Wendy Johnstone, VP Marketing Salesforce APAC, recently had the opportunity to sit down with Eileen O’Mara, newly-arrived SVP for the APAC Commercial Sales business. The importance of micro moments, the value of career sponsorship and the therapeutic properties of gardening were just a few of the things that transpired.
Wendy: You landed in Australia just four weeks ago. How are you doing so far?
Eileen: A part of that relates to how I’m doing personally, because if I’m not doing well personally, I’m not going to succeed professionally. I’m happy to say I like the way Australia rolls. My sons are settled in school – they think the teachers are much nicer here. There’s no homework, and that’s probably the real reason they are so happy. And, I’ve been overwhelmed with the level of friendliness and kindness from everyone.
Professionally, I feel more confident every day about where the business is going. I really do feel the time is now. It’s amazing to be able to say I’m in the best place to work in Australia – since we won the Great Places to Work award a couple of weeks ago.
Wendy: Tell me a little bit about the career journey that has brought you to Salesforce.
Eileen: I’ve been in technology for 20 years. I graduated with a commerce degree, gained a postgraduate degree in marketing and went into technology at a time when it was really taking off. I feel so connected with the technology industry. The companies I have worked for are Salesforce, Oracle and Sun Microsystems before that – with a four year time period in between where I ran my own consultancy business. That was really important, because it allowed me to spend time with my boys when they were very young.
What brought me here specifically? What brings me anywhere is finding someone whom I relate to deeply within the business and gaining their sponsorship so I have good clarity on where to take my career.
I believe in gathering tribes of sponsors – these are the people influencing what is said about you when you are not in the room. They are fundamentally important and we don’t talk enough about sponsors in our dialogue around building a 5 or 10 year career plan.
Wendy: You have two boys. How do you balance work with being a mother?
Eileen: We wanted to raise confident kids. And, I can confirm I get great feedback from them regularly – there are lots of house rules for Mum!
Achieving a balance was harder when I was at Oracle and the boys were younger, I had to work at it. These days I do give a lot of myself to work, but I also find my balance. The important thing is to be true to yourself and what works for you as a family unit.
What works for me is making sure that when I’m there, I’m 100% there. Rather than the big things, it’s micro moments that make a difference to kids’ lives. It’s important to be present in these moments. I travel a great deal. And, when I’m home I’m making their lunch, sitting down to help with their homework, or more recently, walking around the streets with them in the dark looking for Pokemon.
The challenge for me now is that we have no family around us in Sydney, so we are busy building that network of people that is essential for support.
Wendy: Now I know you’re a big supporter of women in tech. In an article published by ComputerWeekly.com you were quoted as saying ‘the tech sector needs to highlight the females doing the everyday jobs in addition to the superwomen’. Why do you think this is important?
Eileen: Yes, in the media there are these huge profiles of female role models.
My point is, there are many women out there who don’t necessarily want to be the next big thing; they want a functional life with a successful career and family. And this is not just the case for women, it applies to men too. We have to connect back into society and start highlighting real people in addition to the superstars.
Wendy: Speaking of men, what role do you think they play in driving greater gender equality?
Eileen: I think in the future we will look back and say, ‘why didn’t this generation get this right quicker?’. And, I think the battle for equality will succeed or fail because of men. This is why I’m thrilled Mark Innes (GM, Salesforce APAC) has leaned into this.
The reality is, most businesses are currently run by men. So the shift will be made by men. It’s a business conversation, not a gender conversation.
Wendy: Whom have been the biggest inspirations in your life?
Eileen: The things that move me are the small things. It’s the person in the lift with a kind word.
I heard that the best way to get on in life is to raise your chin and smile. That’s what matters; the fabric of the connections you make.
Wendy: What are some of the risks you have taken?
Eileen: I’m a measured person. I’m analytical and I don’t make decisions based on gut feel only, I make them based on data and research.
At one point, when I was 28 and pregnant and had just gotten married, I did make the decision not to go for a big role, and that felt risky. It was the opposite of what we normally think of as risk, but it was a big life decision.
As it happens they pursued me, and I ended up taking the role.
Wendy: What are your passions outside of work?
Eileen: I like to have my hands in either soil or flour. I like to get back to nature – it grounds me. And I like baking. I can lose many hours trying out new stuff.
Wendy: Do you have a piece of career advice for everyone today?
Eileen: My advice is ‘own it’. It’s your career; nobody else is going to get you there. When people say, ‘I thought I’d be further ahead’ they obviously don’t have a plan that they’re thinking about constantly.
Be continuously learning, do your Trailhead trails, and build your sponsorship network – you have to own it.
For more lessons in leadership from our executive team, subscribe to our blog today.