Get comfortable with the unknown. This is especially true in the tech industry strategy, where org designs are rapidly changing. It can be exhausting trying to keep up, but it’s important to be able to adjust the ebbs and flows of a business. There is no better example than H1 this year managing through a global pandemic. Our business surged, and the demands on our staff from a personal and professional perspective also escalated.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alison Durant.
Alison Durant serves as LogMeIn’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Marketing. She is responsible for leading all aspects of LogMeIn’s global Marketing organization, including demand generation, customer engagement, corporate communications, brand & creative, and Web and eCommerce.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
During my first few years at Franklin & Marshall College, I wanted to be a lawyer. While in the Political Science department, I deviated from this goal and designed my own major focused on political campaign management. As I learned through my research, the success of a political campaign is centered around strong marketing and communications.
In the summer before my senior year of college, I planned to work as a sailing instructor as I had done many years prior — a great summer job that paid well and allowed me to be outside — the issue was that it was not going to help me land in a career when I graduated. I was fortunate enough to have a sailing customer offer me an internship position at his advertising agency. Following my summer internship, I was offered a full-time position upon graduation and was catapulted into the world of advertising and public relations. I remained on the agency side for over 10 years before moving in-house to Endeca in 2008
Now, I’ve been in the tech industry for more than 25 years leading marketing teams at both small and large organizations. At my current role at LogMeIn, I have the opportunity to lead the next stage of growth at one of the largest SaaS companies in the world.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The past six months alone have been astonishing in terms of how much change has transpired not just at my company, but around the world and how we work. This new virtual reality — a worldwide remote work experiment — has had a profound effect on my team and LogMeIn as a whole. It has truly been one of the most interesting times to be a leader and help people navigate this unprecedented experience.
Even as someone who led marketing teams through the dot-com crash, the 9/11 attacks, and the 2008 subprime housing crisis, this pandemic brought its fair share of new lessons and learnings. When the pandemic initially hit, LogMeIn was uniquely positioned for this new working environment because we create tools that allow people to work from anywhere. We were able to successfully transition our 4,000 global employees to fully remote working within a few days while also managing a massive surge in product usage.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’m not sure if I would necessarily call this “funny,” but it definitely was a mistake that taught me a lesson! I came into this industry with preconceived notions of how marketing departments were managed. Before LogMeIn, I worked mostly with B2B organizations and had no eCommerce experience. I quickly learned that a direct sales motion is vastly different than an eCommerce motion. With an assortment of products at various stages of maturity and learning the nuances of a B2B and B2C funnel, there were a lot of opportunities since I started at LogMeIn to both add value and grow my career.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
It may be cliché, but I truly would not be where I am today without my parents. From a very early age, they encouraged a very strong work ethic and I grew up watching them run a small business. This ultimately let me learn life-long lessons such as:
- The value of a dollar
- The importance of listening to your customers
- Having the confidence that you can do it
- Hard work can pay off
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
Throughout my entire career, the one constant thing has been change. I quickly learned that to manage the stress and demands that come with working in tech you have to keep individual stressful moments in check and compartmentalize so you can focus on the task at hand. I always try to look at the big picture when faced with these situations.
For example, when we launched our Emergency Remote Work Kits back in February, it was an extremely stressful time and the program had high stakes for both our customers and the communities we were helping. In the end, through all the chaos we saw the impact we were having and how we were enabling people to maintain business continuity through these unprecedented times. Not every situation will have this type of visible reward, but these examples let me know I’m doing the right type of work.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
LogMeIn firmly believes that diversity and equality are key pillars to a successful organization, and we strive to foster an inclusive environment at all levels. Diversity in race, gender, sexual orientation, even age brings different perspectives that are important to consider when making decisions for the company. It is more important than ever that we reflect on equality, celebrate our differences, and make sure that we are doing everything we can to create a dialogue, educate ourselves, and support diversity at the executive leadership level in order to foster acceptance within the rest of the organization.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
To truly change our behavior and workplace culture, we need to slow down our thinking and examine our individual contributions to our culture. For example, this month my Marketing leadership team and I took the first step in educating ourselves on how we can create a workplace and culture that welcomes diversity by attending a Diversity and Inclusion training, “Harnessing the Power of Inclusivity Program” hosted by Bentley University.
This program helped us understand our unconscious bias and how these can unintentionally undervalue or demean someone. While this was just a small step in our journey, we will continue to educate ourselves on how to be an ally by increasing self-awareness, expanding our perspectives, being a role model for our teams and making sure to take action in the moment.
We also need to continue to partner with our HR team to understand improvements we can make to our hiring practices as a department. As a women executive, I have made it a point to proactively address gender inequality and I am proud of our progress in this area, but it has only been until recently that we’ve made it a point to use the same passion and drive to improve all types of inequalities.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
I believe an executive has the important job of looking across the entire company (customers, community, business and employees) to understand the impact of the decisions we make. This holistic view represents the main difference in my role versus other leaders on my team who have a specific focus on the marketing initiatives and unique KPIs they are responsible for.
Executives also must be agile and adaptable. We are constantly dealing with sudden changes in circumstances and it is extremely important to be able to know how and when to adjust accordingly. Look at the past six months. This pandemic has reinforced how important remaining agile truly is in terms of how we lead and communicate — both internally and externally. For most executives, this has meant completely reevaluating their strategy playbooks to adapt to this new era of “business as unusual.” This year has emphasized the importance of having a plan, but one that is flexible.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
Until I became an executive, I had a preconceived notion that most executives were disconnected from the day-to-day business operations and only operated at a high-level.
Now, sitting at the table, I know that this is not true because understanding the day-to-operations provides important context and the nuances that can make a company successful. At this level, I have a better understanding of our strategy and business operations than ever before.
While it is my job, I truly have a passion for understanding the impact of our business. However, executives don’t always have the answers and I am not the exception here. I rely on my talented team and colleagues across LogMeIn to help guide difficult decisions or brainstorm new ideas. I truly believe that having different perspectives is the key to success, especially in our business where we are balancing several product lines, selling to B2B and B2C customers, as well as working through both touch and e-commerce channels. That variability in our go-to-market requires a lot of viewpoints to get it right and I pride myself on having a team that can support me and our customers in making the right choice.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
For most of my career I have been outnumbered by my male peers and definitely felt intimidated in the beginning. Men and women tend to have different styles of communicating and processing ideas, so this can cause disagreements and feelings of frustration when one side feels like their voice is not being heard. Taking the time to understand and acknowledge these differences can help make an atmosphere more harmonious.
Also, as a working mother of two, there is a level of guilt that I feel working long hours or missing a race, practice or school meeting. I’ve learned how to be more vocal about the importance of work-life balance and how to explain to my team how this influences my work style or approach. I’ve been lucky at LogMeIn to have a supportive leadership team which prioritizes family — this cascades into the organization in a very meaningful way.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Looking back, I definitely think I underestimated the importance of prioritizing the employee experience. I always thought my role was about driving the business, but I realized that what makes the business successful are the people doing the work. Now I would say 30–40% of my workload is dedicated to finding ways to improve my leadership team and department’s development, growth and overall experience.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
I believe an executive has to be able to be direct. They need the ability to trust their gut without being reckless. Leveraging data and insights if available is key, but you can’t over analyze every decision, sometimes you just make the call and support it the best you can.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Always make sure you are maintaining a healthy work-life balance. I’m a firm believer that it’s hard to feel good about either if you’re short-changing one for the other. It is possible to have it all and it’s important to be present wherever you are.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I’m passionate about volunteering my time and marketing skills to nonprofits in my community across southeastern Massachusetts. Most nonprofits don’t have the resources or understanding of how to use marketing and how it can benefit their cause. Over the years I’ve volunteered my time to numerous organizations in my community to help spread awareness for their missions. From marketing and PR campaigns to advertising plans and social channels, there are endless ways to get involved to help causes you care about.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Customer First. Orient your business and the functions you’re responsible for putting the customer first. Lead with the intention to create the best experience possible for them. I’m a big advocate for reference programs and really paying attention to review sites. Our customer experience teams look at KPIs around customer success and my theory is our customers should be our greatest advocates.
- Get comfortable with the unknown. This is especially true in the tech industry strategy, where org designs are rapidly changing. It can be exhausting trying to keep up, but it’s important to be able to adjust the ebbs and flows of a business. There is no better example than H1 this year managing through a global pandemic. Our business surged, and the demands on our staff from a personal and professional perspective also escalated.
- Find a career that you enjoy. We spend so much of our time at work with our colleagues, so life is too short to go through it at a job or position that you don’t love. If you dread going to work, you are in the wrong role!
- Learn how to prioritize. Find out how to maximize your time on the most important issues or projects. Having a strong and diverse leadership team helps and taking the time to plan on a quarterly basis is key. My team hosts a Marketing Council meeting quarterly where we look at objectives and prioritize accordingly. This is cascaded through the department, so everyone understands how their work contributed to the overall plan.
- People Matter. Hiring a team that shares your enthusiasm and work ethic is important, but you also want to have people with different views to continue to improve and push the boundaries of what’s possible. I recently hired a VP located in the Bay Area to demonstrate the importance of hiring the right person for the job, regardless of location.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I believe humans intrinsically want to be helpful and give back to their communities, but many of us become so focused on our careers and families that it can seem impossible to find the time to get involved with these external initiatives.
I’d love it if more organizations recognized this desire within employees and prioritized giving them time off to volunteer. I’m proud of LogMeIn’s Corporate Social Responsibility program, Mission Possible, which unlocks the potential of its people, products, and culture to create a long-term, sustainable social and environmental impact that positively affects change in the world and improves people’s lives in our community.
Can you please give us your favorite ”Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Live in the moment.” I am someone who loves to plan, be organized and think about the future — both professionally and personally. Unfortunately, this can prevent me from being present and mindful. With the pandemic, these past few months have especially proven that you can’t always plan for everything. Having the mental flexibility to deal with the unknown helps when navigating these stressful times when it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Condoleezza Rice — I have been in the audience for several of her presentations in the past, but I have not had the opportunity to meet her directly. She has an amazing political and educational background. She is a strong female role model and inspires many as the first female African American Secretary of State and the first woman to serve as National Security Advisor.