THE BLOG

Women in Business Q&A: Roberta Gray, VP Product Marketing, RedSeal

19/12/2015 14:50 GMT | Updated 19/12/2016 10:12 GMT

Roberta Gray has more than 30 years of experience working in technology companies and small businesses. As the VP Product Marketing at RedSeal, she specializes in developing partner ecosystems and field marketing programs that drive revenue growth. While at Sun Microsystems, Roberta recruited and managed Sun's portfolio of application partners in the electronic design automation market, eventually making it Sun's largest market. At Santa Cruz Operation, she managed the company's portfolio of 3000 independent hardware and software vendors. She served in executive management at Intrepid Systems (acquired by PeopleSoft), Latitude Communications (acquired by Cisco) and several other startups, followed by a sabbatical from technology in several small businesses.

Roberta holds a BS in computer science from Stanford University.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

I'm naturally curious and relatively fearless. I like to learn how to do new things as well as understand others' perspectives and experience. I've learned to fly a plane, ride a motorcycle, and am rarely intimidated by unknown situations or people. I'm not afraid to ask questions and am genuinely interested in other's experiences and viewpoints. I've also not been shy about making decisions, both for myself and for organizations I've been involved with.

So my advice to others is this: Be willing to learn, listen and make decisions. This has worked for me throughout my life and career, beginning with student government in high school, leading and coaching sports teams, and mentoring others both personally and professionally. I always look for opportunities to engage with others and try to solve problems.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at RedSeal?

My employment experiences have crossed many industries, technologies, and job roles, and this variety has given me a very broad perspective on customers, markets, and technologies. Because of this, I don't have many preconceived notions about the "right" way to market products. I've found that all markets, companies, and customers behave differently, and RedSeal is no exception.

RedSeal's products are technically complex, and not easy to explain in terms of benefits. So I have enjoyed discovering and learning about our "crown jewels" and then coming up with ways to communicate benefits instead of features, and thinking about the product from a business viewpoint.

I also made the transition from engineering and technical roles to marketing and executive positions. This has required me to think and communicate differently in addressing a variety of audiences, which has helped in all my jobs.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at RedSeal?

The highlight is that we've become an important part of the security discussion and we're bringing valuable solutions to address the big challenges as well. We've taken a strong thought leadership position and have become a recognized expert source to others in the space as well. We have a great PR agency, which has directed and guided us, and internally we have very smart people who can offer unique perspectives on issues. We also have a CEO who previously established strong credibility as an investor in the security space, and he has brought visionary leadership to the company. The market needs the types of automated analytics, network resilience, issue containment, incident response and remediation capabilities that RedSeal provides as well, so it's been rewarding to be part of it all.

The biggest challenge has been getting prospective customers to understand the scale and scope and complexity of the problem, not to mention that they're probably spending more money on people and equipment than they need to because they are not adequately managing what they already have.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?

Make sure you keep doing the things you enjoy, and maintain the mindset that you always want to learn more. The opportunities are boundless, and I have always found it best in technology to not try to "map out" your plan in too much detail because things are always changing and are sometimes unpredictable. Don't be afraid to do something you haven't done before. Be okay with saying "I'm still learning." You will be surprised, at times, by how others will help and teach you if you just ask!

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?

That management and being a leader is always a work in progress - so you need to always be thinking about how you can do it better. I've worked at companies with great products that struggled under poor management, and I've worked at companies with so-so products that excelled under great management. I've also worked at companies with both great products and great management, and that environment brings out the best in me and others. It's also fun and financially lucrative for everybody involved!

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I've always been an athlete, so I find that doing physical things helps give my mind a break from pure "thinking." I swim laps and walk a lot. My best business ideas often come when I am out walking, so I appreciate my phone app that allows me to dictate while I'm walking, then review later. My mind is always on business, and I admit I have a hard time shutting it off. But there are young children in my family now, which allows me to forget about work completely and become absorbed in watching these little people develop.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

Tough question for me to answer. I've worked in a variety of roles and have rarely thought about my gender in the workplace. I've always been in a relative minority in all of my jobs, though, being one of the first women in software engineering, and employed by industries with very few women. I don't usually think in terms of "women's issues" though; I think about business, management, and organizational issues.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

My best professional mentor was an engineering vice president who taught me the basics of good management. He made me see that success as a manager is based on the success of the team; how people are motivated, how to maximize their strengths, and how to lead.

My personal mentor was my grandmother who graduated from Stanford in 1918, taught John Steinbeck how to type in high school in Salinas in the 1920s, and went on to start the girls' sports program at her hometown high school, including gaining an appearance for one of her groups at the 1936 World's Fair in San Francisco. She was just "gutsy." She was also one of the early feminists in terms of not thinking there were boundaries simply because she was a woman.

I've also enjoyed being a mentor to others in all of my roles. There's nothing more satisfying than watching your employees (current and former) go on to greatness in their own careers, and realizing that some of your guidance may have played a role in their success.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

I worked for Carol Bartz when she was VP Marketing at Sun Microsystems in its early days. Carol could be tough as nails; her "colorful language" is well known in the industry. What I admired (even more so after encountering others in similar roles) was that she didn't like to waste time; her philosophy was that "going through the motions" wasn't going to help us get ahead and grow our business. So, she instilled in me the importance of really focusing on the goal(s) at hand, while incorporating well-applied creativity.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Anne Warner Cribbs. Anne is a former Olympic swimmer who has stayed involved in sports, promoting the Bay Area Senior Games and continually trying to get the Olympics to come to the Bay Area. I think it's fabulous that she has continued to promote sports for athletes of all ages and abilities, both locally and nationally.

What do you want RedSeal to accomplish in the next year?

I want to see RedSeal continue on the path of identifying market conditions and developing innovative solutions to deal with tough problems. We have a strong management team that has the experience and attitude to grow the company and scale to address market needs.