“How did they do that? How did they get there?” Companies succeed because of the people who build them – operating leaders who grow businesses to new heights and make decisions every day that can impact entire industries. Each month, our Operator Spotlight gives you the inside track from one of our incredible Operator LPs (Limited Partners) who are changing the game – building and scaling some of the world’s most successful companies. Read on for lessons learned and mistakes made, perspectives from the top, practical advice, and ideas on what’s next.
This month, we spoke with Francessca Vasquez, VP, Technology and Customer Solutions at Amazon Web Services (AWS). Her team helps customers enable digital transformation, deliver new customer experiences, and drive business innovation outcomes. Francessca also serves as the Executive Sponsor for the AWS Global CIO Council. Prior to AWS, Francessca spent 11 years with Oracle, most recently as the Group Vice President of the North America Cloud Infrastructure team. She’s held numerous leadership roles in consulting, business development, and business-technology architecture strategy with Salesforce, CSC (now DXC) Sun Microsystems, and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).
You’ve held big roles at big companies, what have been some of the throughlines of your career?
FRANCESSCA: My career has spanned over 25 years, exclusively in the technology space. A key through line is working directly with customers and solving their problems, across industries and functions. I’ve worked within consulting, engineering, sales, architecture, and product, and the benefit has been to truly experience the full lifecycle. I’ve also switched between opportunities within the Americas and globally, and I truly believe that sometimes your passions just find you. Jeff Bezos often says some people find their career, but some people are lucky enough to find their calling. I feel like I’ve found my calling.
Your role spans several key areas – technology architecture, enterprise modernization & migration, innovation engineering, and workforce diversity, equity & inclusion across the worldwide commercial organization (!!). What’s your approach to prioritizing and helping your teams stay focused?
FRANCESSCA: The days vary, but all my teams work side by side with customers on how to enable their best outcomes and move them to the cloud in the most innovative and efficient way. To do this well, and for the customer experience to be strong, I spend a good portion of my time developing talent. I spend about 50% of my time focused on leadership development, talent movement, and how we live up to our value of being Earth’s best employer. As part of that, I prioritize on how inclusion, diversity, and equity tie into my business strategy, which has allowed my organization to innovate faster.
The other 50% is driving innovation for customers through strategy planning or operational execution. Whether B2B or B2C, customers tend to be “divinely discontent”. They always want a better experience, and they should. I’m constantly trying to explore new ways for customers to achieve their business outcomes and experiment with metrics, data, and customer feedback to drive shifts in our business. I’m regularly with customers and enabling my team to remain Day 1 in their approach to solve customer problems.
Outside of work, I spend my time in the community. It’s truly a passion of mine, and it keeps me fueled. I participate in a nonprofit sponsored by the PGA called First Tee. I love mentoring, youth development, and empowering community through golf.
Helping a range of customers understand and get the most out of rapidly changing technology can come with significant challenges. What’s a key skill needed for success?
FRANCESSCA: Emotional intelligence, communication and critical thinking. Every customer has a unique set of opportunities and challenges and you are constantly problem solving. You need to be able to look at their today, their tomorrow, and their next year and really understand them. It’s all about putting yourself in their shoes, building a relationship, and earning their trust. I think many customers are also hyper-focused on shaping their cultures to be more innovative.
I lead a team that crafts highly-scalable, flexible, and resilient cloud architectures that addresses our customers’ unique business needs. That’s why it’s critical to deeply understand the customer – and they have evolved greatly over time at AWS. Customers seek more business and industry solutions that accelerate their time to value and are applicable to both technical and non-technical users. Customer decision-making, now extends beyond IT and into the lines of business and the C-Suite. This requires an ability to adapt and to evolve your skill sets alongside them.
What’s the best advice you’ve received about how to manage people?
FRANCESSCA: I grew up in a military family and have drawn inspiration from former Secretary of State, Colin Powell who said, “Good leadership encourages everyone’s evolution”. I wrote it down a long time ago and carry it with me as a reminder that you cannot be a great leader unless you build a team that evolves their capabilities and skills. I assess my own leadership based on the operating growth of my team.
Another one is from a former president of my alma mater who always said, “A great team is always becoming”. It serves as a reminder to value diverse thought and perspective, know that businesses and customers evolve and change, and that teams should be constantly learning and being challenged as a result. I’m always becoming and value this as a distinct leadership skill. It prevents you from staying in the status quo. It’s a lesson I didn’t learn until later in my career, and it has an impact everywhere. Building a team where you’re more than a collection of individuals but rather operating as a working group with mutual accountability and rapid trust helps you move much faster towards your mission. Team dynamics are everything.
How have you made a mark in your industry? What’s something you’ve done that’s perhaps counterintuitive in your field – broken any rules with interesting results?
FRANCESSCA: Some might say that I push boundaries. Workforce innovation and building a deeply intentional “people” strategy is critical in any growth strategy. Way before it was widely adopted as a business practice, I got my organization thinking about how unconscious bias shows up in the workplace. I brought in professional coaches to establish a process for bias training. The results have been incredible from customers, my leadership team, and employees. I’m committed to building diverse teams that mirror the markets and geographies that my organization serves.
Early on in my career, I worked on technology applications and vehicle sensor telemetry for automakers. Today, mobility innovation through software, data, 5G, and IoT is how most auto manufacturers will transform the driver and customer experience. Every time I get into certain cars with advanced telemetry, I’m incredibly proud to see the impact data and connectivity is having on the automotive industry.
Describe one pivotal moment in your career that was truly defining for you in one way or another – an opportunity that changed your life or a moment where you recognized defeat and changed course.
FRANCESSCA: I like to joke that I stumbled into leadership by accident. I was offered a position when a leader left. I spent the first couple of years learning how to be a leader, and experienced success and failures while serving in that role. I then went back into an individual contributor again to build out a new go-to-market plan for moving a business segment into industry verticals.
Initially, it was a tough transition for me. I had to really develop a growth mindset. However, it was this experience where I learned how to lead through influence, operate in ambiguity, and the importance of being resilient. I also realized that leadership wasn’t purely synonymous with being a people manager. That experience propelled me into the next three jobs and launched my formal career.