Sales Director Ken Rahn on Learning and...
What does the Medallia Sales team have in common with a Navy aircraft carrier’s nuclear power plant? Ken Rahn says there are more similarities than you might think. In this...
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As a 17-year veteran of Medallia, Elizabeth Carducci has seen the company grow from three people to more than 1,000. In this interview, Medallia Chief Revenue Officer Scott Aronson and Elizabeth discuss how Medallia has evolved since those early days, how she has influenced the careers of the people she’s helped hire, and how she thinks about leadership and diversity.
As one of the first Medallia employees, tell us about the origin of the company and how you joined the team.
Our co-founders, Amy Pressman and Borge Hald, got the idea for Medallia back when they were traveling as consultants and had a bad experience with the front desk at a hotel. They knew that, at the time, most companies were approaching customer experience like a market research study; the companies would send out mail surveys, and months later, someone would get a big binder on their desk at corporate headquarters. There was no direct tie to the people actually creating the customer experience—the front desk agents, for example—and no good way for those people to really understand how to improve.
Amy and Borge saw that technology could help solve that problem, and they wanted to collaborate with someone who had expertise in hospitality. They contacted me through a former classmate at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business; I was working in the industry at the time, and they brought me on as an advisor. In 2001, after about six months, they decided to form the company, and that’s when I started full-time. It’s funny; my now-seventeen-year-old son was just six months old when I started at Medallia, so I’ve watched the company grow as I’ve watched my children grow. I feel a lot of personal attachment to the company and our people.
How has Medallia changed since those early days?
There were just three of us when we started, so I have seen tremendous change over the years. At first, people didn’t get us; they didn’t understand how we were talking about customer experience. Back then, we had to convince clients that this was the right way to improve their business. Now, this is a category, with competing companies that are speaking the same language. And we’ve grown ourselves, of course—there are more than 1,000 people at Medallia now.
All of us were doing a little bit of everything in the early days, although even then, we played to our individual interests and strengths. Borge, now CEO, and I did a lot of work on the product, and Amy, now President, worked on the marketing and administrative sides of the company. I was involved from the beginning with sales and client management. The amazing thing is, after all this time, I’m still involved with both of those parts of the business—and I work with a lot of the same clients I did when we were starting out. It’s both rewarding and humbling to think about the client loyalty and personal relationships we’ve built over the years.
Tell us about your trajectory at Medallia. How did you end up leading the Solutions Principals team?
I ran the Insights team previously, the genesis of which is a great startup story. I was with Russ Haswell, who now heads up our Retail and Auto verticals, and we were prepping for a sales meeting with a major telecommunications company. We were in competition with a firm that touted their consulting offerings and while we didn’t have a formalized group, I knew we had the skills. The night before the meeting, Russ and I decided that to be competitive, we’d need an “official” Insights team. We ended up winning the account, at which point we then fleshed out the team! I ran it for a couple of years.
In 2014, we were scaling our sales organization and realized that while the team’s background in enterprise software sales was strong, it needed more industry expertise. There were a number of us who had that expertise, and who sometimes worked alongside Sales, so we came together to form the Solutions Principals team. As one of the original industry experts at Medallia, it made sense for me to lead that effort.
How does the Solutions Principals team fit into the larger Medallia team?
I think we’d describe ourselves as having the most subject matter expertise about our clients, the people who actually buy Medallia, because we’ve worked in their respective industries and roles. We understand the problems they’re trying to solve, and how our platform can give them positive results. We’re equipped to provide guidance in the sales process and beyond—not only to current and prospective customers, but to our internal stakeholders as well, and we also think about where this space is going, in general and within verticals. Ultimately, our goal is to be effective champions for the Medallia solution, both out in the market and within the company.
What are some of the most meaningful ways you’ve helped shape Medallia over your 17 years here?
One is the input I’ve had in developing the product; it’s been really satisfying to see the impact of that in the marketplace. Another is the client relationships. Because our own product is about customer experience, I think it’s important that we model the same quality of experience we’re helping our clients provide to their own customers. The third thing I’d say, I’ve hired and worked with a number of the people who are now part of Medallia’s senior management. That’s extremely important to me, because that process isn’t just about growing the company; it’s about developing leaders who can grow their own careers within Medallia, as opposed to hiring all of our senior leadership externally.
How do you see your role as a leader?
I like to think of our team as a group of individual leaders. I don’t think of my role as managing so much as setting the tone and providing support and advice as needed. Our team members are driving their own careers and their own efforts—I’m here to help them understand what Medallia’s priorities are, and how they can utilize their individual strengths while collaborating with each other and the rest of the company to best achieve those goals.
I also believe it’s critical that leaders give the people on their teams equal opportunity to succeed and grow. This has been incredibly important in terms of growing the diverse team we have today.
Can you talk a bit more about diversity and how you maintain it on your team?
First and foremost is ensuring equal opportunity to develop, but I also think about why groups that are underrepresented in a given field or organization—women, for example—might shy away from certain workplaces and certain industries. I think in general people often don’t feel acceptance and support because they don’t see themselves represented across the organization at the leadership level.
I remember an important lesson I learned from one of my first jobs out of college. I was a consultant, and at that level there was a 50/50 split between men and women. But as you moved up the ranks to manager, senior manager, and partner, the percentage of women decreased. There was a big conversation about the reason for that, and the question we asked was, “Why aren’t equally qualified people in the firm moving up the ranks at the same rate?” Often, in my opinion, it boils down to the opportunities people have access to; whether they’re involved in critical initiatives and whether they’re being put in front of company leadership.
At the same time, I recognize that everybody has different skills, and it’s also about playing to those strengths. That isn’t about gender—opportunities should go to whomever is best suited, across the board. When you look at our team, it’s both very democratic in that sense, and very high-performing. While we each get involved in initiatives that play to our strengths, everyone is held accountable for their performance, and held to the same standard.
What advice would you give to someone in an underrepresented group at a company like Medallia?
I’d actually give this advice to anyone, not just people who are underrepresented—I think it’s important to learn how to challenge without being “challenging.” By that I mean developing the ability to push back while still being considerate and thoughtful in the way you present your opinion. At Medallia, our leaders are open to and even encourage their decisions being challenged, but it’s important to depersonalize that conversation and make it about the idea itself, rather than the person.
I think those conversations are so important, and that’s one of the things I like about working here. I do realize that at Medallia, I have the credibility of having been here for many years, and that alone might make it easier for me to push back. But I really think it’s part of the culture company-wide; no matter your level within the organization, if you’re willing to speak up about a great point of view you have, and you’re thoughtful in doing so—you can make a difference here.
This story was created in conjunction with Job Portraits, a San Francisco-based creative agency that helps teams scale using culture-focused content.