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Tereza Nemessanyi: “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy”

Everyone should create friendships with two people outside your age range. Someone younger, someone older. These two people don’t have to be the same two people over a long period of time. You can switch them up. But at a minimum I speak with a younger and an older every month. Keeps me remembering who […]


Everyone should create friendships with two people outside your age range. Someone younger, someone older. These two people don’t have to be the same two people over a long period of time. You can switch them up. But at a minimum I speak with a younger and an older every month. Keeps me remembering who I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m going. With the younger, offer to listen, a sounding board, and possibly mentorship. You can make a huge difference by sharing experience which to you seems obvious — and you’ll walk away energized, and also, having learned something about the experience of the current generation. (Hint: it’s not the same as yours.) With an older person — ideally, someone elderly, a generation or two ahead of you. Check in and say hello, that you’re thinking about them. Share what’s happening in your life. Have real conversations, ask advice, and ask them to tell you stories. Offer some help, some favors. You’ll walk away similarly, but differently, energized. You’re drawing off the wisdom of our elders.


As a part of our series about powerful women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tereza Nemessany, Chief Revenue Officer and SVP of Enterprise Growth at Keboola. There she is responsible for Keboola’s entry into the North American enterprise segment, as well as standing up key strategic partnerships, including Microsoft. Tereza grew up in Pound Ridge, NY, where she still lives today. A first-generation working mother of two school-aged daughters, she works hard to manage her work and family time. A strong believer in creating a “new normal”, Tereza’s passion lies within the work she does with customers who are serious about data and digital transformation, and are playing to win. She has served as a mentor and advocate for startups in all the major accelerators in NYC. Tereza believes that it’s by investing in the development of an innovation ecosystem, and supporting its growth, early opportunities are unearthed. Over her 25-year career, she’s worked within the disruption and digital transformation for startups, large enterprises, and the intersection of the two. Prior to joining Microsoft, she was a startup founder, a strategy consultant (PWC), an early employee of an IPO startup (CETV). She’s been named a Forbes “Ten Female Entrepreneurs to Watch” (2011) and a “Top 40 over 40” (2015). She holds an MBA from The Wharton School.


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

My parents were political refugees from Czechoslovakia; my dad was a high-level mechanical engineer, having been chief engineer of a precision machinery factory — basically, machines that make machines. As I understood it, his work was a pretty big deal; he oversaw major projects throughout the Eastern bloc and his defection was quite controversial. My mom had worked in the National Theater in Prague and then in Expo 67 in Montreal as part of the Czechoslovak Pavilion, which was home to Kinoautomat, the first interactive film ever. So they were creators and builders at a time (the 1970’s and 1980’s) when that wasn’t really in style. If there was something we wanted, but couldn’t afford, the question always was: well, how could we make it ourselves? Whether it was carpentry, sewing, metalwork, engines, to create furniture, dresses, stone masonry — they did it all, with their hands. They also fought like cats and dogs. I realized later on in my professional life that my childhood inhabited the space between Engineering and Sales — between building something new, and making sure it works in the real world. As their first daughter and in-house translator of American culture, my daily struggle was to get everyone on the same page in a way that works in the here and now.

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

When I joined Keboola, it was as part of a newly formed leadership team, to take this gem of a company to a new level. This was a big step for me, having come from a very large company (Microsoft), where powers and budgets are fragmented across departments, and while the scale is massive, anything you want to do requires significant socializing. Also, it’s very common that you wouldn’t know what’s happening in other parts of the company. Here at Keboola, I’ve greatly enjoyed being part of the leadership team, doing daily standups wherein, together, we decide what we’re going to do, and we do it. The team is super-complementary and it’s a true “all for one and one for all” partnership. I love this team.

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?

The founders created a tech platform for data professionals which was what they wanted for themselves. They did it with a profound sense of craftsmanship — craftsmanship embedded in the tooling, and built to support the data craftsmanship of their customers. And their customers absolutely love it. As I was going through the process of getting to know this product, I was on a call with a potential partner, and flubbed up the story-line. And I was talking too much. Confusion ensued. Then, we switched to the demo. It was as if the clouds parted — the beauty of the product shown through brightly. The lesson? Don’t over-complicate. And show, don’t tell.

Thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CRO/Chief Revenue Officer that most attracted you to it?

Over the years, I’ve held many positions in the areas of strategy, consulting, partnerships, business development, product development, and complex sales. I’ve also been a CEO. What really grabbed me was the opportunity to pull all these experiences together, in a single place, and in service to an amazing team and product.

Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what an 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?

Of course. A Chief Revenue Officer oversees a company’s full revenue engine, and the functions which support it. At core, of course, is Sales. And different segments likely have multiple types of sellers and/or channels targeting them — and strategies need to be stood up to address each one effectively. Another key area is Partnerships. This is “selling with” instead of “selling to”. In many SAAS companies, a strong partnership model is key. I’ve done a great deal in partnerships and see great opportunity for that here. A CRO is paying attending both to new customers, as well as growing our existing ones. And all of this is enabled by excellent marketing.

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

I love being responsible for things, and representing a great group of people. Also, i love building and leading teams.

What are the downsides of being an executive?

When things are going really well, and your great team is in place, then what should be happening is that your people are doing the guts of the work — and only escalating to you when there are problems. Some people have said — and I agree — that when you are higher up, you aren’t as close to that core work, the part that you loved from the beginning.

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

I think it’s lonelier than people think. From the outside, it can appear that you’re at lots of events, meetings, full calendar and lots of joy. But the fact is, you’re running two “reels”, and “A Reel” and a “B Reel”. Meaning, you are telecasting the “A Reel”, because it’s important to convey confidence and all the positive things that are happening. The “B Reel” is what you’re actually thinking about all the time — the things that keep you up at night and the problems that you’re trying to solve, stat, to uphold the reality of the A Reel. That disjointedness takes some experience getting used to, and is why it’s so important to have a great, supportive set of colleagues on your leadership team, a supportive partner at home, and also a great executive coach or therapist who helps you see yourself to you can keep improving.

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

Research tells us that men are promoted based on potential, while women are teed up for opportunities based on their experience. Meaning if you haven’t done it before, you’re unlikely to be recommended. Bridging that experience gap is very difficult, and you have to work overtime and make many more attempts in order to land it.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

When I have desk work, i’m doing it from home. I did not expect it, and it’s really wonderful! That said, when not working at home, I’m traveling like a fiend.

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?

Ability to operate on limited information. Being able to balance and trade off short-term and long-term imperatives. Self-awareness is critical — knowing your strengths, and also, your weaknesses. And being willing to quickly delegate with others who are better at those things.

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

I think a two-prong approach is key. Take time to set up fair systems and clarity on what actions will help your team members achieve success. The more they can do on their own, the happier they, and you will be. But then, within that frame, leverage those organic female skills. Convey that you are in service to your people. What do they need? How can you help them? I have found that, when operating in a strong framework, these “female skills” are really human skills and, generally, are appreciated.

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?

Actually, our CEO, Pavel Dolezal, is one of those people for me. He “discovered” me online (!) years ago, and we quickly became great friends. We loved geeking out about business together, and shared similar values and energy. He invested in a previous company of mine, and was there for me through thick and thin even when things were tough. I have advised and mentored him as well. A super-reciprocal relationship. When he asked me to consider joining his company, I did not take it likely. Both as a human, and as a friend, it is extremely important to do the right thing by all, and together, create the kind of company we are truly proud of.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I mentor a great deal. I’m a big believer in creating the world you want; and modeling to others that they should help others is key to that. At any point in time I’m in touch informally with about two dozen younger people, as a sounding board in some capacity or another. The secret? Once you get to know someone, it becomes pretty quick to help when they need it. Lots of 5-minute favors. The best outcome is that it makes me a better parent to my two daughters — because I’ve seen a lot of what’s going on our there, and can pass it on to them. In truth, since I’m their mom, they’re not likely to listen to me. But at least I’ve built an army of amazing young people I can call on to help my girls when they’ll need it!

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.

Everyone should create friendships with two people outside your age range. Someone younger, someone older. These two people don’t have to be the same two people over a long period of time. You can switch them up. But at a minimum I speak with a younger and an older every month. Keeps me remembering who I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m going. With the younger, offer to listen, a sounding board, and possibly mentorship. You can make a huge difference by sharing experience which to you seems obvious — and you’ll walk away energized, and also, having learned something about the experience of the current generation. (Hint: it’s not the same as yours.) With an older person — ideally, someone elderly, a generation or two ahead of you. Check in and say hello, that you’re thinking about them. Share what’s happening in your life. Have real conversations, ask advice, and ask them to tell you stories. Offer some help, some favors. You’ll walk away similarly, but differently, energized. You’re drawing off the wisdom of our elders.

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

“No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” Plan as much as you can. Think through all the possibilities. But when it’s time to go live, be ready to be wrong. And be prepared to be fully present, and ready to respond to what’s happening, real-time. The purpose of that planning was to enable you to respond faster, respond better. Because you’ve thought of it. But also, be ready to ditch a plan that’s not serving you. In all of this, keep a very clear view of the big objective.

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.

That’s easy: Madeleine Albright. Not only because I have utmost respect for her professionally, and have followed her movements for many years. The first time it was recommended that I meet her was in the early 1990’s, while I was a college student and doing research on the political changes in Czechoslovakia. Of course, she was an amazing U.S. Secretary of State. But also, we share legacy. Meeting her and comparing notes and family stories is at the very top of my bucket list.

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


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