I had the pleasure of interviewing Claudine Zachara who serves as Chief Operating Officer at ThinkWhy, where she is responsible for managing the organization. Her focus is driving the vision, values and culture for the company, setting direction for strategy, creating sound operational procedures, and delivering profitability. She brings 20 years of experience in commercial operations which includes serving as CMO and Senior Vice President of Revenue Operations for three prior SaaS organizations. Her experience includes leadership roles in private and public companies, board positions for non-profits and municipalities, building high-performance teams, and driving sustainable growth. She is an experienced speaker, having spoken at local forums on economic developments within those areas. Zachara earned her B.A. from Arizona State University, and her MBA and graduate certificates in marketing management and brand strategy from Colorado State University.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Ihave embraced conquering new challenges in my career and quest to learn and excel. After I was given a shot to work for a massive cosmetic company in my early 20s, I decided that my purpose and “why” was to find and nurture talented individuals in the way I had been. “Pay it forward”, if you will. My “why” is to impact people’s career lives in a profoundly positive way, and in turn, inspire them to do the same. It’s not only good succession planning, it’s my life’s legacy!
Ron Johnsey, ThinkWhy’s Founder and CEO, approached me in the summer of 2018 to run a new company he was starting. I hesitated. I’d taken on challenges before, but this would be on a massive scale. It would require building a software company from scratch, branding and naming it, recruiting the leadership team, developing operational procedures, and the list goes on. Although this was daunting, I eventually realized that building this would allow me to realize my “why” on a much broader scale; allowing me to inspire others, teach leadership and smart business practices, and leave a legacy that would (hopefully) be magnified through the skills and efforts of others.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Running a start-up is a constant balance between strategic planning and managing curveballs that get thrown your way. There are many contenders for most interesting story, but in the year that I’ve been building and leading ThinkWhy, one specific positive story comes to mind.
One Monday morning, our CTO informed me our product development would be delayed another 3 months. For a COO motivated by speed to market, and scared of the cost associated with our team of employees sitting around waiting “to launch”, my initial reaction was volcanic. After an evening of weighing options and looking for a better way to move forward, I pulled the launch team together and they created a better launch plan and date, rising to the challenge I had given them. The result? A more enhanced product despite the roadblock!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
ThinkWhy was established to positively impact and change human behavior by inspiring workplace fit and purpose. This is the driving force behind what we do and create — our ‘why’.
ThinkWhy is a SaaS platform, helping organizations and employees navigate a new era of work. Our first product, LaborIQ™, combines complex data with proprietary forecasting and customizable dashboards to provide national and metro-specific supply and demand with occupations and wage levels. In today’s market, this software provides businesses with a strategic competitive advantage.
When you step into the shoes of an employer who is actively searching for candidates to fill a position (HR representative, hiring manager, c-suite executive), you understand that it can become overwhelming to attract in-demand talent and compete with offers from multiple companies. A company’s growth plans are dependent on the talent they attract and retain.
LaborIQ™ demystifies hiring for employers with an intuitive, highly customizable solution that helps them better understand the market, labor supply, and make proactive business and workforce decisions.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are really excited about the potential for ThinkWhy’s first product, LaborIQ™, which will be launching in the coming months. But our mission won’t end there! Our first priority is ensuring that LaborIQ accomplishes its foundational goals and gains traction by solving hiring and retention pain points with the solutions we have designed. We have a robust product roadmap but are highly focused on LaborIQ’s launch and traction in the short term.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
You can’t build a business alone. A strong, trustworthy, self-driven, motivated and inspired team is the key to bringing a business idea to life. And, in a start-up, it’s crucial you find people who are adaptable! Adaptability is one of our company core values for a reason.
Many leaders spend hours making sure that their company is buttoned up and running efficiently, and when you’re in the weeds, it is easy to forget what’s most important — alignment. Everyone must be rowing in the same direction. It’s critical to the success of the organization.
ThinkWhy is an open, transparent environment and culture. We have no office doors in our 6,000 sq. ft. space. Only our meeting rooms have doors for departmental planning and status meetings. From a talent perspective, especially for Millennials and Gen Z populations, executives that are visible to their employees become real people rather than ominous figures that silence the room with their presence. It makes a difference. We encourage everyone to operate at a “level 10”, and when they do, our employees and teams will find their purpose, passion and career fulfillment.
I take the time to walk the floor 3 or 4 times a day, stopping to engage with each person. I want them to know they will never be anonymous, and that they make a difference by being here! Each of us plays an important role in the growth of my company. No job is too small. No one should ever say “that is not my job”. At every level we roll up our sleeves (literally) and create positive traction.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Women are ‘magic-makers’. Find great talent, and then trust them. Do not compete with them. While building trusting relationships across the company is easier with a small team, it should still be a priority at the largest organizations.
Having had many mentors over my career, and being one myself, I would strongly recommend implementing a mentorship program. Not only do these programs aide new hires and help them integrate into their environment and team, it comes with benefits for the mentors themselves. They will feel confident that all employees are well-trained and understanding of work ethics and policies, and it encourages mentors to step into a leadership role, where hopefully they will feel rewarded by the progress of their mentees.
And, don’t forget to have your own mentor. I have a CEO coach that I’ve been working with for years. If nothing else, he is an objective sounding-board for small and large business challenges. Leading teams with revenue and expense budgets always on your dashboard can cause stress to build up. It’s critical to have someone who can be a sounding board for you and help sort the chaos into a clear path forward.
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?
There have been several great experiences, responsibilities and learning opportunities on the way to where I am today. However, I work with the one person who not only saw my capabilities but trusted his company in my hands! Our founder Ron Johnsey’s faith and trust inspires and motivates me every day. We do not always agree, but always come together with the right solution for the organization, and “stack hands”. His style of leadership has inspired me, from our days at a previous company, and now at ThinkWhy. He has taught me that passion for the work cannot be forced.
I never want to take for granted that I get to realize “my why” every day because of Ron; no matter how challenging the week or month may be. I’ve found my purpose and passion, which is the most satisfying sense of fulfillment a girl can have in her career life!
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- There are no crystal balls. No matter how elegant a plan is constructed with data and strategic vision, be prepared to pivot and be adaptable.
- Vendors must be heavily vetted. You are paying them a great deal of money, especially when developing a company. No matter what your sense of urgency is, do your homework and research! Make sure they align with your values and work style and have the necessary infrastructure and skill to do what they say they can do.
- Take care of yourself and pay attention to your health and need for time away from the grind. Your team suffers if you do not unplug and recharge. Your physical and mental health is vital to the wellbeing of the organization! It also helps if you plan to live a very long life!
- People will inspire and disappoint. They will be your greatest wins and successes as they positively impact and grow under your leadership. And, occasionally, they will be your greatest heartache when they cannot get there. Remember that great people are out there. Find the diamonds and allow them to shine.
- Let the small stuff go! Ask yourself daily — “Will I care about this one year from now?” If you won’t, drop it immediately. It’s not worth the time and energy drain.
Bonus. TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS! Enough said.
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?
Pay every single woman on this planet equal to men for the same jobs. Give women no special accommodations, just equal pay. Watch what happens to the wellbeing of humanity and civilizations. I believe that more children will be fed, educated and generations will be uplifted. Let’s envision a future world 10 years from now, with no special accommodations or forced hiring methods. We simply hire the most qualified person(s) for the role, pay them equally for that role, and provide them with cultures that build trust and career equality. At the end of those 10 years, I believe that issues with high school dropout rates, homelessness, college enrollments, and student debt will be resolved.
Plus, imagine being able to soundly sleep at night knowing you’ve done your part to create positive change in humanity, and leave a legacy that cannot be measured!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I will not follow where the path may lead, but I will go where there is no path, and I will leave a trail.”
— Muriel Strode
I hope my life’s path is always defined in this way, and that my way inspires others to always trust themselves and go for it! Don’t forget to thank everyone who helped you along the way!
We are blessed that 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?
Ginni Rometty. She leads IBM with a balance of wisdom and strength to help sustain their growth. I am certain that my perspective would benefit from hearing hers, and would enjoy receiving her advice and perspective on the building blocks I am putting in place at ThinkWhy.