Women in Business Q&A: Mickey Mericle, VP Marketing Insights & Operations, Adobe

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Mickey is Adobe's Vice President of Marketing Insights and Operations. Prior to this role, she worked at Walmart Stores in Bentonville, Arkansas as the Vice President of Global Customer Insights and Analytics. She has also held roles at Target Corporation, Kinko's Inc., Monitor Company and the US Department of State. She holds an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, an MS in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania and a BA from Iowa State University. She is also a mom to a 10 year old daughter, 3 dogs, 2 guinea pigs and a pony!

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today? I had a very non-traditional start to my career. I lived overseas and delivered humanitarian assistance in civil war zones such as Sudan, Somalia, or Bosnia. So at 22 I learned very quickly the art of rapid situation assessment and quick yet calculated decision making. Those skills not only [literally] saved my life a time or two, but have served me well as I moved into a career in business, starting in management consulting and then moving into corporate management functions.

This unorthodox path helps me put things in perspective during busy periods at work. Not much in the corporate environment involves life and death, so I tend to stay calm in the fire drill moments.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Adobe? I spent the last 12 years in retail, first Target and then Walmart, and the retail business moves fast. Retailers have to compete for customers every single day. So that prepared me well to move to Adobe, which has moved to a subscription model (SaaS) from a packaged software model. Adobe runs like a retailer. We primarily sell directly to our customers instead of using resellers, so we too have to compete for and earn the loyalty of our customers day in and day out. That is familiar territory for me and I love our fast pace!

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Adobe? While I am only six months into my role, it's been a busy six months! The highlights include getting to know the large and diverse team spanning 9 offices across 5 countries (and travelling to all of them!). Learning the tech world has been invigorating - there is so much innovation happening all around me.

Most of all, I finally get a beautiful corporate photo because I now have an "in" with THE actual Photoshop team!

In all seriousness, the challenges have been primarily around building trust with my leadership team. My predecessor and his direct reports had been together for a decade, so I am the interloper. I had to really slow down to absorb the wisdom and experience of my seasoned leaders and then bring them along with me as I laid out a new vision for our team. When you are new, your direct reports can be the best champions for your vision because the rest of the team is still looking to them for "the nod" that we are headed in the right direction.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry? One of the things I am most encouraged about in joining Adobe is seeing the young women on my team who are managing hard core advanced analytics. It is awe-inspiring. One member of my team, who has a PhD in Econometrics, recently wrote an email about a woman on the team saying "I am NOT easily impressed in this space. But Emma is amazing, she gets the math, she gets the business, and she can explain it all". That's what gets me jazzed is seeing a young woman like that - who I suspect will run this company at some point.

My advice? Understanding big data is truly a glimpse into the future : get comfortable using and understanding data. It doesn't mean you have to do the actual analytics yourself, but get smart about how to ask the right questions of the data. You'd be surprised at how much bad analytics work is being done by people who just don't ask the right questions.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date? I have two cardinal rules that I have developed over time.

First, never ever ever speak poorly of a colleague or say something about anyone you wouldn't say to their face. Early in my career I got caught into a gossiping spiral with other young employees. As these things always do, it got out and I lost friends and eventually left the job because I had lost the trust of people. The one thing that can be impossible to regain once it is lost is your integrity. Be a decent human being, even to the mean people.

Second, hire people much smarter than you or who are good at what you are not. Too many managers surround themselves with people exactly like them. I am all too aware of what I need improvement in and I look for people who can help me in those areas. I fully expect to work for one of the many stars I have hired throughout my career!

How do you maintain a work/life balance? If you asked my 10 year old daughter, she might not agree that I have mastered work/life balance. Right now I am still on the learning curve so I don't love to admit it, but I am on the two shift cycle right now. I get in the office about 7am, leave about 5:30. I always try to be home to cook dinner and then once my daughter goes to bed I will do a couple more hours of catch up. And we are renovating our house so we all live in one room and the rest of the house filled with construction materials. So it is chaos! However, I am there for the big moments: her recitals and soccer games.

I am of the "sandwich" generation, so I have this young daughter and I also have aging parents. My dad is about to turn 91. And when I got the offer from Adobe, we faced this decision as a family because we were all in Arkansas and I didn't want to separate the family, so after a lot of discussion, I ended up moving my parents out to California with us, so I carve out time for the older generation too.

But I have to say, that two days ago I was in a meeting when I got the news that a friend of mine had been killed back in Arkansas, hit by a car while jogging. And I just sat and cried in my office. It is horrible that it takes something like that to remember that every day needs to be valued. So I have resolved to slow down and spend more time connecting to the people that are important.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace? You know, I don't think the biggest hurdles are in the workplace anymore. I think for many it is getting to the workplace in the first place. I think we need to do more to get girls, especially in under-represented ethnicities, into math and science. I am excited with the advent of programs like "Black Girls Code" or "Girls Who Code". Getting girls to be excited about those fields at the time when there is the most pressure to conform to gender stereotypes is crucial. I see it in my own daughter, the pressure to focus on the superficial things.

Not to say women don't still face workplace challenges, but I think many women today have figured out who they are. I watch these young women around me and they are fierce. Of course, Adobe is an incredibly supportive environment, as was Walmart. I know there are still workplaces out there where perhaps there is overt bias. I just kind of wish I could drop these amazing young women in those antiquated places and watch them take no prisoners! Now that would be fun.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life? While at Walmart I had a chance to get to know the previous CEO Mike Duke. Mike was one of the most decent executives I have ever had the opportunity to know. After traveling together on some customer visits, Mike gave me the opportunity to participate in a high level task force that gave me connections to the most senior leaders of the company. He even asked my boss to make sure I got connections to leaders in our philanthropic efforts because I expressed an interest. And he did the same for other women leaders. Mike remains one of the most impactful influences on my career. If you are lucky enough to have a senior leader recognize your ability, it's a great asset.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why? Sylvia Burwell, the US Secretary of Health & Human Services. Sylvia was a colleague at Walmart before her current role. She is so amazingly smart and polished, so much so that even in this political environment she sailed through the nomination process. She has moved seamlessly between government, business, and philanthropy effortlessly. And she's a thoroughly decent person on top of that. When the husband of another Walmart colleague died unexpectedly Sylvia was right there organizing the memorial and taking care of everything.

Sheryl Sandberg. She has accomplished so much in her business life and yet continues to invest in thought leadership and to put out stepping stones for other women. And her grace and dignity through her husband's death is astounding. To be so raw, unscripted, and genuine is unparalled in today's scripted PR age.

Malala Yousafzai. I can't even fathom this woman. At 12, I was obsessed with Farrah hair and this young woman was writing for the BBC and advocating for girls education. At 15, I was cruising the local mall and she was shot in the head and continuing her crusade. I have no words for my awe of her accomplishments. What do you want Adobe to accomplish in the next year? I want Adobe to keep making the news for innovations in the technology space and in the workspace. One of the reasons I joined the company was because we are innovating all over the place, even with the "death and taxes" annual review (note - gone!). I want us to keep creating new stories around us. Oh, and since I am the customer insights gal, I need to plug this: I definitely want us to push forward into even better connection with, and service to our customers!