Women in Business Q&A: Rebecca Ward, President and CEO, Moxie

04/26/2016 06:21 pm ET Updated Apr 27, 2017

Rebecca Ward is President and CEO of Moxie, a leader in customer engagement solutions for online and mobile businesses. She brings a wealth of expertise in managing high growth technology companies. Prior to Moxie, Ward was the CEO of Tealeaf for eight years. She oversaw the growth and profitability of the company, even through the economic downturn, by delivering innovative customer experience management (CEM) solutions.

Before joining Tealeaf, Ward served as group president of engineering, marketing, and product development at Digex, a publicly traded company. Prior to Digex, Ward worked for BBN/GTE Internetworking, where she held the position of vice president of product management and engineering. Ward started her career at Xerox.

The tech veteran holds a bachelor of science degree in engineering technology from Northeastern University and a master of computer science from Boston University. She has also completed the MIT Sloan School of Management's executive business management program.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
As an undergraduate at Northeastern University, I majored in engineering technology, a field in which women have historically been under-represented. I went on to get a master's in computer science at Boston University. I can't emphasize enough what a great foundation this curriculum can be for women.

Throughout my career, I have made it a habit to regard challenges as opportunities. I started out at Xerox, in a technical position. After a few years, my manager suggested I try sales. I made the career switch, and I often tell people it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Technology and sales are two key parts of a tech company, and I was fortunate to gain a foundation in both of them very early.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Moxie?
After Xerox, I joined BBN/GTE Internetworking where I helped start a web hosting business, which taught me how to adapt quickly in a fast-paced environment. As vice president, I oversaw engineering, product management and marketing and had the opportunity to build a business from scratch. These skills translated well to my next position as group president of Digex before it was a publicly traded web-hosting provider. In this position, I learned critical lessons in how to take a company public, the importance of focusing on a specific market, and the need to develop products that are better and more innovative than competitors.

Recently, I served as chairman and CEO of Tealeaf Technology, a privately held company that was purchased by IBM. Tealeaf provided technology for what is called "Customer Experience Management." It was a great product, but product alone does not equate to success. Tealeaf became a leader in its market because the company thrived on innovation and a focus on customer success. During the 2008 economic downturn, many companies saw negative or flat growth, but Tealeaf grew by double digits and remained profitable. The experience highlighted the importance of building a sustainable business so that you are able to weather difficult times.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Moxie?
One of the main reasons I joined Moxie was to participate in changing the way consumers interact with businesses online and via mobile. From the beginning, our products have had the potential to translate the dynamic brick and mortar experience to web and mobile sites. A highlight for me has been capitalizing on this market opportunity with the recent launch of the Moxie Suite, an industry-first customer engagement solution to "staff the online and mobile storefront". It is exciting to see the results companies are achieving using our technology.

As for challenges, we have employees in many locations at Moxie, which can make internal communications and cross-office collaboration difficult at times. I make it a priority to promote collaboration and back that up with an open door policy as well as visits to all our offices as much as possible. We have introduced new ways to keep employees updated and connected. In addition, we have developed a set of company values to emphasize staying innovative, making the company easy to work for and with, and fostering a culture that encourages open communication.

What advice can you offer women who want to start their own business?
First, I would advise women (or anyone starting a business) to do something they feel passionate about − something that gives them energy and empowers them to overcome the obstacles they will inevitably face. Verify there is a market by making sure you are solving a real problem or meeting an unmet need. Ensure you have the skillset to lead the new business, and then, go for it.

After you develop your go-to-market approach and business plan, test your idea with others who know the market you have targeted. The objective is to identify holes in your business plan and validate the concept based on their experience. It is critical to market test in order to ensure prospective customers and pundits are receptive to your business and the message. Listen and be open to embracing new ideas that may accelerate your business. Most importantly, don't be afraid of failure and don't mistake a tough time in the business for defeat. All that may be required is modifications to your plan to accommodate market change.

My own experience at Moxie is an example. I have been passionate about eCommerce and the online customer experience for a long time. I knew that many companies see eCommerce as a serious business problem with low conversion rates for online transactions. At some point, we've all had a poor online experience. When we show up at sites or use an app, there is no one there to guide us through our journey, as there would be at a brick and mortar store. Moxie gives me the opportunity to feed my passion by addressing this real business issue with innovation, vision and a highly skilled group of employees.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Work is an integral part of my life and provides personal gratification. But it isn't the only thing. I try to be organized and set-aside time for other activities. It took time for me to define how to balance work and time with my family. I do find that modern technology has made this easier as it gives me the flexibility of working from almost any location. If I go home early for dinner, I can spend time afterwards wrapping up work issues from home and check emails early in the morning.

It's perfectly acceptable to lean in one direction or the other depending on individual circumstances and your professional or personal stage of life. Priorities change over time, and we don't all prioritize the same way throughout our careers. There is no one size fits all prescription. The key is to be flexible, recognizing when work needs more attention and when home should take priority.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Moving beyond the "firsts" to the "many." Women represent half the population and have a lot to contribute. But in many areas of the workplace, they still are underrepresented. I am particularly interested in seeing more women pursue engineering as a career. Today, women make up only 20 percent of engineering students, and just over 10 percent of engineering professionals. That number is low, and I believe major steps need to be taken to inspire, teach and hire more women in technology.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
A great mentor is an important part of everyone's professional and personal journey and can come from all walks of life. It can be a neighbor, a friend, a colleague, a manager, and a board member, among others. The important thing is to be receptive to being mentored. At many points in my career, I was fortunate enough to encounter mentors who encouraged me to take advantage of new opportunities and trust in my ability to learn quickly. A good example was moving from a technical position at Xerox to sales. For me, the key takeaway from different mentors has been to expand on what I do well, and that's the advice I would pass on: "Think about what you are good at and do more with it."

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Like others, I admire leaders who break ground and achieve a "first," in their profession. It is through their hard work and willingness to take risk that they open up opportunities for younger generations of women. This is rarely an easy path as evidenced by the current presidential election.

What do you want Moxie to accomplish in the next year?
When I joined Moxie, I saw the opportunity to fundamentally change online commerce. We have seen companies achieve outstanding results with Moxie products, yet there is still much to be done. As companies increasingly realize the importance and value of an effective customer engagement solution and the market continues to grow, this gives Moxie the opportunity to affect more change.

In the next year, I hope to enable as many companies as possible to "be there" for their customers. This means guiding customers across the decision journey, which I believe is critical to the future of web and mobile commerce.