Going Against the Flow: Lynn Vojvodich, CMO of Salesforce

Lynn Vojvodich is the CMO of Salesforce. Previously, she was a Partner at Andreessen Horowitz, where she worked with portfolio companies on their go-to-market strategy and with Forbes Global 2000 CIOs and CMOs on their innovation agenda. Interestingly, she began her career as a mechanical engineer and managed the interior completion of the first GV, the Gulfstream Aerospace business jet. She also designed offshore oil structures in the Gulf of Mexico and led "turn-key" construction projects. She holds a B.S. in product design and mechanical engineering from Stanford University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Lynn Vojvodich, CMO of Salesforce

What does entrepreneurship mean to you? What underlying characteristics do you see in successful entrepreneurs?

Lynn: Entrepreneurship can mean lots of different things based on where you're at. At Salesforce, we're innovating, thinking outside the box every day and executing with passion. We operate at the pace of a startup and the scale of a Fortune 500 company. We're constantly pushing boundaries and we've created an environment for every Salesforce employee to be an entrepreneur within their roles. We're constantly thinking about innovation: What does nirvana look like? What's the most amazing thing we can do?

Essentially, successful entrepreneurs have conviction in their vision despite others questioning their choices. Being a successful entrepreneur requires courage and confidence.

You were a partner at A16Z. What single piece of advice would you give to millennials starting their own companies on connecting with their customers?

Lynn: You need to listen. You need to be wherever your customer is. As an entrepreneur, often times, you're altogether creating a new channel for your customers to consume information. For instance, we weren't having conversations about video or social media ten years ago but these are at the heart of marketing strategies today.

Why do we need more women in decision making positions?

Lynn: A study shows that corporate boards have more men named John, James, Robert and William than they have women in all. Best ideas come together when we create egalitarian, diverse and inclusive environments for everyone to pursue their passions and execute their creativity, and that's exactly what we try to do at Salesforce, whether while choosing our speakers for Dreamforce or building our teams internally.

Tell us about an instance when you went against the flow.

Lynn: I was fourth of four girls, and my Dad's little boy. He was a NASA engineer, and he would let me skip school and take me to the AMES facility sometimes. I found my passion and ended up pursuing Mechanical engineering at Stanford; I was often the only woman in my classes. I worked in male dominated industries like aerospace, construction and manufacturing, but it never felt like going against the flow because I was merely pursuing my passion. I wasn't going with or against the flow; I was creating my own flow.

When I was running the Enterprise Marketing Team at Microsoft, my sister got ill with cancer, and I decided to step off my career path to go take care of her. I got to spend a year with her before she passed away, and I will not trade this time for anything. I am glad that I went against the flow and took that year off. I realized that life is too short to not be following your passions. What I'm doing at Salesforce feels like 90% fun and 10% work. We have created an egalitarian environment here where people can innovate, give back, have fun and drive impact.

How and why did you transition from product/engineering to marketing?

Lynn: Once an engineer, always an engineer! In engineering school, I learned how to problem solve and build things. When you design something, you also need to understand how to sell it. While managing R&D for Gulfstream Aerospace, I became more interested in the bigger picture and translating the value of what we created. While at Harvard Business School 15 years ago, my marketing professor David Bell got me to consider marketing and the rest is history.

How do you measure success for yourself?

Lynn: Personally, it all boils down to happiness, for myself and the people I love. As for business metrics, we judge our success based on innovation, inspiration and impact. We are driven by inspiring our employees and customers, which enables us to constantly build innovative products and transform our marketplace. For example, Dreamforce 2015 was the largest software conference on the planet where more than 170,000 registered and 11 million joined us online. We booked a cruise boat for our attendees because the hotels reached capacity. This Dreamboat was one of the countless examples of how we innovate and have fun with it.

What advice would you give to your 22 year old self?

Lynn: I graduated from Stanford when I was 20. I remember being fearless and confident. I wasn't much different from who I am today. That said, in the present day, I typically give two pieces of advice to 22 year olds. 1) Be cognizant of your personal brand. Know what you want to be known for, and then reinforce it on your Facebook posts, in your meetings and everything you do and say. Though, be authentic. 2) Create your personal Board of Directors. My BOD consists of two friends from Harvard Business School and a friend from Stanford. These are people who want the best for me and love me. I consult them before making important life decisions like choosing between careers or taking time off to go take care of my sister. Having their support and insights has been gratifying and useful.

Follow Lynn Vojvodich at @lvojvodich, check out the other interviews in Going Against the Flow series at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/charu-sharma/ and join this movement to empower 1 million female entrepreneurs on goagainsttheflow.com.