Women in Digital: Melissa Puls

Melissa Puls explains her journey to CMO at Ivanti, offers her leadership advice and what she sees as the biggest cyberthreats that we face today

Posted 15 November 2021 by Christine Horton

Did you enjoy school?

I enjoyed many aspects of my education. I have always enjoyed learning new things, especially learning through action and projects. I have always been stronger at collaboration, rather than individual learning. I excelled when I could see the longer-term outcome, rather than just framing things as passing a single test.

I could understand and grasp very complex situations and had a knack for problem-solving – I always thought that was fun.

However, I found memorising to be very challenging. For a long time, I thought I wasn’t very smart, because I had a hard time with tests. My education took off when I went to college and was in a smaller setting with more active learning opportunities and was able to engage with professors and other students. 

I majored in psychology and communications in college, and I thought both of these areas of study instilled phenomenal tools in me – tools that I still leverage and develop today. It’s incredibly useful to be able to understand how people think, and then being able to communicate better accordingly!

What qualifications do you have?

I have decades of experience in marketing, fuelling growth through a customer-centric approaches for integrating marketing strategies that drive results. Now, that is the LinkedIn profile lingo of my qualifications!

Using my own language, I have had the opportunity to work in numerous areas of marketing – all the way from stuffing the envelopes for marketing campaigns in my early career, to driving strategy to really break through to an audience for global brands.

My experience working across teams and growing strong teams has made me a better CMO and a better leader today. At Ivanti, we have an A++ team of marketers with whom I get to collaborate daily!

Before joining Ivanti I was CMO at Avid, where I led the public company’s global marketing strategy to engage prominent media companies, business enterprises and individual creative professionals alike to help them thrive in a digital era.

Prior to Avid, I held CMO and marketing leadership positions with Optanix, Progress, Iron Mountain and Infor.

Has your career path been a smooth transition, a rocky road or combination of both?

Definitely a combination of both – but all very rewarding, and in hindsight, the perfect building blocks to my role at Ivanti. I continue to learn and build on what my past roles provided. I did not start out with a career goal of becoming a CMO one day. It was all more organic than that. I wasn’t sure if I would become a child psychologist or something in marketing. I set out to continue to solve more problems and challenged myself to keep learning along the way.

Even in that envelope-stuffing job, I always looked beyond what I was doing to see how I could add more value and how I could improve. As I mentioned, problem solving was a real passion. I would always identify those things that improve people, products, processes or anything else.

What’s the best career advice you can give to others?

I would say the following:

  • Never be afraid to hire your replacement!
  • Stay true to yourself and your passions. Maintain your boundaries and know what is most important to you and stay true to that.
  • Understand the purpose of your role. Look up and out and ahead to see what opportunities are there. Ask yourself, “What else can I do today?” If you are doing that, you will always stand out!
  • Surround yourself with people who are smarter than and different from you. They will inspire and motivate you, and likewise, you can step up to fill in others’ less strong points.

If you had to pick one mentor who has had the biggest influence on you, who would it be?

Hands down, my mom! Her career was also in marketing, and she was a female executive in a time of trailblazers. I watched her as she gained leadership roles in a predominantly male environment. She stayed true to who she was, and she was never afraid to state her opinion.

She also got me excited about entering the workforce and marketing! She would bring her decision-making home – she would share ad campaigns with me – and ask my advice. I loved that! This was during formative years for me (10-16 or so). She would bring me into her world and then let me see the impact the decisions had.

I remember a time when my mom was pitching an IPO for a company. She was a pioneer, one of very few women who went around pitching investors. Mom was very bold – she would state her point of view and the leadership would listen.

Now I am doing the same with my kids! I don’t know if they will follow my path, but I want them to see they can do anything they want to do.

From where do you draw inspiration?

Complex problem solving – I like to make things better. I try to surround myself with people who want to grow and do better. It inspires me when we are collectively able to overcome challenges and grow through the tough times.

I have an amazing team of marketers at Ivanti and they inspire me every day! Inspiration comes in the way the team collaborates, resolves problems, and overcomes challenges.

My family certainly inspires me too, watching my children as they navigate life – especially during this time of social influence.

In addition, I have always been drawn to water. Cape Cod is my ‘Everywhere Workplace’, and I am always inspired and feel most vibrant when I am on or near the water. There, I am able to think more clearly and be inspired by new, creative ideas.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced to date?

Juggling family when my kids were little and I was earlier in my career – that was certainly challenging. It took me a while to learn how to set the boundaries needed to balance both family and my work. It was important for me to set those boundaries for personal and work life and to identify what I needed to be happy and successful.

For me, living on Cape Cod was a boundary, and it came with some sacrifices. There maybe were some career opportunities I had to pass on because I wanted to stay on the Cape.

Today I have a blended work and personal life – and it always works out if I hold true to boundaries and expectations. The widespread move to the Everywhere Workplace in the last couple of years was already second nature for me. I have been living it now for a couple of decades.

I never found myself too challenged by the glass ceiling – or trying to be heard in what was considered a man’s world. My mom paved the way for me in that regard, so I never allowed myself to be intimidated by anyone – male or female.

What qualities do you feel makes a good leader?

  • Seeking to understand rather than be understood.
  • Not being afraid to have people around you who are smarter than you.
  • Surrounding yourself with super talented people so you’re sure to be successful and inspired.
  • True leaders inspire people to take the hill with them with clear vision and direction, and they’re also not afraid to tackle the harder stuff for their teams.
  • Certainly, integrity goes without saying.

From a work viewpoint what has 2021 been like for you so far?

FANTASTIC and a wild ride. I joined Ivanti as CMO in October last year – all during a pandemic. Since that time, Ivanti has more than doubled in revenue, employees and customers! We made five acquisitions and have added additional investors. We are integrating these teams and solutions, all while rolling out new products.

Ivanti has a great leadership team. It’s aligned together, and it has been really fun to work together!

I do not anticipate the wild ride to slow anytime soon!

What is the biggest cybersecurity or digital identity challenge we face today?

Ivanti is a security leader, and our aim is to educate businesses and employees on the increased risk they face.

Threat actors have matured their tactics, balancing dogged persistence and patience with sophisticated use of exploits, tools and emerging technology. They are disrupting and stealing and exploiting enterprise businesses every minute. According to a recent survey by Ivanti, nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of respondents said their organizations have fallen victim to a phishing attack in the last year, with 40 percent confirming they have experienced one in the last month.   

A whopping 63 percent of those surveyed also said their organisations have suffered a ransomware attack in the past year. And 89 percent of respondents described laptops, desktops and mobile devices as the most targeted devices. Hackers are organised, and each ransomware attack or breach gives proof to other malicious entities to learn from and leverage.

An IT staff shortage has also reduced the ability to promptly mitigate security issues for many companies. Globally, the shortage of cybersecurity professionals is estimated to be 3.12 million. And for organisations, cyberattacks, especially ransomware, have proven to be the most devastating. It’s the perfect storm of poor visibility due to the recently decentralised workforce, an IT staff shortage, and the growth of sophisticated threat actors targeting critical vulnerabilities.

Give us a fact about you that most other people wouldn’t know.

I am a pretty open book! However, I think people are surprised to know that I have a blended family with five kids from age 12 to 23! This has helped me practice my problem-solving abilities and to understand the complexity of different approaches and thinking for sure.

This has also contributed to my setting boundaries, and establishing an Everywhere Workplace that works for me, my organisation and my family.