Trailblazing Women: Jane Hynes, SVP Communications, Salesforce

This interview is part of a series on Trailblazing Women role models (Entrepreneurs and Leaders) from around the world and first appeared on Global Invest Her. You have to see what you can be.


"Find a career that matches your personality and your interests, because that allows you to be passionate about it."

Jane Hynes has led Salesforce's communications strategy from its days as a start-up, through its IPO, to the Fortune 500 company it is today. Since joining Salesforce in 2003, Hynes' counsel and communications strategy have been integral to establishing the company's leadership in the cloud computing industry.

Over the past 12 years, Hynes has led the communications strategy during pivotal moments in Salesforce's history. Hynes successfully managed Salesforce's IPO and several acquisitions, launched the international communication operations, was core to some of the company's most creative marketing campaigns, and established many practices that are now implemented at the board level, such as an intensive annual spokesperson certification program. Hynes also plays a key role with the customer, analyst, financial and internal communications teams.

During her tenure, Hynes has received many accolades, including PRWeek Small Corporate Communications Team of the Year in 2005 and being named to PRWeek's 40 under 40 list in 2010. In addition, ExecRank named her No. 39 on its 2012 Top Communications Executives Ranking, and the Holmes Report included Hynes in its In2's Innovator 25 in 2013.
Prior to joining Salesforce, Hynes held PR roles at OutCast Communications and Hamilton Ink. She received a bachelor's degree in biology from Santa Clara University.

Visit the Salesforce website and follow her on Twitter @jhynes1

Who is your role model as a leader?

I do not have a singular role model. What I have tried to do to hone my management and leadership styles is to look at the different people I have worked for and with, look at the qualities I admired as well as those I didn't like in them. I model myself after the people I have the most respect for and who I really enjoyed working with the most. I think that shows in my leadership style.

What is your greatest achievement to date?

For me, my greatest achievement to date is the team I have built. I am so proud of the people who have been with me for years, continued to grow and shine, and have gone on to have different roles in the organization.

For example, one woman who worked for me for 8 years just went on to take on a broader marketing role. My proudest moment is when I see the people on my team shine and have a huge impact on the organization overall.

I am also proud that I never compromised what I felt was interesting. I am not the average PR person. In college, the best advice I ever got was to major in something you are interested in. I always loved science and was a biology major. Coming out of college I wanted to do something different, so I did arts and entertainment. Technology communications is the marriage of the two things I am most passionate about. It relies on both science and outbound communication , so it has been a perfect career path for me.

I grew up in a family where I could do anything. It has allowed me to be empowered and make decisions about my career and what I wanted to do , resulting in building a fulfilling life for myself.

What has been your biggest challenge as a woman leader?

There are certain situations you get put in that can be intimidating. Technology is a male dominated culture and often you are the only woman in the room. Sometimes, people don't look to you for the answers.

Having the confidence to have a voice, the humility to know when you don't have the answer and the ability to ask the right questions to get to the right answer are important. Leadership isn't about being right, it's about finding the best path forward. For me, it has been a combination of knowing how to read a room, knowing when to chime in and knowing when to hold back. Not to be intimidated because you are the only woman in the room. Not to be afraid to have a seat at the table. You learn tough lessons along the way. You don't always say or do the right thing. As long as you continue to get the opportunities and understand that you can fail fast, you can come back stronger. There is no limit to what you can do.

How do you grow people in your organization?

The key with my team is that everybody knows where they stand. I am extremely open and straightforward. When somebody does something great and has an impact on the business, I make sure their work is recognized, I say thank you and they are rewarded for it. I create a culture that has transparent feedback, where people are challenged and learn new skills. You need to make sure there is clarity and that you are getting your point across. When something doesn't go right, I usually say 'let's look at it unemotionally and see what we can do', so that we learn from mistakes. If you brush things under a rug or are afraid to have difficult conversations, nobody is growing.

Growing careers is a mix of hard and soft skills. It's helping to coach people on how to work with executives with different personalities, how to read the room. It's more about how you do it, not just what you do.

I always try to look for opportunities for the team outside their day to day job, for example outside the marketing department or a project within the company. It's very important to build a broad network, a network of champions who know your breadth. If your only champion is your boss, you are not doing it right.

If you could do one thing differently, what would it be?

My personality is very much about no regrets. I like to stay on a forward trajectory, with momentum. The things you would have done differently are usually the things you learn from the most.

Early in my career, I wish that I would have learned how to better ask for feedback and better understand my value. When you first start out, the first time you ask for a raise is hard. You don't know how to do it. A lot of women I see wait for the opportunities to come to them versus asking for them. I wish I had learned to ask for it sooner.

I love it when someone asks me 'what do you think are my next steps?'. It's great to have the conversation. But you have to be ready for a 'no' and to understand why. People who get defensive about feedback and don't want to hear it, end up stagnating and staying in one place. Those who are open to feedback, willing to take risks and course-correct accelerate their careers.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I would say three things define my leadership style.

  1. I look to build a culture of honesty in my team, where we are straightforward with each other and give regular feedback to each other.

  • Respectfulness is also a key thing I look for. There are different ways to deliver the message and you need to do it in a respectful way. My commitment to everybody on my team is that I will challenge their ideas and ask them a lot of questions, but it will always be done in a respectful manner.
  • Empowerment - it is about giving people enough room to shine and also to fail. Being able to fail fast and come back from it fast is something I really value in my team, because if you are never experimenting and trying new things, you never move forward.
  • How would you describe the difference between men and women's leadership styles?

    To me it depends on individuals, not a gender bias. People have different leadership styles, you can't say it's just about gender. There are two things I have learned along the way.

    1. How important it is to ask questions. Somewhere along the way, I Iearned an interesting management trick. Take one week and don't tell anybody what to do, just ask them questions. Through the Q&A process you can uncover a lot of interesting things and change your way of thinking.
  • There's more than one way to skin a cat! In projects, my big thing is, I want to tell you what success looks like and what the end result needs to be. How you get there is up to you. You have to empower people to figure out their own path and learn along the way. When I graduated, my first two jobs out of school were at female led companies. What I had in front of me were women leaders who kicked ass in their businesses. When I joined Salesforce it was a young company, full of smart, energetic people not afraid to challenge each other. It wasn't about being a man or a woman. It was about rewarding great work. That is something I take with me wherever I go.
  • What advice would you give to your younger self?

    I would tell myself not to take myself too seriously! When you are a type A motivated person, sometimes you can get caught up in trying too hard. Having a personality and actually having a style and inspiring people through that, is just as powerful as knowing all the details.

    It's really important to have a combination of both IQ and EQ (emotional intelligence).

    What would you like to achieve in the next 5 years?

    At a company level, we are now the 6th largest software company in the world. We have the goal to become the third largest. It's a big bite to chew off. My goal is to make sure we have the right messages in the market and the right communication strategy to get there.

    Three key words to describe yourself?

    • straightforward
    • hard-working
    • energetic

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