Elisa Steele brings a vivaciousness to Jive's Palo Alto headquarters that's not often found inside a tech company's offices.
Steele, who laughs easily and dons bright, dangling earrings and animal-print blouses, commands attention and exudes efficiency, but she isn't all business. As the new executive vice president of strategy and chief marketing officer for Jive, which sells collaboration software for businesses, Steele is charged with growing Jive and managing the reputation of a company that has more than 850 customers, including corporations such as Verizon and Thomson Reuters. Despite a hefty workload, 47-year-old Steele spends time with her kids, goes out dancing and occasionally hunkers down with a Stephen King novel. She's spent a long and successful career trying to figure out the secret to work-life balance, and at the dawn of her tenure at Jive, she finally has it figured out.
Jive, one of the pioneers of social network products for businesses, has grown since its initial public offering in late 2011. It's now ranked 139 among the largest Silicon Valley companies by revenue, according to an analysis by this newspaper, up from 151 in 2012, and its revenue grew more than 28 percent in 2013 to $146 million. But its stock price has plummeted to about $7.50 a share, about half its price at the end of its first day of public trading.
Steele sat down with this newspaper just a few months into her job at Jive, which she started in January after stints at Microsoft, Yahoo and NetApp. She spoke about balancing family with a career, the advancement of women in tech and the future of Jive. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q You said once in an interview that it's not work-life balance, it's just life. What was that realization all about?
A I think I came to that insight about myself just in the last year or so. I struggled for so long to maintain work-life balance, and it wasn't until I gave up trying to balance things that I got what I needed. It's a state of mind. And that's why I say it's not work-life balance -- it's just life.
Q Do you have any personal rules to maintain that?
A I have one personal rule, and that is to do what's right at the time. I think it's best to answer the question, "What's most important right now?" and when I got to understand that myself, I realized it's actually OK to do a conference call on a Sunday because maybe on Monday afternoon I go to my son's concert or my daughter's dance tryout. It all balances out at the end of the day if you do the right thing at the right time. That works for me.
If I need to go somewhere Wednesday afternoon at 2 p.m., I'm going to do that, but I'm not going to leave my work behind. That's coming with me wherever I go.
Q The whole "Lean In" discussion -- started by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's book -- how do you think that has shaped, if at all, the way women in tech view their role in the industry, and the way women are viewed by others in the industry?
A The No. 1 thing that that's brought to the world is it opened the discussion. It says those discussions are OK to have; it's not taboo. That's the first step to any resolution of any problem. It's all about opening up communication and being transparent. That's super important in how people get along, how they work together, how they create relationships and how they deal with issues in a really authentic way.
Q What else would you like to see accomplished for women in the tech world, whether that's higher wages or more offices with child care?
A For me, it's about empowerment to make the right decision, and that's true for men and for women. I appreciate a work culture where individuals are treated as the grown-ups that they are. Make the right decisions, deliver a stellar product, and take care of the rest of your life and your family. An employee who's happy is an employee who's going to do a much better and more engaged job.
Q You were at Yahoo from 2009 to 2011. Yahoo's reputation took a beating during that time, when it was run by CEO Carol Bartz, who was fired after the company failed to grow ad revenue. What lessons did you learn there?
A It was really challenging and a lot of fun to represent a brand with such life and history and legacy. And during that period of time, we grew users, we expanded internationally and we introduced new products. But it was also a time for the company to manage and deal with public perception, especially in the tech industry. I learned you always have another chance. You can always wake up the next morning and go for it. You don't ever give up.
Q Jive's stock has fallen to near $8 from $18 this past summer. Do you worry about that?
A You always worry about everything around how the company is perceived. We're working really hard for Jive to be accredited at the value that it really has. I can't comment on the stock price specifically, but I will say that the value that we bring to the customers we're really passionate about and confident in.
Q Can you offer more detail on the discussion about a potential sale of Jive to a larger company, such as SAP?
A There will probably always be rumors about us being acquired because we're an independent company that does social enterprise software 100 percent of the time. We do exclusively this for our business and our livelihood. I can't be surprised by the rumors.
Contact Heather Somerville at 510-208-6413. Follow her at Twitter.com/heathersomervil.
Hometown: Andover, Massachusetts
Position: Jive executive vice president of strategy and chief marketing officer
Previous jobs: AT&T, Sun Microsystems, NetApp, Yahoo, Microsoft
Education: Bachelor's degree, University of New Hampshire; MBA, San Francisco State
Family: Husband; daughter, 14, and son, 12
Residence: Los Altos
5 things about elisa steele
1. Has a golden Labrador puppy named Luna, which she says is like having a third child.
2. Loves to dance, and takes Zumba classes to keep in shape.
3. Named "Woman to Watch" by Advertising Age in 2009.
4. The job at Jive is five minutes from her house.
5. To better integrate work with her personal life, she recently downsized from two smartphones to one.