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Silicon Valley Exec Mari Baker On The Most Important Lesson She Learned From Bill Campbell

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In this edition of our Corporate Competitor Podcast, one of Silicon Valley’s most influential women traces her development as an athlete and then a business executive to her willingness to step up and be counted, a mindset she works hard to teach others as a leader.

As one of the first 30 employees at Intuit, Mari Baker couldn’t wait for her first one-on-one with the new CEO, Bill Campbell. A former football coach who became the business executive who had mentored the biggest names in Silicon Valley. Baker prepared assiduously for the meeting and sat down with the legend armed with matrices and talking points.

“Bill had this fabulous reputation, and I was super excited because I was going to learn how to do one-on-one from Bill Campbell,” recalled Baker. “I mean, he had coached Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs, right? So, we began the meeting, and he asked me how things were going, how I was doing, how my kids and husband were doing. Then, he said, ‘Okay, see you next week.'”

When the next week came around, Campbell and Baker met again and had a similar conversation. She asked Campbell when they would “talk business.” He told her he could get the numbers and other KPIs from the CFO.

“What I really care about,” Campbell said, “is how you are doing because that will affect your ability to be good in your role. If your kids are struggling. If you’re not getting enough exercise or sleep, that’s going to affect your ability to do your job. I can look at the data without you here, Mari. I can only understand that piece when you’re in the room with me.”

The conversation became a new touchpoint for Baker’s own leadership style both at Intuit, where she rose to senior vice president as the company grew from 30 to 3,000 employees and went from $7 million to $700 million in revenue, and in a 20+ year career in which she has held CEO, president and SVP positions in startups and Fortune 50 companies, and built some of the world’s most successful consumer technology businesses and brands including Quicken (Intuit, Inc.) and BabyCenter (Johnson & Johnson).

As a three-sport athlete in high school, Mari opted not to try out for Stanford’s track team and satisfy her competitive drive playing intramurals, eventually helping her team win the Intramural Co-Ed Flag Football championship. “Winning that championship was nothing to sneeze at,” said Mari. Neither is the passion, experience, and perspective Mari brought to every endeavor, including board roles, advising CEOs, mentoring entrepreneurs and advancing women in leadership.

“In sports, you’re trying to learn something new and go beyond your current skill set,” she noted. “In business, the same happens when people come up to you and say, ‘We need this to happen.’ And you have to be dumb enough to say, ‘Okay, I’ll do that,’ and then go experiment a bit and figure it out.”

The result, Mari adds, is that you’ll become known not as a dummy but as that most valuable of players: the go-to person. Listeners who choose to “go to” this podcast will learn:

  •  5:00 How to look beyond your assignment to help your teammates.
  •  7:30 How to ensure both men and women apply to work for your organization.
  • 11:00 The most important metric that is found in the heart, not a spreadsheet.
  • 14:00 Why the “myth” of work-life balance is not a myth at all.
  • 26:00 How to recruit to your culture.

“Bill was famous for never scheduling a meeting before 10am or after 5pm because he wanted the moms and the dads to be able to drop their kids off at school and be able to be home for dinner,” said Baker. That didn’t mean he didn’t miss a few breakfasts and dinners, himself, but the rewards were tangible. “Knowing that Bill had your back made you willing to risk trying something new.”

Check out the full Corporate Competitor Podcast interview archive and subscribe to new episodes.


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