Our Lead(H)er series features impressive women leaders in the tech industry. In this Q&A, we are featuring Amanda Baier, VP, Marketing Communications at Vecna Robotics.
Where did you grow up and how would you describe yourself as a child?
I grew up in Walpole, a suburb of Boston. I was bookish but also active in the 4H club as a child. I rode horses, showed pygmy goats and loved nothing more than quiet afternoons in the barn. I guess you could say I’m a little bit country!
I was also really into the arts. I played piano, flute, french horn, and harp; acted in all the school plays; and eventually went on to participate in founding our high school’s annual film festival which is now in its 19th season! The kids write, direct, film, act in, edit, produce, and even write original music for the films. Whenever I’m storyboarding a professional production for work, I go right back to the basics that I learned from the WHS film festival. I like to think that I am proof that the skills acquired through an education in the arts are wildly relevant and transferable to a career in business.
What did you study in college and what was your first job out of school?
I originally enrolled as an English major, but my studies ran the gamut of everything from archeology to botany to business school. I finally graduated with a dual degree in comparative literature and English with a minor in Spanish and certificates in simultaneous interpreting and technical writing with a specialization in business communications. I spent a lot of time translating Spanish poetry. Even today, the works of Pablo Neruda cast a certain spell over me!
My first job out of school was working as a paralegal in the grants administration division of the largest healthcare system in Massachusetts. At that time, I thought I wanted to go to law school, so this was a great way to test the waters. I worked out of the Prudential tower which felt pretty glamorous at first, but I quickly realized that I wanted a smaller team and a less corporate environment. When I found Vecna Robotics and the startup atmosphere, I immediately knew it was the right place for me.
Can you share the details on your career path and what were the critical moments that got you to where you are today?
As an English major in college, everyone asked me if I wanted to be a teacher. I think the first critical moment in my career was the early conviction that I did not want to teach.
After I ruled out law school and found Vecna Technologies (Vecna Robotics’ parent company), I found a great fit in both grant writing and marketing due to my strong language skills. I stayed with Vecna Technologies until Vecna Robotics began the process of spinning out into its own entity.
At that time, I became very interested in health and wellness and took a sharp turn into the world of yoga and holistic healing. I spent a year completing my 200-hour yoga teacher training, studying to become a Reiki master, and a certified health coach then left Vecna to pursue my own health coaching practice. I used the experience I gained in the studio and with private clients to land a job at a small teaching hospital in Cambridge, MA as the Wellness Coordinator for their cancer center. I was able to expand the programs offered to patients to include free Reiki, oncology massage, art therapy, organic farming experiences, and even an all-natural beauty workshop for women undergoing treatment.
One day, I got a phone call from the Vecna Robotics team, asking if I could take on some writing projects. As I jumped back into the fringes of the fast-paced startup world, I remembered how much I missed the excitement and the relationships I’d forged over the years with incredibly smart people. They were, after all, my “framily.” I left the health and wellness field to dive head-first back into the fray, identifying another key realization in my career journey: yoga is a wonderful personal tool for me to maintain my mental and physical health, but not my intended career path. This does not preclude me from sharing the practice with others. I now just see it as more of a service to my community than a career path - a way of giving back - and I get to do that within the Vecna Robotics community. I’ve taken on the role of Yoga Club President in the office and, during COVID quarantine, taught weekly classes for coworkers over Teams. Now that the offices are open and we hire a yoga teacher to come in, I still jump in and substitute teach from time to time.
To sum it up, for me, it’s always been about trial and error and following the sparks of inspiration. I look for the places of greatest challenge, thrill, and personal growth - and remain open to change whenever it’s required. Change is hard and presents many unknowns. But, I’ve discovered that as long as I bring passion and energy through the tumult of change, I will land on my feet.
What is your current role and responsibilities?
I currently manage the marketing initiatives at Vecna Robotics internally and externally, including demand generation, public relations, trade shows, digital and more. I work hard to foster community within the company by keeping close relationships with senior leadership and more junior team members and nurturing their growth within the organization. I also manage marketing relationships with partners to grow the greater Vecna Robotics and material handling communities.
Looking back, is this where you thought you’d be professionally? Was it always your goal to be in this position?
It was never my goal to be in this position, but if I look back, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that I was headed for an entrepreneurial environment in material handling all along. From a young age, I was always dreaming up random little businesses like private tutoring, custom fashion design, and making crocheted slippers to sell to my friends. Of course, none of these were scalable, so that was lesson number one!
Also, my father and my brother are both engineers. I was always watching them in problem-solving mode as they built things around the house, fixed the boat engine, took apart motorcycles, or rebuilt my dad’s 1932 Ford Pickup. When my brother got older, he then got into building robots for school projects and summer camps. So, early exposure to mechanics and automation was definitely a strong influence.
My dad also has an appreciation for logistics feats hidden in plain sight. I remember him coming home from Home Depot with a new rake one time, and he asked, “Could you make this, package it, and ship it for $10?” He has a strong appreciation for supply chain, which certainly shaped the way I see the world.
I think it makes sense that I would end up being in an environment that is the professional version of what I experienced at home. But at work, I get to bring my core competencies to the challenges of growing a technology business: writing, creativity, interpreting highly technical language and making it accessible to the everyday person.
For people who are looking to be in a similar position, what advice would you give to others in terms of helping them achieve their career goals?
- Begin with yes. No project is beneath you, especially early in your career. Be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get dirty (sometimes literally when working in a lab environment!). Add value for your leadership team - look for where they need help and offer support. Through that, you gain exposure and get to work alongside really smart people, learn a bigger breadth of skills, and advance in your personal growth more quickly.
- Don’t compromise. Do quality work. And if you’ve hired someone for a job, maintain high standards and push them to deliver up to expectations.
- Be discerning. Know where to put your time. Don’t work just to fill the hours; focus on what’s going to get you the biggest results.
- Step up. Do the hard thing -- take on a project that is big and scary or overwhelming, step into a place in your organization that needs a leader, give candid feedback in a loving way, etc. What’s hard is different for everybody, but you have to learn to recognize your edges and then lean into that discomfort. That’s how you grow and become a bigger, better, more powerful version of yourself.
What are the most important skills that you need to do your job well?
When the ball comes at you fast, swing slower. In marketing things are constantly flying at you - deadlines are changing or being piled on. Even when the hours seem limited, resist the scarcity mindset. Take time to breathe, get centered, and stay present. This will expand time. The quality of your output relies on a steady mind. If you are rushed and disorganized then customers and prospects will see that - it will be apparent in the quality of your work.
Staying organized is another key skill. I like to set up regular check-ins that help me to know exactly where I’m at every week: budget review, weekly metrics reports, big project checkpoints, or milestone meetings. By having small chunks of time devoted to reviewing big systems, you will be less likely to be caught off guard and feel more in control.
Another necessary skill is adaptability. In marketing, as in so many other disciplines and life in general, your plans may change at the drop of a hat. It’s important not to get thrown off or ruffled. If you maintain equanimity you’ll be happier in the long run. And if you do feel ruffled, that’s ok too. Do what you need to do to get your feet back under you first, and then take on whatever’s next. What’s past is past. Leave it there. Every day and every moment is an opportunity to start again.
On a more tactical level, crisp comprehension and writing skills are key, especially when you’re in an innovation space!
What do you find most interesting/rewarding about your work? What’s the most challenging?
To me, the most rewarding part of marketing is seeing the outcomes of things that actually work. A lot of time is spent setting up systems, crafting messaging, producing content, and thinking creatively, and then launching it all into the world. It’s incredibly rewarding on the days the leads start piling up and requests for interviews start coming in. Those are the days you’re validated in your efforts and you realize that the machine is working.
Most challenging is keeping up with the demands and knowing what is valuable and what’s not. What’s actually going to help you accomplish something and have a great return on investment? I’m always reassessing: what’s the 20% of work that’s going to get me 80% of the results? It’s constantly a game of working smarter, not harder.
What is your proudest professional accomplishment?
My proudest professional accomplishment is seeing the culmination of many years of dedication to one mission, one company. It began 10 years ago with writing winning proposals for millions of dollars in research grants to seed some of Vecna Robotics’ early technology development - to lay the groundwork for Series A and Series B investment - to now having systems in place where the marketing machine is humming. Earlier this year, we won the Fast Company Most Innovative Companies award, ranking #4 in logistics worldwide. Getting that recognition on an international scale for the work that we’ve done over the course of all of these years was huge. It goes to show that Rome wasn’t built in a day -- it takes a lot of grit, focus, and teamwork to do things that are worth doing.
Are you involved with any professional organizations outside of the company? Volunteer work?
I’m involved in MHI (Material Handling Industry) and just completed the MHI Leadership Program. MHI’s Industry Leaders Program helps emerging and new leaders connect with industry peers and leaders, gain a broader perspective of the supply chain and material handling industry, and grow their leadership skills and expertise. I’m also on the MHI MPro (Material Handling Industry Marketing Professionals) subcommittee for education. We pull in experts from the field of marketing to provide education to other MHI marketers. Outside of work, I also work with the Sunny Rock 4-H Program - a youth development program that teaches kids leadership skills through agriculture and care of livestock.
What has attributed to your success thus far and what types of obstacles have you had to overcome along the way as a female leader in a predominantly male industry?
There have been times at trade shows where I’ve stood on a raised platform and not seen another woman for what seems like miles. This is can be a stunning experience but should serve as a reminder of how far we have to go to bring more diverse talent into the supply chain industry.
One thing I’ve observed is that many women in male-dominated environments have a tendency to adopt a masculine energy. For me, it happens when I’m under stress and it comes out in my posture, my voice, or putting up walls and taking a defensive tone. It usually arises as a response to a need I feel to be seen as smart, strong, and capable. Luckily, Vecna Robotics has always been a workplace that encourages team members to be authentically who they are and one that encourages diversity, recognizing the role of different perspectives in furthering innovation.
With that, I’ve been able to shed some of those stress responses over time (still working on it!). And what I’ve come to realize and appreciate over the years is the power of well-balanced feminine energy in the workplace. When we (who identify as feminine) soften into our feminine qualities, we can create an atmosphere where all feel welcome to speak up, it can open doors for hard conversations and make them less difficult, it can cast a sense of ease over problem-solving and turn up the volume on creativity, it brings lightness and humor, and fosters relationship building and a stronger team environment. I’ve learned that I can be strong, smart, capable, and feminine all at once. These qualities are harmonious.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
My husband and I are avid rock climbers. If not climbing in the gym, we go to New Hampshire or New York on the weekends to adventure on new routes. Vacations usually take us further afield to international climbing destinations - which is always fun because we get to combine our love of travel with our love of adventuring outdoors.
I’m also an avid trail runner, and oil painter. I like to take my painting outdoors and do a lot of painting en plein air in parks and trails around Boston. When I’m home, I spend a lot of time playing with my two rowdy rescues, Max and Chief, my sweet cat Lilou la Fleur, and my ever-expanding collection of plants.
How do you manage stress?
A daily workout routine is critical. I try to run every morning, rain/snow or shine and get in a post-work gym sweat sesh or yoga practice. Art and music is also a great way to destress.
How many cups of coffee do you have in a day?
One cup just to get going.
What's one of your favorite places in the Boston/New York area?
I love kayaking and canoeing on the waterways around Boston. The Ipswich and the Concord Rivers are so peaceful.
Any book or podcast recommendations?
I love the All In podcast with Jason Calcanis, Chamath Palihapitiya, David Friedberg, and David Sacks. They’re a hilarious group of some of the biggest investors in tech and I listen to them religiously. I also listen to Bigger Pockets, Tony Robbins, and The Wall Street Journal Secrets of Wealthy Women. Listening to other women's stories is a great way to stay empowered and motivated to keep pressing forward.
Two of the books that changed my life are Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, and Eastern Body, Western Mind by Anodea Judith. The first is by a cantadora (storyteller) and psychologist who uses myth to unpack the female psyche. The second unveils the energetic body in great detail, drawing links between modern psychology to ancient body awareness. Both provide a guidebook to staying grounded.
What advice do you have for recent college graduates?
Let the journey unfold. It’s easy to hold tightly to old goals and identities. But don’t be afraid to let go of what beliefs and personas no longer serve you along the way; and similarly, don't be afraid to try on new ways of thinking and take new roads. Through doing this, you find that more opportunities open up for you, and can present you with more fulfilling and exciting endeavors. And if it doesn’t work out, it was a good story!