Compuware CMO Mitzi Hunter on why leaders need to “be confident, but not certain”

“Be confident, not certain.” I first heard this quote when reading a NYT Corner Office column about a CEO of a company that put quotes on t-shirts, and this was one of her favorite quotes. I love it because it’s really how I approach not only work but my life. I try to always leave […]

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“Be confident, not certain.” I first heard this quote when reading a NYT Corner Office column about a CEO of a company that put quotes on t-shirts, and this was one of her favorite quotes. I love it because it’s really how I approach not only work but my life. I try to always leave room to hear another angle or side to the story before forming an opinion or making an important decision.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Mitzi Hunter, Chief Marketing Officer for Compuware, the world’s largest mainframe-dedicated software company. With over 30 years of experience in the software industry, and based in Detroit, she has navigated never-ending changes to the tech market and marketing discipline, as well as witnessed first-hand the transformations within the company and the city. Mitzi continues to be inspired by the company’s dedication to their customers, passion for excellence and belief in their products.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My story is a bit out of the ordinary in that I’ve spent my entire career at the same technology company, Compuware. During that time, I’ve seen and had to adapt to many changes from within the company, the technology market, as well as the discipline of marketing. It’s been said that the only discipline that has changed more than marketing in the last 10 years is information technology. Imagine the changes tech marketers have had to navigate! But it’s given me a fantastic career in which I’ve been able to learn and grow. I first started at Compuware as a summer intern in the ’80s, helping them physically pack up customer files because they were expanding to a new office. As I was unpacking the files, someone had the bright idea to ask me to call each customer to verify we had the right contact names and phone numbers. I like to say that after that summer, their customer “database” was 100% accurate. I was majoring in computational mathematics in school, so when I graduated I was a good fit for the company. We grew quickly and I had opportunities to work in various roles — both on the technical side as well as on the sales and support side. I switched jobs about every 2 years for the first 15 years, so I really got to understand our entire business. That experience still benefits me today. Compuware also worked with me to find a position that I could do part-time when I had young children: I worked as a technical writer for about eight years. I think that arrangement really set me up for long-term success at the company. Not only was it a win-win for me and the company, but the position was a gateway into marketing.

Fast forward to 2014 when the company was sold to a private equity firm, and a new CEO was brought in to establish a new leadership team and guide a much-needed transformation. He really believed in the power of marketing, promoted me to CMO and pushed me to expand Marketing’s role within the company. Prior to the transformation, Marketing was viewed as a tactical function that made things look pretty. Now we are known as an organization that uses marketing to clearly define our company and serve our customers with the goal of driving business results.

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

Our new CEO believes in complete transparency and constant communication — inside and outside the company. The entire company was trained, mentored and encouraged to aggressively embrace social media. As a CMO, it was scary. It was also scary for many of the long-term employees that thought social media was just for teenagers. I still remember the looks on their faces when I explained the benefits of Twitter and LinkedIn to them at a Town Hall meeting. But I think because I had worked at the company for so long, and many knew and trusted me, they trusted that leveraging social media was the right thing to do. There were some wonderful aha moments when previous non-believers were able to make connections via social media with people they otherwise would never have been able to easily meet.

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?

I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I wouldn’t characterize them as funny! I suppose the biggest mistake that I’ve made is not delegating work. When you get promoted from within a company, you are bound to be managing people who were your peers and friends. It can be especially uncomfortable, and you feel like you are just telling them what to do. So, my way around that was just to do the work myself. Of course, that’s not sustainable, but it really backfired because my team thought that I didn’t trust them to do their job.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our employees are down-to-earth, proud and determined. As a Detroit-based company, we embody the Midwestern work ethic and take a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-it-done approach to our day-to-day work and responsibilities. I believe that one of the main reasons our company is successful is because, for the most part, we are all in the office together. I know that’s not a popular opinion. Much is communicated via email and Skype of course, but face-to-face interaction enables our teams to make faster and better decisions and more importantly, fosters a sense of teamwork and fulfillment.

We also have wonderful diversity. It’s not unusual to find 30+ year veterans in the company working side by side with millennials. Each generation has embraced the fact that they have something to learn from each other. I’m really proud to work in an environment where the more experienced workers are excited to share their knowledge with the next generation coming in, and where our millennials have an earnestness towards their work to help our customers be successful.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Our customer base consists of the world’s largest banking, insurance, shipping, travel, retail and government organizations. What most people don’t realize is that they all rely on mainframe computers and technologies to run their businesses. But they are all facing a problem. Their employees who best understand these critical mainframe technologies are retiring baby boomers. Compuware’s mission is to help our customers solve this problem by enabling the next generation of software developers to easily take over responsibility for those technologies.

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

Believe in your team. And if you don’t, make whatever changes are necessary. You need to be their cheerleader, but also push them to be their best. If you don’t, you are failing them.

Understand your team’s strengths and weakness. Exploit their strengths; form small teams where they can tackle projects together; help them learn from each other; and in doing so, learn about themselves. Finally, don’t be afraid to admit when you need help or to enlist people who know more than you.

Own final decisions and mistakes. Your team is looking to you and needs you to make tough decisions. They might not always like your decisions, but if they understand why you are making them and believe that you are doing so with all the necessary background, they will support the decision. You also need to be able to admit mistakes and quickly pivot when you make one.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

  1. Be tough but fair. A friend once described me this way and I loved it. You should have high expectations for your team, but always be fair and balanced in your approach to managing the team.
  2. Have meetings. I think meetings have been given a bad rap. They shouldn’t be abused but a meeting where outstanding issues can be discussed is often the best way to keep a project moving forward. It might only be a 15-minute meeting but get the stakeholders in a room (or on a conference call) and make decisions. Email is abused; many people are simply ignoring their inbox.
  3. Focus on the work. Your team needs to understand that they are all working towards the same goals and objectives. When you have a team of passionate, high-achievers, their actions can sometimes be misinterpreted and seen as a threat to others. Help your team see other’s perspectives and that the focus needs to be on getting the job done.
  4. Build a safe environment. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, but teams need to be able to discuss their opinions in a safe environment. If you’ve done a good job of building trust and security within a team, healthy disagreements will lead to a stronger, more productive and effective team.

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?

When you work for a company for 30+ years, it becomes your second family. Co-workers have become my best friends and many have mentored me and served as sounding boards along the way. My family has been instrumental as well. I had my children before on-site daycare was available and my mom and mother-in-law were eager to help out. One conversation really stands out to me though. My children were still young, and I was considering putting my name in the hat for a promotion that I knew would mean working more hours. Iasked my oldest son, who was about 12, what he thought. He didn’t hesitate and told me to go for it. I didn’t get the promotion at the time, but knowing that my kids were behind me gave me the determination to keep trying.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

My work experience has enabled me to interact with a large, diverse set of people. I understand that everyone has a unique point of view based on their personality and life experiences. Today’s political divide is very unsettling to me. But I always try to see the reasons and emotions behind an opposing viewpoint. I’ve been able to help friends who are more narrowly focused see the different sides of an issue and not automatically assume people are one way or another.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

a. Learn to delegate. People are most happy at work when they own projects. When I first became a manager, I thought I was helping individuals by doing some work that should have been theirs. Instead, they interpreted my actions as thinking they were not capable of doing the work.

b. Be a stabilizer. Change brings opportunity, but it can also be destabilizing and disruptive. As a leader, you need to keep your team focused on the work that needs to be done. Let change play out and know that you and your team will be better in the end.

c. Know when to be in the room. There is a difficult balance to maintain between the need to know what’s going on and the need to give individuals full ownership of a project. Remember that if you are in the room, people expect you to lead the conversation and will look to you to make the decisions. When that happens, you’re taking away opportunities for others to grow.

d. Know if you are a fit for your company’s culture. I always knew that my belief system was in alignment with Compuware’s mission and culture, so I was determined to work through any bad situations. I once had a manager tell me that “it wasn’t in my DNA to be a Director.” It set me back mentally for a little while, but at my core I knew he was wrong. At the same time, I saw people who weren’t a fit for our company leave and be successful somewhere else.

e. Don’t take yourself too seriously and always try to have fun. The luckiest managers are those that share a sense of humor with their team and can laugh together.

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

Technology is underserving our aging population. We have failed to consider their needs and they have many! For example, smart phones are too difficult for many seniors to use; not only because they have a hard time understanding the value but also because the “tap and swipe” motions are simply too difficult for them to do. And many are simply afraid to use a computer. I’d love to see a movement where we provide seniors with safe, easy-to-use digital means to help them stay healthy, stay connected to friends and family and maintain their independence.

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

“Be confident, not certain.” I first heard this quote when reading a NYT Corner Office column about a CEO of a company that put quotes on t-shirts, and this was one of her favorite quotes. I love it because it’s really how I approach not only work but my life. I try to always leave room to hear another angle or side to the story before forming an opinion or making an important decision.

My personal quote is, “When you’re hungry, eat. When you’re tired, sleep.” It reflects my no-nonsense approach to life!

Some of the biggest 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 🙂

I would love to meet Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors. Some people thought that the only reason Mary Barra advanced to the CEO position at GM was because the market would be more sympathetic to a female as the company navigated a safety recall crisis. I believe Mary was chosen because she believes in and understands GM better than anyone. I like to think Mary would be sincerely interested in me as well, we have a lot in common! We are roughly the same age, have both worked for our companies our entire lives, and both started as college interns.

If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, Authority Magazine, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.

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