Two Scoops with Elisa Steele

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Elisa Steele loves solving problems, and she’s darn good at it. So good, in fact, that she’s now the CEO of Namely, an HR interface designed to help companies build a better workplace.

“Our software platform provides easy, intuitive, beautiful, smart experiences for HR administrators, HR leaders, and employees to engage with to help solve problems.”

Elisa wasn’t always a marketing whiz. In fact, for a long time, she was passionate about sales – and how she could make the world a better place, one customer at a time. “My first sales job was in high school when I worked at the ice cream parlor down the street from our home. I wanted to serve people doubles instead of singles, or upgrade them to a sundae. I remember those hot summer days working at the Rose Glen Dairy in Andover, Massachusetts – lines and lines of people came to get homemade ice cream and how enjoyable it was for me to make people smile giving them that little bit of a bigger scoop or whatever it was that delighted them. I just really, really enjoy serving people.”

Elisa chased that feeling into the workforce. “I knew I wanted to go into sales. One, yes I liked serving people as I said, but honestly, I wanted to be financially independent. I wanted to be able to make choices on my own as an independent woman. So I thought the first thing I needed to do is start to accumulate independence through accumulating some kind of savings. So I went into sales and I worked for, at the time, AT&T business services selling technology solutions to businesses in the Bay Area.”

After several successful years, she made the leap from sales to marketing, though she was reluctant at first. “It was the next big jump. I went from sales to marketing… and I went kind of kicking and screaming. The reason that I did it was two-fold: From a professional standpoint, I had just joined Java Soft. It was the growing, amazing technology that Sun Microsystems had started and developed a separate organization for that needed a lot of management and strategy. I had been with them for just a couple months and they said, ‘Hey, Elisa, what we really need is scale. We have a chaotic environment with all of this growth. We have no strategy in marketing. We don’t have any ability to rally our customers to understand our trends. Will you take this marketing job?’ I’m like, ‘I’ve never done marketing in my life. Why would I take this marketing job?’” But the offer was there, and Elisa has never been one to turn away from a challenge.

And that offer came at a great time, because it turned out, Elisa was pregnant, and felt she wanted a break from traveling. But Elisa took to marketing. “Now, all of a sudden, I found myself in this marketing job realizing I could affect the market. I could help every salesperson be more successful.” Not only did she like her marketing job, she was great at it. While she’s held several positions over the years, she’s always stayed in marketing – that is, until she became a CEO.

With years of experience under her belt as a marketer, CEO, and mother, Elisa has a few pointers for the next generation of women leaders:

She let go of the pressure of “Work-life balance”:  When asked how she balances her job as a CEO with two teenaged kids, Elisa gives a refreshing answer: let it go. “Life happens, and it’s not on your calendar. So what I finally said was, ‘You know what? It’s not about this balancing act, it’s about prioritizing every day.’ What’s important? What are your long-term goals so you fit those in? What happened this morning that makes you need to juggle something differently?” Strive to work towards your vision for the future, but be understanding when things – big or small, personal or work related – get in the way.

Don’t be afraid of conflict: When Elisa was working at AT&T, she asked to be given the worst of the bottom three accounts – the ones most unhappy with their customer service. Elisa single-handedly brought up those customer satisfaction scores. She didn’t give up – she found their problems, and worked to address them. “And I learned right then, look, when there’s conflict or trouble, don’t run. Run into it, don’t run away from it.”

Have a “Human” vision: As the CEO of Namely, Elisa is working to create not just a great product for their customers, but a great place for her employees to work. Part of that is in their mission statement acronym: “Be Human: ‘It’s Be yourself. Expect excellence. Help each other. Unite around our mission. Make our clients heroes. Act as an owner. And Namely cares. So each of those mean something to us in terms of behaviors, and every month at our all-hands, we recognize – actual peer to peer recognition – some really outstanding behaviors around our values.”

To hear the full interview with Elisa, check out the full podcast here.

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