Dell CMO: Customer data 'the single most important asset that we have' by Caroline Fairchild

05/09/2014 21:47


Just yesterday, the United Parcel Service  UPS 0.41%  became the latest company to fall victim to a customer data breach. The hack only affected customers at 1% of its U.S. locations, but the company was relatively lucky—other companies have suffered far more serious breaches in recent months. A data hack earlier this year at Target  TGT -0.03%  affected as many as 110 million customers.


Karen Quintos, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Dell, thinks CMOs play a key role in stopping data breaches now and in the future. In an interview with Fortune, Quintos discussed her career, the dearth of women working in tech, and how she views the role of the CMO changing. (The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

How do you view your role in driving Dell’s business?

The CMO role, especially at a company that has very strong focus on customers and the role of technology, is pretty interesting. While I don’t have a direct profit and loss [line of the business,] we do spend more than $1 billion in marketing at Dell. That cuts across all of our customer segments from consumer all the way to the largest businesses. The role that technology and marketing technology is playing to is incredibly exciting and now the CMO is leading a lot of those conversations here at Dell. It is pretty interesting time to be at the core of all that as it is changing and evolving from a marketing and technology perspective.

How does the CMO play into avoiding customer data breaches?

More CMOs should be taking a much more active role in protecting customer data because it is the single most important asset that we have. Frankly, our customers expect that of us. When I moved into the CMO role we made a conscious decision to invest in a lot of our internal marketing capabilities and processes to make sure we were doing just that. Frankly, every time you click on something that is sent to you as a customer, that is being generated by someone in marketing. Marketing is the organization that is at the forefront of all of this.

What’s your take on the media focusing on the dearth of women in key leadership roles in business?

I am really encouraged now more than ever. I feel like there is a renewed sense of the reality of the situation and a frustration that the numbers haven’t moved enough. There have been a number of corporations and institutions that are putting the dialogue back on the table. I frankly think that if it doesn’t change in the next five years then we need to be doing something materially different as a country and as a private sector. Now we are seeing a lot of women in really tough jobs. You look at role models like [former Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton, Christine Lagarde and Angela Merkel and a number of women who are leading large companies. Now is a really good time to continue to move the debate and the progress.

How can we get more women working in the technology field?

I don’t think there is a silver bullet. It is a multi-faceted problem. We need to change the dialogue for the next generation when it comes to technology. When I look at the numbers of women going into the STEM fields (As in “science, technology, engineering, and mathematics” —Ed.) and how they have not moved over the last couple of years, I think we need to get to children in middle school and high school to get them to understand that technology is a part of everything. We need schools to spend more time and energy with girls to show them where the opportunities exist. A job is technology is not always about computer science or engineering. It could be about being a marketer in a high-tech business. I think that is a key part of the dialogue and you need to make it more exciting for them for them to move into these more tech-focused roles.

What role do you see companies playing?

Companies play a key role. Women as they join companies, the companies need to embrace those things that are unique to women. Women are going to want to have children and companies need to create on and off type ramp opportunities for women throughout their careers. They need to create flexible work environments.

Within technology, I think there are certain parts of the country, Silicon Valley being one, that there is this stereotype that it’s a man’s world and women can’t really be successful there. There is a lot of opportunity in the venture capital and Silicon Valley area to break down a lot of that mind set. There are so many successful female entrepreneurs where having access to capital and networks and everything is a huge enabler for them to be successful.

What was your reaction to Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer banning telecommuting last year for employees?

I certainly would not have been an advocate of doing that. I don’t know what challenge they were trying to solve, but I think there were probably other ways to solve it. Either you need more face time or you bring people together more. We found at Dell that not everyone can work remotely 100% of the time. There are certain jobs and times during the year where it just requires you to be in the office interacting with the team. The next generation of employees are looking at these flexible programs when they are choosing who they want to work for and companies have to embrace these flexible working relationships.

Why do you think work-life balance is sometimes viewed as a women’s issue?

There is not enough discussion about men that are making similar [work-life balance] decisions as women. My husband was one of them. When I moved into the CMO role at Dell, he made a conscious decision. Our son was entering his high school years. He said one of us needed to be at home with the children and he made that decision. I hope the debate and dialogue will be less about women coming off the career path, and more about how do companies create programs that work for men and women alike. I think that the next generation of employees are going to be expecting it.

How do you talk to your own daughters about their futures?

As a mother of two daughters, I spend an inordinate amount of time getting them to believe that they can do anything that they want to do. If they choose at the end of the day to stay home and take care of their family, I am really okay with that. I want them to know that that is choice that they can make, it is not something they have to default back to because they didn’t have great mentors or opportunities.

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