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How I Thrive: “Get to know people and understand what their aspirations are…not everyone is looking to climb the corporate ladder”, with Ming Zhao & Denise Broady

Get to know people and understand what their aspirations are…not everyone is looking to climb the corporate ladder and this was a tough thing for me to understand at the beginning. Early in my career, I figured everyone had the same aspirations that I had. I love getting to know the whole person outside of […]

Get to know people and understand what their aspirations are…not everyone is looking to climb the corporate ladder and this was a tough thing for me to understand at the beginning. Early in my career, I figured everyone had the same aspirations that I had. I love getting to know the whole person outside of work and understand their background, family life and what they are passionate about. My job as a leader is to help them to accomplish their goals and coach/develop the folks around me so the better I know them the easier it will be to help them.


At times it feels like wellness or elevating one’s wellbeing, is diametrically opposed to high achievement and high performance in one’s career. The stress, mental energy, long hours, lack of restful sleep, preoccupation that result from a high-achievement life seem to directly inhibit wellness. And yet, in order to sustain the creativity, flexibility, mental acuity and resilience that are necessary for high performance, wellness and wellbeing of the mind, body and soul are also mandatory. So how do we achieve both? This is the question I’m hoping to answer through conversations with high-achieving women who have gleaned and are practicing their own philosophies on maintaining their wellbeing.

As a part of this series about what successful women leaders do to thrive, both personally and professionally, I had the pleasure of interviewing Denise Broady.

As the COO for WorkForce Software, Denise oversees the global marketing and communications organization and is also responsible for the end-to-end customer experience including product strategy, product launch, customer operations, customer success, global support along with training and enablement. Prior to WorkForce Software, Denise was the Global COO of the Industry Cloud organization at SAP running go-to market, strategy, marketing, communications and operations. She also worked at TopTier (a start-up acquired by SAP) and spent time in consulting at Clarkston Group. With over 23 years of enterprise technology experience, Denise has scaled businesses from start-ups to running a complex $10 billion software business unit with over 3,000 products at SAP.

A true advocate of innovation engrained in her from her refugee roots, she has spent the majority of her career as a change agent, exercising her ability to be a true business athlete with a cross functional skillset. Her expertise lies not only in creating brand loyalty and value for the company, but also in empowering and growing her employees. Denise has always been passionate about mentoring women in the tech industry, and in 2018 she launched the WorkForce Women’s Network available to all employees and leading the way to drive change through coaching, mentoring and networking. In addition to her day to day responsibilities at WorkForce, Denise serves on the Board of Advisors for PlumSliceFirstHandle and Alluvium, where she shares her domain expertise to help scale and grow companies. She is also a two-time published author on Risk and Compliance, Performance Management and Business Intelligence: GRC for Dummies (2008) and Driven to Perform (2009). She holds a double degree in Production & Operations and Marketing from Virginia Tech.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! 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 and to where you are today?

The career in technology was completely accidental and no one from my family was in tech or in the business world except for a few small business owners.

I came to Virginia after escaping from Vietnam and grew up with lots of relatives and a very sheltered immigrant life.

I had no mentors or role models from the business world. My mom had an eighth-grade education and worked labor jobs all her life and definitely did not have money to send me to college.

She thought my best option was to be a beautician or go into a trade job so that I did not have to carry the burden of student loans and debt. However, I was really into books and spent a lot of time at the library. I had this crazy idea that I should go to college to guarantee my life out of poverty.

After finding ways to get some scholarship and financial aid money, I ended up going to Virginia Tech to get an undergraduate degree. I ended up graduating with a double major in Production and Operations and Marketing and then hoping that I would eventually head to law school to focus on helping women and minorities.

I only took a job in consulting after I graduated to pay off my student loans afterschool and figured I’d get to save enough to go to law school after a couple of years.

My first job was doing consulting work at Clarkston Group where I started as a programmer and implemented enterprise package software for various customers around the globe and this really got my career started in tech.

After consulting, I joined a start-up in Silicon Valley called TopTier which was eventually sold to SAP.

Joining SAP was an amazing experience enabling me to jump around into different jobs such as Business Development, Marketing, Operations, etc. which provided me the opportunity to build out my tool box and gain lots of different skills. The rest is history and 23+ years later, I’m still in B2B Tech and loving every minute of it.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

At the start of SAP, I had written a business plan to start the CFO Buying Center and noticed that SAP was selling primarily to CIOs. My boss at the time encouraged me pitch it to the Global COO on the Customer Operations side and got me the meeting.

The only issue was that the Global COO was doing a dry run for a large stage event and I had 15 minutes to convince him that I had a solid business plan and get the plan approved for the incremental 20 headcounts to start the area. I was so nervous and ran in with excitement to meet him and talked my head off for 15 minutes and at the end he shook my hand and said welcome to the management team and go build out your team!

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

I was asked to do a customer speaking engagement in Calgary in February and had never been there. The schedule was tight I was just coming from my best friend’s wedding during a long weekend in Cabo and was only going to be in Calgary for 2 days. At the beginning of my career, I was not a star traveler and extremely geographically challenged. I showed up in a skirt suit with open toe shoes and no coat. Though it became the joke of the event, I learned my lesson to always check the weather and be prepared for multiple leg trips.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture and work life?

Get to know people and understand what their aspirations are…not everyone is looking to climb the corporate ladder and this was a tough thing for me to understand at the beginning.

Early in my career, I figured everyone had the same aspirations that I had. I love getting to know the whole person outside of work and understand their background, family life and what they are passionate about. My job as a leader is to help them to accomplish their goals and coach/develop the folks around me so the better I know them the easier it will be to help them.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of our interview. In my work, I focus on how one can thrive in three areas, body, mind, and heart. I’d like to flesh this out with you. You are a very busy leader with a demanding schedule. Can you share with our readers two self-care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body to thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.

I love walking and find it to be a very meditative process. On nice days in New York, I’ll even walk to work which takes about 40 minutes in the morning and on weekends I’m always dragging my family out for walks. I think we have seen the entire city by walking through the various neighborhoods.

The other routine that is critical for me is weight lifting and I try to do this 3 times every week regardless if I’m at home or on the road. It is amazing what the body can do with an additional 5 to 10 pounds of weights during a workout.

Can you share with us two routines that you use to help your mind thrive? (Kindly share a story or example for each.)

I keep a daily journal and record moments of gratitude, frustration and “AHA” moments. It travels with me all over the world or sits next to my bed stand when I’m at home. I’m also a big advocate of reading physical books and trying to read between 30 to 45 minutes every day.

Finally, can you share with us two routines that you use to help your heart, your emotional or spiritual life to thrive? (Kindly share a story or example for each.)

I’m a huge Oprah fan and love her “Super Soul Sunday” podcast and interviews. Oprah inspired me to read “Seat of the Soul” by Gary Zukav to challenge the ego and learn how letting go of the ego can help you become a better human being.

I’m reading through Eckhart Tolle’s books and just finished a New Earth…next on the list is the Power of Now. It’s really hard to focus on spirituality as its one of the areas that does not have a daily metric like exercising and journaling and it is harder to measure if you are doing it well. It took me getting into my 40s to focus and awaken the desire to spend more time focused on spirituality.

When life is very busy, and you cannot stick with your ideal routine, are there any wellness practices, rituals, products or services for your mind, body, or soul that you absolutely cannot live without?

With young children and the daily distractions, I’m also obsessed with counting my daily 10,000 steps. When it’s crazy cold in NYC or I can’t get outside, I will literally walk the hall way or do the stairs to get my steps in. I’m known for dragging people to walking meetings and walking airports when I’m traveling to get in my steps while taking care of business.

All of us have great days and days that are not as great. On days when you feel like a rockstar what do you do? What does that day look like, and what did you do to get there?

On a rock star day, I get up between 5am to 6 am naturally. I set my alarm every day for 7am, but hope that I’m mentally motivated to get up a little earlier. Depending on when I get up, here is my routine: coffee (only black in the morning), yoga or weights for 20 to 30 minutes and reading time for another 30 to 45 minute depending on when I start.

If I get up closer to 7am, I don’t get to yoga/weights or reading. The reading happens at night before bed and the 10,000 steps replace the daily exercise goal.

By 7am, I am reading emails and responding to the high priority ones. After the kids get up at 7:30am, we hang out for breakfast (since I don’t eat breakfast) for about 30 minutes and then they are off to school. I then get ready and officially start my work day.

I’ve been intermitting fasting for the last 2 years so my eating window does not typically start until noon and extends until 8 m. It’s all adjusted based on dinner with friends and family, work commitments, customer events or travel, but no matter where I am I always try to get through my intermittent fasting. I also eat a very low carb diet and try to stick to primarily vegetables and protein.

Anyone that has worked with me knows that I carry food with me for snacks when I travel or have it in the office: nuts, low sugar chocolate and low carb bars. If I had my ideal day, I’d also be done eating at 6pm to 7 pm and then into bed by 9pm. I appreciate and cherish sleep and try to get 8 hours during the week and 10 hours on the weekends.

In contrast, on days when you feel down, what do you do?

At least try to take a 20 minute walk and listen to any of my favorite podcasts: Super Soul Sunday, The Daily, Tim Ferriss, and The Goop.

Do you have a story about the weirdest, most bizarre or most humorous wellness experience, treatment, practice, or practitioner that you’ve ever partaken in? If you do, we’d love to hear it.

I was flying with another colleague to Barcelona for a partner meeting. We landed on Sunday and decided the best way to recover from the jetlag was to go walk around Park Guell.

After we finished the tour, I convinced my colleague that we needed to get our steps in and walk back to the hotel and told him it was only about 20 minutes. At least this is what I remembered from the last time I was in Barcelona that it was about a 20 minute walk back to this particular hotel from the park.

Well, we ended up walking for 2 hours. We did get rid of our jetlag, but he never lets me forget how directionally challenged I am and always warns our other colleagues to check to see how long the walk is instead of purely taking my word for it.

You’re a high achieving business leader, and you also have family and loved ones that may require a different side of you at home. How do you leave the executive at the door, and be the most loving caretaker at home?

When I’m not on the road, I hope to get through my one to two hours of personal time every morning depending on my start time and then I get the kids ready for school. I like to sit with them for breakfast to chat about their day and be with them.

Unless there is a work emergency, I try to get home between 6 to 7 pm. I leave my phone at the entrance and try to purely focus on being with my family for dinner and then its homework time.

I’ll read emails again for an hour or so after the kids get ready for bed at 8 pm and then my husband takes over for the rest of nighttime rituals. My husband and I have a great partnership and we cover for each other between our travels and when we have other events during the work week.

Though I like the office structure, it also helps to have a flexible tech job where I have the option to work from home whenever I need to based on my family commitments or unplanned sickness.

I may not always be physically present, but when I’m home I’m grateful to be able to prioritize and give my family additional attention when I’m there. I’m involved in both of the schools that my kids attend by being on the PTA at one school and volunteering at the other school, whenever possible. I think it is really important to show interest in my children’s lives beyond just the daily home activities and show them from a young age the importance of giving back to society.

Is there a particular practitioner, expert, book, podcast or resource that made a significant impact on you and helped you to thrive? Can you share a story about that with us?

I have gifted lots of Tim Ferris’ “Tribe of Mentors” and think he is so inspirational.

There are so many good perspectives of leaders/top performers that I had not been exposed to until I read Tribe of Mentors. I especially loved hearing about Susan McCain and learning more about her background. I ended up reading her book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”, which was a great read and helped me to better understand introverts and how to better work and socialize with them.

His podcast is definitely a commitment as most are about 2 hours and it sometimes will take me an entire week to get through one of them. One of my favorites was the interview with Jamie Foxx.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂

My movement would be to eliminate all processed foods and go back to eating real foods like fish, meats and vegetables. Our society would be much healthier with less illnesses if we did not have the temptation of all the processed foods. It is always easier to eat a frozen waffle than to spend the time in the morning to make eggs and cut fresh vegetables for a meal. But, could you imagine the impact of longevity and all the money we would save from all the illnesses created from processed foods?

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

You can have it all, just not all at once. — Oprah.

This is a tough one for me to manage as I am constantly trying to slow down and enjoy the moment. There are so many demands in life — work, family, health, etc. I remind myself that a career is a marathon not a sprint and I only need to run my own race.

I work to improve and compete with myself, but it’s easier said than done with all the external pressures like social media with expectations for women executives to do everything and be superwoman all the time.

When I was having my second daughter, I decided to take a promotion and come back to work early after being off for only 5 weeks. I already had a super supportive husband, my nanny and plenty of infrastructure to ease the process. My first child slept through the night after 3 months and was an easy baby so I figured it was now time to have it all.

I did not account for my second one being a colicky baby who not sleep through the night until the ninth month mark. There were lots of moment between the time I took the promotion and those 8 months that I was contemplating about quitting and existing the corporate world. These long months taught me that I can have it all just not all at once and that I needed to learn to pace myself.

What are the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Twitter: @dvubroady

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/denisebroady/

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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