Emmanuelle Skala advocated for driving customer success early in her career. Since then, she’s thought of little else besides how to make sure customers have the best experience possible when interacting with her companies even though she spent most of her career driving sales and only recently is formally heading up a Customer Success organization.
“To be a strong executive, you have to be customer-facing,” said Skala, who is now the Senior Vice President of Customer Success at Toast. “Understanding customer needs is the soul of your product development team and your messaging.”
Skala graduated from Carnegie Mellon, where she says she learned less about the subject that would ultimately become her career and more about critical thinking, problem-solving, being business savvy, and dealing with stress. As a double-major who was heavily involved in extracurricular activities, she also figured out early on how to work well under pressure.
“My college experience influenced the way I think and work,” Skala said.
Her first job out of college was in the strategic planning department at Intel, where she developed skills strong operational skills. After a two-year break to get her MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business, Skala spent seven years at Endeca Technologies and has worked in software startups ever since.
“The mindset of operations is critical,” Skala said. “Whether it’s analyzing metrics, process improvement, and or driving efficiency, it’s relevant to Intel and high-paced startups.”
Skala has sought out companies that focused on innovation, high growth, intelligence, and a sense of fearlessness when it comes to failure. Companies like this can push the envelope, she said, while remaining paranoid enough to identify risks and improve more quickly than if they were overly cautious or too reckless.
Skala applies that mindset to her interactions with customers, always asking herself: How do we make the go-to-market model more efficient without sacrificing customer experience? “It’s sometimes at odds, but it’s exciting and challenging,” she said.
Skala plans to take that cross-functional perspective with her throughout the rest of her career, continuing to represent the voice of the customers while reflecting the brand back to them for a consistent customer experience.
She also has a bucket list item she’d love to check off: teaching sales, growth, or entrepreneurship at a university. As a member of four advisory boards and a director on a public board, she’s already got a head start on shepherding the next generation of entrepreneurs through the business world. “I want to have a broader influence to more budding entrepreneurs,” Skala said.
Rapid Fire Questions
What do you do in your free time?
For me, working out consistently is critical to my sanity. I also prioritize spending time with my kids. Monday through Friday is mostly about work, and I pour myself into my family on the weekends. I also use every ounce of her vacation time - a change of scenery and dedicated focus on family is a top priority.
How do you handle stress?
I try to zoom out and ask, “Can my stress be made insignificant by looking at the bigger picture?” I have little to complain about, but that learning to understand my triggers and removing myself from the few stressful situations that do crop up has been helpful.
How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?
I prefer one cup of tea in the morning rather than coffee, but that’s not what gets me going. I run on adrenaline.
What’s your favorite spot in the Boston area?
There’s no one answer to this question. I love living in the Boston area because we have access to the mountains and the ocean and the city. A few favorites across the varied New England area landscape include Martha’s Vineyard, VT Skiing, and the coast of Maine. In Boston proper, I love the energy and culture of the North End.
What’s your greatest accomplishment, aside from family?
I’m proud of the fact that as a female in tech, I’ve been able to rise quickly to executive status across a variety of different companies. A lot is working against us, and it takes more effort, patience, and confidence to overcome a lot of obstacles. Now, I’m trying to figure out what steps I took to get this far so that I can help other women find success, too. I’m trying to connect the dots.
Is this where you saw yourself 10 years ago?
This is exactly what I envisioned. I’ve been reasonably deliberate about the growth I’m looking for. By looking for problems to solve and scale to reach, then setting long-term goals, I have taken the opportunities that best fit into my plan for career success.
What is your advice for recent college graduates?
A well-rounded person is one who has tried many different things over the course of their career. Specializing too early is not the path for a vibrant career. Give it a year or two, and don’t be afraid to zig zag. Success is not linear.
Images courtesy of Emmanuelle Skala and Toast