THE BLOG
12/04/2014 09:27 am ET Updated Feb 03, 2015

Women in Business Q&A: Peggy Maher, Chief Marketing Officer, Barclaycard US

Peggy Maher is the Chief Marketing Officer of Barclaycard US. In this role, Peggy supports Barclaycard US' growth ambitions by developing engaging marketing for new and existing customers, intuitive digital experiences, and customer-centric new products. Peggy is also the brand steward for Barclaycard US, overseeing all customer and corporate communications.

Prior to joining Barclaycard US, Peggy spent 25 years with American Express where she held various marketing and general management roles in the Consumer Card, Small Business, and Travelers Cheques businesses. During her tenure, she served as general manager of various consumer and small business portfolios, led product development, ran the rewards program, oversaw the rebranding, product, and digital launch for the Small Business segment, led acquisition and existing customer engagement marketing, developed digital capabilities, and initiated a new approach to customer advocacy across 22 countries.

Prior to American Express, Peggy held positions in finance at CBS and as a systems engineer at Professional Computer Resources.

Peggy received a master's degree in business from the Wharton School with a concentration in finance and a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I've made a point of putting myself in situations that place me outside of my comfort zone in order to expand my perspective and to stretch who I can be. For example, while in college I worked the graveyard shift as a waitress in the only restaurant in town that was 24/7. I once packed up all of my belongings that would fit into my car and drove 1,000 miles to a new location without knowing where I would live when I got there. My first professional job was as a systems engineer for a small company, something quite unconventional for women at the time. (It was 1982.)

Later in my career, I moved from a finance function to marketing despite warnings that I might be closing a door. At a senior leadership conference of 350 executives including the CEO, I performed a song that I wrote about competitive intelligence in order to push myself to move past stage fright. These stretch experiences have given me perspective and confidence as a leader to be up for any challenge.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Barclaycard?
The most important thing my previous experience has given me is leadership insight. Starting my career as part of a small business and also having spent many years in a large corporate environment has helped me understand how to adjust my leadership approach to fit the situation. Barclaycard US, the payments business of Barclays in the US, is on a steep growth trajectory -- transforming the business from what was a startup just 14 years ago to a large organization. You may not know, we create customized, co-branded credit card programs for some of the country's most successful travel, entertainment, retail, affinity and financial institutions like US Airways, NFL, Hawaiian Airlines, and LL Bean. We also offer Barclaycard branded programs such as Barclaycard Arrival, our award-winning travel rewards card.

Having insight into the cultural drivers of both small and large organizations has helped inspire a conversation with my colleagues on how to keep the passion, personality, and the pride of Barclaycard front and center as we grow. We may adjust our operating model to increase efficiency, but we will remain true to the roots of our culture.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Barclaycard US?
Being part of Barclaycard's high growth, high-energy environment has been a thrill. Barclaycard US has an uncanny knack for rallying the troops and simply getting the job done. Our focus on our customers - both those who carry our card as well as our co-brand partners, our can-do culture, and the desire to do it all while having fun makes Barclaycard a rare gem. We've grown 35% just in the past year, a growth rate that stands out in our industry. And I have the pleasure of working with a deeply experienced management team who really like working together; we have incredible chemistry. As we continue to grow, a key challenge will be to attract talent at all levels across the organization in a way that will preserve and nurture the same passion, energy, and enthusiasm that is the secret sauce of Barclaycard US today. Sourcing talent that is a fit with our values and our culture is imperative for our continued success.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in marketing?
Marketing is part psychology, strategy, communications, technology, and financial savvy. My advice for women who want a career in marketing is to start by gaining experience in one (marketing) discipline, develop depth, demonstrate results, and then work to broaden across other disciplines to expand your perspective. Where you start the journey is not as important as committing to make the journey across the various disciplines. For example, in today's digital world, a sound marketing strategy is dependent upon an understanding of digital capabilities and analytics.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Be open to the possibilities. When I started, I had a specific career path in mind, but things did not always unfold according to my master plan. I learned to embrace the unexpected. In fact, my best career opportunities came in two areas I could not have predicted ahead of time: new business growth and organizational transformation. I learned to spot opportunities where I would make a tangible difference in results, even if the position made my career trajectory look more like a winding path vs. a straight road.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Work/life balance is all about setting priorities and boundaries. It's something that is very personal; no two people will approach it the same way. For example, when my children were little, I never wanted to miss a school concert or play, and I always wanted to be home for the children's bath time. As a result, my husband and I chose to live near work so we could be involved in our children's lives while still putting in a long day at work, investing in our careers. Work stopped when we walked in the door at home and we resisted the temptation of email until the children were in bed. My husband and I traded off travel schedules so that one of us was at home each night. Raising children in such an urban environment drew raised eyebrows from some, but it was right for us, and our children have had very rich childhood experiences.

Now that my children are in high school and college, my priorities are to be supportive and accessible. Being supportive can mean being at their sporting event, being there when they get their first college decision email, or traveling to college for parents' weekend. Teens may not show outward enthusiasm for their parents' attendance, but they know when we make them a priority. Planning for these events on my calendar is just as important as a partner meeting, and my team knows to protect these times. As for being accessible, technology advances have made this so much easier, no matter where I am. Any time of day or night my children can reach me - primarily by text, but also by Skype, FaceTime, or even an old-fashioned phone call. If one of them contacts me, they know I will step out of a meeting and listen.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Informal networking is underleveraged by women. For so many of us, it feels like "I should be doing something productive with this time." We prioritize the work in our inbox or family time ahead of networking nine times out of 10. And that's not always wrong, by the way! But I do think women undervalue the camaraderie that can be built by spending informal time, often after hours, out of the office at sporting or other events, with our colleagues and business partners. Getting to know each other as people develops better trusting relationships in the office.
One tip: Even when committed to networking, women often have to let their male counterparts know that they are "in." Sometimes we are not top of mind when it comes to invitations to participate. Or better yet, invite them to a networking opportunity of your own making.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I credit a mentor with helping to give me the courage to go after a big job early in my career that changed my entire career trajectory. The job opportunity was in a different function, at a higher level and I was pregnant at the time. There were several reasons why I could have easily passed on the opportunity, but he had faith in me and pushed me forward. It was the best career advice anyone could have given to me - confidence in my own abilities.

I also credit my father as a pivotal mentor in my life. He was a proud, traditional man who had four headstrong daughters who often put him out of his comfort zone. During his lifetime, he witnessed dramatic changes in opportunities for women, and he responded by encouraging us each to be bold in our own way. He gave me a thought-provoking gift that I will never forget: a book entitled "How to Succeed in Business Without Being One of the Boys." He knew decades ago that women could capitalize on their own unique contributions and that merely copying men was not necessarily the best strategy.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire women who have confidence and their own brand of influence. The woman who comes to mind is Eleanor Roosevelt. One defining quote sums it all up for me: "You must do the thing you think you cannot do." She was determined to create change, yet pragmatic and creative in her approach. For example, instead of demanding female reporters be allowed to cover the President, she created her own press conferences where only female reporters were allowed. Brilliant! She demonstrated how substantive change can be achieved without having to have a CEO title. Her work advanced the causes of civil rights, women's rights, the poor and she had a significant role in the passing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I'm in awe.

What do you want Barclaycard US to accomplish in the next year?
Barclaycard US has a unique opportunity to break with convention and demonstrate more than what you'd expect from a bank. Over the next year, I am very excited about our plans to continue our journey of customer advocacy, ranging from demystifying how consumers can best manage their own credit to showcasing how to get the most out of their credit card rewards program. Marketing today has shifted from an advertising model of telling you what a brand stands for to the creation of a customer experience that demonstrates the brand essence. Designing an engaging end-to-end customer experience that tells a story so compelling that our customers do our advertising for us - that's my goal.