Lead(H)er Profile - Mary Beth Vassallo, VP & GM of North America at Nexthink
Where did you grow up and how would you describe yourself as a child?
I’m a second-generation Italian American, after coming to America in the 20s, my family settled in an Italian neighborhood on the north-side of Syracuse. I grew up the youngest of 4 children, with a private catholic education. However, growing up I was extremely dedicated to gymnastics with dreams of becoming the next Olga Korbut. I was always competitive, but at the same time a bit of an introverted. Unfortunately, my gymnastics dreams did not pan out – but the fundamentals of concentration, independent strength and competitiveness still serve me well today.
What did you study in college and what was your first job out of school?
I studied Mathematics and Computer Science at Syracuse University. I landed my first job with a consulting company 6 months before graduating and was placed at IBM where I was a software developer on a government project. From there, I moved into IT operations, supporting a very large datacenter at GE.
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 has been more like a jungle gym than a ladder. It has given me the opportunity to explore, stretch, learn, and grow. Moving from IT to “the vendor” side was pivotal for my personal growth. I worked at Boston-based Digital Equipment Corporation as a system engineer and moved into sales only because a door opened when the sales rep I supported went out on maternity leave and never came back. This was another critical turning point in my career. She and I are still friends. We talk about her decision to stay home and the impact it had on my career. The next few important steps landed me in my current state - moving from individual contributor to management, building teams and business from the ground up multiple times with different go to market models, expanding to run global/diverse teams and leveraging experiences from large corporations, mid-size hypergrowth companies and startups.
What is your current role and responsibilities?
I am currently responsible for building the business for North America. When I started at Nexthink three years ago, we were 14 people in the Boston office and today we total more than 100 in North America – more than 600 globally. North America is an important market for the company, which was originally founded in Switzerland, now we have a dual headquarters in Boston and Lausanne, our CEO has moved to Boston and we continue to build out the management team based here, including the addition of a new Chief People Officer Meg Donovan.
Looking back, is this where you thought you’d be professionally? Was it always your goal to be in this position?
I always knew I wanted to be in a leadership role. My mother was a big influence on my career. She pushed me to enter the tech world before most people knew what a computer was. Every time I’d land a new job or get a promotion, I’d call to let her know and she’d say, “one step closer to becoming a CEO”. She is 99 now and asks me why I work so hard…
What are the most important skills that you need to do your job well?
Hiring the right people and putting them in the right seat. Motivating, and inspiring my team through both good and challenging times is so important. It’s also necessary to practice active listening and to be open-minded and try new things to have a more open perspective from my colleagues and team. Having a mentor or two doesn’t hurt, someone to go to for guidance and holding myself accountable to do the best I can each day.
What do you find most interesting/rewarding about your work? What’s most challenging?
The most rewarding work is developing my team, having them find personal and professional success. Also, the value that Nexthink brings to our customers is incredibly rewarding, seeing external teams be able to tackle major challenges or have visibility where previously they were stuck guessing. I love hearing stories from our happy customers.
What is your proudest professional accomplishment?
It has always been about people for me. Being a coach and mentor, helping others grow personally and professionally. One of my proudest moments was when someone I mentored thanked me for providing not only the professional coaching throughout his career, but also the confidence and internal belief that he would succeed.
Are you involved with any professional organizations outside of the company? Volunteer work?
I have been actively involved in Take Steps - Crohn's & Colitis Foundation for the past 15 years. My son was diagnosed with Crohn’s at age 8. There was no medicine to help him until he turned 13 so he battled it for many years. He is in remission now thankfully from taking medicine produced by Johnson & Johnson, but it may not last, so I actively fund raise and support this cause to help find a cure.
What advice do you have for recent college graduates?
The world seems very different now than when I graduated, but I believe in the advice that I was given when I graduated and continue to pass on to people early in their career. Have a destination in the back of your mind but also know that you have a great journey ahead, take some risks, try things that may feel uncomfortable because there are only two things that will happen – you will win or you will learn and both are great!