The Blog

Women in Business Q&A: Kathy Allen, COO Americas, Dassault Systèmes


Kathy Allen is Chief Operating Officer, Americas, for Dassault Systèmes, the 3DEXPERIENCE Company, which provides business and people with virtual universes to imagine sustainable innovations. Its world-leading solutions transform the way products are designed, produced, and supported. She is responsible for developing and driving the transformation of America's sales strategy that focuses on creating growth in core and developing industries, as well as managing the business functions needed to support that growth. Prior to assuming this role, Ms. Allen served as VP of Sales Strategy and Operations, Pricing and CFO for Dassault Systèmes in North America. She has also served VP of Sales Business Administration - Europe, Middle East and Africa.

Ms. Allen joined Dassault Systèmes with 17 years of increasing responsibility in financial planning and pricing for high tech companies including IBM and Dell Computer including serving as CFO of IBM's Product Lifecycle Management Division - Software Group.

Both a CMA and CPA, Ms. Allen holds a Masters in Professional Accounting from The University of Texas at Austin and a Bachelor of Science, Business Administration - Marketing from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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

My father was a football coach for over 50 years and had unwavering passion for his job. I lost him last year and at his funeral, I was overwhelmed by the people that came forward and told me that my dad didn't just teach them to play football but made them the men that they are today. I had always known that my Dad was a huge influence on the kind of leader I am today but I then realized he had the same influence on all those he coached as well.

My Dad taught me and his teams all these important lessons:

Lead by gaining respect of those on your team.

Set high standards for yourself and the team.

Expect people to give their best but also correct mistakes with compassion and do not tolerate disruptive behavior.

In a football game someone always wins and someone always loses so you have to experience both. Being part of a coach's family in a small town means that you feel personal pain from the losses and hear the constant public appraisals of his performance as a coach. He showed me that you learn from your losses and move forward; sometimes you correct the mistakes you made and other times you recognize that you need to change your long-term strategy as the other team was just better. When you win, you celebrate but with respect for others. You also have to accept and learn to process criticism productively. All these lessons have served me well as in all aspects of my life personally and professionally and I continue to try to improve to reach the standard that he set.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Dassault Systèmes?

I worked at IBM and Dell before starting at Dassault Systèmes. While at those companies I gained experience in hardware, software, and corporate business segments with positions in accounting, finance, pricing, business development/strategy, and sales operations. I am grateful to have had exposure to a wide variety aspects of those businesses as they gave me a depth of knowledge with which to make many of the decisions I make today as a leader. As COO of Dassault Systèmes in the Americas I utilize these skills to drive the company's growth as it looks to capture a $32B addressable market. But one of the most important skills I learned was to manage change. Dassault Systèmes has refined and expanded its strategy in the past four years to capitalize on the Experience Economy and this approach has required change in the way we market and sell. Having a career path that shows "change is good" is very helpful in my leading teams.

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

For me, it is hard to separate the highlights and challenges because most of my challenges became highlights for me. Before joining Dassault Systèmes, I had only worked for American companies and I had the opportunity to have my first position at our company headquarters in France. Working there and managing in a European environment allowed me to grow as a manager as I learned different cultures and learned different ways to operate. I had to adjust my style at times to be successful and help others on my team do the same. The key highlight for me is to have the opportunity to work for a company that has such amazing passion and vision and a purpose that goes beyond just growing the revenue and profit. The company invests in partnering with educators to help create the next generation of the STEM workforce, partners with governments on transforming manufacturing, and its Living Heart Project is changing how heart disease is diagnosed and treated. It is exciting to be part of the evolution of the company as we continue to expand and change the market. My key challenge is helping build the infrastructure and helping drive our shift to more geo-based decision-making so we can keep up with the growth of the company.

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

The high tech industry is very fast-paced so be prepared to work in a rapidly changing environment. It is important to develop strong technical and leadership skills and to be results focused. One thing to realize is that you can learn leadership skills in many ways but you should develop an individual style of leadership that is effective for you. I strongly believe that women have unique characteristics that make them strong leaders and should take advantage of those innate abilities. Understand the value of the product or service and the strategy of your company so you help drive success through whatever role you play.

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

Many times the job that no one wants (including you) but the company wants you to do is the best one to move you forward. Realize this is an opportunity and that your management has a need and knows that you are the person that will be the most effective at fulfilling this need. By accepting and meeting this challenge with enthusiasm you show that you put the good of the company first as a team player and you gain the respect and trust of your management as a leader.

How do you maintain work/life balance?

I started my career in the in the High Tech industry at 31 years of age with three young children. What worked for me was to not try to separate but to blend my personal and work life. Spending the right amount of time on both was a top priority for me. I was present at the important events of my children's lives but I also was able to achieve all my objectives at work. Yes, this meant I worked some hours on vacation or left early for a function or even took calls under the bleachers at many of my kid's Texas Friday night football games. I had to be creative and efficient to fit in all I wanted to do. I did have some managers that were concerned about giving me promotions to certain jobs because of my family responsibilities but I asked them to give me the chance and they saw that I didn't just succeed but exceled. However, I did have to forgo some career opportunities for the sake of my family life. At that time, it felt like I was harming my career but in retrospect it just took me down a different path to where I am now. By "blending" my time, I overcame the idea that I was failing if I couldn't achieve definitive number of hours of each. By using this measure of success I have been able to achieve the overall goal of having a rich and rewarding life with many dimensions. But you can't just do this alone - it is important to pursue a career with an employer that respects people's personal time and allows flexibility. I am fortunate to be at Dassault Systèmes which respects work life balance.

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

How can women who have careers and families be successful at both. The good news is that there is more opportunity for women in top management, companies have more flexibility, and parenting responsibilities within a family are becoming more shared. But those things can only fix so much. Many women still feel the pressure to "have it all" with the perception if you don't then you have failed. It is unrealistic for anyone (male and female) to expect to not have to make choices about priorities when deciding to have a family and a career. Women should be encouraged to feel good about whatever choices they make to achieve their career and personal goals.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

There are so many accomplished women to learn from today but there are two I really admire. The first is my mother. She was the first of her family to go to college and became an innovative teacher and artist while caring for her family at the same time. She leads by example with a quiet strength that gets her through life's toughest challenges with grace. At 78, she is still driving to achieve new goals and never quits. In the business world, I admire Mary Barra the CEO of GM. She has a similar strength and style to my mother's. She has succeeded in a male-dominated industry and has the job because of the hard-work that she did to come up through the ranks with the knowledge she needs for a successful transformation. She has been tested in a difficult time with the massive recall and handled it with grace. She also did all of this while still maintaining a focus on her family, encouraging work-life balancing in her company.

What do you want Dassault Systèmes to accomplish in the next year?

Dassault Systèmes is expanding from our traditional industries where we work with companies like Boeing and Ford into new markets with solutions built on our 3DEXPERIENCE platform - a set of software solutions for every organization in a company - from marketing to sales to engineering - to help them create differentiating consumer experiences. These solutions can help our companies transform their businesses and I want to help us in reaching them and to assist in driving their businesses forward.

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