Usha Iyer of Hivebrite: Why I would love to find a way to inspire both men and women to help create and nurture more independent women in society

I would love to find a way to inspire both men and women to help create and nurture more independent women in society. I believe that this will lead to a more equitable and compassionate society, less strife and greater prosperity for all.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Usha Iyer.

Usha Iyer serves as the President of North America and Chief Product Officer for Hivebrite. In this capacity, she oversees all commercial operations including sales & marketing, customer success and service for the region. Hivebrite established operations in North America in early 2019, contributes approximately 40% of Hivebrite’s revenue and has since grown to a team of 15 people. In her role, Usha works with the Hivebrite executive leadership team and the board to establish short and long term goals, plans and strategies for the North American region.

As the Chief Product Officer, she also plays the role of the global head of product for the company, with the goal of being the voice of the customer internally and helping the product teams deliver a better customer experience and high-value capabilities to align with the current market needs. The dual roles tie together — given that the North American market is the fastest-growing one, Usha serves as a product leader who both understands the market needs and drives the product direction.

Prior to joining Hivebrite, Usha served as VP for Product Management & Marketing at Honeywell, where she was responsible for driving the transformation of a $350mil+ hardware and legacy software portfolio to an integrated Connected Supply Chain and Worker IoT platform, SaaS applications and data offerings. Usha also led co-innovation initiatives with key customers and participated in several strategic partnerships and M&A projects for the company.


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?

Aswith many first-generation Asians, I started my career as a software engineer and C++ programmer. But unlike my contemporaries who built their careers at the HPs and Oracles of the world, I started my work life in a small startup called Think Systems as one of the first six developers building a cool product that helped large companies forecast demand better. Our company was later acquired by i2 Technologies, the market leader in the supply chain space. That was my first taste of startup success. I soon became an engineering lead and worked my way over to the business side, leading and building teams for solutions engineering, product marketing and product management at various other companies, finally landing here at Hivebrite as the Chief Product Officer and President of North America. Every stint expanded my perspective and led to immense learning and self-discovery for me.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Our company is headquartered in Paris, and I have to make frequent trips there. I thought I had mastered the art of the scrappy traveler — finding airline tickets, hidden Airbnb gems and hole-in-the-wall cafes that no one else could. On one such trip I made my usual dash to the airport trying to beat the lousy Paris city traffic on a Friday afternoon. I made it to the airport just in time only to find out that the flight had been canceled and the airline was offering customers an option to switch to a partner airline, one that I had never flown before. I was just thankful to be able to get back home and jumped at the offer without much thought. Guess what — it turned out to be one of those “no frills” carriers that required passengers to pay in advance for everything. It turned out to be the longest eight hours of my life — trapped in a cramped middle seat at the back of the bus, with no food or drinks, no entertainment and no power. That’s the best part about life in a startup — it is full of surprises every day!

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?

Early on in my career, I was in a business meeting where a customer asked me a question, and I responded in a meek, soft voice. The customer expressed their lack of understanding of what I said not because of the content but perhaps because of my Indian accent and tentativeness. My then boss covered for me and turned an awkward situation into a humorous one by making a joke about the American accent. That incident stayed with me and made me realize the importance of being confident in your capability and communicating more effectively but at the same time appreciating the importance of humor in a business setting.

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?

I am lucky to have had some incredible managers, mentors and team members throughout my career, my present boss included. But I would not be where I am today without the support of my husband. Our kids call him the “rock of our family”. He is my constant thought partner and I can always count on him to help me take a long view in difficult situations and see things with clarity and perspective.

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?

I grew up in India at a time when presentation skills were not taught to us as part of our educational experience. That combined with the fact that I was shy in the spotlight made me nervous before any major presentation. I overcame that fear with hours of practice — presenting to myself in front of a mirror and listening to my own recordings to create a constant “feedback loop”. Handling high stakes situations comes much more naturally to me today, but I still find that there is no substitute for prep before any meeting. It’s also important to realize that no matter how well prepared you are, you need to be able to listen and empathize with what the other party is looking for. Without that, you cannot have a successful business meeting.

Usha Iyer of Hivebrite

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?

It is a well-known fact that diversity in the workplace not only creates a healthy culture but also drives growth, competitiveness and agility in the marketplace. You are right about it being obvious to me. At Hivebrite we have 20+ ethnicities in our fifty person organization with a great race, age and gender mix. It is truly a melting pot that promotes meritocracy, flexibility, humility, curiosity and a deeper sense of connection — all of which contribute towards a very positive and collaborative environment and shared success. It’s not enough to have a diverse executive team, although it starts there, you need to have diversity throughout your 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.

It starts with the organizational values that are defined by the executive team. Having a diverse leadership team will naturally lead to ensuring that the values are inclusive, representative and equitable. These values are then practiced and reflected in the thoughts and actions of all members of the organization and it becomes a self-sustaining thing. At Hivebrite, we have developed our own traditions for nurturing and celebrating our culture from the way we welcome our new employees, greet everyone with the two hand slap or share outside-of-work experiences with each other. One of the things that’s unique to Hivebrite is that we often hire people with unconventional and unproven backgrounds — our office manager is a French native who spent 12 years in Kerala as an office manager before joining us and speaks impeccable Malayalam! Another example is our senior sales director who was a communications advisor with the Australian government without any prior enterprise sales experience.

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?

An executive is constantly focused on identifying and ensuring growth opportunities for the business, making tough decisions and supporting and mentoring people to ensure their success. Startup leaders in particular need to be speedy in their decision making, be comfortable taking risks, be able to juggle multiple often conflicting priorities and be flexible to change plans quickly as needed.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

I was told that the transition to becoming a President would entail a significant shift of focus from “doing” to driving the vision and strategy. While communicating is very important, the role still involves a lot of “doing”.

Another one is that CEOs have all the answers. They don’t. Having a great executive leader does not ensure success — the best teams win!

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I find that the biggest challenge faced by most women is juggling career vs. personal life. Women, in general, tend to devote more time than men to household work and child care. This leads to anxiety and overwork that sometimes forces them to make personal choices that take them off the path of leadership, preventing them from realizing their full potential.

Women find it difficult to be assertive and direct in their communication out of fear of being perceived as being aggressive or negative. Also, they have a tendency to apologize more than men, making them look less confident and unsure of themselves.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

Having been through many functional roles in multiple B2B companies, I thought that I had all the necessary skills to assume general management responsibility. But I realized I had a lot to learn when I came here. This is why I am so grateful for the amazing team and culture of Hivebrite — it teaches me something new every day.

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?

Someone who can be both strategic and tactical, and who has strong execution skills. It’s very important to be able to deal with adversity by treating it as a challenge, and the ability to work hard is very important too.

No matter how busy you are, it is always important to be in constant touch with your customers and know the most important problems that you need to address from their perspective. This is the best way to stay in touch with reality and escape the executive bubble.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Be your natural self and don’t worry about what people think of you. Confidence and courage build over time, like a muscle that needs to be worked in order to grow strong. So keep at it, and you will soon realize that you can create a much greater impact than you think.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I’ve taken up small causes to support people in my sphere of influence to help them through their life challenges, giving both career and professional advice and financial support when needed. My husband and I are privileged to support an NGO in our home state of India called The Love Trust that is dedicated to the rehabilitation of abandoned and orphaned children through adoption.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  • The importance of building strong and lasting business relationships
  • Setting and managing clear expectations with your team, managers and peers
  • The number of decisions you need to make increases dramatically — watch out for decision fatigue
  • Don’t worry too much about the future — enjoy the moment because you cannot control everything
  • The importance of family to sustain and enjoy the success of your accomplishments.

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 would love to find a way to inspire both men and women to help create and nurture more independent women in society. I believe that this will lead to a more equitable and compassionate society, less strife and greater prosperity for all.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Don’t be afraid to do something that you have never tried before. Very early in my career, I learned to not box myself in or limit my capabilities as to what I could do and achieve. Having grown up in the startup world, I had never worked for a conglomerate managing a large portfolio of products. My stint at Honeywell heading marketing and strategy for one of their businesses was an eye-opening experience. That is what led me to what I am doing today — I run all of North America and have front line P&L responsibility for the North America region, in addition to heading the product team globally.

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

Indra Nooyi — I really like her management style and admire how she was able to succeed as a woman of color in a traditional industry. I really subscribe to and practice a lot of her management approaches, particularly the one about building strong and trusted business relationships and truly taking time to understand your customers.


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