect scenario.

(17) Which company do you think has the best marketing?

For a consumer brand, I have to say I love the marketing of US retailer Target. It’s not a very creative answer to this question, but they have managed to take low-cost retailing and elevated it from commoditized retailers. In my head, I know that I am not buying a different product at Target than any other place, but I feel better about myself being in their shops. It’s so counter to everything I know as a marketing professional myself, but they still get to me emotionally and I have to tip my hat to them for that.

Currently, though, I have to say companies like Uber and Airbnb are really changing the face of marketing. This is a ‘taxi’ company with no cars and a ‘hotel’ company with no property. Their value is in digital infrastructure and the creation of value via marketing.

(18) What do you love most about your job?

I love the fact that marketing engages every hemisphere, corner and cell of your brain. The creativity inspires, but the numbers invigorate me. Good marketing is easy, great marketing requires left and right brains to work together and feed off of one another. On any given day, I put on any one of dozens of hats. It never gets boring.

(19) What is your favourite book?

I love reading all kinds of books, magazines, anything but can’t say I really have a favourite single book. Obviously, The Sneetches has had a tremendous impact on me as a human so if I had to narrow it down to one book- that would have to be my pick.

(20) What keeps you awake at night?

Knowing that working in technology, that when I wake up in 8 hours there’s likely to be some new advancement that changes our world- yet again. It’s impossible to ever really feel completely caught up.

That’s what keeps me awake at night. That, and - or course - the cheering crowd when a Giants game goes into extra innings. 

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