We are part of history. My daughter said to me the other day, “When I think about kids in ten years taking their US History class, this period of time will be in there.” To me, that’s hopeful, because it means there will be an end to this and one day it will be another part of history that I can say I lived through.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christelle Flahaux, Vice President of Marketing at FortressIQ. Prior, she served as Chief Marketing Officer at Host Analytics (now Planful). She has held various Vice President and Director-level roles focusing on demand generation, customer marketing, and driving growth across several technology companies, including Domo, MapR Technologies, Jive Software, Marketo, and Taleo.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
In my early college days, I wanted to pursue a career in biomedical engineering: I had a dream of making prosthetic limbs for little kids. However, at some point I realized I wasn’t meant to be in a lab all day, so I switched my major to business and later got my masters in sports marketing.
Post-college, I began working for FedEx in their sports marketing department. I eventually relocated to California, where jobs in sports marketing were more hard to come by. I ended up working for a small environmental consulting company, and that’s where I really fell in love with marketing.
Years later, I made the switch to tech. I started at Ariba right after the bubble burst and the stock was below seven dollars. I was at the forefront of turning a massive on-premise procurement systems provider into a lightweight on-demand SaaS company. I saw the inner workings of it all, from sales operations, to marketing strategy, to engineering roadmaps. My time at Ariba set me up for success in later years. From there I held marketing positions at Taleo, Marketo, Jive, MapR, Domo, Host Analytics, and now, FortressIQ.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
It’s been interesting joining a company — especially an executive team — completely virtually. I started talking with FortressIQ in March when the pandemic hit. Successfully joining an executive team is very dependent on team dynamics and fit, which can be difficult to get a read on when you’re interviewing remotely.
Something that really gave me the sense of how I would work with my colleagues was when we did a working session. I presented what I had gathered in a SWOT analysis, and what I thought the team should focus on for the next 30, 60, and 90 days. Other executives were present and asked questions, threw curve balls, and tested our ability to think critically together on issues and challenges.
I walked away from the experience feeling connected and excited about the opportunity to work together. I was able to get a feel for the company’s culture, team dynamics, and leadership style all in one go! I still haven’t met anyone from the company in-person, and while it’s strange, I don’t feel any less a part of the fabric we’re weaving at FortressIQ.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
FortressIQ has a great intern program, and when the pandemic hit, like many other companies, we were forced to re-evaluate whether or not we should keep the program. Hiring college kids and trying to hold them accountable in a remote-work setting didn’t seem ideal, but we decided to keep the program and bring on seven interns in various departments.
It worked out wonderfully. At the end of their internships, they all presented one project that they helped on, and discussed why it was important to the company — from marketing, to data science, to trust, to security. We’ve ended up extending several internships for those who wanted to continue working at FortressIQ. It’s great for us, because we need the extra hands on deck, and also beneficial for them. Win, win!
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?
I’ve had some amazing mentors and sponsors throughout my career, but one who stands out was the VP of sales, West, for Ariba. He had a tough exterior and high standards when it came to sales and marketing execution, but his philosophy was simple: Make his team successful, and he’d help make you successful.
He backed my ideas, made sure I was in the right meetings with the right people, and championed my career path. With his leadership, I went from a regional field marketing manager to eventually taking on all demand generation activities globally. Thanks to him, I found my confidence and realized I could achieve anything I put my mind to.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?
I’m a single mom to a teenager who turned sixteen one week before the shelter in place order started. Her driver’s test was postponed indefinitely, so I’ve had to learn to multitask and take calls while shuttling her to and from places. For someone who was so excited to have the freedom to drive themselves around and not be dependent on my schedule this summer, SIP was a major bummer.
We also normally travel quite a bit as a family, and that has completely disappeared from our lives. Aside from the drain on Wi-Fi and competing voices on Zoom calls, the biggest strain has been trying to keep us both entertained — it’s easy to get bored and tired of each other’s presence sometimes.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We’ve learned to give each other space when needed, and come together for important things like making dinner, watching a show together, or taking our dogs for walks. But I think the most important challenge I face is keeping her spirits up. So much of her social circle is at school and every day she asks me, “Mom, do you think we’ll go back in January?”
Keeping positive for her is an ongoing challenge. How do I keep her hopes up while being realistic? It’s not easy, but I’ve found what works best is simply being honest. I share my challenges with her, and she in turn shares hers.
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?
Zoom fatigue is real — and it’s draining. I’ve worked from home and on the road for most of my career, but I still haven’t gotten used to the number of video Zoom calls I’m on. The camera can be unforgiving and wear on my self-esteem some days, while other times I struggle to pay attention. It can be easy to get distracted and look at other people’s backgrounds, start critiquing my hair or outfit, or just tune out because it’s too much.
Another challenge is walking away from my laptop. I feel more attached to my screen, and am constantly addressing Slack notifications, which can make it hard to get work done.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
On the Zoom front, I pick at least three meetings per day that I don’t go on camera for. This way, I can focus solely on the subject at hand. When I do go on camera, myself and my colleagues use these great clip-on ring lights for our cameras, like vloggers use — they’ve been a big hit at the company.
When it comes to walking away from my laptop, I block time on my calendar to turn off Slack and get larger projects done. Creativity is a huge part of my job, and if I don’t make the time for it, I get sucked into the minutiae of day-to-day marketing. I also make a point to end work at 5pm so that I can workout and cook dinner. It’s my time to unwind and do something that I feel is productive to me personally.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
Finding balance is something we all strive for, especially as women in business. So much of who we are is based on nurturing and creating a happy home, especially for mothers. I have my daughter’s class schedule on my calendar so that we can get time together when she has breaks to eat, get coffee, or just catch up. Check in with your kids — this is hard on them, too. Distance learning is not ideal, and breaking up their day is just as important for them as it is for you.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?
Living in Northern California, not only have we been sheltering in place the longest, but we’re also dealing with wildfires that have radically affected our air quality. My daughter suffers from asthma, so it’s one more thing keeping us inside.
My strategy for staying serene is finding things to do that make us happy. I planted a garden in February (good timing on my part!), and we’ve been keeping busy trying not to kill it, and also harvesting and cooking with our veggies. We enjoy looking through our cookbooks and planning what to make for the week.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective, can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
When we’re in crisis, we are forced to innovate. The times immediately after a global crisis are where we progress the most — the old way isn’t going to work anymore, so the new way has to be better.
- We are part of history. My daughter said to me the other day, “When I think about kids in ten years taking their US History class, this period of time will be in there.” To me, that’s hopeful, because it means there will be an end to this and one day it will be another part of history that I can say I lived through.
- Evolution. Non digital-first organizations are being forced to go through their digital transformations at an incredible pace. Teachers have had to learn more new technology in one weekend than they probably have in their entire career. Brick and mortar businesses have had to take their goods and services online to survive. This is such a time of evolution, and that’s exciting to see.
- Improved Relationships. The pandemic has made me realize how much time I spent working or traveling for work, and how much that might mean I have been missing at home. I cherish the extra time with my daughter and parents who live close by.
- I can’t wait to dress up again! As a woman, I am a slave to fashion — in a good way. I feel fashion is a reflection of your personality, and I look forward to the day where I can dress up and express myself through my fashion choices again!
- We are survivors. The human race has survived so many things. Why do we think we won’t survive this? We will get through it. It can be empowering to write down all the things you’re going to do when it is safe to do so again. I have my list, and I can’t wait to start crossing things off!
From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
A simple call, text, or email to check in goes a long way. Not every interaction has to be a Zoom family reunion. Most of my family is in Belgium, so I make a conscious effort to send them notes on Facebook, comment on their posts, and just check in once in a while so they know I’m thinking of them.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you want the rainbow, you have to put up with the rain.” — Dolly Parton.
I first heard this quote when I was in high school, and it became my senior quote for graduation. It struck me that it won’t always be unicorns and rainbows, and I shouldn’t expect everything to go smoothly. But if I work really hard, someday I’ll get the rainbow. I may be wearing a parka, soaked to the core and holding a broken umbrella, but I’ll get that rainbow.
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