Community//

Cynthia Stoddard: “Don’t become a mushroom and don’t be in the dark”

“Don’t become a mushroom and don’t be in the dark.” As I was emerging as an IT leader, one of my mentors gave me this advice. To be a strong leader, you need to be well-connected and very perceptive to both business needs and the morale of your team. He highlighted the value of relationships […]


“Don’t become a mushroom and don’t be in the dark.” As I was emerging as an IT leader, one of my mentors gave me this advice. To be a strong leader, you need to be well-connected and very perceptive to both business needs and the morale of your team. He highlighted the value of relationships with me.


As a part of our series about powerful women, I had the pleasure of interviewing Adobe SVP Cynthia Stoddard. As senior vice president and chief information officer of Adobe, Cynthia Stoddard oversees Adobe’s global Information Technology and Reliability Engineering teams. In her leadership role, Cynthia spearheads a global strategy for delivering services and operations that form the mission-critical backbone for the company. She has 25-plus years of business experience and IT expertise leading large global organizations including Adobe, Netapp, Safeway, and APL Limited in supply chain, retail, and technology development. Cynthia is a recipient of the CIO 100 Award in 2017 and 2018 for Adobe IT’s innovative ways to deliver business value, and named a CIO Hall of Fame inductee in 2019. She holds a BS degree in accounting (Western New England University) and an MBA (Marylhurst 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?

I wasn’t your typical teenager — I was a young woman with a passion for math, but I was fortunate to have strong mentors and teachers who helped foster my interests and encouraged me to join science clubs and experiment, which helped me build my self-confidence. My career journey is a mix of ambition, education, and opportunity. I received my undergrad in accounting, and my interest in technology and its power to improve business processes has only increased throughout the years. I’ve now been in IT for 25 years, and it’s spanned various industries including insurance, transportation, retail, and high-tech.

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

The CIO role is unique in that I have a horizontal, cross-functional view of the company and an end to end view of the business process. This vantage point provides me with a great platform to influence change across the company. I’ve long been an advocate for customers in my IT leadership roles, and I’m passionate about building solutions that meet customers’ needs and drive efficiencies.

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

I have three myths I’d like to dispel:

  1. Executives are unapproachable. Most executives actually want to interact with all levels of the business. It’s important to stay connected to your teams and keep a pulse of what’s going on in the trenches.
  2. Executives have gotten to where they are in their career because they’ve had their careers all planned out. I never set out to be a CIO and believe most fulfilling careers are dynamic and always evolving. I’ve been able to propel my career by building upon my experiences at different companies across industries.
  3. Executives have all the answers. This is far from true — it’s important to foster diverse thinking throughout the organization to get broad ideas from all levels and learn from others.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

As a woman, it’s harder to build credibility in areas that are stereo-typically male. When I worked in transportation and logistics, I felt like I had to have deep background on the subject matter and build confidence in my knowledge with additional research, while the expectation would have been different for my male counterparts. It’s important to take time to foster relationships with others to establish trust and credibility. This is one of your most powerful assets and puts you in a stronger position to make an impact, quicker.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?

Having a growth mindset is key to being a successful executive. I call myself a life-long learner and am open and receptive to new challenges. Change is constant in the digital era, so it’s key to evolve with the business. Executives need to think about how they will evolve their skill sets and focus to drive impact, and constantly stay abreast of emerging tech trends.

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

Be a champion and make time to be a mentor to others — people often get stereotyped into the specific role they are in at the moment, which makes their past experiences and accomplishments hidden. Get to know other people — you may find that they have a skill set in a job you are hiring for. Stay inquisitive, curious, and informed.

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

“Don’t become a mushroom and don’t be in the dark.” As I was emerging as an IT leader, one of my mentors gave me this advice. To be a strong leader, you need to be well-connected and very perceptive to both business needs and the morale of your team. He highlighted the value of relationships with me.

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

I would love to meet Michelle Obama. She’s such a strong, amazing role model for women — humble, caring, and full of purpose.

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


The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

Seek & Thrive: With Experiential Marketing Maven and Hidden Rhythm CEO Cynthia Samanian

by Monica Mo, PhD
Community//

Do I Need to be an Entrepreneur?

by Akasha Rose Indream
Community//

How Reinventing Your Business Can Lead To Long-Term Growth, With Mala Inderjit Sharma, VP at Adobe

by Jilea Hemmings

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.