12/16/2014 11:05 am ET Updated Feb 15, 2015

Women in Business Q&A: Kelly Wright, Executive Vice President of Sales, Tableau Software

Kelly Wright leads worldwide sales for Tableau Software. Kelly brings 20 years of experience in leadership and sales roles, including ten years at Tableau selling the company's award-winning applications. She has previously held positions at a number of high profile companies, including VP positions at At Hoc, a major venture-backed software company in Silicon Valley, and sales and management positions at Southwestern, Inc., Dale Carnegie and Bank of America. With an MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and an undergraduate degree from Stanford University, Kelly has also spent time at strategic consulting firms Bain & Company and McKinsey & Company, helping executives solve strategic questions about organizational structures, channel conflict, operations, pricing and international expansion.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My approach in life is to always do my best, and this has helped me grow into the leader I am today. When I was in college, I sold educational books door-to-door with the Southwestern Company. This was my first real job, and I worked over 80 hours per week, knocking on more than 30 doors per day, all summer long - and getting a lot of doors slammed in my face. It was hard walking door-to-door carrying a big bookbag in the hot sun or pouring rain. I learned to shrug things off, focus on what I can control, and to just roll up my sleeves and keep on going. My focus each day was to do my best and talk to at least 30 families no matter what. I believed that I could do it. This experience laid the foundation for my leadership principles that hard work and tenacity, combined with belief in yourself, pays off.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Tableau?
I always knew I wanted to work in sales, and the experience selling books really helped to shape me initially. But while many sales leaders have spent their entire lives in the field, I've had a wide range of work experiences. I learned how to motivate and bring out the best in people when I worked at Dale Carnegie. Through my business school experience at Wharton and my time at both McKinsey and Bain, I learned general business acumen and how to frame and approach business problems with analytics and facts in a fast-growing environment. Finally, I worked at a technology startup for six years before coming to Tableau - another experience that relied heavily on rolling up your sleeves to get things done. My experiences at start-ups and big companies, consulting engagements in a variety of industries and departments, soft skills training, and nearly a lifetime in sales have all benefited me here at Tableau.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Tableau?
One of my highlights of my tenure at Tableau was being in the box on the New York Stock Exchange ringing the bell on the day of Tableau's IPO. As I looked out on the floor filled with so many people from Tableau, I thought back on how far we had come from when I joined Tableau as the first salesperson until that moment. In terms of a challenge, work/life balance is always difficult, and I think that's true for many people juggling demanding careers with a family, regardless of gender or company.

What advice can you offer to women who are seeking for a career in data visualization?
Women seeking a career in data visualization, or in the tech industry more broadly, should focus on doing their best. Always bring your A-game. Sometimes strong women can be perceived as aggressive and pushy in the workforce. Don't worry about being everyone's best friend. Instead, control what you can control. Work hard, follow your instincts, stay true to who you are, focus on being fair and doing what is right, and push for what you believe.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Work/life balance is always a challenge. It's especially hard for any working parent. I struggle with this as a mom with three kids. I do my best to integrate my family and work. For instance, I travel a ton, which means I'm away from home and my family quite a bit. So a couple of times each year, over my kids' school vacations, my family meets me either before or after one of my international trips. My kids have been all over the world - Europe, Singapore, Australia, Central America, etc. Not only have my kids had all these cool experiences traveling to other parts of the world, but we have integrated high quality family time into my crazy schedule. . Of course, another key part of maintaining work/life balance is having an incredible husband who shares our family and household responsibilities. He is always supportive of my career and willing to step in and pick up slack when needed. Plus, Tableau is a very family-friendly company that is supportive of integrating work and family. We have summer picnics where the whole family is invited, for example, and days where folks can bring their kids to work.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
When it comes to women in the workplace, it's obvious that there are fewer women, more challenges and a lot of misperceptions, especially in both technology and sales. Sometimes it can feel like a boys club in the tech world, and you have to adjust to different cultural norms. But I think the biggest problem for women is the self-doubt that can come with that reality. Rather than focusing on the hurdles and challenges, women need to believe in themselves - simply go in and get the job done. A lot of success comes down to mindset.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship has made a big difference in my life. Elissa Fink, Tableau's CMO, is a great mentor to me. As two female executives at Tableau, we often share our thoughts and bounce ideas off each other. I look up to her, and I like to think she looks up to me. There are also lots of women at Tableau - both on the sales team and other teams -- that I meet with to talk through how it's possible to handle work and pressures outside work. This doesn't just help with personal development, but it helps build camaraderie.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire Elissa, our CMO. I also admire Sheryl Sandberg for helping get the discussion about women in the workplace started. It's often been a "behind closed door topic," and now it's out in the open.

What do you want Tableau to accomplish in the next year?
I want to continue to forge forward with our mission to help people see and understand data. This is about more than just selling software - it's about helping people do their work faster and better, and having more fun while they are at it. We empower people to do more than they ever thought was possible. I just had a conversation with a customer who said that Tableau has truly changed his life. He not only is more effective at his job, but he has also been promoted, he has more fun at work, and he has more time to spend with his family -- all because of Tableau. That's what it's all about at Tableau. Having this significant impact on our customers and our employees is what it's all about for me.