Cisco's marketing director on the secrets to her success and her 'thunderbolt' moment

Emma Roffey, senior marketing director at Cisco and Ignite 2017 keynote speaker, tells us what she learned from a brief spell in telesales and discusses her 'thunderbolt' moment

My first experience of school wasn’t great…

I went to a local village primary school that was run by an ex-sergeant major, who I was really scared of. I don’t know whether he had something to do with me being something of a late developer – but I do know that I didn’t particularly enjoy my first experience of the education system.

Lesson learned: I knew from primary school that I’d hate to work in an environment where staff were managed by fear, and that’s something I’ve felt very strongly about ever since.

Secondary school was where I blossomed (I even ended up being head girl)

Once I started secondary school I began to come into my own. In fact, my parents thought school had sent home the wrong report as they didn’t believe it was mine! It was during secondary school that I started to get a taste for leadership (I remember my drama teacher suggesting I give someone else the chance to play the king or queen role), and ended up eventually becoming head girl.

Lesson learned: Not to rest on my laurels. My favourite subject was geography, but despite finishing top of year in one exam, my teacher said I had to be careful not to become complacent. English wasn’t my strong point, so I had to ask what she meant by ‘complacent’ (I was young) – but once I’d worked it out I decided I hated the thought of people seeing me in that way. It was a thunderbolt moment and has helped shape me ever since.

Emma is one of our Ignite 2017 keynote speakers on Thursday 22 June in London. Don't miss Emma's frank and eye-opening presentation - Cisco: A transformation story – how to achieve radical change in your marketing culture, people and process.

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My first jobs taught me about the importance of metrics

Although as a student I worked on a pick-your-own farm (it was years before I could eat a strawberry again), my first proper job was working as a telesales executive at VNU, where I was cold-calling for an epic eight hours a day. What was it like? Hard but rewarding, and very target-orientated. The culture, in which I thrived, was pretty much ‘work hard/play hard’.

Lesson learned: Telesales was a fantastic grounding and it taught me to be resilient and to listen. I was also aware early on of the importance of being customer-focused and responsive, and am now a big lover of targets and metrics. In fact, my old MD at Ziff Davis once said of me: “If she can measure it, she’ll do it.”

I prefer not to dwell on the worst thing that ever happened to me professionally…

…but while working in a sales role in a male-dominated IT industry, I definitely experienced sexual harassment…

Lesson learned: Well, I certainly didn’t let it stop me – I didn’t dwell on it; it just made me even more determined to succeed.

I wish I could master the art of communication

I learned early on in my career that different people can interpret the same messages in different ways – some people will have a sleepless night over a so-called throwaway comment their colleagues barely pick up on. I remember asking the trainer in a management training course: “Do I really have to think about what I say all the time?” And the answer, of course, was: “Yes”.

Lesson learned: I try to be as authentic as I can be – clear and personable. People tend to respond well when you’re clear.

I’m better at my job when there’s balance in my life

I have teenage daughters and they always provide me with a bit of perspective on what’s important and what’s not. There is nothing – and I really do mean nothing – more important than your family and your health; sometimes work just has to wait.

Lesson learned: My motto is: fit body, fit mind – sport always helps me switch off and get some perspective, and, ultimately, gives me more energy so I can do a better job at work.