Roxanne Taylor, CMO, Accenture
Leading with Laughter
By Caroline Cox
Growing up with parents who endured the Great Depression and World War II is likely to teach you not to take much for granted. Such is the case for Roxanne Taylor, Accenture’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer. She learned early on about paying your dues to get to the top, and that’s exactly what she’s done.
She currently heads up the management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company’s global marketing and communications activities, which includes leading a team of more than 600 professionals globally.
Here, Taylor talks to PINK about using humor to manage her team, her favorite places in New York and how companies can remain relevant today.
PINK: What’s your success secret?
Roxanne Taylor: I’ve always believed in being open and inquisitive, learning everything you can, taking some risks and being flexible. I’ve found you learn a lot more by listening than you can ever learn by talking, so I sit back and listen to what people around me are saying. I try to be a sponge and take it all in.
One of my early lessons in flexibility came with my first job out of college. Hired to do a sales role, I was asked by my boss to help the company move offices instead. I could have quit, but I saw this as an opportunity and adapted. I spent the next year working with architects, lawyers, electricians and every department head – people I never would have met from behind a desk. “OK,” my boss said, “we’ve seen the job you can do with no experience. Now pick the job you want to learn, and it’s yours.”
PINK: What’s the biggest issue for professional women today?
RT: In the current, fiercely competitive global market, women, in particular, have skills that are badly needed. We’re resilient, solid team players and good communicators. But we need to make sure we’re carefully cultivating those skills and always stretching and taking risks. With all the challenges we face each day – often juggling many different priorities and making tradeoffs between home, family, friends and a myriad of other commitments – it’s far too easy to become complacent, and stop stretching ourselves to learn new skill sets at work.
When I mentor people, I tell them, ”Pick the job you want to do, but be flexible and seize opportunities, even if they’re not what you envisioned. Ask lots of questions all the time. Take risks. Every change requires it, and you won’t know what you can do until you try. In fact, from time to time, do what you think you cannot do.”
PINK: What’s a challenge you had to overcome that sticks out in your mind?
RT: Many years ago, I was living in New York, happy as could be with a fantastic job and tons of friends. My husband wanted to move to California. I stalled as long as I could, then got a new job in California and followed him out there. At first, the new job seemed to be a lesser role than the one I was leaving. As it turned out, the new job was one of the best career opportunities I’ve ever had. It set me off on a new course, and I have not looked back since.
PINK: What’s the biggest challenge for companies today?
RT: A central challenge is the lack of certain skills in the workforce. One in particular is communication, both written and verbal. Unfortunately, so few people take the time to learn to write or to express themselves using a clear and linear thought process. As a CMO, I need a great team of people who can write and craft messages that differentiate our offerings from our competitors. In general, for Accenture, there is a shortage of people with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees. A Business Roundtable report from the Springboard project found there’s a widening gap between employers’ demands for more skilled workers and workers’ skills — and an urgent need to grow a more educated and trained workforce.
Another challenge is how to build, cultivate and maintain a diverse workforce. There’s plenty of evidence that companies simply perform better with more women and minorities on board. Compared with their male counterparts, female managers tend to be more flexible, focus more on long-term goals and manage with a tad more caution. Diverse perspectives lead to better problem solving, according to an article by two economists in the Journal of Economic Theory last year.
PINK: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
RT: It sounds so trite, but my parents always told me two things: not to follow the crowd, and that I could be anything I wanted to be and do anything I wanted to do. They always encouraged me to “go for it” and not be afraid to take chances. I can still hear my father’s words ringing in my ears each and every time I am faced with a tough decision.
Another great piece of advice I received later on was to get a mentor. I’ve been fortunate to have great mentors at every stage of my life and career, especially at Accenture, and I also enjoy being a mentor myself. I’ve gained some important insights from the people I have been fortunate enough to coach. Mentors and role models enable you to ask questions, test ideas and learn from experience. Mentors are particularly important for women and anyone from a diverse background. Knowing you have a sponsor watching out for you gives you a greater sense of security, especially when you’re new to an organization or to a role and finding your way.
PINK: Describe your leadership style.
RT: I set very high standards for my team and I expect them to deliver, but I don’t expect them to deliver more than I do myself. I am direct and give constant feedback. As a result, people who work with me tend to know where they stand at all times. But I also try to take time to explain the reasoning behind choices and decisions. And I seem to have a little quirk that allows me to find humor in almost all situations — even the most challenging ones. Taking time to laugh and to have fun keeps people motivated and willing to tackle any situation.
PINK: What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
RT: While driving, I love to roll up the windows, turn up the music and sing along at the top of my lungs. It’s certainly not a talent, but nice people unfortunate enough to hear me sing compliment me on my enthusiasm. It’s a great way to clear my mind and, while I may look a little silly, I’m having a perfectly lovely time.
PINK: How do you motivate your team?
RT: I trust my team and give them a lot of latitude…a lot of responsibility. I also encourage them to take on stretch roles. Over the years, I’ve encouraged my mentees to take on new assignments, ranging from counseling a single mother to move from her entry-level job into an expanded role in a new area to helping one of our senior, seasoned marketers move to a position that allows him to focus on developing a specialized skill set. I believe it’s important to take a genuine interest in getting to know each member of my team personally, to understand what they enjoy and how they stay motivated.
PINK: How do you manage the Life/Work balance?
RT: Like many people, my job is pretty much 24/7. But I have a ton of friends, a great family and lots of interests, particularly opera, theater and music. I also enjoy great food and wine, and I stay active by taking long walks in Central Park. So I try to combine my friends and family outings with these interests.
PINK: What is it about your background that resulted in your choices and success today?
RT: My parents lived through the Great Depression and World War II and overcame obstacles that are hard to imagine today. I never tired of hearing their stories and their experiences, which have stayed with me. Growing up I learned I could do anything I wanted to do – all I had to do was focus, work hard and apply myself. I was always encouraged to try new things. This taught me to move outside my comfort zone and not to be afraid to fail.
PINK: What do you do to relax and rejuvenate yourself?
RT: I love to spend time with friends; we’ll often meet for dinner or go to a concert. My favorite museum in New York is the Met, where I can spend hours meandering around and exploring. On the weekend, I enjoy pilates and walking – anywhere and everywhere. I recently took up spinning; now that is exhilarating! And I love to kick back with friends over leisurely lunches on Saturdays.
PINK: Do you have a favorite quote?
RT: It’s hard to pick one – but these are some of my favorites: “If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.” “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” “Each new day is a blank page in the diary of your life.”
PINK: What’s your favorite book?
RT: Also, I’m a voracious reader – of newspapers, magazines and books, which I read on my iPad. I just finished reading The Help. But my favorite book of all time is To Kill a Mockingbird. I also really like Atlas Shrugged. I find the messages and themes in both of these books to be particularly relevant today.
PINK: How do you define success?
RT: If I’m happy, then I’m successful. I count my success by making sure I enjoy and feel passionate about what I am doing each and every day. I love to laugh and be surrounded by friends. I like to learn all the time and try new things. And I love being around bright people… but people with a good sense of humor are my favorite.
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