Human Resources

CMO Files: Jackie Yeaney, EVP, Strategy & Marketing, Red Hat

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'...

Name:  Jackie Yeaney  

Organisation: Red Hat

Job title: EVP, Strategy & Marketing     

Location:   Atlanta, GA





Where were you born and raised? 

I was born on a US Air Force Base in Utah, but raised in Ohio near Wright Patterson AFB until age 11 when we moved to New Hampshire—which I have considered ‘home base’ ever since.

What was your first job? 

My first job was as an assistant at a place called Edgcomb Metals down the street from my high school. They sold steel beams. I swear it was a scene straight out of ‘The Office’—they just sold steel, instead of paper. I answered the phone, filed papers, and processed orders. I spent my breaks connecting with sales. I felt somewhat like ‘Pam’—the young, energetic, naïve one.

What was the first product you got really excited about?   

Oh that’s easy. I remember being so very, very excited about my first Sony Walkman. It was amazing to take my music with me, wherever I went.

Who has been the biggest influence on your career? 

That’s not as easy. There have been several truly influential ones—without any one of which I wouldn’t be where I am today. But when all is said and done, I’d have to say my current boss has been my biggest influence, President and CEO of Red Hat—Jim Whitehurst. I’ve been working with him on and off since 1996. He is intellectually the most brilliant person I know, yet he doesn’t have one ounce of ego to go with that brilliance. He genuinely believes everyone has ideas worth hearing and investigating and he is the most amazing role model when it comes to being a ‘whole person’—a tough business person, inspiring leader, family man, awesome friend, community activist, and a healthy human being. But perhaps most important to me is that he has always believed in me--probably often more than I believed in myself, and for that I’m forever grateful. 

What has been your greatest achievement?

I’ve had the privilege of leading hundreds of projects, strategies, programs, and campaigns over the years that I was excited to be a part of. It is hard to single one out. Overall though, I believe my greatest achievement(s) always come from when I’ve been able to have an impact on someone else’s life and career. This may sound like an odd answer, but I promise you there is nothing more rewarding than when someone tells you that you’ve made a difference in his/her life.  It is so gratifying to know that you helped them accomplish something they didn’t think they could or provided them with a clearer path or helped them become more of that ‘whole person’.  Helping others achieve their hopes, dreams, aspirations or just a more balanced life multiplies the impact any of us can have in this world.

What has been your biggest mistake?  

Oh, there have been many, but I have tried to learn something from them all. One that stands out in my mind is when I was a consultant at The Boston Consulting Group. At the time I had the naïve impression that others would only ask me to take on tasks that were ‘reasonable’ and that they would help me along my career path. It took me awhile to realize that I had to solidify my own dreams, chart my own path, and set my own boundaries. This was my life and no one else’s. 

At the time my husband was an officer in the US Air Force and we had two small children. Working 100 hours a week as a management consultant was not a sustainable notion for us. I had to find a better balance, learn to say “no” and create more realistic goals. It hit me hard one day when I called my manager and told him I had to have unexpected surgery 4 months after delivering my daughter. I asked him if it was ‘ok’.  He said ‘No, we have a critical read out to the client in a week.’  I hung up. I stared at the wall for 20 minutes and then I called him back. “I’m sorry. This is a surgery I must do this week. I didn’t mean to ask permission. I will work with the team and the client to ensure everything is on track.” That was the right answer, of course. But the bigger mistake was that I felt so guilty that I returned to work and traveling far sooner than I should have. A one-week recovery turned into several months because I was scared to upset my manager. 

That was my wake up call. Once I started setting boundaries, people around me actually respected that and ironically, I ended up becoming a far more effective consultant and more efficient with my own time and energy.

What is your greatest strength? 

I believe my gift in life is that I was blessed with the combination of intellectual horsepower (Thanks, Dad) and an empathetic, engaging heart (Thanks, Mom). I strive to lead by example and show others they can succeed by being their ‘true selves’ as opposed to being some political animal playing corporate games to get ahead. 

This combination of intellect and empathy allows me to ensure my team – including my own family – has a North Star that points us all in the same direction; we know what we are aiming for. I also seem to have the ability to successfully rally them to get there. I help get us to the right places, both literally and mentally, and help pick the right battles for whatever environment we find ourselves in. Much of this has to do with getting the right people on the team to begin with (not the family, of course). That’s something I’ve learned over the years – it’s actually more important to hire for cultural fit than it is to hire for intellect and experience. That helps get everyone to coalesce and be on the same page. Truthfully, it actually makes my job a lot easier, too.

What is your biggest weakness? 

I tend to be completely open and honest with everything I’m thinking and feeling. This can be a precarious position to take in corporate settings because I never hold any ‘cards’ back. Everyone around me knows exactly where I stand. Some people can, and have, taken advantage of this, but I find the notion of being my ‘true self’ to be worth that risk. One of my wishes is that more people behave as their true selves no matter what job or situation they find themselves in. The world’s increasingly complex problems require diverse points of view, different ways of thinking and creative problem solving. 

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

In general, marketing has a more strategic seat at the executive table, which is fantastic.  However, it is often hard for non-marketers at a product led company to understand that before we talk about the ‘speeds and feeds’ or the technical features of our products and solutions—we need to communicate broadly who we are, why we exist and why we believe we have a unique value proposition that helps customers with their problems. My non-marketing peers often forget that our B2B customers are people too. They largely make their decisions based on brands, trust, and emotion, just as we all do for consumer products. 

It’s also hard for those not directly involved in marketing to understand how increasingly complicated the data gathering and analysis has become over the last couple of years. It is becoming paramount that CIOs and CMOs sit down together and craft joint infrastructure plans for how to gather, analyse, and respond in real time to get customers what they want to know at the right time, in the right channel. 

Which word or phrase is your mantra and which word or phrase makes you squirm?
Two mantras:  (1) “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”- Maya Angelou. We are all human beings first. Long after that job, project or initiative is done people will most likely only remember how they FELT. This mantra reminds me to treat everyone with the respect we all deserve.

(2) “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less travelled by, And that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost. From joining the US Air Force, to having an at-home husband, to shifting from engineering to marketing—I like to say ‘Why not?!’ and take the less obvious route. It’s made life quite the adventure.

Here’s a phrase that makes me squirm:  When people start their conversation with ‘No disrespect, but…’ or  ‘To be brutally honest…’  Right when I hear either of these, I’m sure the person saying them is about to say something disrespectful and my ears immediately shut.

What makes you stressed?

I find that I don’t get stressed about a particular situation or project. For me it’s more the notion of ‘how on earth am I going to get everything done and be everywhere I’m supposed to be because there is simply not enough time in the day?!’ It hits me the hardest on Sunday nights and Monday mornings, when I’m mentally and literally trying to map out that week. For big strategic projects I alleviate this anxiety by planning ‘check-ins’ with the right people all along the project timeline. For family activities, I map out in advance when I plan to make it to those soccer games. Once I get to Sunday night, I’m filling in minor details and am fairly confident I’ve handled the larger chunks.  

What do you do to relax? 

If I’m feeling the stress, the first thing I do is head to the gym and work out until I'm exhausted. In general, though, I love to read and I’m part of a book club to ensure I don’t let that slide. I also love cooking dinner for the family with a glass of wine by my side, and hiking with my husband, which we’ve enjoyed doing together since we first met 26 years ago.  I enjoy playing board/party/card games with the family and I’m a little embarrassed to admit that you might often find me playing Words With Friends and Where’s My Water. I am also a big fan of concerts/live music with friends and family. But probably the thing that relaxes me most is when I get to be with my family in New Hampshire. Whenever I am there I quickly feel the stress slide away. 

What is your favorite song? 

U2 has been my favorite band since I was about 16 years old.  My favorite song I think is ‘Elevation’ because I have a vivid memory of being at a U2 concert with my husband and three kids. I recall looking over at them as Bono is singing this song and all four of them are jumping up and down, hands in the air, screaming out the words.  I’m smiling just thinking about it.

Which book taught you most? 

Goodness. There have been so many books over a lifetime. How to name just one?  I will cheat a little and select two where core ideas have solidified in my mind and I tend to rely on them daily. The first book I’m thinking of is ‘Open Leadership’, written by my friend, Charlene Li, who also co-wrote Groundswell (another powerful book). Charlene defines open leadership as ‘the confidence and humility to give up the need to be in control, while inspiring commitment from people to accomplish goals.’ This is the type of leader I strive to be.

The other book is ‘Outliers’ by Malcom Gladwell. One of his concepts that I hold on tightly to is: “There are three basic things people need in order for work to be satisfying--automony, complexity, and a connection between their effort and reward.”  Remembering this as we craft goals, strategies, tactics, teams, and outcomes helps me ensure we are keeping the people themselves at the center of it all. It’s all for nought if you don’t have an engaged team.

Do you have a team or sport that you follow? 

Well first and foremost I cheer on the Men’s Div I Soccer Team at the University of Hartford and the Georgia United U16 soccer team where my two boys play. We are one of those soccer families. My daughter played through high school as well. But if we are talking professional sports--I am a Boston fan so I fanatically follow the Patriots, Bruins, Red Sox, and Celtics. If I have to pick one of those, it’s the Patriots. My husband and I were lucky enough to be able to go to the 2004 Super Bowl when the Patriots beat the Panthers. Sometimes we joke that it was the ‘best day of my life.’ The kids want to know why it wasn’t when they were born. But Super Bowl day was ALL fun—no stress, no pain. Just cheering and beer!

Which country would you like to work in?

I have often dreamed of working in Japan, specifically Tokyo. I find the Japanese to have a fascinating culture and I very much respect the ‘order’ they put to things—you just have to work to understand what that order is.  

Which company do you think has the best marketing?

It’s hard for me to admit this, being a staunch advocate for open source, but I think I'd have to go with Apple. They have been crystal clear in what they stand for –the user and their experience – for years.  And they back that up with how they design, deliver and support their products.

What do you love most about your job?

I love working in marketing because of the wonderful intersection of creativity, analytics, and the customer. I love being the guardian of a brand, especially Red Hat’s, because I believe brands have souls and Red Hat has a unique one with our open source culture. I love solving problems with the people I get to work with every day. I love that I work with an insanely passionate group of people, who truly believe we are changing the world for the better. Marketing is truly the most fun aspect of a business AND you can have a large impact on your company’s trajectory.

What is your favourite book?

Again, I’m a bookworm, and I’ve read so many. I’d hate to choose just one as a favorite. It was hard enough picking the Patriots over the other Boston teams!  I’m tempted to go back in time to a book I read over and over again as a young teen: ‘The Hobbit’. I remember being fascinated with that imaginary world and completely drawn to Frodo’s bravery. I embarked on complex school projects--analyzing all the characters, drawing my own version of the scenes with fabric paint, and relating the story to other situations. Maybe I’ll pick it up yet again.  

What keeps you awake at night?

Luckily, I tend to be one of those people where not too much, ‘keeps me up at night.’ I have proof since I use the Jawbone UP band to monitor my sleep. Unfortunately, I have always been one who needs 7-8 hours to be at my best the next day. If I AM awake at night, it tends to be something in relation to my family. When something goes terribly wrong for your parents, sibling, spouse or kids, it’s difficult not to get emotional.  


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