Today’s Wednesdays for Women blog is an insightful conversation with Gina Hortatsos, vice president of marketing at FourKites, a JDA partner. I had the opportunity to get to know Gina at ICON, JDA’s customer conference held in Dallas in early May.  Gina shares her journey working through enterprise software, taking lessons learned along the way to become a servant leader, using Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to align her team, and ensuring she’s mindful that we are always teaching people how to treat us. 

Gina and her family

Where did you grow up and where do you live now?

I grew up outside of Chicago and I’m the only girl out of six siblings.  I grew up surrounded by little brothers that I used to boss around.   I have lived all over the place, from Honolulu to Barcelona to Los Angeles, and now I’m back in Chicago working with FourKites, the largest predictive supply chain visibility platform, delivering real-time visibility and predictive analytics for Fortune 1000 shippers and third-party logistics firms.

Where did you go to school, and what was your first job?

I went to University of Illinois majoring in psychology and received an MBA from Pepperdine University in Malibu.  Afterwards I started a job with JD Power & Associates working in analytics for guest satisfaction in the upscale hotel industry for customers like Ritz Carlton.  That role is where I learned more about using data to understand how consumers think or feel about the product/service they are buying.  I learned how to use data to gain insights into how buyers think and their loyalty preferences to do more business with you.  I have worked in a variety of enterprise software companies in my career including Hyperion, Oracle, SAP, Hyland, and now FourKites.

I’m very attracted to the supply chain industry.  I feel everyone needs to care about how stuff gets to your shelf. I love the idea that we can move the needle on the global supply chain’s sustainability initiatives by streamlining operations, reducing waste, and providing a great customer experience.

What is your proudest achievement in your career so far?

Two answers to that question.  First, I love mentoring and fostering people into roles that truly reflect their skillset, interests, and passion. I love leading a high-performing team that works together toward a common cause and everyone can go home at night and feel like they did high quality work that was engaging and fun.  I take a lot of personal and professional pride in building up and working for my team. I’m a servant leader, and feel it is my job to ensure my team has all the tools they need to excel and thrive in their role.  I can’t do my job, if I haven’t enabled my team to do their job. I have wonderful relationships with the teams I have worked with over the years and I hope it’s because my team has always felt that I empower them to succeed in their career path.

The second achievement is a bit more programmatic.  One of my career highlights while at Hyland was building and scaling the demand creation function.  Our company was growing so fast and our approach to building pipeline was “good,” but we saw the writing on the wall that we needed to figure out how to scale our efforts to match the company’s hyper growth. We were facing market expansion, broadening product lines, acquisitions and more.  I worked with the team to overhaul the pipeline building process and we saw incredible yields.  It was a huge initiative, and in the end, we were so proud of the results we were able to accomplish.

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

The most recent and biggest risk was my decision to join FourKites.  I had a wonderful role, a terrific team, supportive boss, and a family-friendly environment at my former company.  I decided to leave all of that for the unknown.  There were a lot of sleepless nights and a long pros/cons list created. That was a risk but I’m so glad I took it!  In my experience, you regret the things you don’t do more than the things you do.

What are some of the leadership lessons you learned and implemented along the way?

I think I mentioned earlier, I am a servant leader.  My job is to ensure my team can do their job.  I think truly understanding what makes the team tick, making sure they’re in the right roles, removing bottlenecks, enabling and empowering them is key to leadership.

Goal alignment is also very important. You need to have aligned team and individual goals that are transparent, measurable and align to the broader goals and objectives of the company. FourKites uses the OKR methodology.  So everyone on my team has a unique OKR that supports the company’s OKRs.

I think these two things, servant leadership and alignment, are the most important pieces to leading a team.  If the team comes to work every day knowing they are empowered to make decisions that are aligned with the company goals, then that person will succeed, my team will succeed and our company will succeed.

What is the one characteristic you believe every leader should possess?

Courage, and it’s not about being brazen or super hero courage.  It’s about having the courage to have tough conversations, reset expectations, prioritize, stand up for what you believe in, make bold decisions quickly, and failing fast and course correct. It’s not that don’t feel fear, I do. But I believe a true leader needs to do what is right for the business despite the fear and the gravitational pull to “playing it safe.”

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

I tend to be a people pleaser.  I want to be liked, and I’ve talked to many marketers who feel the same way.  But, if I could talk to my younger self, I would say that it’s not about pleasing the people around you all the time.  It’s about ensuring that the goals you’re setting out to achieve are the right goals.  A leader is not always going to be the most popular, because they do have to make tough decisions. You can’t let your desire to make others happy dictate your decisions.  If you’re trying to make everyone happy, you’re aren’t going to make anyone happy.  As a leader you need to ensure alignment around the goal, as there are never enough resources or money to make everyone happy.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received in your career?

A former mentor and manager taught me that “you teach people how to treat you.”  Working in enterprise software, I was often the only woman in a room, being in an industry dominated by guys.  I tended to behave in ways that diminished my credibility – like apologizing when I didn’t do anything wrong or not speaking up in a room when I had something valuable to add.   My mentor had an open and honest conversation with me during one of my reviews, and she guided me that I’m constantly teaching people how to treat me.  I took that to heart. I try to share with my team that the way you show up every day, the way you present yourself, if you are not speaking up, if you are apologizing, or if you are not contributing – all those factors teach people how to treat you.  I will always be grateful for that advice and it has fueled my ability to contribute to my company, my ability to show up, and my drive to go for that next promotion.

What advice do you have for a new leader?

Listen.  I think a lot of times in our eagerness to prove ourselves as leaders, we feel that we must stand on a soap box.  But it’s not about talking at your team; it’s your job a leader to understand your team by listening, listen to subtle cues to pick up on any discord or misalignment.  It’s impossible to be 100% aligned with all your key stakeholder all the time but staying connected and listening can help.  It’s your job to ask questions, then listen and help get to the root of any problem.   Team misalignment is usually the root cause of most issues, so if you as the leader can listen, quickly assess that misalignment, and encourage the team to align behind a common goal, that will be key to your team’s success.

How do you get everyone on your team collaborating and aligned behind a key initiative? 

Everyone at FourKites shares their personal and team OKRs, an approach that we rolled out to help with alignment.  Each quarter, I hold 1:1s with each of my direct reports to discuss progress on the previous quarter’s OKR and listen as they plan their coming quarter OKRs.  We come together as a marketing team to share all our OKRs, highlight key milestones, challenges, review other groups OKRs, and discuss next quarter OKRs.  This helps ensure we are aligned and collaborating across the entire company. It takes a while to get everything worked out when rolling out OKRs across an organization. But it’s the most effective tool I’ve seen to increase alignment and cross functional collaboration.

What motivates you?   

I’m motivated by my team being happy and productive. I love when I see a great campaign yield what we expected or exceeding those expectations.  That’s very motivating to me.

At a more macro level, I love enabling the shipping and carrier industry to reduce fuel consumption, streamline supply chains, and increase their customers’ satisfaction. I have a personal distaste for inefficiency and waste and seeing how the supply chain is fraught with waste, I am motivated by my ability to contribute in some small way.

How do you maintain work/life balance?

I don’t like to use the word “balance.” Here’s what I do, when I’m with my family, I am with them.  And when I’m at work, I’m at work. I try to say present. When I’m sitting at the dinner table, my phone is upstairs.  When I’m watching one of my son’s sports games, I’m not emailing. It’s logistically easier now that my three sons are a bit older (age 15, 12, and 9), but the teenage years bring new challenges so it’s important for us to spend quality time as a family – and that means putting phones down.  In my early career when I was having my children, I was lucky enough to have the flexibility to work from home and not travel too much. I knew my constraints, I knew my limits and held true to those.  I am grateful to have worked for companies that gave me the opportunity to enhance and grow my skillset, but at the same time allow me to grow my family and personal life.