Sasha Casas: I’m here with Michelle Spolver, our SVP and Chief Communications Officer here at ForeScout. Michelle, tell us about your role.
Michelle Spolver: My role at ForeScout is to drive communications for the company. The functions that fall underneath me include public relations, social media, employee communications, executive communications and investor relations.
Sasha: You have a team that manages all of those functions but you also personally manage the entire IR program. How did you get into IR?
Michelle: I started my career in the entertainment industry as a publicist and realized very quickly that I needed to align myself with something that was going to challenge me every single day. That’s how I got into technology and network security. The industry and the field changes daily. You can’t be complacent. You have to continue to evolve. About halfway through my career, I figured okay now I have this mastered, what can I do that’s going to continue to challenge me? I have a journalism degree and I come from the writing side, which requires you to use the right side of your brain. And I felt like investor relations, which is a lot of finance and uses the left side of your brain, would be something that would constantly challenge me.
Sasha: Was there an IR role open that you leapt into?
Michelle: No, actually at the time I was being recruited by a company for a role of heading up public relations and analyst relations. I said to them, “If you really want me, I will do that job, but you also need to give me the opportunity to do investor relations.” This was a pre-IPO company so the risk was less in regard to SEC regulations, etc. I said, “Give me a chance to learn the job. Give me a chance to prove that I can do the job before the job is a real job.” And so I did. I did my day job on the PR and comms side. Outside of that, I took it upon myself to learn about investor relations. I took an accounting class. I found a mentor. I read and read and read everything I could about the function. I started to realize that on the days I would have an investor meeting on my calendar, I would come to work feeling excited. And I found along the way that investor relations is something I’m truly passionate about. I enjoyed doing it and now, almost 10 years later, I still very much enjoy doing it.
Sasha: And look, you’ve taken two companies public! Can you give us some insight into what that process is like?
Michelle: Yes, actually it’s funny because people say that doing an IPO is one of the most demanding and difficult things you could do in your career. As well as one of the most rewarding things. I would absolutely say that’s true. There are so many factors involved and ultimately the stars need to align to enable an IPO, let alone a successful IPO. Those things often include: a company has to be ready. You have to have all of the things that fall into that realm which is having the right revenue stream, having the right management team in place, back office and functions aligned and where they need to be in predictability and consistency in the business. If you’re fortunate enough to have that, then you also need to have a little luck and be able to time a company’s readiness with an open market window. So, not only does the company need to be ready, but the market needs to be ready. And very, very rarely are those two things aligned.
Sasha: What would you say has been the biggest lesson you learned throughout your career?
Michelle: At the end of the day, if you deliver value, if you do good work, your work speaks for itself and you can be successful. Along the way, try to be authentic. Understand that if you’re delivering value, you can still be yourself and be successful.
Don’t be afraid to speak up. That’s another thing women tend to do is to curtail their voice. Speak up, add value, if what you’re saying is meaningful and you can make a difference, people actually want to hear it. But, pick your battles wisely. Don’t fight every battle and don’t get upset if you lose a battle. At least you know that you put in a good fight.
Lastly, as I’ve risen through the ranks in my career I’ve made a point to stay involved and never get so out of touch with what your team is doing and the functions that you’re managing that you couldn’t step in and do it yourself if needed.
Sasha: As an executive what advice would you give other aspiring leaders?
Michelle: A few things:
- Deliver value and to deliver quality work. Be reliable, be dependable and be an example for others across the organization.
- Interpersonal skills are key. Do great work but understand that soft skills are really important as well. Can you communicate effectively across an organization, upwards and downwards? Can you orchestrate the level of support you need to get initiatives across the line? Are you a great team player? Are you respected across your company and can you motivate others?
- Take time to broaden your skillset. Never lose the desire to want to learn and improve throughout the course of your career. Push yourself to go outside your comfort zone. The biggest growth opportunities come in the times that you are least comfortable.
- As you rise the corporate ladder, take every step along the way and master each of those steps. Don’t worry so much about getting to the top as to mastering each set of skills it takes to get to the top.
- Lastly, take your job and career seriously, but don’t forget what is truly important to you – what makes your heart beat and really motivates you whether it’s your children, a nonprofit, a spouse, and in my case it’s my French bulldog, Oliver!