If you rely on the reporting of major media outlets, a CEO and serial entrepreneur with a stellar track record for building successful companies that also happens to be a woman, is about as likely as seeing a unicorn. Meet the quite real Penny Herscher. Her passion is living a full and busy life that includes building companies and teams. She places a high value on individuals and credits her own success with hard work, ambition and support from a mentor who opened her up to opportunities, advice and education. His influence expanded her skills, broadened her experience and exposed her to multiple facets of running an organization. Penny believes that there are a handful of people at her company, FirstRain, who will be running companies in the next 20 years. It’s her intention, like her own mentor, to reach down into the organization and actively invest in individuals. Penny has the ability to identify exceptional talent as she interviews every person who comes work at First Rain and giving her the chance to see the bright spots in a first meeting.
Penny says that her technical training has helped her to be a better CEO. She advises women who want to pursue leadership positions, especially in the tech sector, to have some technical training. As a CEO you have to understand opportunities and risks at all parts of organization – marketing strategy, sales team, where investments in the product will make the customer’s experience better. Being technical has given her a huge advantage, allowing her to sit down with anybody in the organization, particularly on the product side. She values her ability to ask about specific limitations or why a certain level of investment is required to solve specific problems. She says, “I can’t do the work for them, but I can understand and I can ask questions, drill and dig. As a result, I can help my team make better decisions – based on a technical grounding, not just a financial spreadsheet. It would be hard to do this well without that knowledge.”
One of her many passions is seeking equality of opportunity for everybody. For Penny that means living and breathing it. As a wife, mother and friend, she says she made it all fit and as a result has been tired for 20 years. An ardent supporter of equality and diversity, she writes about tech and business trends in her blog The Grassy Road and demonstrates her beliefs on a daily basis as CEO at FirstRain. More than just a goal or a good idea, diversity in hiring is a specific strategy for Penny. Many organizations seem to believe that hiring women is almost a black box process or a code that has yet to be cracked. Herscher has opened it up and approaches the hiring process in such a way that ensures female candidates are eligible by mandating that recruiters use intentionally inclusive hiring specs. Proof of her conviction is reflected in that 50% of the executive staff and board are women, as well as several strong female leaders in R&D.
Penny says, “Nature is stronger than nurture…Nature is necessary but not a sufficient condition for success. You’ve got to be bright, ambitious and you have to work really hard. If you’re not willing to put in the sweat and hours- you won’t get there. You do what you have to do every single day.”
Finally, she believes that women need to support women. Penny says that she thinks the world won’t be sane until women hold equal power to men. Getting power and financial control into the hands of women is a great political stabilizer. Women who get in to power need to help other women. All of us at the Anita Borg Institute are beyond excited about the incomparable Penny Herscher as emcee of the 2014 Women of Vision Awards banquet on May 8, 2014 at the Santa Clara Convention Center.