Leslie Tom has led communications about the vast and ever-evolving ecosystem of Salesforce’s AppExchange for 12 years. That means connecting with a sprawling community of partners. She is now Senior Vice President of AppExchange Marketing at Salesforce and has been named on Computer Reseller News’ (CRN) Power 100: The Most Powerful Women of the Channel list. We caught up with her for a Q&A on overseeing a sea of apps, leading initiatives for women at Salesforce, being a single-mom executive, and what she indulges in when she takes a break.

You oversee communications about AppExchange, the world’s leading and longest-running enterprise cloud marketplace, an ecosystem of more than 5,000 solutions with 5 million downloads. How do you see that ecosystem changing?

The AppExchange is a phenomenon. We use the words community and ecosystem often in the tech industry, but the AppExchange ecosystem of partners is unique.  We see our partners create innovation with our technology  to help solve business challenges for our customers. Our partners work to create solutions – and work together to support one another. I think that exemplifies what AppExchange and Salesforce are all about. We foster an environment where people want to build a better community together.

You’ve been working with Salesforce partners for more than 12 years. Other than the sheer number of apps and downloads, what are the biggest evolutionary shifts and changes to that system?

A few years ago, we noticed a change in what partners were building. It’s not just about building apps anymore. It’s about how partners are delivering what our customers need – including new things like components, bolt solutions and Lightning data. And the focus on artificial intelligence is fascinating. As apps get smarter we can focus on the data we’re getting and how we will use it.   

How do you reassure new partners that they will not get lost in the shuffle or overlooked in such a vast marketplace? 

Our customers are always looking for choice, so AppExchange delivers all of the options. Also, we help with initial visibility to our customers with AppExchange promotions and campaigns. And for our partners, our new AppExchange Trailblazer Score helps partners focus on how they can grow their business and our Partner Community helps partners get the support they need to market and sell to customers, learn from other partners, and work with other partners to drive mutual success.

You helped start Femmeforce, the Salesforce Women's Network. Does Salesforce’s commitment to gender equality, recently discussed on “60 Minutes” a few weeks back, make you feel proud?

I’m always proud of Salesforce and the “60 Minutes” segment was great to highlight the work that we’ve done. Salesforce has done well and worked hard to make changes, but we still have a long way to go. I hope that the workplace gender-equality issues that we still see today are nonexistent in my daughter’s generation. At the same time, I am encouraged and inspired by seeing more women starting businesses of their own. I get to work with some amazing, bold and authentic female founders and leaders who are creating amazing and impactful business solutions on the AppExchange.

Do you have any advice for women who are just getting started in the tech industry?

I get asked this question a lot and always tell women to find a good mentor who knows you, your work and your environment. A mentor is one of the best things you can do for yourself in the early days of your career. I’ve had the benefit of having great mentors in my career who have guided me in my career. To me, a great mentor is honest and tells you hard truths about yourself and your work and helps you navigate the politics of your organization.

Did aspects of your personal life help you learn to prioritize and focus as an executive?

Yes, being a working, single parent of two children for the past 20+ years taught me to prioritize. It did take me years to define my priorities and values, but it works and my family really felt the difference. I learned that a great career is one where you have impact, do work that matters, focus on results and have fun – all with a rich personal life. For example, I leave work at a consistent, reasonable hour and don’t work long, late hours because I prioritize work with my manager and my team. And, I realized that being a great mom is one where you are present with your children and prioritize what’s important with them.

You’re a fan of Lao-Tzu's book “Tao Te Ching” (Book of the Way), a manual on the art of living and wisdom in action. How do you apply that to the different areas of your life?

My aunt gave me and my children each a “Tao Te Ching” book several years ago. She lived her life with flow and often shared her thoughts on specific passages hoping that we could improve our lives. Being more self-aware and living with integrity have helped me with work.  One of my favorite quotes from Tao Te Ching that helps with work and personal life is:

“Knowing others is intelligence;

knowing yourself is true wisdom.

Mastering others is strength;

mastering yourself is true power.”

You’re a fitness and nutrition advocate. What are your guilty pleasures when you stray from your discipline?

Guilty pleasures? I enjoy working out and eat healthy to fuel my mind and body during the week but I stray on weekends and on vacation. On some weekends, I absolutely love eating popcorn and chocolate chip cookies while binge-watching Netflix shows. Or if I’m on vacation, watch out. It’s all about eating awesome food and enjoying the entire experience, not worrying about calories.

Any last words for us?

Be bold, be present and be happy. Life is short, so go for it.