Interns into executives: An interview with Brenda Kirk, part 1

Welcome to the “interns into executives” series, which, over the next few weeks, will include interviews with women executives who are leading Hyland.

As young women in a corporate setting, we are intrigued by the success of many women here at Hyland, and we think others are as well. So we set up interviews with a few women in executive positions and are publishing a blog series that empowers others to follow in their footsteps.

First up is Brenda Kirk, senior vice president of corporate strategy and product. Enjoy!

1. How did you get to this point in your career?

I’m here because of the amazing growth in this organization. As new opportunities and challenges emerged, I took advantage of them. I think the most important aspect of my career path has been that I never set out that way; I’ve tended to follow an uncharted path.

When I was in school, I thought I was going into accounting. When I finished school, I worked for a Fortune 500 company in real estate, and when I left there, I came to a technology company, even though I knew nothing about technology.

My path at Hyland has been one that is probably similar to many people at our organization, which is, with explosive growth and great technology comes a lot of great opportunities you can make the most of. That’s what I did. I came in as a straight commission sales person, selling into a territory and a business that we didn’t actually have established when Hyland hired me, so I had to form that and figure it out along the way. Over time, I became responsible for the entire sales organization.

When I left that position about 10 years later, I, again, went into newly charted ground in our strategy position. It was really intended to help make sure we were preserving what we thought was most important to the company as we grew. Because we were growing so quickly, there wasn’t really anyone who was making sure we were still doing all the right things.

Most of our growth was a process of evolution, rather than by design. So there was a lot of opportunity to take a step back and make sure we were doing the right thing for our employees, our customers, our partners and our products.

Over the course of the next five years or so in that role, I worked very closely with the product side of our house. When our CTO retired, I was asked to take over his responsibilities, which was, again, kind of a natural transition for me.

2. What woman inspires you and why?

I would have to defer to Sheryl Sandberg right now. I think that I have not seen a woman leader, or any one person, who has inspired me more than she has in recent years. I think anybody who can overcome the adversity and the challenges that she has, while still maintaining the presence and objectivity that she has in her role, is impressive.

I think we all face challenges in our lives, hopefully not to the magnitude that Sheryl has,but the way that she has chosen to carry herself and carry her message to inspire leaders of all walks of life, all ages, all career paths, is incredibly selfless and inspiring.

3. Looking back at your career, was there an obstacle that you overcame to help you get to where you are today?

I think the biggest obstacle was not having the information I thought I needed, or not having the formal education that I thought I needed, in order to be successful. Ironically, I just read an email from Harvard Business Review that discusses how leaders still need to act even when they don’t have all the information they need.

This taught me two things. The first is to surround yourself with smart, capable, willing people. I realized very quickly that I had to find people around me who could augment my skills and offset my weaknesses. That is something that I have taken with me in every step of my career. It is more about figuring out how to work with teams and form teams that can do the work, rather than trying to do all of the work by yourself.

The second thing is to never stop learning. The moment you think you know everything is probably the day you should step away. For me, it’s not about trying to master everything, it’s about continuous learning, and I still love to do that every day.

Technology affords you the opportunity where literally, something is changing every day. Our business is so diverse and it touches so many different areas of the world and types of businesses and roles and responsibilities – it’s really a phenomenal set of exposures that keeps learning fresh every day.

4. Work-life balance seems to be kind of a big deal here at Hyland. Do you have any tips for balancing personal and professional life?

Work-life balance is all about how you choose to paint your canvas. It’s sort of an art, rather than a science. I think the way that I try to prioritize what goes on in my world doesn’t necessarily have work being more important than my personal life, or my personal life being more important than my work, but rather trying to look at the priorities next to each other.

So if it’s a meeting, can I dial in so I can make it to the hockey game on time? I will figure out a way to get that done. Working for an organization that supports this so fully and freely makes that available to me.

I love my job and I love the company I work for, but in the end, my family is always going to be more important. There are times when things that are happening at work have a time frame and an urgency to them that is out of our control, so when you have a level of balance on the other side, it tends to even out in the end. Making sure that I get to the important events on the personal front gives me the freedom and flexibility when times get a little tight at work.

5. What is the biggest challenge you face as a female leader in the tech industry?

I don’t know if it’s different than any leader in general. I think leadership goes far beyond the organizations that we sit in. Leadership is in our communities, in our schools, in our colleges, and with our youth.

I really believe a challenge these days is the lack of focus on science, technology, engineering, and math for kids. Inspiring young females, and males alike, to want to explore these fields is the biggest opportunity that we have.

As a female leader, it’s pretty powerful to sit in a room with young folks who are really focused on figuring out their path, and to let them know that being excited about something that has generally been a male-dominated field is okay and it’s something that they should do full force. I wish that we could get to them sooner, and explain to them that there are no zip codes, no gender, no age that’s too old, too young, or too masculine or too anything. Serving as a power of example, there is no one better than that individual to pursue a career in technology.

That said, I think the numbers speak for themselves: we don’t have enough females joining the technology space. I think that is our biggest challenge as female leaders – to try to inspire those who are growing up right now to join this field. I think technology in and of itself, is the way that we have the biggest opportunity to shape our future and shape the future of the world, and I want more little girls thinking that they can do that too.

Tune in next week for part 2, where we’ll talk more with Brenda about Hyland, the best part of her job and what advice she would have for her intern-aged self.


Marin Kirk & Taylor Salamone

Marin Kirk is an intern in Hyland’s Corporate Communications group. She is about to be a sophomore at the University of Cincinnati. Taylor Salamone is a Corporate Communications intern at... read more about: Marin Kirk & Taylor Salamone

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