Women in Leadership is a blog series dedicated to highlighting influential women behind The Dude. In it, we'll explore topics like how they came to the tech space, what they're working on and where they see the industry going.
This month, meet Karen Waggener, Chief Financial Officer.
Q: What was your experience like leading up to Dude Solutions? Had you worked in a tech environment before?
Most of my career has been with some form of technology company, so that would be for the past 30 years. I started in a regional public accounting firm but quickly realized I loved business, so I moved into corporate accounting and finance. As I gained experience and moved into management, I learned how much I enjoyed leading, creating better process, and working on strategies for growth and process excellence. I often get asked why tech companies, and the answer is that tech companies are always evolving and changing in order to stay relevant. I enjoy the variety and evolution tech companies provide. I was also fortunate to get early experience in M&A and found that it was something I really enjoyed. By the time I had my first CFO role 15 years ago, I had settled myself into high-growth, private equity-backed technology companies and have gained so much from the organizations and people I have been lucky enough to work with.
Q: Do you consider yourself a leader at this company? What do you feel you bring to your role that inspires others to see you as a leader?
Absolutely, and not just of my team but as an executive. My leadership responsibility encompasses all of The Dude.
What I bring is experience, mentorship, ability to empower others and I like to think I have a strong EQ, so I can help those around me understand their passion and what energizes them. I like to find each person’s “super power”, then harness and encourage that in them. I also have developed over the years the ability to set a vision, gain trust in and from my team, and move it forward.
Q: What projects or goals are you working on or leading currently?
There are many projects of all sizes in the works on my team. I am a strong believer in process improvement initiatives. In a growth company you can never get ahead of process and scalability, so you must continuously work on them. A couple key areas my team is working on is streamlining Quote to Cash, Optimizing Business Systems and Process Excellence. Each of these have many projects within. For example, we are implementing a new contract management tool in legal, working on operation/process for CSC to align and roll into a PSA tool (Professional Services Automation). The list goes on.
Q: What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishments or wins while at The Dude or in other tech-related ventures?
My best accomplishments come from hiring the right folks on my team. As you move up the ranks, you get further away from day-to-day tactical work. As a result, you must hire the right people. Sometimes people hire people just like them or with less skillset than them so they can teach as a leader. I have found what works well as an executive is to identify the skill gaps on the team and in yourself and hire talent to fills those. Also, in a growth company, make sure to hire folks that can scale with the organization. If you do that right, you will lead by teaching and also lead by following. Another outcome is the satisfaction of seeing folks grow in their career when I’ve played a little part in mentoring them.
Other areas would be doing M&A deals on both the buy side and sell side. Those projects are always challenging and a great sense of satisfaction getting them completed.
Q: What, if any, have been your challenges navigating being a leader in this industry?
It is hard to put my finger on any one thing because I learned a lot from the little challenges as my career evolved. I guess for me early on it was being in a male-dominated industry 20 to 30 years ago. After that it would be learning the hard way of how valuable it is to have the right team, so hiring the right folks and creating a trusted team environment is key.
Q: Do you have any thoughts you’d like to share about being a woman in the tech field, or advice for other women carving out a space?
Yes: not only have a voice, have conviction. You are at the table for a reason and your perspective is valuable. Voice it and own it.
Q: Where would you like to see the industry go?
In SaaS, the sky is the limit. We have an opportunity to continue carving new frontiers to go tackle, which is why I love tech so much. It is ever-changing and always interesting.
Q: How do you feel your leadership is helping drive the industry in a positive direction?
Being a woman in a tech company that has been at it for 30+ years, I hope I have a carved a little path for other women. I love mentoring young professionals and not just women. If I can have some small influence on a future leader that makes them much better than I ever was, then I feel like I have done something right.
Q: What do you think makes for a good leader?
Empathy, courage, trust, authenticity and humility.
Q: In what ways do you help create leaders?
It is in the small mentoring moments. I do have people want to meet for an hour mentoring session, which is valuable, but I also believe how I show up in meetings, the support I try to give to my team, the feedback I encourage and try to emulate, and just being a good role model is what makes the most contribution.
Q: Who has been a leader you’ve learned from?
There are many. I was always observing people in my early career, and still today, to look for attributes I both admire and dislike. I would take the good leadership traits that I admired and tried to work on them. Similarly, when I saw a behavior that was not respectable in my mind, I would make sure to try and not do that or be that way. It is as much what you learn not to do or be as a leader as it is to learn what to do. I also believe leadership must come from a place of authenticity in yourself. No two people are exactly alike, nor can any two leaders be exactly alike.
Q: What lessons have you learned being a leader?
So many but here are a few:
It’s not about me; it's about the team.
I am only as good as the people I surround myself with.
Good people hire good people. Define “good” for yourself and hire that.
Leading takes courage and sometimes that courage is following.
Q: How does your leadership not only influence Dude team members, but also our clients?
It may sound cliché, but I like to think my leadership motivates people to do things they never thought they could do and do the best work of their lives.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to include?
This life and the work you do are not a dress rehearsal. Remember that every day and be the best version of yourself/leader that you can.