Mastering Marketing & Rising to the C-Suite

Laurie Ehrbar, CMO

  • Laurie Ehrbar is someone I speak to nearly every weekday. She is the CMO of the company where I currently work. So, she is my boss’s boss! We obviously talk about work a lot and have the occasional chat about our family and leisure time. But it was great to hear about her career and quick ascension in such a male-dominated industry to the C-Suite at a software company.

Laurie began her career in the B2B and the technology space of event marketing before she ventured into financial services. “My combined interest in marketing and technology found a home in the banking industry at Waterhouse Securities,” she said. “I was hired to aid in their rebranding, strategy, and announcement of the Initial Public Offering (IPO) of TD Waterhouse across all online media.” 

She obviously made a good impression; immediately following the IPO, she was asked to co-head Customer Acquisition for both the bank and brokerage arms of the company, making VP at just age 26. “The rest is, as they say, history. I went on to attract the attention of other large financial institutions like Citigroup and software companies like ServiceNow, and continued to work in digital strategy, media, and partnerships in some form ever since.”

Now she is the CMO of Bizagi, a Business Process Management and Automation software organization. She describes her average day at work as making her way through a very long laundry list of both strategic and tactical initiatives – a list that seems to grow throughout the day. “I try my best to catch up with members of my team and department heads around the organization every day. I think internal meetings, over those with external agencies and vendors, should always be where I spend most of my time,” she said.

Solving problems and paying it forward

Laurie has done well to crack the world of financial services and tech marketing. I asked her what she liked so much about finserv, as it’s the area that she’s spent the majority of her career. “Simply put: creative solutions and problem solvers are celebrated,” she said.

Both in the financial services and software spaces, her marketing expertise has helped her to succeed. For anyone who is considering a career in marketing, she says that internships are key. “It’s that foundational, on the job learning, that can really help you find what you enjoy. Marketing covers a lot and not all of it is for everyone so finding what you enjoy and where you can add value is essential.”

She also credits where she’s got thanks to people who she’s met along the way. “The people who inspired me the most were those that had faith in me, gave me more responsibility and supported me and my career. It’s because of them that I pay it forward and do the same. I often think about how their faith in me, made me have faith in myself.”

Now she’s paying it forward by supporting her co-workers at Bizagi. Managing a global team, and various projects, she’s spread thin but always makes time for everyone. She’s keen to use new initiatives to push the boundaries and is well aware of the importance of tech trends in tech marketing.  “I think companies will begin to use all the data they’ve been collecting more efficiently. For example, they’ll use data to create more intuitive customer experiences. Also, cloud will be viewed as the only option and on premises will be considered no more secure than a rusty old file cabinet.”

Laurie and the Bizagi marketing team, October 2019

Marking the calendar for family time

Laurie’s professional life has had some incredible highlights so far, including making VP at age 26, and even doing a deal with former Microsoft CEO, Steve Balmer. “All were very exciting, but I’d say career highlights pale in comparison to family highlights. I’m most proud of how I’ve found balance during it all. I should rephrase…how I insisted on balance and wouldn’t budge,” she says with a wink. “It’s made it possible to do what I do and be a good mom.”

Juggling a family of three children and a dog means it’s hard to turn off, but Laurie says it is necessary to take the time to be present with her family. “I work from home and that allows me, when I’m not traveling, to be there for dinner, sports and the day to day. The most important part is being available to listen when they have a problem. As my kids have gotten older just being present as much as possible is the most important thing I can do.”

Laurie is very organized at the work, and the same can be said of her personal life. “My family calendar is everything. My kids often mimic me by saying, ‘Is it in the calendar? If not, I have no idea what you’re talking about,’ which is my go-to statement if something falls through the cracks like a birthday party or sporting event. If it isn’t in the calendar, then it’s not on my radar!”

When she’s not juggling work and whatever is written in her calendar, she’s certainly not one for sitting still (unless it’s in a yoga pose or reading a book). “I’m a mom of three, so my spare time is spent doing anything and everything for them. I try my best to incorporate the two. For example, cooking involves trying new recipes, often desserts, with my kids helping me create and eat them. I even read side by side with my youngest on my evenings.”

Challenging male bias

Like many career-women, Laurie has experienced sexist behaviour and male bias, and says it is far more prevalent in software than in any other industry she has worked in. “My list of examples is long and 90% of them are in software.”

“An example of one of the many ‘boys’ club’ conversations I’ve experienced in software was with a man I respected both personally and professionally – as a result it stung a bit more than if I didn’t like him. However, this example illustrates how male bias slips into daily conversation.

“Me and this person, we’ll call him Mike, were talking about someone in another department who kept dropping the ball and on everything we requested from them. The person who dropped the ball happened to be a woman. I explained to him that I honestly didn’t know how to get around her to accomplish what we needed. And Mike’s response was, ‘Laurie, you just don’t like her. That’s all.’

“I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. He boiled down my valid concerns into a ‘girl’ thing. I’m 100% certain that he never would have said that to a man. Can you imagine? Jim, you just don’t like Bill. That would never happen. It’s those comments, however small, that pile up.”

Rather than seeing it as active prejudice, she sees it more as bias; conclusion bias. Laurie highlights the dichotomy that women are so often faced with: if a woman is quiet, she’s seen by men as weak. But if she’s vocal, she’s seen as bitchy. She’s not the first woman I’ve heard use that example.  

“No matter what a woman says or does those conclusions are stuck in their heads. I think as women we get used to being talked over, so we become either much quieter or much louder.  The middle is simply not an option. In a room full of men, all day, every day, it certainly makes those more prone to shyness, shrink in certain situations.”

One thing’s for sure, Laurie is no shrinking violet. She is confident enough to speak her mind in the office and get things done, which has driven her success to where she is now. And perhaps most importantly of all, she’s found the balance between work and family life. If you want to have some time with her though, just make sure it’s in the calendar!

Quick-fire questions

  • Are you a morning lark or a night owl?    Morning 
  • Active holiday or relaxing holiday?   Active, definitely! 
  • Cats or dogs?    Dogs 
  • What are you watching on Netflix right now?   Ozark, and I just finished Tiger King 😉 
  • All-time favourite music album?    WOW that’s hard. Maybe Prince Sign O The Times but I like all kinds of music so it’s hard to name one album 
  • Biggest weakness?   Personal – I care too much. Food related – Cheese covered French fries 😊  
  • What’s your favourite season?  Fall 
  • Favourite snack?   Avocado on wheat toast 
  • Favourite weekend activity?    Hiking  
  • Your favourite female icon?   Louisa May Alcott or Harper Lee (I love great female writers). But also Helen Keller so inspirational

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