Meet Lee-anne Knight. She's a Senior Director on the Solution Engineering team in Melbourne and is in her second stint at Salesforce. In this Q&A, Lee-anne tells us why she decided to leave Salesforce, what brought her “home”, and how she's inspired to bring her best self to work every day.
A recruiter reached out to me in 2007, but at that time I didn't know very much about the company, and honestly, didn't pay very much attention. In late 2009, I was asked to interview again and loved the people I met, was really interested in the role and had one of those pivotal career moments where I had two other job offers, but I really wanted to see where the company was going, so I chose Salesforce in 2010.
Since then, I’ve built up the Services team in Melbourne before moving to London in 2012 to help grow the Services team for Europe, where Salesforce was experiencing massive growth. I stayed in Services for just over 12 months before joining the Ignite team at the beginning of 2014 as it was launching in our EMEA region. The Ignite experience was incredible, providing me with the opportunity to work with a diverse range of companies and Salesforce colleagues on really interesting challenges. I left Ignite and Salesforce at the end of February 2017 to return to Australia and take up an Executive role at one of our ANZ partners.
The decision to leave Salesforce was a really difficult one to make. At that point, I'd been with the company for 7 years and had worked in both Melbourne and London in a variety of roles. I left Salesforce to return to Australia and joined one of our partners. It was a pretty interesting time for that partner, as they had an Australian consulting company bid to buy them, so I wasn't quite sure what I was joining. During three months of back and forth bids and awaiting shareholder votes, I was tasked with putting plans in place to develop the practice, which I wasn't able to do due to the uncertainty of the company. Although this was a challenging journey to be a part of, it was incredibly beneficial because I was able to understand the opportunities as well as the challenges a partner faces since I had actually walked in their shoes!
I'd started with the partner in the March 2017, and while having breakfast a few months later with Dan Bognar, our APAC Solution Engineering and Cloud Sales leader, he asked: “How are you?” I blurted out, “I want to come home!”. Dan, to his credit, was very calm and asked me what I'd like to do. We discussed several ideas he'd been thinking about and really, my home-coming started there. We collaborated on what the role could include, and as Dan was going on leave I used that time to draft a V2MOM (our goal setting process) that became a great foundation stone on which to think about what could work, and thus the Partner Solution Engineering function was born and I 'came home' in November 2017.
I can't tell you how much it meant when Dan forwarded me the note he'd sent to his ANZ Leadership team telling them of my appointment — and having them reach out to tell me how lovely it was to have me back.
Having the opportunity to change roles across departments has been such a wonderful learning opportunity that has contributed greatly to my ability to adapt and bring new ideas to life. It's been key for developing empathy, adapting my communication style to suit a diverse audience, but it's also been vital in developing a broad understanding of how our business operates and how we can get stuck in silo thinking if that's all you know.
There are more things alike across departments than not — for example, we all have metrics we're trying to deliver to, we're all working with stakeholders that want an outcome, and we're all trying to do the best to bring the various pieces together to deliver success - whoever that may be for. There are also really transferable skills that we can overlook — for example, developing and executing on a project — whether that's a technology delivery, an ignite or a plan to sell and close a deal, there are certain skills that are similar and there is so much we can learn from each other.
So much! Since joining Salesforce, I've travelled the world, changed career paths, made a lot of new friends and learned new skills. I've become heavily involved in mentoring and developing people, I've blogged, I've undertaken study at London Business School and Harvard, and have developed and launched programs and initiatives that didn't exist before.
It sounds trite, but for me, Salesforce is home. I feel like I get to be the best version of me here, that it's okay to try and fail, and that if everything doesn't work perfectly, it's okay, there is support to get up and give it another go. I feel challenged yet supported. Salesforce is the longest I've been at any company, and I've learned a lot about myself in 'staying the journey' in a way that I never did moving jobs every couple of years.
So many people! I think about the mentors and sponsors I had along my journey - back before we called it that - that have had such an impact on me. When I consider the traits of those that inspire me, it's those who lead by example and don't see knowledge as a weapon or as an opportunity to hold power. I love that expression 'pay it forward' and really love that aspect of the Salesforce culture.
I am really inspired by the fantastic female talent we have attracted to Salesforce, and particularly how women here support each other. I'm of a slightly older generation where the Queen Bee did not reach down to help those below, and seeing this stereotype smashed, and working in a place where women support each other – and are supported – is fantastic. It's a game-changer, and it's not to take anything away from the men who work here, but I'm so inspired by the amazing, talented women I work with - too many to name.
I love my boss, he really leads by example and doesn't expect anything from us he wouldn't do himself.
I'm inspired by my daughter. She is an amazing, strong woman, clever and tenacious, she doesn't think she can't do anything! I love that about her.
AND my husband. Besides accepting that I came with lots of baggage (three kids under 6), he has supported me and believed in me along the journey. When offered the opportunity in London he gave up his job so I could take it.
Firstly, I never finished high school, I was a restless teen and wasn’t really clear on what I wanted to be when I grew up - and some days I’m still not. If it wasn't for a friend's father recognising my potential and hunger to learn, I would never have gotten into technology. But for a long time, I felt like I wasn't good enough, wasn't smart enough to be taken seriously. In my 30s I worked for a company called Cybergraphics, a newspaper publishing software company, and I was always being challenged - I constantly didn’t know. Author, Emma Isaacs, has just written a book called Winging It. That was my life in my 30s…and even in my 40s. A lot of the time I said, “I don't know how that works, but I’m just going to jump in and give it a go”. Being a 'learner' is a good thing to be. For me, it reminds me to be open to the possibility, and not get trapped thinking I know everything because I've worked in a particular field for a long time. I also think that learning about a diverse range of things offers opportunities to think about how you can apply that learning in different situations and exposes you to different people and different perspectives along the way.
In my 20's, I got the opportunity to work for a property development company in their training department. This experience inspired me to enter University to get a degree in Industrial Education. I entered as a mature age student and studied part-time, but it was tough to fit it all in with working and looking after three little kids. I know now that a degree doesn't determine if you're clever or not, but it can limit how you, and how others see you if you let it. Education and learning have become a passion for me, and I try to ensure that I'm learning new things every year. Whether it's a cooking course, a photography lesson, watercolour painting, or a business education opportunity,
Secondly, I became a single parent at the age of 29. I wanted a life where I could support my kids and not rely on others for support, but this wasn't possible, particularly as my career moved more into the male-dominated IT industry. Meetings held later in the day when I needed to be collecting kids, travel expectations to take advantage of opportunities that highlighted and exposed my ability to others, and just generally being able to socialise to build a network when I couldn't stay beyond office hours was tough. The hardest part was being confident that the value I provided would outweigh what others may see as challenges that would hinder my career path and growth. That's not an easy one, and only really got easier as I built confidence in the job I was doing and learned to ask for help.
That's a tough one at the moment, as I'm traveling a lot as I build out this new function. What I love about Salesforce is that I feel a sense of ownership in grabbing the time I can, when I can. Yesterday is a perfect example of that. I took the afternoon off to take my nephew and niece to a Captain's clinic for my favorite football club (the brainwashing has begun). I can be an active contributor in their life, and then come home, log on and do what I need to do when I need to do it. I never feel as though I'm on the clock, and that respect and belief from my boss that I know what I need to do and there is confidence I'll get it done is very empowering.
I've worked in organisations where you know that having an opinion or voicing a challenge to a certain way of thinking will impact how you are seen or treated by management or colleagues. Salesforce is completely the opposite. I think there is a moment when you realise that you can be authentic, that having an opinion (expressed with respect) is appreciated - expected - and that difference is embraced at Salesforce, which is incredibly powerful. For me, it's about acceptance, that faults, imperfections, the things that make me, me, are okay - and that makes you want to be your best self because you're not being judged on what you're not, you're being supported to be the best version of you. Ohana is real!
I also feel that, as part of being my best self, I have opportunities to share and give back. My real passion is mentoring and developing others, and I'm currently mentoring 6 people at the moment, both internal and external to Salesforce. What's interesting (I think) about mentoring, is how much you learn from those you mentor. I'm never sure who gets the better deal, but I'm pretty sure it's me. Mentoring provides a unique opportunity to think about challenges and approaches that you may not have considered, and continue learning how other people think and approach adversity.
My current side project is developing a program to help women in 'at risk' categories enter the Salesforce ecosystem. Working with our Salesforce partners and customers, and partnering with organisations such as Fitted for Work, we're looking at how we help recruit women into Admin and consultancy roles, helping to provide new pathways as we look to scale our ecosystem overall.
Two Dots - a puzzle video game. It's my little mini-break from reality.
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