“Be you. Be authentic”, With Douglas Brown and Liz King of Quantum

Be you. Be authentic. Believe in your vision, your purpose, your leaders, your teams. Be courageous, be fearless, stay focused on your mission and continuously coach your people to do their absolute best every day. As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Liz King. Elizabeth “Liz” King […]

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Be you. Be authentic. Believe in your vision, your purpose, your leaders, your teams. Be courageous, be fearless, stay focused on your mission and continuously coach your people to do their absolute best every day.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Liz King.

Elizabeth “Liz” King joined Quantum in March 2019 as Chief Revenue Officer. With more than 25 years of experience in global sales and leadership spanning enterprise, public sector and telecom industries in over 30 countries, she is a veteran in the IT industry. She held many key executive leadership roles throughout her career including in sales, general management, services, product management, marketing, alliances, supply chain and operations. Liz has an MBA with honors from the University of Dallas and a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from Lehigh University.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory?” What led you to this particular career path?

After graduating from Lehigh University with a mechanical engineering degree, I started my career in manufacturing engineering, interacting heavily with colleagues from the production floor to our suppliers and customers. The external interactions inspired me to learn more about those fields, and my employer supported me to get my MBA. That degree opened up my world to what was possible beyond engineering, and with support from my leadership, I was propelled into international sales in my mid-20s.

My first customer was a German institution and I had little to no sales experience except the deep knowledge and conviction of the value my company would bring and how amazingly we would serve the customer. And just as importantly, I had fantastic teachers and mentors — including that customer — to guide me along this new journey. We won that business and it formed the foundation of my career to this day. I took on new, expanded and complex roles spanning different companies, technologies, countries and geographies. I am now the Chief Revenue Officer for Quantum Corporation, a technology leader in video and unstructured data solutions, where I lead a large and fantastic global team and have the honor of serving thousands of customers around the world.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Each role I have had in my career has involved transformation, whether it was starting up a new business or driving new strategies and organizational restructuring as a result of an acquisition or change in company vision.

When I joined Quantum in 2019, the company was in the midst of launching a massive transformation –operationally, organizationally as well as visioneering its entire offering portfolio — while maintaining its strong culture of integrity, trust and commitment to customer success. What the company has accomplished since that time has been nothing short of extraordinary, and the ride for me has been more exciting than I have ever imagined.

What has been the most interesting is when the COVID pandemic came upon us. We had to pivot quickly and adapt to weather the storm. Our strong culture — together with our solid leadership — is our bedrock and for that reason I believe we will come out stronger as a company.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

During my pursuit of that German contract, we hosted a dinner for our customers at a fine restaurant in Munich. This was my first business dinner in Europe ever, and my boss was very firm about how to behave, be professional, listen, use your fork and knife a certain way, etc.

So, everything was going smoothly until I took my first bite of the appetizer. As soon as I tasted that amazing dish, I exclaimed “Oh my goodness, Yum City!” Remember, I was in my mid-20s. My boss was aghast, and one of the customers laughed, asking “Ms. King, where is the City of Yum?” and I pointed to my plate with a smile. We all laughed and had a wonderful dinner, as that silliness actually in a way broke the ice. And then, months later, that customer gave me a gift of German specialties with a note hoping that I might experience the City of Yum again.

What did I learn? Certainly, to be respectful of all cultures and temper your behavior accordingly. But the life lesson I live to this day is: life will always bring you gifts when you are authentic and bring joy.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CRO that most attracted you to it?

Throughout my career, I always savored accountability. And as I progressed in management, having increasing levels of accountability leading and shaping great teams was even more gratifying and exciting. As a Chief Revenue Officer or CRO, you are accountable for leading all revenue generating engines of your company, so to me this has been the prize of my career. And better yet, there are relatively few female CROs in my industry, which also was a huge attraction for me to demonstrate to my female sales colleagues that they CAN rise to the top of this profession.

Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CRO does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

What is different is that, as the most senior executives in the business, we are not just accountable for the results of our specific functions. We are also accountable for positively impacting the overall success, brand and value of the company to the benefit of our customers, our employees and our shareholders.

What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?

In addition to being accountable, I very much enjoy having the ability to impact others in a positive and constructive way, whether it be as a leader, a mentor, a coach, or an advocate.

What are the downsides of being an executive?

The expression “it’s lonely at top” is often true. From time to time you have to make decisions that may be disruptive or difficult, the sensitivity of which requires introspection in thinking through what needs to be done to drive the outcomes from that decision. For that reason, I have found it essential to develop your own network of trusted advisors and mentors to provide guidance and act as a sounding board — my network has kept me grounded and has been essential to evolving my leadership style and approach.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

In my experience, from time to time I have experienced women executives dealing with self-doubt and questioning their ability. Sometimes what is in our own head can be our worst enemy. I have always coached my female colleagues — as well as diversity colleagues — to climb out on the skinny branch as you will realize that skinny branch won’t break — it is stronger than you know.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Be you. Be authentic. Believe in your vision, your purpose, your leaders, your teams. Be courageous, be fearless, stay focused on your mission and continuously coach your people to do their absolute best every day.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

This is such a difficult question because I have had so much help and support along my life journey!

Jane Stevenson, global leader for CEO succession and vice chairman, board & CEO services at Korn Ferry International, played a pivotal role in my career progression. I met Jane when I was at Sun Microsystems and she was leading the search for a senior executive role at Lucent Technologies (now Nokia). Although there were many other candidates very qualified for the role, Jane had an instinct about me, believed in my potential and supported my candidacy. That move jump started me on my executive leadership path. Jane believed in me and for that I will always, always be grateful to her.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  • Prioritize. Sometimes our “to do” list can fill a page, and we think we can get it all done. A wise boss one told me to segregate between the critical few vs. the vital many. Focus on the top three most critical actions to drive the most impact and get them done. And repeat.
  • Delegate. You can try really, really hard, but you can’t do it all yourself. For a short while, I thought I could do things better than my direct reports or virtual teams. By learning to craft the vision and purpose of the outcome, I realized you can achieve that outcome faster and better through others, and enjoy the win together in the process.
  • Network. In every role you take, build your connections to help not only achieve your mission, but to establish long lasting relationships that will give you more satisfaction than you realize.
  • Think execution as part of your strategy. Often times I have seen executives declare amazing vision but they never seem to materialize. I remember very early in my career I created goals that I thought my manager wanted to see, and then struggled in completing them. I learned that if you don’t think through how you will achieve your strategy before you start, it is unlikely you will be successful.
  • Question your purpose if you get too comfortable. Looking back to early in my career, there were assignments I had where I was frustrated or restless and didn’t know why. I realized that I got “comfortable” — I was having fun, but I wasn’t learning or growing. Once I “woke up” and realized I was becoming stagnate, I made a move that propelled me to growth and excitement.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Pay it forward and give back, always with kindness and without judgement or prejudice. Throughout my career I have been supported and helped by so many, and have found that giving back as well as proactively helping others delivers rewards beyond expectation. That’s why I love mentoring and working with advocacy institutions, including STEM.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote?” Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Remember Your “ABCs.” A professional coach a long time ago explained to me that when a challenge strikes, remember that there are many things you cannot control, but you CAN control three things: your Attitude, your Behavior, and your Choices to face that challenge. This is wisdom that I have used for years in coaching my leaders and teams, in handling both professional and personal challenges, and showing up with strength, resolve and positive, productive solutions to such challenges.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

Michelle Obama. Michelle is an extraordinary person who is the essence of authenticity. She keeps it real — whether discussing her own life, her family, her experiences, or the principles in which she believes. She is a beacon of positivity, a realist, empathetic and strong in character. It would be an immense privilege to meet her, learn from her, and gain both insights and inspiration from her life experiences. If you haven’t read her memoir Becoming, I highly recommend it.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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