Our Lead(H)er series features impressive women leaders in the tech industry. In this Q&A, we are featuring Anita Peterson, VP of Client Services at InvoiceCloud.
Where did you grow up and how would you describe yourself as a child?
I was raised in Winthrop, Massachusetts. My parents immigrated to the United States from Kolkata, India, so I’m a first-generation Indian-American woman. I also have a younger sister, and she’s my best friend—most people who know us call us twins because we have the same mannerisms and look very similar, even though we’re seven years apart.
When I was a kid, I was a little reserved at school, mainly because of my height—I’m six feet tall, which is pretty unusual among Indian women. The areas where I was more confident were sports (my height was a real asset here) and art. I loved to draw and paint, and I still do.
What did you study in college and what was your first job out of school?
I went to Bentley University, where I majored in marketing and minored in computer information systems.
My first job out of college was at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, where I worked in the case management department. I handled patients leaving the hospital and helped with researching what kind of follow up care they might require
Can you share the details on your career path and what were the critical moments that got you to where you are today?
After Spaulding, I worked at Paradigm Properties, where I assisted in managing all aspects of the building's occupancy and maintenance. I was the first and last face people saw as they entered and exited the building. I communicated with tenants regarding property related issues, coordinated with tenants and vendors to address maintenance and facility issues, and helped to resolve any complaints or building violations. My work at Spaulding and Paradigm helped me hone problem-solving skills like prioritization and strategy implementation, which have proven indispensable at InvoiceCloud, where I am today.
After Paradigm, I moved onto MCC, which was a startup electronic bill payment and presentment (EBPP) company (the same space as InvoiceCloud). Because MCC was a startup, I got to touch every aspect of the business as a marketing and sales manager. It was a huge learning experience—in my 12 years at MCC, I ran our presence at marketing and trade shows and I met with schools and municipalities to learn about their different needs and to see how our software might help solve some of their challenges. I helped with product direction and development, and I became very well acquainted with the municipal space. I really learned what it means to have a SaaS solution for EBPP—in simpler terms, it means a digital payment solution that can be accessed anywhere online. Before MCC, I would have thought that sentence was nonsense.
I recognized that there was a lot of opportunity for growth in the online payments space—there were so many towns, cities, and utilities looking for a solution like what MCC had to offer. InvoiceCloud entered the market a few years after MCC, and I joined the InvoiceCloud team several years later after that.
Looking back, you can see a path that wasn’t apparent at first: working directly with people in a variety of situations, assessing how I could help them and be of service in some way, and honestly, just doing my best to make life easier for the folks I encountered every day, regardless of the job or the company I was working for at the time. InvoiceCloud, and our parent company EngageSmart, both have that ethos of service and impacting lives for the better at the heart of everything we do.
What is your current role and responsibilities?
I’m VP of Client Services, which means I oversee customer-facing teams and I provide support to clients. When you boil it down, I’m really there to remove impediments and roadblocks for both my team and our customers.
I review caseloads and issues my teams face, I look for trends, and then I take everything I hear from my teams and from our customers and I distill them into a message that I then articulate to the organization—I’m kind of like a megaphone for the needs of our clients and teams. My goal is to make sure we provide superior customer experience, and not just according to the metrics we aim to meet, but also by ensuring that any time someone reaches out to us, they have a positive experience.
At InvoiceCloud, we’re constantly asking, “How can I make this customer’s life easier?” And the answer usually entails making their customer’s life easier—that’s every person who’s ever had to pay a tax or utility bill, which is just about everyone. It feels really good to be a part of something bigger like that.
Looking back, is this where you thought you’d be professionally? Was it always your goal to be in this position?
As a high school freshman, I thought I’d be a basketball player or an artist. I had a basketball coach who worked in marketing and customer success. He was enthusiastic about this work, and he shared what he did and introduced me to that world, and I really started to take an interest in business.
That’s why, when I was deciding what college I wanted to go to, I focused on business schools. I chose Bentley, which opened my eyes and expanded my understanding of what success means in business and what it would take for me to succeed. I knew I wanted (and had it in me) to be successful, and I knew I wanted to be in some position of leadership—growing up, I had always been the “leader” in my group of cousins, taking charge of whatever little-kid things we were doing back then.
Once I was at MCC, my career goals became pretty clear, and this is exactly where I predicted I’d be.
But your question is about long-term goals, and I have to admit that I have never been a long-term planner. I believe life is unpredictable and that in order to succeed, you need to be able to adapt and adjust. This is part of the reason I am where I am. In client service especially, you need to be ready for the unexpected. You may have the perfect plan written out in permanent marker, but then something will inevitably happen, and you have to start over again.
This goes beyond just my day-to-day work and career—I have a general vision of what I want for myself and my family, but I’m not a long-term planner, and this has allowed me to remain open to opportunities, even if they’re not what I had envisioned. As I mentioned above, there are recurring themes in each chapter of my life and career thus far, and a commitment to making people happy is certainly one of them. That brings me joy and fulfillment, and holding on to that, even in times of constant change, helped to define my path in ways I didn’t notice until later.
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?
First and foremost, find good mentors that can help you on your journey. It can’t be said enough: every woman’s success is due in some part to another woman’s guidance.
Always be prepared: Every time you find yourself in front of leadership, treat it as an opportunity for professional growth. I also think it’s incredibly important to take ownership of your mistakes and successes, no matter what level you’re at.
Adopt a roll-up-your-sleeves attitude when it comes to work—if there’s an issue and my team can’t keep up with a client’s needs, I’ll drop everything to start answering phones and taking on cases myself. There’s nothing more important to me than my customers and my team. Without them, I cannot be successful—and it’s important that I make that apparent to them through my own words and actions. Walking the walk matters.
What are the most important skills that you need to do your job well?
At the risk of repeating myself, I’d say that the ability to adapt and roll with the punches has been indispensable. I need to be able to make decisions quickly and switch up what I’m doing at a moment’s notice in order to be good at my job. There are some leaders who, in the heat of a crisis, stand above and strategize and assess where people need to go and what needs to happen, and these leaders are certainly needed. And then there are some leaders who charge ahead and lend an active hand fixing what needs to be fixed right alongside their team—I’ve always been that kind of leader.
I also think empathy and emotional intelligence are incredibly important. They’re what allow me to relate to my team and my customers and to really listen to what they need.
Finally, a sense of humor is one of the most unexpected and vital things I need to do my job well. At the end of the day, if you can’t find levity in your experience, if you can’t take a step back and have a good time, it’s probably not the right job for you.
What do you find most interesting/rewarding about your work? What’s the most challenging?
The most rewarding part of my work is solving a problem. I get a rush from it, honestly. I’m very gratified by the satisfaction of making my customers and team happy, and by crossing a problem off my list.
I also think the kind of people we work with in the municipal space are really interesting. I’m working with my neighbors—to be in public service, you need to live in the town itself. That means our clients are active, involved members of their communities. I love working with people who are committed to solving problems so hyper-locally, and to serving real people right in their own backyard. There’s a very tangible satisfaction to this kind of work and it tends to attract people with good-natured, can-do personalities.
With regards to what is most challenging, I think not being able to give everyone everything they want gets tough for me. I always want to help my client, and I try to see things from every perspective, and it can be really challenging to have to say no when things just can’t work out the way they want. I’m pretty determined to find a way, even if it’s not exactly what they wanted, and sometimes finding a solution that neither of us considered before can be really satisfying.
What is your proudest professional accomplishment?
Hands down, my proudest professional accomplishment is my team today and the culture we’ve built together.
We hire well at InvoiceCloud, which matters. I also work to hire and train and promote within the organization. In fact, people from my department have infiltrated nearly every other group at InvoiceCloud—product, implementations, finance, etc.—all because of the knowledge they’ve gained working on my team and because of the kind of dedicated, curious, and service-minded people they are.
I am incredibly proud of helping create career paths for my team members. I have a track record of finding professional growth opportunities for my people in client services, and it’s what attracts people to come work on my team.
Are you involved with any professional organizations outside of the company? Volunteer work?
I’ve coached my son’s soccer and basketball teams locally in the past, and these days I help out where I can while my husband is a coach and member of the board. Being a cheerleader for my two kids takes up a chunk of my time, including weekends—it has been really fun to share my love of sports with them, especially because I’ve been heavily involved in athletics from the time I started middle school (again, my height certainly helps!).
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
The truth is, I don’t have a ton of free time, between my somewhat hectic job and raising my family. But art always has been and still is something that still brings me so much joy. Take a look at my notepads at work and you’ll find some serious doodles—it helps me pay attention to keep my hands busy, and as a bonus, my notepads are like a work of art!
When I can, I still sketch and paint. And I still play basketball in a women’s league. I also work out quite often and spend time with friends and family. I read a fair bit, as well.
How do you manage stress?
Honestly, I tend to work better under stress. I think more clearly under pressure. But on extra-stressful days, working out or doing some kind of physical activity is helpful. Being with my kids is also a great stress reliever, and I just picked up drawing at night again to help me unwind.
How many cups of coffee do you have in a day?
I love my Nespresso, and I have two cups of coffee a day. I like really, really dark coffee.
Any book or podcast recommendations?
I love to read! I read every night before I go to sleep to get my mind to quiet down a little. And I will read any book that everyone is talking about, regardless of genre.
Give me a good beach read, a quick read like Nicholas Sparks, a procedural drama like Jodi Picoult, a heavier historical drama like Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale. Right now I’m reading It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover, and I’m enjoying it! I also really liked The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger.
And I’ve recommended professional books or books on leadership to my team—I’ve even done summer reading club for the past several years with them. Last summer’s book club was the classic 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.
What advice do you have for recent college graduates?
Take every opportunity you get to get yourself in front of company leadership or a department you’re trying to work your way into—be prepared for these moments, because they can change your career. Don’t be afraid to take any entry-level position and work your way up to where you want to be.
And be yourself. I don’t believe in completely separating your work and home life. I want to work with well-rounded people because I think they make better colleagues. Tell me about your family, your hobbies, your favorite book. Let your sense of humor shine through. I want to work with YOU, not some anonymous corporate mannequin.