Be True to Yourself: Ann Lewnes on Seizing Opportunities

by Ann Lewnes

posted on 03-22-2017

In celebration of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month throughout March, we’re featuring women who are shattering stereotypes in their personal and professional lives. From artists to engineers, women who have forged their own path inspire us and women everywhere to accomplish whatever we dream of being.

Ann Lewnes is CMO at Adobe and, though a native New Yorker, has always worked in Silicon Valley tech. In fact, she describes her entire career experience as a bit of a paradox due to her willingness to try anything. Road-tripping to California from New York after college brought career opportunity number one. Taking a job in tech, outside of her training in journalism, was another. Read our interview with her to see how taking the opportunities that come your way can help shatter the stereotypes you face.

Ann, give us an overview of your career — what was your path to Adobe CMO?

I’m a New Yorker, born and bred. I attended Lehigh University in Pennsylvania where I majored in International Relations and Journalism. The plan was to become a journalist, but a spontaneous decision to pack up my Honda Civic and road trip to California led me to Silicon Valley — the land of opportunity. Or, actually, at that time it was more like the land of endless orchards. I visited the Palo Alto Women’s Resource Center and paid $1 to look through their jobs binder. Two jobs caught my eye: one at a publishing company and one at Intel, a semiconductor company I had never heard of. I called my dad and asked him what to do. He told me to work at Intel, a larger company where I’d have access to a plethora of learning opportunities.

He was right. I joined Intel when it was a $1B company transitioning to lead the emerging microprocessor industry. Under the leadership of CEO Andy Grove and an amazing mentor, Dennis Carter, I learned everything I know about marketing — from PR to advertising to web marketing to enterprise marketing. I was planning to leave for business school when Dennis convinced me to stay and work on a special project — the beginning of the iconic “Intel Inside” campaign. After 20 years, we were a $40 billion company and a brand powerhouse. Then I got a call from Adobe.

I had always admired Adobe from afar. As a creative person myself, its mission to inspire creativity in everyone resonated. I saw the same opportunity for growth I had seen at Intel 20 years before — a great brand that was undervalued and on the cusp of something big. That was 10 years ago. Since then, we’ve led one of the most successful business transformations in tech history and become one of the fastest growing global brands. I’m incredibly proud to lead the most amazing marketing team in the world. They make all of this possible.

How have you shattered stereotypes in your role?

Two things come to mind: I’ve always been true to myself and I never shied away from risk.

When I moved to California and started to work in technology, I didn’t fit in. I was from New York. I was pushy, female, creative, and artsy in a sea of engineers. I could have caved to stereotypes and changed who I was to fit in. Instead, I recognized that I brought a unique perspective to the table with my strong communication skills and creative mindset. Leveraging these two assets allowed me to bring my best self to work without having to compromise who I was.

Women are often seen as risk-averse, but if there’s one common theme as I reflect on my career, it’s that I never shied away from opportunity, even when it felt risky. Whether it was my chance decision to road trip to California and leave everything I knew behind in New York, join a technology company like Intel that I knew nothing about, or leave the strong network I had built at Intel for 20 years to join Adobe, risk-taking has been a central part of my career and it has served me well so far.

What advice do you have for other women in their quest to shatter stereotypes?

Seize every opportunity that comes your way – even ones that may not seem very sexy – and advocate for yourself. I was once at a women’s event where a young woman asked me how to deal with “demeaning requests, like planning the company holiday party.” I told her that I actually love to plan events and have become pretty darn good at it (we are hosting over 12,000 customers at our annual Digital Marketing Summit this week in Las Vegas). You can view requests as demeaning, or as great opportunities to show your creativity, ability to get results, and willingness to take on a project outside of your daily scope. I have done a lot of things that people might find beneath them and I have always done my best.

My second piece of advice is to advocate for yourself. When I was just starting out, a more senior male colleague of mine left the company and recommended me for his role. He generously told me his salary to ensure that I got what was due to me. I took the role and was not offered the higher salary, so I marched into my new boss’ office and asked for it. And I got it.

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Topics: Leadership, Diversity & Inclusion