VentureFizz: Where did you grow up and what were you like as a child? What did your parents do for work?
Cam Johnson: I was born and raised in Connecticut, spending the first 13 years of my life in New Britain (near Hartford) before my father and stepmom bought a house in the small town of Berlin, outside of Hartford. As a child, I was very hyper and active in sports (football, baseball, and basketball) year-round. My parents were constantly running around to get me to all of my practices and games. Sports were my outlet as a child and where I learned a lot of life lessons that have paved the way for my successes today.
My mom is a nurse who worked endlessly to support our family while I was growing up, most of the time close to 100 hours per week. She wasn’t able to attend many of my sporting events or be around as much as I would’ve liked, but she taught me that through hard work you can achieve anything, and I understand why she worked so hard as an adult. My father is a machine operator, and my stepmom works for the State of Connecticut.
VF: Where did you go to college? What did you study and what did you do after graduating?
CJ: I went to Union College, a small liberal arts school in upstate New York. I had aspirations of playing professional football and, unfortunately, didn’t take college too seriously. I didn’t select my major until junior year, and I chose history solely because I took enough classes related to the subject and could graduate on time. Following college, I got into sales, working for a consulting firm that worked with AT&T.
VF: What inspired you to get into the tech industry?
CJ: I got into the tech industry solely to take a job and move back closer to home. I was in Chicago for a year following college, and at the time, my stepmom was sick, so I wanted to be closer to home. One of my best friends from college reached out to me and said he was at a startup software company that was projected to take off and had aspirations to become a publicly traded company in the coming years.
VF: Talk about your career progression and some of the roles that you’ve held along the way?
CJ: I started off in door-to-door sales right out of college before working with a lighting and distribution company. One thing people saw was my ability to connect with people. I needed to find the right opportunity to accelerate my career sales.
At Zerto, I started in the Sales Development Representative (SDR) position, and within a year, I was interviewing, training, and onboarding new members of the team. As the fifth SDR at the company, I assisted in bringing on seven new employees in the department.
I left Zerto to take a closing role at SmartBear Software and gained the experience needed to take the next step in my career, which brought me to ZoomInfo. While at ZoomInfo, I’ve been fortunate to have a rock-star leadership team that has helped me further develop my career and grow into a leadership role.
VF: What was your first position as a manager and what advice would you have for others who are interested in a management career path?
CJ: My first position as a Manager at ZoomInfo was in 2018 when I was promoted into a team-lead hybrid role. This was my first taste of management while still holding my own book of business. I’ve always said I get more satisfaction out of seeing other people succeed and helping them hit their numbers. If you hold that same philosophy, management might be a great position for you.
As with any relationship, the foundation is built on trust, and management is no different. Your team has to trust you in order for them to follow you as the leader.
My advice is to sit down with someone that holds a management position, understand their responsibilities, the pros and cons of management, how they progressed into that role, and what has made them successful. These anecdotes and learnings will help you understand if management is the right role for you.
VF: Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as a Sales Manager, New Business at ZoomInfo?
CJ: My current role at ZoomInfo is to support a team of new business representatives. A big focus of my role is training and developing seasoned and newly promoted Account Executives to progress their sales careers. Constant coaching and open lines of communication enable me to support my team’s ongoing learning and development to produce consistent high performers.
VF: What has attributed to your success thus far and what types of obstacles have you had to overcome along the way as a Black professional?
CJ: Work ethic, relentlessness, coachability, and never doubting my ability to be successful. I’m always eager to learn, and I understand that failure is okay; it’s about how you overcome hurdles or obstacles that make you successful.
I think the first obstacle that most Black professionals in tech have to overcome is being one of the only ones of color in the room. When I first started in tech six years ago, there weren’t many people who looked like me, and when you’re in meetings or company functions, you hesitate to allow your voice to be heard.
From a young age, my father told me to always be the hardest-working person in the room and let your voice be heard. There have been a few times when I felt I was up for a promotion, and I didn’t receive it. When speaking with my dad, he’s always told me that you have to go the extra mile and show there isn’t a reason to not promote you.
It’s imperative that you build your brand equity at any organization, but it’s even more important as Black professional.
VF: What types of programs and initiatives does ZoomInfo have that supports diversity, equity, and inclusion?
CJ: In early 2019, GIDI – ZoomInfo’s Global Inclusion and Diversity Initiative – was created and the support has been amazing. Minority groups need allies and people who not only understand their hurdles, but stand with them arm-in-arm to help.
We host monthly events for each chapter and are preparing for our first GIDI Summit in October, which’ll be a full day of hands-on, immersive learning for our employees. It’ll be an interactive conversation that’ll produce some great outcomes on how we can further promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace together.
I serve as the head of the Zoom in Color chapter, and this year, we hosted our first Juneteenth celebration. We had over 400 employees – one-third of the company – attend the virtual celebration, in which members of Zoom in Color told the story of Juneteenth and answered questions from our colleagues about how we can all unite further in society.
Looking back on it, our Juneteenth celebration was a significant moment in our company’s history. Having uncomfortable conversations is where diversity and inclusion starts, but it’s imperative that these talks continue so we can better understand each other and unify.
I’m also extremely proud of the work that ZoomInfo has done in donating over $100,000 to seven nonprofit organizations in support of equal rights and racial justice for the Black community. ZoomInfo isn’t a company that just says it’s diverse and inclusive and gives back to the community – it’s an organization that continually acts philanthropically because supporting all individuals in our society is part of the company’s DNA.
VF: What advice would you give to other Black professionals who are interested in joining the tech industry?
CJ: I’d tell them to use technology to their advantage. There are a lot of “Black in Tech” groups that host networking events with fellow Black professionals across all roles. I’d also tell them to find a space, or a sub-section, in tech that ignites their passion. We’re all willing to help each other find the next opportunity and connect via LinkedIn to ask about each other’s roles in the tech industry.
VF: While general awareness of the problem of diversity in the tech industry is a step forward, to make a lasting change, real actions need to be taken. Do you have any ideas or suggestions on what companies or employees can do to step up and make a difference?
CJ: I recently had a conversation with a CEO regarding diversity in the tech industry, in which we discussed how it’s not that companies aren’t providing enough opportunities, it’s that there aren't enough candidates in the pool. However, that’s not good enough.
I’d like to see tech companies partner with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, as well as diversity groups at local colleges and universities to build out networks. If you’re in a city or have local colleges, go find the talent on those campuses and recruit.
It’s time for us to be more proactive, outline goals, and set success metrics based on diversity. Similar to how you hold employees accountable in their roles, it’s time to hold your organization accountable too.