Meet Jenny Dearborn, Senior Vice Present, Chief Learning Officer, SAP

When you talk about Leadership, Management, Human Relations, Sales, and Excellence and someone who is one of the most inspiring, leading positive role models in Silicon Valley - Jenny Dearborn’s name will come up.

Jenny is Senior Vice President and Chief Learning Officer of SAP, the world’s largest business-to-business software company, and is accountable for the learning and development of the 75,000 SAP employees worldwide. She has won many top industry awards, including recognition as one of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Technology by the National Diversity Council in 2014 and 2015.

Her invaluable interviews with more than 100 global leaders,...has led to her best seller: Data Driven - How Performance Analytics Delivers Extraordinary Sales Results. In the high tech universe, Jenny serves as a highly regarded advocate and inspiration for many. Please enjoy this delightful conversation with Jenny Dearborn...

Q: Where were you born and raised? Where did you go to school and what did you study?

JD: I was born in Marin, California and raised K-12 in Davis, California. I graduated from Davis High School in 1987, American River College with an AA in Social Science in 1989, UC Berkeley with a BA in English in 1991, Stanford University with a MA in Education and a Teaching Credential in 1993, and San Jose State University with a MBA in Organizational Development in 2003.

Q: Where do you work? What do you do? What has been your path leading you to today?

JD: I work at SAP, the world’s largest business software company. As the Chief Learning Officer, I’m accountable for the training, education, development and readiness of SAP’s 75,000 employees world-wide. I am in Human Resources and report to the Chief Human Resources Officer who reports to the CEO. I started as a high school English, Public Speaking and Drama teacher at Woodside High School. After two years I transitioned to corporate education as an instructor at Hewlett-Packard teaching the personal development, management and leadership courses. I worked my way up through all the various roles in corporate learning and education including carrying a quota in Sales selling learning services to external corporate customers and partners. I’ve worked at a small learning technology start-up that went public (Docent, now Sum Total Systems), and had a succession of executive roles with increasing responsibility in Human Resources, Sales & Services at Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems (acquired by Oracle), SuccessFactors and SAP. I’ve been a Chief Learning Officer at four different companies.

Q: Who and what inspired you along your path to be where you are?

JD: I am severely Dyslexic, have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and mild OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and was undiagnosed until age 18. The most formative part of my early life was growing up knowing that I was very smart and capable, but placed in the lower tracked and Special Education classes at school. I felt that my early education years were wasted. I felt great resentment towards the teachers and school system and vowed to make a difference in the education system so no student would ever experience the frustration and humiliation that I went through in my K-12 years. I felt great passion to drive change in our education system. This fire got me started in education, then after 2 years as a high school teacher I transitioned to the corporate education world for the opportunity to apply exciting and growing new learning technology to impact learners on a mass scale.

Q: What do you like most about what you do?

JD: There are so many things I like, that I can’t say what I like the most. I love my team, they are hands down the best professionals I’ve ever worked with in my career. My peers are awesome and my manager is visionary and just an all-around great guy. I love the type of work that I do, it’s challenging and rewarding. I love the variety in the work I do – leading the function at my company, helping customers solve complex business challenges, writing articles and speaking at conferences on topics that are important to me like data analytics, business strategy, the future of workplace and diversity & inclusion.

Q: You have learned so much about the special dynamics of Leadership … First, what is your definition of Leadership?

JD: Great leaders inspire a common purpose, collaboratively create a shared vision and translate that vision into reality. Leadership is about action and driving results for the greatest good, great leaders see solutions where others only see challenges and obstacles. Great leaders know that people want to “make a dent in the universe” as Steve Jobs famously said, and make the world a better place. This comes through empowering others to achieve their greatest potential. “Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” —Peter Drucker Great leaders have the humility to be a servant leader to their people, they instinctively redirect all credit to the team when praise comes and absorb all blame when criticism comes. They are slow to punish and swift to reward. Leadership is about the courage to stand alone and the integrity of intent. “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” —John F. Kennedy

Q: What is the best course of action for management when it comes to Leadership? What is the best course of action for the employee when it comes to Leadership?

JD: I believe in leadership at every level, leadership is about person power not position power. Everyone, regardless if they are people managers or individual contributors, can and should be a leader.

Q: How do you see the workplace evolving and improving?

JD: The overarching theme for the workplace of the future is transparency. • Transparency in how we work: Your mobile device will become your office. • Transparency in where we work: We’ll work from everywhere - Workers will be spread across many time zones and countries in numerous satellite offices for worker interaction, but not necessarily as daily destinations. Always-on video will facilitate collaboration with colleagues in other locations. • Transparency of our competence and value: Everyone will have a rating score, based on his/her reputation capital, which is the sum total of your personal brand, the quality of your results, your expertise, depth and breadth of experience and social networks. The new workplace will be a results only work environment. • Transparency in who we work for: Every manager will also have a rating score based on similar criteria plus people management and functional leadership. Employees will be hired into a company and then choose which manager they want to work for based on the rating score of that manager. • Transparency of skill gaps: Big data, predictive analytics and artificial intelligence are enabling a workplace of the future that magnifies the global talent shortage and makes more sparse highly skilled workers. Thus making lifelong learning a business requirement.

Q: What do you recommend as tips and strategies for work-life balance?

JD: Well, I don’t think there is such a thing as work-life balance, but work-life integration is very do-able. I was recently quoted in the Fortune Magazine article on this topic - Women with big jobs and big families: Balancing really isn’t that hard. Here are the tips and strategies mentioned in that article and others that I use.

• Hone your management skills – When managing your work and family, you’re managing a complex organization. Do activities as a family, to maximize efficiency. I use a shared on-line calendar and each kid is color coded, they all have an iPhone and can see where they need to be at any given time.
• Prioritize self care – Put your own oxygen mask on first. Managing your life takes energy, so never skimp on sleep, nutrition or exercise.
• Build your support team at work – Invest in the development of your staff to be accountable and independent. Seek sponsors and allies that understand and support you.
• Build your support team at home – Enlist a village to help you and don’t be afraid to ask for support (it’s a sign of strength not weakness). Live near family if possible. Invest in things that make your life easier. Not at the same time, but in the last 20 years I have employed all of the following: a part-time nanny, a full-time live-in au pair, home cook, meal delivery service, housekeeper, and a personal accountant. Depending on what the big challenge is at a given phase in life, reach out to get the help you need.
• Let it go – Your house does not have to be spotless. When you have a full work and family life, the children have to learn to be independent. With clear and consistent communication, every child can do their own laundry, clean their own rooms, clean the kitchen and bathrooms, make their own breakfast and lunch. Learning to be responsible and capable early on is good for everyone.
• Focus and prioritize – Do the high value work that only you can do and outsource the rest. You can outsource the laundry but your child only wants you there to see her win an award at school. Knowing how to focus on your highest priorities makes a big career and a big family possible.

Q: What do you see are some of the major issues facing us in today’s work environment?

JD: The globalization of work and changing demographics of the workforce; multiple generations in the workplace

• Contingent labor force
• Big data and analytics
• Adaptation of mobile and social networks

Q: If you could wave a magic wand, what would you like to see for progress in the workplace?

JD: I’d like to see a true meritocracy in the workplace. A workplace where people are paid equally for equal work regardless of their gender or race, and the diversity in the workplace at all levels of an organization mirroring the diversity in the population at large.

Q: Who are some of the people who inspire you most and why?

JD: My children and husband. I follow the research of a few social scientists, like Amy Cuddy of Harvard and Kelly McGonigal of Stanford, I find their work fascinating.

Q: You have many interests … please share with us what some of these are?

JD: I love to travel, I’m always up for going to a country that I’ve never been to before. I’ve just passed 60 countries. I’m very fortunate professionally to have worked for companies with operations around the globe and have the opportunity to travel extensively for work. I also love to share with my family the cultures of the world and I’ve brought them along on many of my business trips. I typically plan a business trip to align with a school break or just pull them from school for a week here or there. John (or a grandparent or nanny) and the kids visit the local sites while I’m at the office working. We’ve done work/ family trips to: Mexico, Germany, China, Dubai, Singapore, Japan, Panama, Canada, England, France, Amsterdam, Australia, Belgium, Italy, to name a few…. I throw myself fully into what my children love as a way to spend time together doing what interests them. Currently my 12 year old is absolutely obsessed with Giants baseball, so he and I watch the games together. It’s our special thing to do. I love to be creative. I write and publish articles in business magazines and my first book Data Driven: How Performance Analytics Delivers Extraordinary Sales Results was published in March 2015 – it debuted at #1 in the new business releases on Amazon. I like to paint large scale acrylic on canvas pictures, primarily pop art versions of comic book superheroes.

Q: Who are some of your favorite authors and what are some of your favorite books? Different topics? Are there books you like to recommend?

JD: I try to read what my kids are reading for pleasure or in school to make our dinner table conversation richer with the themes they are exploring and how to connect with broader issues in the world. So if it’s a popular young adult series, I’ve probably read it. I go through phases with the books I read. Right now I’m doing a research project on the knowledge and skills first time managers need and I’m reading stacks and stacks of books and white papers on the topic. For fun I listen to audio books and love Doris Kearns Goodwin who is such a great story teller.

Q: What are some of your favorite movies, music, theater?

JD: For movies – I love all horror / thriller / suspense films. I wrote my senior thesis at UC Berkeley on the evolving role of women in horror films from Nosferatu in 1922 to Silence of the Lambs in 1991. The central idea is that the female character in horror films is the manifestation of how our culture views women in society and as societies views of feminism evolve, so does the female protagonist. For music – I love classic rap, hip hop and alternative punk from the 80s. For theatre – I love any production that my kids are in.


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