Women in Business Q&A: Judy Verses, President of Global E&E, Rosetta Stone

As President of Rosetta Stone's Global E&E division since October 2011, Judy is responsible for all institutional business across all geographies. Judy has extensive experience across business, government, education and consumer sectors in technology, education and communications industries. Prior to joining Rosetta Stone, she was President and Chief Client Officer responsible for Global Sales and Marketing at Blackboard Learn, as well as serving as the company's President and COO. Judy has held several senior leadership roles at Verizon, notably heading the launch of Verizon FIOS, and began her career with Xerox. A past winner of the "Women Who Mean Business" Award from the Washington Business Journal and a recent Finalist in Women in Technology's Annual "Women in Leadership" Awards, Judy holds a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of Connecticut.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My childhood had a big impact on the person I am today. Growing up as a middle child sandwiched between two brothers and two sisters in a house that only had one bathroom taught me important life skills at an early age. Things as simple as getting time to use the shower required mastering the fine art of negotiation, or savvy manipulation according to my siblings.
As a middle child, you quickly discover the world is not all about you. To get what you need, you have to have the confidence to speak up and understand how to positively influence all members of your family. Being blessed with many strong personalities under one small roof required learning how to get along with everyone, as well as to find humor in continual dysfunction. Family finances also necessitated that everyone contribute. As soon as you could earn money, it was expected that you would. A strong work ethic was instilled at an early age. My first "real job," other than babysitting, was at Dunkin' Donuts at the age of 16 where I worked weekends starting at 5:30 a.m. It was there I experienced first-hand the impact of a positive attitude and treating customers with a smile not only kept them coming back to Dunkin' Donuts, but also increased your tips. My young eyes also noticed the impact on morale and loyalty when a manager does not treat employees with dignity and respect.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Rosetta Stone?
I would say all my employment experiences have been additive in their ability to help me be successful at Rosetta Stone. As a sales person for Xerox in Manhattan right out of college, I quickly learned that the customer is the center of the universe. Happy customers make the cash register ring and shareholders happy, and well-trained and motivated sales people are critical to a company's success. My time at GTE and Verizon gave me tremendous depth and breadth of experience across all aspects of sales, product management, marketing, operations and general management. I was fortunate to work for a company that was very focused on talent development and supportive of women in business. With my first promotion to a senior management level as Vice President/GM - Small Business Sales, I made the leap from leading a Product Management team of 65 people, to an organization of more than 3,000 mostly union employees. That was my toughest and most developmental leadership experience. To get union employees to buy in to your vision and follow you required earning their respect. Earning respect required taking the time to listen and learn, walk a mile in their shoes, and create an environment that valued people and made them want to go to work each day and make an impact on their customers and their company.

My three years at Blackboard as Chief Client Officer and President - Global Sales and Marketing was my first foray into Education technology. It was the Blackboard experience leading a global team in the Education space with a recurring software product that positioned me perfectly to take on the responsibility to build a global Enterprise and Education business for Rosetta Stone. Blackboard was also a key inflection point for me personally. While I have always enjoyed a corporate position, I learned that I loved working for a corporation that is purpose driven and can enable education which enables people to have better lives.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Rosetta Stone?
There have been so many highlights. First, and most important, I work with the most engaged and talented people. Employees come to work every day because they care about what they do. They are passionate about language learning and Rosetta Stone's ability to positively impact the success of corporations, schools, universities, and the lives of individuals. The world is rapidly changing. It is increasingly a global world and language is an important differentiator for both institutions and individuals. For individuals, language skills can have a double-digit impact on salary. For businesses, the ability to speak to customers in their language can translate into sales. For one major retailer's sales associates, learning to speak Spanish meant a $100,000 increase in his sales. There is nothing better than working with a group of people who are eager to help others realize new opportunities.

In addition to an impressive talent pool, Rosetta Stone offers outstanding products. It is so fulfilling to see both children and adults who have struggled to learn a language become fully conversational by using Rosetta Stone. In Emerging Markets, learning English can be the differentiator for securing a job and a future, and it is very satisfying to be part of enabling that. It also is exciting to see how Rosetta Stone can help companies be more successful with global expansion or serving diverse customers, and how we can enable teachers and professors to be even more successful in the classroom. Another big highlight is our acquisition of Lexia Learning last year. Lexia has a best in class, award-winning reading product for K12...and a depth and breadth of knowledge in K12 education that is a huge asset to Rosetta Stone.

The challenges have been fun because it has been all about driving transformation in a business that was predominantly a consumer CD business...to a business where growth will come from a recurring Enterprise software business. When I came to Rosetta Stone three years ago, the Enterprise and Education division was just a small part of Rosetta Stone. It is now a robust growth business that will be about 40 percent of this year's revenues. We've done a lot of heavy lifting to drive that growth. It is very fulfilling to see all the hard work start to pay off.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Go for it! EdTech is a GREAT place for women. I believe women, even more so than men, are drawn to altruistic endeavors. If you love business, but want to use those skills and experiences in a more purpose-driven way, working in EdTech affords the best of both worlds. I know I might be biased, but I am definitely a convert. In addition, there is tremendous opportunity for growth in EdTech across the globe. Technology has the power and potential to transform education, and education has the power to transform individuals and the world in which we live. I believe we are still at the early stage of the transformation that will take place in education as a result of technology innovation and adoption.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Success is all about people. You need to find the best people and put them in the right jobs. You need to create a positive culture of positive people and an environment that respects people, challenges them and empowers them to be successful.

How do you maintain your work/life balance?
That is a never ending quest...especially when you have kids and a demanding job. I believe you need a support system. When you have work and family, I have found the two most important people to help are your spouse and your boss. I have been blessed with a great husband and partner, and learned how critical it is to work for a boss and company that are supportive and help you balance. It also is important to me to foster an environment that helps people manage that difficult balance. To do that, I work hard to try to set a personal example, which also helps me to balance.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
This might be a surprising answer, but I believe there are more advantages and opportunities for women than there are issues. Even though I honed my skills in a very male dominated telecommunications environment, being a woman with initiative and doing a good job, helped me stand out. Yes, as a woman you do receive extra scrutiny, but I benefited significantly from being identified early on as a "high potential female" and, as a result, received additional training and job enrichment opportunities It also provided me with exposure to very senior levels early in my career where I learned the critical importance of developing your network. Most recently, I was appointed to the board of Promethean World, a UK listed company. Being female was an asset to that appointment as public boards are now taking positive steps to improve female representation in the boardroom.

I don't like to think of issues for women; I would rather refer to them as opportunities. In my opinion, the biggest opportunity for women today is to take advantage of all that is available out there and have the confidence to be at the table and have your voice heard.

How has mentorship made a difference in your personal and professional life?
Mentorship has had a significant impact on me, and I was lucky to have multiple mentors throughout my career. These were not mentors that I sought out or formal mentor relationships, but special people who took the time and interest in me to help. My first mentor relationship started when I was a young manager at GTE. I made a horrible mistake on a project that upset the Presidents of all the regional telephone companies. My hands were shaking as I was called to the office of one of the most influential and powerful Senior Vice President's in the company. He kicked my butt with kindness and took the time to coach me on what I should have done differently. He closed with "Have you learned anything?" Yes! "Will it ever happen again?" No. "Then I am happy it happened as it was a good lesson." So much of what I have learned about leadership came from watching him in action and his coaching.

The greatest source of satisfaction I have from my career has come from watching smart, young people I have mentored or coached grow their own wings. It is so important to "pay it forward" and play a role in someone else's success. Currently, I am in a formal mentorship role as part of the Laura Bush Fellowship Initiative where I mentor a talented young Chemical Engineer from Tunisia which has fostered amazing personal growth and understanding for me. Although I have always embraced diversity and cultural differences, I never fully understood the courage it takes to stand up for your belief and overcome obstacles for things we take for granted in the United States.

Which other female leaders do you admire?
I think Madeleine Albright is a rock star. What a dynamic, amazing lady who has accomplished great things, especially for her era, and has remained humble and humane throughout. I had the pleasure of hearing her speak at a Female Executive Conference, and then spoke with her afterwards. While I have always been in awe of her career, and one she really started later in life after raising her children, many of the comments she made have stayed with me. When she talked about mentorship during her career, she said that all her mentors were men. Although there were women who were in a position to mentor her, they chose not to. My all-time favorite comment from her..."There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women." In her talk, she focused more on the benefits and advantages of being a woman and urged the audience of 100 female executives to remember the person sitting across the table is a human being. Dr. Albright also shared that as women you need to learn to interrupt which involves actively listening and leaning in. There are so many things to admire about this powerful woman who was the highest ranking female official of her time, yet always remained true to herself and her values.

What do you want Rosetta Stone to accomplish in the next year?
Rosetta Stone is a respected and trusted brand when it comes to language learning, but we've been growing beyond that to include education products for reading and brain fitness. I hope that as an education company, our excitement and passion for learning can extend across the globe. As I mentioned earlier, I work with a team of people who wake up every day, motivated to make a difference for students and adults alike.

My team helps thousands of organizations inspire learners, whether at the beginning of their learning journey at schools or the continuation to acquire knowledge and skills to be successful in their second or third careers. Through Rosetta Stone's client base of education, business and government leaders, I hope we can help people see how multilingualism and strong literacy skills can drive individual as well as organizational success. This can only help them seize all the opportunities available out there.