CMO Files: Isabelle Guis, CMO, Egnyte

Get inside the mind of the world's top marketing professionals. In 20 questions we find out what they love most about their job, what their biggest achievements are... and what keeps them awake at night. Read 'The CMO Files'..

Get inside the mind of the world's top marketing professionals. In 20 questions we find out what they love most about their job, what their biggest achievements are... and what keeps them awake at night. Read 'The CMO Files'..

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Name:  Isabelle Guis 

Organisation: Egnyte

Job title: Chief Marketing & Strategy Officer



Location: Mountain View, CA, USA

(1) Where were you born and raised?

 I was born and raised in Provence (Marseille) in the South of France.

(2) What was your first job?  

My first job was as a software research engineer at Nortel near Paris in the field of speech and speaker recognition. Essentially, based on the sound of your voice, the software would recognize your identity and could understand various commands to initiate some kind of activity, i.e. to access a building, start a phone call etc. This technology was released in the first “voice-dialling” mobile, Nortel 922, in 1997.

(3) What was the first product you got really excited about?   

This is a tough one since product launches are my personal Pavlov’s Bell.  But looking back, I would have to say that my very first product launch as an engineer was my most exciting. It was in 1997 with the Nortel 922 cell phone I mentioned earlier. It was the first worldwide, hands-free, voice activated mobile phone. The battery did not last more than 4 hours at a time and it weighed more than 1 lb. but it was amazing compared to what was available on the market. And I knew we were really onto something big. As Apple Siri launched in 2011 proved it 14 years later…

(4) Who has been the biggest influence on your career?

Managers – The good ones and the bad. Surprisingly enough, the bad managers turned out to have more influence by setting a precedent for what did NOT work successfully and helped me to learn (painfully though) from their mistakes. I also apply many of the business principles Jack Welch discussed or published over his career. They resonate very well with my personal approach to work.

(5) What has been your greatest achievement?

Going through the End of Life (EoL) of a product (Nortel Business Communications Manager) and replacing it by another one (Avaya IP Office) post-acquisition while maintaining customer satisfaction and retaining channel partners through the transition. For anyone developing products through its life cycle, this is the stuff that keeps us up at night. How will this impact my customers’ and partners’ businesses? How will this affect our brand? Will this give an unfair advantage to my competitor? I led my team through a graceful, well-planned and beautifully executed EoL where our new product had feature parity with the old one and a reduce learning curve for partners to set it up. This rewarded us with high praise and recognition from our customers, partners and senior management.

(6) What has been your biggest mistake?

I am a high risk, high reward executive so taking chances is nothing new but probably my biggest professional mistake was joining a start-up too early without being able to influence the product or corporate strategy. But that experience provided the direction and insight I need as I continue my career, and better choose the next start-ups saving me a lot of time and agony.

(7) What is your greatest strength?

As an engineer by training, my greatest strengths lie in analytics and deciphering data to bring about a competitive and differentiated value proposition. This has also helped elevate my marketing and product teams to have a strategic seat at the table and coincidentally has made me very successful in the “new” big data world and SaaS markets. Because marketing is becoming increasingly data driven, this is an important aspect that all marketers should all capitalize on. In addition to my analytic side, I also understand the power of team dynamics; I think I have a strong ability to build great teams and help my team members achieve their full potential by believing in them and keeping them up to high standards even they don’t think they can do it themselves. It is extremely rewarding to see them grow beyond their expectations and take new bigger challenges on their own later on..

(8) What is your biggest weakness?

One aspect of my work ethic that I consider to be my hubris is a lack of patience. When I see a problem I quickly roll up my sleeves to help my team, which isn’t always the best course of action. Sometimes it is ok (when an activity can be delayed) to let them have the time to “figure it out on their own” and learn skills at a their own pace. It builds stronger skills to move on to the next new challenge as a unit.

(9) What do you think is the aspect of your role most neglected by peers?   

I believe the strategic aspect of my role is the most neglected. Marketing is often associated simply with the mechanics to execute when the product is ready to deliver to sales so they can close deals. In reality, which is currently much more data-driven, our role can be more strategically leveraged by providing feedback and inputs on product usage and how products/services are bought (not always sold), to generate low-touch or even no-touch revenues for the company.

(10) Which word or phrase is your mantra and which word or phrase makes you squirm?

My mantra:  “Think Big”. My first Harvard MBA class was about capitalism and IBM. Their mantra was “Think”. I am big on execution but before starting any project I like to understand the big picture and the strategy that will be refined/modified as we face roadblocks on the path of execution. It proves to be extremely helpful to have a guideline to stick to and help us stay focused. I was very fond of “Think” because it summarized the strategy need as well as the focus for its execution. I added Big to it because if we spend so much time/energy (at least 12 hours a day), it should be for something “Big” that has an impact and makes a dent in the industry.

On the opposite side, any mantra that reduces the role of marketing to tactical or associates it with misleading customers really makes me squirm.

(11) What makes you stressed?

I am not stressed very often but unhappy customers or unplanned revenue decreases get my undivided attention.

(12) What do you do to relax?

I am really a globetrotter and love to travel abroad to both new and familiar places at least once or twice a year – and I usually have to combine that with some physical activity, hiking, swimming, mountain climbing, etc. And I do exercise several times a week to maintain the stamina of life in a Silicon Valley start-up.

(13) What is your favourite song?

I tend to like upbeat happy songs from Bollywood to Indie rock but I don’t have a favourite one. I like change when it comes to music and I love to listen to happy tunes in the morning going to work to have a great start of the day.

(14) Which book taught you most?

So many of them, it is difficult to select only one. My favorites are Innovator’s Dilemma (Clayton M. Christensen), Inside the Tornado (Geoffrey A. Moore), The Goal (Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox) and The Toilers of the Sea (Victor Hugo – the latter is a novel that demonstrates integrity, commitment, hard work, compassion and sense of sacrifice – which are all key characteristics of great leaders in my opinion).

(15) Do you have a team or sport that you follow?

No but I enjoy watching the Olympics (across many disciplines) and FIFA World Cup - cheering for the US and French teams, of course.

(16) Which country would you like to work in?

I have worked in a few different countries but I am happy right here in the United States and I would actually venture to call out Silicon Valley specifically as where I want to be.

Having said that, as the world gets smaller, I would be open to working in APAC more for a personal development standpoint to learn first-hand how business gets done there, so countries such as Singapore, Australia, China, and India.

(17) Which company do you think has the best marketing?

Apple is of course among the best-in-class for consumers as it is more aspirational marketing. For enterprises I would judge this more by highly satisfied customers (proactive positive feedback and testimonials), so I’m not really able to pick just one at that end of the market.

(18) What do you love most about your job?

I love the feeling of having an impact on the world and making progress every day. Learning more about our customers, adapting our strategy, helping other teams at Egnyte is truly fulfilling. I also enjoy seeing customer satisfaction increase, spontaneous referrals, and growth in our revenues. Measurable progress satisfies my mathematical side, which is very important to me. I thank the SaaS business and a great team of data scientists for being able to create this positive work experience.

(19) What is your favourite book?

Hmmm. This is a tough one. I love historical fiction, and sci-fi so my list is rather long but here are a few of my favourites:

  • The Cousins’ War series by Philippa Gregory
  • Les Rois Maudits (The Accursed Kings) by Maurice Druon
  • Dune by Frank Herbert

(20) What keeps you awake at night?

New ideas. There are so many things to try and track to understand behaviour, usage, or communication patterns. The future belongs to the ones who will understand their customers’ needs before they do while also being able to provide them with solutions. For that reason, I believe big data and predictive analytics are the way to differentiate yourself and your company as a CMO.