Our Lead(H)er series features impressive women leaders in the Tech Industry. In this Q&A, we are featuring Sue Nolin, VP, North America Sales at Wasabi.
Where did you grow up and how would you describe yourself as a child?
I grew up in Chicopee, Massachusetts. I have four siblings, thirty-three first cousins and I grew up in a neighborhood full of kids. There was always lots of activity and competition. Pickup softball, kickball and a crazy version of dodgeball called bombardment were commonplace.
I have lots of extended family in Quebec and in various parts of the U.S. Annual family reunions were also common. They always involved breaking into teams and playing physical and brain teaser games into the evenings. Remember the potato-sack race in the movie Meatballs? Yeah, that was us.
What did you study in college and what was your first job in tech?
I have an English degree from North Adams State College, now known as the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. I met my husband there and am very grateful for the lifelong friends I also met there.
I was in my early twenties when I landed my first job in technology on the customer service team at Motorola Codex. At the time, I was simply looking for a local job. Luckily, tech is strong in Massachusetts, so I discovered a world that was new to me, and truly challenging.
Those early days at Motorola introduced me to professionals who I admired and who gave me the opportunity to begin a high-tech career. I learned about networking. I also learned valuable lessons about how tech businesses run. When I left Motorola, I had spent time in customer service, sales, and marketing roles and met the colleagues who would introduce me to the exciting world of startup companies.
Can you share the details on your career path and what were the critical moments that got you to where you are today?
My career path is an evolution of first understanding technology and then understanding startup businesses.
I left college with a solid liberal arts degree, but not a clear understanding of what I wanted from a career. I was raised by parents who demonstrated the importance of hard work, self-reliance, creative learning, and fun. They always emphasized that it was important to be kind, honest, and especially to do my best. Wherever I worked, I was driven to do well.
The startup world is fast-paced and usually has “just enough” resources. While sales became my preferred role, working for startups afforded me the opportunity to contribute to many parts of the business at once. I especially came to learn that I enjoy understanding complex topics and effectively communicating those topics in simple ways. Also, I really like competing. Emerging startup technology satisfies all those interests well.
There were various critical moments that made a difference in my career path.
I’m grateful to the manager who convinced me to leave the stability of Motorola for the riskier world of startups. I was a member of, and eventually led, early stage inside sales teams. I was also very lucky to join several startup companies that succeeded, especially when there are so many that fail. I came to learn about the delicate balance of things needed for successful startups.
Lastly, my career would not be where it is today without the people who have trusted the work I do and who gave me such amazing opportunities. I met, Marty Falaro, Wasabi’s EVP and COO, back when we were a lot younger at a startup called Altiga. Altiga was eventually acquired by Cisco and became their main VPN technology. Marty has trusted my decisions here at Wasabi and he encouraged me to move from the role of Inside Sales Director to VP of North America Sales. I am humbled that Marty and others along the way recognized my ability and are taking me along their journey to success.
What is your current role and responsibilities?
I am the VP of North America Sales at Wasabi, the hot cloud storage company. I oversee Account Executive and Inside Sales teams who manage channel and direct sales relationships with Wasabi’s fast-growing number of partners and customers.
When I joined Wasabi in 2017, I was Marty Falaro’s first sales hire. Marty is growing worldwide Sales and I oversee the rapidly growing North America team. I am extremely proud of how hard this team works. While COVID-19 has changed our day-to-day interactions, the team continues to produce outstanding results. Daily, they demonstrate that they enjoy this crazy, fun and fast-paced startup world as much as I do.
Looking back, is this where you thought you’d be professionally? Was it always your goal to be in this position?
Not at all. The younger me thought she would eventually be a schoolteacher. The path that led me here started by chance, but when I discovered emerging technology sales, I was hooked. This industry allows me to constantly learn. I am never bored.
I recently found a journal from my freshman year of college that said, “I can’t imagine staying in the same job for more than 5 years. It sounds so boring.” Ironically, startup technology changes rapidly and is never ever boring. So, while this career wasn’t my defined goal, I am very happy to be in the position I’m in today. It gives me the opportunity to educate my team and my customers on new technologies and that satisfies my desire to teach.
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?
For young people looking to get into tech sales, I recommend spending a year or two at a public tech firm that provides formal sales training. A startup will gladly train you on their unique technology, but they’ll want you to hit the ground running and won’t want to teach the skill of selling. Build a strong foundation. It will help you throughout your career.
Also, do not be shy about approaching people you admire in your networks. These people take pride in helping you succeed and can become great resources later on.
For those who are considering a career with startups, be sure to research the company you’ll work for. We often compare a startup company to an airplane that is being built in flight. That airplane has a much better chance of flying successfully if the pilot, the engineers, the mechanics, the flight crew, etc. have done it before. I’m blessed to have that here at Wasabi.
If you’re thinking of joining a startup that’s launching a hot new product (a “fancy new airplane”) and it has a less-experienced crew, be sure that crew is getting loads of advice from those who have done it before.
For women in tech, or for women looking to break into technology, remember that you don’t need to be an expert before you start the job. This isn’t a new message but it’s worth repeating. Trust your foundational skills and trust those around you. Your colleagues, your leaders, they want to see you succeed. Your success influences theirs.
What are the most important skills that you need to do your job well?
Communication. It’s such a simple word, but it’s loaded. Now more than ever, prospects and customers communicate by email. So, it is critical to have proper spelling and grammar skills. I recommend taking a business writing course. This will teach you how to write short but effective sentences that resonate. My teams understand that they will never land a meeting if they start an interaction with a poorly written email.
Additionally, listening is the strongest part of communication. It is important to listen well and prove that you are listening by repeating what you heard and respectfully addressing the questions asked. Your customer’s agenda is far more important than your own agenda. So be sure to listen.
What do you find most interesting/rewarding about your work? What’s the most challenging?
There are several rewarding factors to my work.
Most of all, as a manager, I love seeing my team succeed and I love to help them grow. It’s a great feeling to see sales representatives close big deals or receive a promotion. It is truly awesome to celebrate these wins with them.
I also enjoy having a strong impact on the success of the company I work for. It feels good to know that the work I do makes a difference.
The most challenging is that there are not enough hours in the day. I laugh about this because it’s self-inflicted! Wasabi strongly encourages a healthy work/life balance. I love seeing our progress and success, and since my work makes a difference, I tend to do more of it. We’re just a little crazy about doing more around here.
What is your proudest professional accomplishment?
As mentioned earlier, I am most proud of being able to help young people succeed. It’s a heartwarming feeling that never gets old. I’ve had the pleasure of introducing interns to high-tech; introducing young sales reps to startups; and promoting others to manage their own teams. Each of these have been selfishly satisfying.
Are you involved with any professional organizations outside of the company? Volunteer work?
At the invitation of Lou Shipley, a Wasabi board member, I was recently a sales coach for the Entrepreneurial Sales class at the Harvard Business School. I was flattered to join the ranks of impressive sales coaches and to also share my knowledge with young and extremely bright graduate students. That teacher-wannabe in me thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I find energy and peace outdoors and I’m not picky about where that is! My husband and I spend a lot of summer weekends at the Cape Cod canal. We live in a rural area of central Massachusetts and love having friends over for bonfires. And I can’t wait to be back in the office, walking through the streets of Back Bay Boston.
How do you manage stress?
I start every day with either a workout or a two-mile walk, powered by classic rock. Nothing says motivation like Bob Seger live. I love ending the workday at the dinner table with my husband and my niece who lives with us while she attends grad school. We laugh a lot.
How many cups of coffee do you have in a day?
At least three cups before noon. Sleep is so important to me, so no coffee after noon!
What's one of your favorite places in the Boston area?
I was introduced to Back Bay, Boston when I joined Wasabi. I had no idea how diverse this area is. Walking throughout Back Bay is like walking through live artwork. It’s got great history, parks, businesses, residential areas, restaurants, and shopping.
Any book or podcast recommendations?
Back when I commuted, I was big on audio books. The last one I enjoyed was The Life of Pi. Loved it.
What advice do you have for recent college graduates?
If a college grad is looking to get into high-tech sales or startups, then I’d refer to what I mentioned earlier. For those who graduate not yet knowing what they want to do for work, explore the parts of your character that aren’t immediately associated with work. Do you like to socialize a lot or only a little? Do you like to read or analyze a lot? Are you crafty and prefer to design and build things? Then, see if your work satisfies those parts of your character. It’s ok to move on until you find a place that feels right.