Transparency in the Workplace with Cisco's Maria Martinez
Elias Torres: Hey, this is Elias Torres co- founder and CTO of Drift. Did you know that Drift is part of the just 2% of VC- back startups led by Latin American founders? Well, I am aiming to change that. I want to highlight stories of underrepresented leaders and help change the face of corporate America. Once a month, you'll hear inspiring stories from other underrepresented leaders as we work to build our own American dream. Hit the subscribe button to make sure you get the new episodes when they drop. In the meantime, follow me on Twitter @eliast and subscribe to get quarterly updates at drift. com/ American- dream. What a pleasure, Maria, thank you so much for giving me this time. Especially given how busy and how much work you have, how much responsibility. foreign language and have you here. There's so many questions, so much I want to talk about, but I want to remind you why you're here. One, first of all, huge fan of yours. You're a great role model for me and for so many Hispanics in the United States. And so, blown away, blown away that you can make this time. What I want to do, I'm a co- founder of Drift, Elias, and my dream is to document my American dream journey, as an immigrant into this country. And I want to share as much information as possible, that great mentors of mine did for me, as I was going in my career. And so I want to bring your story so more people know about it and inspire many young people. That might be before college, in college, or starting their careers or later in their careers, and see what someone like us could do in early times. As a woman, as a Latina, and how much you've been able to accomplish. So I want to be able to bring as much of that, please bring your energy, bring your honesty, transparency, authenticity. Let's share with people because I want to help everybody grow and succeed in the United States. And in the whole world. Thank you.
Maria: foreign language, Elias, and thank you so much for the kind words. Such an honor to be here with you and to be able to have this conversation. I just met you recently, not that long ago, but I'm so impressed with what you're doing, both professionally in terms of paying it forward to the community. I'm very impressed with what you're doing and I'm here to help you with your mission.
Elias Torres: Thank you so much. I think one of my taglines I say on LinkedIn, I said, I focus on people first. People first. We build teams first and then the company and the success follows. Without people, we're nothing.
Maria: Yes, no. I mean, for people in technology like we are, it's amazing. And I still remember when I... It became evident, early on in my career, that the hard part was not the technology, but was the people. But it was also the most important part.
Elias Torres: Exactly. Because people, we invent the technology. Speaking of technology, you're an engineer. A very successful, a very accomplished engineer. And I think we shared some of the stories, and really, one of the things that we want to highlight and frame the conversation is by saying your journey from Puerto Rico, inaudible Puerto Rico, and become an engineer, foreign language, and now an executive at the biggest companies in the world. A board member. And so I want to share some of that journey because everybody has questions. How do I do that? How did Maria figure this things out? How did she make this choices to transition from one profession career path to another? Let's talk about those things and maybe go back to the early days. So, what made you go into engineering?
Maria: Well, actually that's a really interesting story and one that is important for all of us because I wouldn't have been an engineer at all. As a matter of fact, when I was in high school, inaudible to graduate. I didn't even know exactly what I wanted to do. At that time I thought maybe I'll go to math or be inaudible. But it was inaudible that I had in high school. It was my math teacher. And I said," I don't want to build houses." I just didn't even know that there were different types of engineers and that it was like, I trusted that professor and went on to study engineering. And it was the best thing that ever happened. So it also taught me about how much of an influence we can have on others when we take the time to coach and advise people. It's life changing. It changed my life, just that moment.
Elias Torres: I'm getting the goosebumps. My story is almost exactly the same. It's a little bit inverted. Growing up in Nicaragua, I would see the constructions in the neighborhood and I would hear the word foreign language and those were civil engineers. So to me, engineer was the same thing. It's like, it's a construction person. But it felt better. You're designing, you're managing the whole construction. And then it was later that I saw a brochure, when I lived in LA, when I was in seventh grade, that said computer science was computer engineering. And then a math teacher in high school did the same thing. I was in math competition. So it's the same thing. And you're right, we take for granted helping young people in high school or earlier on. And we do not know the impact that we can make. Look at your life and what you're accomplishing now, because of people like that. It's unbelievable. And so now, you get onto this path of engineering and you had some amazing opportunities. You go into AT& T, tell me about that. You share with me in our last meeting that you were at a very, very special time AT&T. What happened then?
Maria: Well, it was interesting because I joined AT& T/ Bell Labs out of school. I mean, my dream as a kid was to be an astronaut, actually. But I did get this opportunity with AT&T/ Bell Labs, they would pay for my Master's degree, so I decided to go in there. Got my Master's degree and just became a researcher at the Bell Labs. It was very, very technical for probably the first, yeah I would say five years of my career. And that's when I just had that insight or transformation that I really enjoy building teams and putting teams together and developed this fascination for people. And how you have to bring people together to achieve things that you wouldn't think were possible. So it was kind of an important transition for me, at that time, to just really start thinking about management in a different way, to really be able to have an impact on the business.
Elias Torres: What was your biggest accomplishment there for you, do you think? That you were able to witness, participate, or lead?
Maria: I mean, at Bell Labs we were building the switches. I was on the computing side of the switch, but we built the switches that, the 5ESS and all the switches that, today, still switch a lot of the phone calls around the world. And I learned a lot about that. After that, I moved to Motorola with a lot of the management team during the divestiture of AT& T, moved to Motorola to work on the cellular piece. Which was also, you could say it's networking, but it was the transition from wireline to wireless. Where, I joined Motorola in the days that, cellular phones didn't exist. So it was fun to see. Can you imagine a world without having your mobile phone? So probably most of you listening here, and you too Elias, you probably weren't born then when that happened. But it was a really fascinating time in my career, being able to participate in building the firs mobile systems and cellular launches around the world.
Elias Torres: I remember the Startac or something like that. But that was not the first one probably. The more I meet the people that paved the way, we say we stand on the shoulders of giants, I got a chance at IBM to work with Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the internet. Which is after the cell phone. And to meet these people, I always reminisce, what great eras and that I miss them. But I think we should always be looking forward to the eras that we can create. And we should never lose hope that we can still change the world. Question for you, and so then, you go to Microsoft. What made you switch companies? AT& T and Motorola kind of made sense, but going to Microsoft, that was like... How different was that? How radical of a change? How much of a risk you took to switch careers.
Maria: Well, I must mention, by the way, because it relates to you, actually, that before I went to Microsoft, I did a startup myself. So I went to the Bay Area, that's what brought me from when I was in the Midwest to just went to the... That was a big risk, actually. Leave my job as a big executive at Motorola and then just say," I'm going to do this startup." My family thought I was crazy. They actually didn't come with me initially, because they thought I was going to give up and go back. It took me a while to move them there. So that was a big risk. I say it was the hardest job but the the one that gave me the biggest experience, because I was able to really have to run a company and be responsible for all these people. Make sure that they got paid and had everything. So it was just an amazing responsibility. It was a difficult time because it was the dot com crash, it was 9/ 11 at that time, so we were on a third round of raising money. Which was fascinating too, when Microsoft called me. It's interesting to see, in the different moves of your career, where sometimes you consciously take a risk because you know you want to pursue some kind of dream. Versus when you get approached," Okay, here is something different." I wasn't thinking about joining Microsoft at the time. They came after me pretty hard and they had a pretty interesting position. So at that time it was more about just trying to explore something different. I didn't think I was going to be at Microsoft for the long term but just the opportunity, honestly at the time, was to work very closely with Bill Gates. Which was a fascinating experience. How can you say no to that?
Elias Torres: OK. That makes it slightly different than a normal call. Would you like to get a job at Microsoft versus come and work with Bill Gates. I think that I get it now, especially from this startup to after 9/ 11. I would've said yes to, I think. What is that like? One of my board members was on a board with Bill, and so, I hear a story here and there. It's so distant for me. I watched the Bill Gates documentary, blew my mind how much he reads. I'm now obsessed with reading and I have books everywhere. I like his inaudible that he takes to Think Week. So tell me something, a special moment with Bill, that you had.
Maria: I have so many. I mean, I think just many of them, just brilliant moments. The guy was just so brilliant. I mean, that takes a lot of, I would say confidence, to go against him. So I have a lot of memories of probably all the times that he beat me to the whole thinking process. And maybe the one time when I did beat him out of a hundred or something. But no, I mean, it was really fascinating. I've learned so much from working with great CEOs, to be honest. And for him, I think everybody knows about that one. I mean, for me, the moments that I probably remember the most is, once a year he took the top 100 vice presidents at Microsoft and we went into a retreat. It was the equivalent of the Think Week, which was more about bringing things from the people, but it was more about the executive team coming together. Him doing that, brainstorming with everyone, and just really building the strategy for the company. Those were fascinating moments. Also, I remember the day that he told us he was retire from his acting job. And everybody cried. You can see 100 vice presidents crying, so that was interesting too.
Elias Torres: Wow. Wow. What moments you share. And the more I think backwards and forwards from this moment on, you have worked with so many of the most historic CEOs in the history of business. In the world. It's like, I need to talk to you for weeks. Can I have you for one Think Week?
Maria: Yeah, well, I'm not that brilliant. I'm the one that, if there's something I could just only... The only I can take credit for is probably making the right choices along the way. Well, most of the time, not always.
Elias Torres: Let me take the liberty of picking on Bill for a little bit. I would think that Bill has the idea, and explains it, but he needs people like you to support the team and put the teams together to execute. That might not be his forte, right?
Maria: Right, exactly. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And he's surrendering himself with a lot of really, really good talent. I mean, it's good to... One of the criteria for me to make decisions to join places is actually the opportunity to work with a lot of people that are a lot smarter than I am. Because that's really where the great things happen. And not only just that you surround the people, you figure out how to put them together in a way... How to structure, in a way. I talk about architecting organizations many times, this is just one of the things. You don't have to do the execution, but how you put people, how you assign, how to do, how you set priorities and guidance, really is something I learned from Bill and others along the way.
Elias Torres: Wow. How did it go from AT& T, Motorola, Bill Gates, and now Salesforce. And obviously this one is so close to me, because Benioff is a role model. The one that paved the way without me, I've never met him, and yet he has influenced so much of my career in the past 10, 12 years. It's like, he is exactly who affects many of my daily decisions. Because I am in the sales, I'm building a Salesforce automation. He is there, it's like omnipresent and you go there and he contacts you. Tell me more about this.
Maria: Well, no, actually I contacted him on disguise, Elias. It's interesting because-
Elias Torres: Either way.
Maria: Well, I left Microsoft, I knew that wanted get back to the Bay Area because I love the energy and the technology in the Bay Area and the live California. So I knew I wanted to come back. So my daughter was about to graduate from high school, I knew it was right time for me to move, so I planned my retirement at the time. I thought I was going to retire, potentially, from Microsoft. So anyway, at that time, when you announce that you're leaving in a role, like an executive role, you get a lot of calls from companies. And I was talking to a lot of different people. I know I wanted to take some time off with my daughter and all that, but I did start talking to people. I was about to, actually, just even join a company when another person that gave me an advice that I remember was," Don't go where they want you. Go where you want to go." So it shifted my mind from answering phone calls, people that wanted me to join them, to thinking really hard. And I remember still that weekend where I just spent the whole weekend thinking about, where would I want to go? I picked three companies at the time, which were Google, Amazon and Salesforce. And people say, why Salesforce? At that time, Salesforce was a little company nobody knew about. Well, it was because it was the CRM system that I used when I was at the startup. And I had just a handful of sales people, that's all we had. And we bought our few license systems Salesforce and we used it. And I was fascinated by how that system worked and the cloud and how I just... Where everything else we had servers and all that, we only had to buy the license and everybody was open. So always Salesforce stayed in my head as something that was an interesting thing for the future. Then I spent my seven years at Microsoft after that, and then it came back to my head, why not? And interesting, at that time, Microsoft wasn't worried at all about Salesforce. Or it wasn't really present. I was there and we discussed potential other players in the marketplace. So I then approached those companies. So I approached Marc. I didn't know him, I just sent him an email and I said," Marc, here's my story. I've been very impressed with your company, blah, blah, blah, would you have some job for me?" And then he replied to me, the same day, and he said," Can you fly out here? I want to talk to you next week." And what he attracted him about me was that I came from a large company that he respected. And so his whole thing was, I want people that have seen the movie of what it takes to run a large company. And I want that because I want to be a large company. I got fascinated by that. And the other thing that attracted me, which brings me to what I'm doing right now at Cisco, is that he said," I have one problem." This was in the late 2009 where there actually was... I keep thinking a lot about that, given the current COVID situation. It was in 2008, 2009, the last time that the economy and the recession and all that, well in was during that time, and at that time he was running this cloud SaaS company. And he was dealing with issues of attrition, churn. What we call churn in the SaaS world. And he brought me over and he said," This is my biggest problem. Because right now during an economy situation like this, the most important thing is to keep your customers. Because your customers are the ones that you have to retain." So I came to Salesforce with that. He said," I'm going to put together a whole bunch of different things, but just come on over, we're going to figure it out." And I went to Salesforce that way.
Elias Torres: Yes.
Maria: That course, it just then propelled the next phase of my career around customer success.
Elias Torres: I mean, you're being so modest and humble. In my opinion, you basically, if Benioff invented software as a service, you invented customer success for SaaS. I mean, at least I'm going to say that and I don't care who stops me. But you created that, no?
Maria: I think I share that with Marc. At the time, we went through different iterations of this. Like when I joined Salesforce, we called customers for life inaudible organizations and we came up with customer success. But Marc had the vision. So I definitely have to give him the credit.
Elias Torres: No, no, of course, of course. But executing, it's like 1% idea with 99% sweat. And I think that that was you. That's what matters, right? And I think, as a founder, it's a thing that we have to do. We can come up with ideas, but we need to have the right person to make it real. And I think you did that. And here I am, my journey right now, what's my number one priority during COVID? Churn customers, retaining my customers. I'm hiring a chief customer officer. I have a presentation today for a candidate. I live in this and this is something that you created and defined and I'm blown away to be talking to one of the earliest pioneer of this space. So much to learn. Another thing I want to ask you is, so for people that might not know the story about Salesforce, the thing I know a little bit is that, as Salesforce was scaling there was this issue with reliability. And customers were hurting in that. And that's when you guys invented trust. And that is one of the special things about Marc, that he has a point of view. It's not just about software, but it's about the 1%. It's the one, one, one. It's about trust. Those are key things about him and about you. Were you around that time for trust?
Maria: Yeah, for sure. Yeah. I mean, it's in reality because the burden of taking care of customers during these situations was mine and my team and having to do that. It was like, trust is a very interesting thing because clearly it really is all about customer focus. It's customer centricity. That is really what it's all about. And for different companies, it's going to be at different times. And if you think about Salesforce or Cisco or any of the great companies, I mean, when you think about the customer first, things happen. And that time was, we were having... Because of scale, because the growth was so astronomical, the capacity, you couldn't keep up with the capacity. So that would create disruptions in the service. But when you're focused on the customer, you know what matters to the customers, you're listening to them, so you go and you fix it. And in that case, was not only fixing done, but the concept of trust had to do a lot with transparency. Sharing with the customers, at every point of time, exactly where you sit. A lot of companies tend to hide this kind of thing. And the whole concept of transparency and trust was that, which was a side on the internet, where you could see exactly what the status of the system. So at the first time there was a big, not an outage, even, a degradation. We would show it there. We weren't trying to hide it, we were just trying to show it and engage our customers. And doing that and learning, so we could avoid them. And that's how we build a much more and more robust and resilient system.
Elias Torres: There's an absolutely radical idea that, to this day, I struggle with it. Every leader it's like, do we want to show our failures to the customers and risk? And it's so radical but it's so right to build trust. You have to be vulnerable. You have to show them that they can count on you telling them the truth. But everyone's always afraid of, what happens if it fails and then they're going to cancel and they're going to leave. And then you guys did that. I see Amazon doing it with AWS, I see many companies... I see products built all around this. To show this. And you guys pioneered that. So many things. I'm going to be conscious of the time and talk a little bit about, you accomplished so much, you changed the industry, and then you had yet another bigger challenge. Cisco. Tell me more about it. What was that transition? Who pulled you? Did you call them instead this time or did they call you?
Maria: They called me this time. But it was interesting because I really, of course, wasn't looking at all to leave Salesforce. I had the perfect job and all that. It turns out that Cisco was one of our largest customers. When I got the call, just the opportunity of meeting the CEO of one of our largest customers, why not? When I had the opportunity to meet Chuck, I mean, I said," Wow, another great CEO I get the opportunity to learn from." And what a difference. I mean, it's just like, if you can just think about... From Bill Gates to Marc Benioff to Chuck Robbins, so different. Completely different, but so great in many different ways. One of the things that, inaudible customers for them to implement the technology. So to me, the first thing that attracted me, I can now... All this amazing technology we build at Salesforce, I actually get to work with a company to implement it. To implement it well and to the maximum. To realize the potential that I see in the technology. That was one of them. A great CEO, Chuck, where Chuck is a value- driven, people- oriented leader, with some of the most amazing credibility in the industry that I've ever seen. And a passion for social justice and equality and those kinds of things that just... so it was just the whole package for me, to just put it all together in this phase of my career. Which, I should be retired by now, but I keep going. It was just the perfect opportunity. The executive team, as you know, that Chuck has built, just to give you an idea, 50% are women. And amazing leaders. Where do you see that? Where do you see that in the industry? The opportunity to... And, of course, taking on one of the largest transformations in the industry. I mean, Cisco built the internet as we know it, and now the internet needs to get rebuilt. Because as we go into the cloud, and if it was cloud and you say," Okay, it's one cloud," but no, it's multi- cloud. How you put all that together? The whole wireless and all that. Coming back to my roots of networking, which I started my career at Bell Labs. I mean, it was just like, I couldn't say no to. Although it just really was a hard thing to leave Salesforce for sure.
Elias Torres: You still have two more jobs, at least to do, I feel like. One is maybe you end up being CEO again, would love to see you in the big seat with all your experience and talent. We never know, we don't get tired, right? We keep going. And balancing that with helping the people and role modeling for others. I think there's so many questions I want to ask you and I want to be conscious of time, but I feel like, a lot of people... I asked on LinkedIn publicly for people... people want to know your routine. People want to know how do you make decisions? How do you do pro/ cons? But I kind of want to leave it as your story, because what I want is just people to be inspired and to research who you are and what you have accomplished. And just by seeing you in person doing these things that should open up all the avenues for them to want to accomplish something like that. Like you have. And not necessarily give them the specific, what time you wake up in the morning or what book did you read, but it's just, they should aspire to be you. In many ways. I want to ask you, with a little bit of time we have left, I would say back to Hispanics, back to Latinx, back to helping people that are ours. Women, Latinas, Latinos. And one of the things that I've been doing, and I need encouragement, is that... It's a very specific moment in time in our history that we can have the potential to make the biggest changes in the history of this country. And I'm trying every day to challenge the status quo, at least starting from my company and doing things that are sometimes not heard of. For example, I've seen instances where I question performance plans. Every company has to manage performance, every company has to manage under performers, but very special to me is under represented people at Drift. And so, when I seen some other stuff, I question if we're making the right decisions throughout the org. And I've asked, and I don't know if I'm doing the right thing or not, but I just put it out there. Transparency, trust. It's like, my intention is to help underrepresented people and I have said in the company," If you're putting an underrepresented on a plan, I need to hear about it." Just to make sure that there's some transparency and accountability, the managers to do the right thing and support equality. And I'm taking risk by that. And I'm wondering, if you were a CEO of Cisco, if you're starting a company from scratch, given your experience and your confidence and the boldness, what could we do different? Instead of this incremental changes and a chief diversity officer, how would we make this better? What would you do if you get to start from scratch?
Maria: One of the reasons, by the way, why I joined Cisco is because I felt that I have the perfect platform to be able to execute exactly what you're asking me, at scale. And we are doing that at Cisco. There's no doubt about that. We're not perfect. But there is a reason why we're named the number one company in the world to work for. And I want everyone to research also what Cisco is doing in this domain, honestly, because we are trying to lead the way. Not everything is perfect, but making sure that you are transparent on your numbers. A few companies, there's a good amount of tech companies, that have signed up about being transparent. Transparency with the numbers, it takes a lot of courage, because once you're transparent, you have to improve them. So transparency with the numbers, I think it's super important. Programs that support diverse work force. And the more transparency in having the tough conversations. So for example, we've been having, since the whole social injustice started to take place, since COVID started to take place, Chuck started to lead weekly calls with the entire company in which you have... Not the whole company, but 5,000, 6,000, 10, 000 people every week joining these calls to talk about these topics. Bringing speakers in, having tough conversations with a live chat, allowing people to express their opinions, because we believe... I mean, we could talk about this forever by the way, Elias, but one of the things that... I'll tell you a couple of principles that I think have worked for me, that are super important. One is a concept that we call proximity. And what that means is really having all the leaders in the company find someone that is different than who they are, so that's got to be part of the requirement. You got to find someone that is different than you. And then get proximate to them. So have a conversation that is not about business, but it is about, tell me about you. Tell me about your reality. Tell me about how you feel about working here. It's just to get to know. And that sensitizes us to the other person. And that starts with everything. If you are aware of something, you're going to pay attention to it. So you have to have programs. The other one is the one I sponsor in the company, which is, it's called The Multiplier Effect. I encourage everyone to go to the website and sign up to take the pledge for The Multiplier Effect. It's a sponsorship program, which I think for leaders, is one of the best things that you can do is to take on sponsoring someone that is diverse from who you are. And helping them through their career and being there for them. So anyway, just a couple of ideas to leave you with, but very passionate about this subject, so look forward to continuing the conversation.
Elias Torres: No, this is excellent. And I think we're close to time. I know it's hard when people ask you your story over and over, but I thank you so much for taking the time. And I love the word, this is the first time I heard the word proximity. And I totally agree with you. That's kind of what I'm trying to do at scale, I want to make myself available to as many people as possible, to encourage them to follow me, and then me follow you. Because we want to be inspired and we want to know that we, here, can accomplish the American dream and do things like what you've done. Fantastic. Thank you so much. foreign language. Thanks for listening to the American Dream. Let me know what you thought of this episode by tweeting me at @ eliast. Be sure to hit subscribe and leave a five star review foreign language. If you're looking for more leadership insights and stories like the ones you just heard, sign up for my series, the American Dream, at drift. com/ american- dream. Every quarter, you'll learn how Drift is progressing towards our mission of remaking the face of corporate America. And you will get insights from amazing Latin American and entrepreneurs of color, and leaders like Manny Medina of Outreach, Maria Martinez of Cisco, and many others. Along with curated content, news, events, and ideas delivered straight to your inbox. foreign language and don't forget to sign up.
Holding leadership positions at companies like Motorola, Microsoft, Salesforce, and now Cisco, Maria Martinez made a name for herself in the tech space. But as she says, "the hard part was not the technology but was the people. But it was also the most important part." -That's how she learned the importance of transparency in the workplace.
In this episode, you'll hear all about Maria's career journey from high school math class, to working with Bill Gates, to being COO at Cisco.
Some key moments:
- Why Maria chose engineering (4:07)
- What made Maria move from Motorola to Microsoft (9:22)
- The best parts of working with Bill Gates (11:00)
- Why Maria left Microsoft (15:24)
- How Maria established trust with Salesforce customers (21:10)
- Maria's transition from Salesforce to Cisco (23:32)
- The work needed to be done to establish a new face of corporate America (28:32)