Finding Comfort in the Uncomfortable

Molly Wagner, customer executive at JDA, started with a career in the wine industry before making the leap into technology, with a bigger leap of faith moving to a new state that ultimately led her to JDA. As a new mom, she gives her perspective on how important it is to surround yourself with a strong and supportive ecosystem – at work and at home – and the importance of setting boundaries. She’s a firm believer in getting comfortable with not knowing everything right away, as a career is a journey over time.

Molly with her husband and son.

Tell us a little about yourself!

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area as the middle of five kids. I attended college at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo where I was an agriculture business marketing major and wine and viticulture minor. I was very active in my sorority serving as president and vice president.

Six years ago, I made a move to Austin, Texas to pursue a career opportunity and planted my roots. I currently live just outside Austin with my husband and new baby boy Brooks (5 months).

What was your first job (ever)?

Leadership and customer service have always been a passion of mine. My first job ever was through an Exploring Leadership program where I was a public relations intern with the Oakland Raiders.

One of most favorite jobs was in college where I worked as a front desk agent for a luxury hotel. It was a destination hotel situated just outside of wine country. I learned so much about customer relations in this role; how the coordination between teams is critical to provide a positive customer experience, and how a single interaction can make or break the customer experience.

Your wine minor sounds so interesting!

It was! Attending college at an agriculture school really sparked my interest in the growing wine industry, and I decided to pursue formal education around it. I received my level one sommelier certification and post college, worked two jobs in the industry – one with Southern Wine and Spirits (now Southern Glazers) selling into retailers and also working at a wine bar in the evenings.

The wine industry was exciting and dynamic, however after a few years I decided to pursue a new career path in technology.

What did you do after that and how did you get into technology?

A good friend of mine was working at Oracle and had made a similar transition from wine industry into technology. She recruited me and I made the move from San Luis Obispo up to San Francisco. I started in the inside sales organization, and about a year in, I was approached with the opportunity to move to Austin to help grow the team there. So, a colleague and I made the move, without ever having visited. About a year in I was promoted to the field sales organization.

In total, I was at Oracle for seven years and then came to JDA.

What brought you to JDA?

I was really seeking a culture that was customer-centric. A very large customer of mine was also a customer of JDA and I had exposure to how the customer experience was for an enterprise customer (at JDA). I interviewed at JDA and a few other places but knowing JDA was practicing what they were preaching ultimately led me to choose the job here.

When did you join JDA and what has your career journey looked like?

It’s been a positive journey for me. I’ve been here two years now in the customer executive role. JDA is really focused on culture and being the best place to work. As a new mom, it has been challenging to juggle my career and a new baby but I cannot express enough how supportive my ecosystem has been at JDA. Jeff Flammer (GVP, sales) and Cary VandenAvond (president, North America manufacturing, distribution and 3PL) were incredibly supportive both leading up to my maternity leave balancing travel and the demands of the job, and the transition back as well. It has helped so much to have that incredible support throughout this life and career transition.

In a traditionally male-dominated field, do you ever notice when you’re the only woman in a room or meeting?

I certainly notice, and it happens quite often. However, it has pretty much been the norm in my career coming from a tech background and therefore does not change my strategy or what I set out to accomplish in the meeting. If anything, it motivates me more. That said, I do see it shifting as there are more and more women leaders in technology roles.

What are your favorite parts of your role?

I love the customer interactions as well as the team selling environment. I thrive on seeking to understand my customers’ challenges and what they are facing. And, leveraging my team to align our solutions to transform their business.

What are some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome in your career and how did you tackle them?

In all roles – from wine to tech to supply chain – one of the things that has been a challenge was getting comfortable with not knowing it all, as well as not comparing my start or middle to someone’s middle or end. It’s been challenging and intimidating for me to not have that breadth and depth and knowledge of some of my teammates who has 15 years of experience on me. I’ve realized that I have the team of resources available to me to be successful. Having a successful career is a journey and not going to happen from the start.

Molly and her five-month-old baby boy Brooks.

As a new mom, have you found you’ve approached your job any differently priority-wise and work/life balance-wise?

It is still a transition now being five months in. I think for most people it is an evolving process. A good friend gave me some great advice prior to returning from maternity leave, and that is to set my boundaries upfront and do what I can to stick to those commitments. I’ve heeded that advice because I know I can’t give myself 100% to my career or to my family if I am not sticking to my boundaries.

What is the best risk you’ve taken and why?

Moving to Austin sight unseen was the best risk I’ve ever taken!  It brought me to a place in my career that I couldn’t have achieved if I hadn’t taken that leap of faith. It was a huge step outside my comfort zone. I went on blind dates to meet friends because I didn’t know anyone! That was the biggest and best risk and it challenged me in the best way possible. I was forced to grow, expand and create a new network here.

Who is your role model?

I have had many throughout my career. Someone once made this analogy to me which I think makes a lot of sense – look at it as a buffet and take qualities and aspects that you admire in different people and try to internalize those. I try to heed this advice.

What do you wish you knew when you were starting out that you know now?

There are four things: seek to understand first, be committed to ongoing learning, focus on the things you can control and don’t let someone’s title intimidate you!

What do you think are biggest obstacles of gender diversity in the workplace?

I look at it with this lens as a new mom and can certainly see how many women struggle in balancing family and a career. That said, I think it’s critical to have flexible work policies and a supportive environment for women. I think this is critical to retaining women in the workplace.

What podcasts are you listening to right now?

My favorite podcast is How I Built This with Guy Raz on NPR. I find it so fascinating and inspiring to hear from the founders of some of the most successful companies in the world about their journeys to success and challenges faced.

What are three key words you would use to describe yourself?

Determined, optimistic, tenacious.

What’s one fun (or surprising) fact about you?

I’m a huge Wheel of Fortune fan—it’s the only TV I watch. I have applied several times and hope to someday (soon) be a contestant!

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  1. Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable. Accept that achieving diversity isn’t easy. “Somehow there is this perception that managing diverse groups is fun, it’s easy, everything is going to be ‘kumbaya’,” said Antonio Lucio, CMO of HP, Inc., who is helping to make diversity a top priority for HP, Inc. and their partners, in the Girls’ Lounge at Advertising Week. “It’s damn hard.”

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