An Interview with Isabelle Guis
September 26, 2016
Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer at Egnyte, Isabelle Guis oversees many facets of technology. I spoke with her about growing up in France, attending Supelec (a French graduate school of engineering), and how it led her to Egnyte. Isabelle is an inspiration to talk with, and she is a prime example of a woman who overcomes adversity.
Brooke Lazar (BL): Your education is impressive. What was it like attending Supelec?
Isabelle Guis (IG): In France, education is equal to all. I am lucky to be part of a family where being the only girl did not limit my dreams.
At Supelec I got to enjoy computer science and electrical engineering with students like me. Although there is a lower percentage of females, the staff and other male students never let me feel out of place. Being at a school where individual performance matters opens up a great comfort when searching for a job.
BL: Describe your journey to the chief marketing and strategy officer at Egnyte.
IG: I needed to refine my business acumen. Understanding the value of a product and how to design it better is what pushes me and others to become product managers. PMs have the chance to get out of the lab and interact with customers while still leveraging their technical background.
The career moves I made helped me accomplish my objective, which will be to start my own company in high-tech Software as a Service (SaaS).
Changing people's lives through technology is my core passion, and I love the structure and black-and-white environment it offered. That's why I'm an engineer.
Launching new technologies is difficult. To encourage the adoption of advanced tech, you need to communicate its value proposition to the end users in a simple way.
Marketing activities to drive adoption and support early adopters into the rollout is interesting. Becoming a general manager, leading R&D, product management, marketing, and go-to-market strategy was the natural evolution that rounded out my skillset nicely. These experiences allowed me to lead diverse teams and better understand the challenges and opportunities they face.
Egnyte's hybrid architecture and content analytics are novel to most businesses, which is why it interests me. I can deliver value to Egnyte and its customers in two ways; first, by making sure customers fully understand the benefits of our solution and utilize it to its maximum value. Second, I want to help leverage Egnyte Content Intelligence to find and solve other pain points they may have. The core interest leads to the development of our new data governance offering, Egnyte Protect.
My position with marketing, corporate strategy, and new product introduction fully embraces all the skillsets I have through my career and hopefully give me a unique profile to complement the leadership team.
BL: What struggles did you encounter on your journey?
IG: Working in high-tech is my passion. I got the chance to move to Silicon Valley. However, 9/11 put my green card process on hold for many years to come.
The changes happening in the work environment were a different experience than envisioned. It helped me understand how great leadership, sound corporate strategy, and financial responsibility made the difference, saving or destroying thousands of people's jobs, impacting their lives and a whole industry.
100,000 employees in 1997 to 30,000 employees in 2004, over-valuated acquisitions and wrong managerial decision caused a company such as Nortel Networks to disappear. When you are on an immigrant visa, have a master of science from a French school not necessarily known by United States HR departments, and you are a woman, you feel vulnerable. Finding and keeping a job is hard enough; gender equality, salary increase, work/life balance, work recognition, etc., are not things you feel you can ask for.
Getting an American education (my Harvard MBA) was the motivation that came as a result of painful and important lessons from this time in my career. Beyond being more professionally resilient to sudden changes in the economy, this decision born of the desire to not be vulnerable has become the most powerful motivational tool for me to expand my career and even help others. Developing useful skills for entrepreneurs helped me appreciate how to conduct business in the United States and meet wonderful people who I could learn from.
BL: What's it like overseeing Egnyte's global marketing and coming up with strategies?
IG: Every day I get to work with different people on different projects, and there is never a dull moment (even if once in a while it would be nice to have some rest.)
It is rewarding to accomplish major projects like website redesign or big corporate events. I love seeing a project like Egnyte Protect, our new content governance solution, develop and launch. The chance to work with not only my team but also R&D, Sales, and other teams on a regular basis and being part of something bigger for Egnyte is exhilarating.
I am an eternal student and follow market trends and new technologies. Even the discussions I have with my customers about their struggles and the different options make my job interesting. I continue to learn and improve every day.
BL: What does an average day look like for you?
IG: A lot of meetings (probably too many) and a lot of switching as I carry two hats (marketing and corporate strategy). Most of the meetings entail brainstorming on new projects and defining their scopes. Most of my role is to remove roadblocks by ensuring teams are aligned and that there is no overlap or gap, as well as establishing the right prioritization.
In between meetings I define new plans from product to launch, go-to-market, or positioning. I then validate them with industry experts and customers. To get an external perspective on your work often results in better, more objective feedback, but it is also humbling.
Because my work days are packed and intensive, I am disciplined when it comes to exercise. I hit the gym almost every day. It helps clear my mind when I get stuck on a problem and can't find an obvious solution, as well as a general stress reliever. It allows me to meet new people outside of work and sometimes not even in high tech, which is a breath of fresh air during intense days.
BL: What advice would you give to women working toward similar career goals?
IG: Plan ahead, and do not hesitate to take risks. If you see a ceiling, look for a solution. Do not accept it and plan for an exit. There are always better options, better people, better opportunities out there and you deserve it. Do not compromise but be ready, because nothing comes easily.
It is work, it takes time; it is hard but it will be rewarding, and you will not be alone. There are more people than you may guess along the path willing to help you. What starts as one solution to a problem can open more doors in the end. Don't be afraid to accept other people's help and later, to help others in return.
BL: How long have you been a member of WITI? What made you decide to become a member?
IG: Many female colleagues and myself have become WITI members over the years. To engage with like-minded people from both genders who actively support the representation of women in technology—not just in R&D but every function—is energizing.
Being a member of WITI gives me the opportunity to reach out and offer my help. It allows me to expose my Egnyte colleagues to female role models and advice from the WITI community. In that sense, I can see some parallels with Carolyn Leighton. Much like how Carolyn founded WITI as an email network to support women working in all-male, sometimes unfriendly environments, I am a member intending to reach out to any woman who feels alone and out of place.
Also like Carolyn, I see the way forward as being built on collaboration because truly inclusive and welcoming workplaces only happen when all members buy in.
Isabelle Guis is the chief strategy officer at Egnyte, overseeing all global marketing, go-to-market, partnership, and product strategies. She previously served as EMC's vice president of marketing for the Public Cloud Solutions Group and Enterprise Storage Division, driving cloud buyer and service provider segmentations, as well as messaging, product positioning, and go-to-market strategies for the company's core storage solutions. Isabelle has also held leadership positions at Avaya, Big Switch Networks, Cisco Systems, and Nortel Networks. She holds a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from Supelec (France), and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Brooke Lazar is WITI's content manager and digital editor. She has a BA in professional and technical writing from Youngstown State University.
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