Lara Hood Balazs’ journey from Seattle to CMO of Intuit was forged with grit and resilience, in no small part to having entered the workforce during a recession. It was, however, Lara’s willingness to challenge herself and take on transformative roles at Visa and Amazon, to name a few that helped her become the marketer she is today. Read on to learn the upsides of taking big career risks.
Why did you choose to join Intuit?
I was drawn to Intuit because of our mission of powering prosperity around the world. We are deeply committed to helping people take control of their financial lives with awesome products like TurboTax, QuickBooks and Mint. My dad was an entrepreneur, so I know first-hand what it's like to be self-employed. Knowing 50% of small businesses fail within the first 5 years and many people face significant barriers - including living paycheck to paycheck - I knew joining a company dedicated to its customers would make a lasting impact.
How did you get to where you are today?
"I learned how to be small and scrappy early on..."
I’ve been doing marketing now for over 20 years. I’ve been incredibly lucky to lead work for brands as vast as Gap and Nike to Visa and Amazon... and now at Intuit. My career started with grit and resilience. I learned how to be small and scrappy early on when I graduated into a recession and couldn’t get a job. I was living in Seattle and volunteered at Pike Place Market. Instead of targeting tourists, I pitched a plan that drove more local customers to the market and increased revenues for the merchants. I learned that taking a risk and applying tenacity results in the best outcomes.
What pivotal moments helped to shape your career?
I spent over 11 years at Visa. Every year presented change and new challenges. When I first started, I helped bring six disparate operating regions around the world into one globally operated brand to take the company public. Later, as head of Global Innovation Marketing and, then, North America Marketing, I helped to usher in the era of digital payments, moving away from “traditional” product and marketing approaches to launching mobile-first products such as Visa Checkout and Apple Pay. While these endeavors were risky, I worked with an incredible team that made it possible. And it also helped accelerate my career.
What do you see as the major opportunities and challenges for women today?
"...my fellow chief technology, finance, human resources and legal officers are all women."
As marketers and communicators, our role is centered on truly understanding our customers with a deep level of empathy. Simply put, we work on behalf of customers. We know nearly 40% of small businesses are owned by women and up to 80% of buying decisions are made by women in North American households. Our company and the decisions we make must reflect this gender make-up.
Change starts from the top down. As our chief diversity officer recently said, “gender equality in the workplace is defined by more than percentages in a gender equality report. It’s defined by ensuring employees of all genders and identities truly believe they authentically belong.” Women comprise one-third of our board of directors, and I am lucky to sit on a leadership team where my fellow chief technology, finance, human resources and legal officers are all women. Our work is far from done, but it is definitely a start.
What advice can you share?
Know the customers and KPIs of your business inside and out. You can only do your best marketing if you know which levers to pull to drive outcomes. Always have a desire to continually evolve and expand your skillset. Make lateral moves - and don’t be discouraged to pursue areas where you are lacking experience.
Raise your hand for high-risk assignments. If you’re brave enough to take on a role or project that others have passed on, it could result in the opportunity to make an immediate and lasting impact. And you gain confidence and visibility in the meantime.
Have you had any mentors who have helped you in your journey?
My aunt, Patricia Schroeder, was in the U.S. House of Representatives for over 20 years when very, very few women were in Congress. She never expected to win her first election, and once in the House, she often went up against strong opposition. She never strayed from her constituents and always, always kept a sense of humor. No matter what side of the aisle people were on, she gained their respect. She ended up creating more rights for women and paved the way for more women to join politics. From her, I learned if you truly follow your passion, are authentic to yourself, work hard, take risks and have fun along the way, rewards and success will follow.
Knowing what you know today, what one thing would you have done differently early in your career?
"I would have...realized failing breeds resilience."
I have made plenty of mistakes along my journey. The truth is I learned from every failure, so I wouldn’t do it any differently. I would have been less hard on myself and realized failing breeds resilience. I also would have thanked my friends and family more. They have always supported me as I have pursued my career, knowing I love it. Having cheerleaders is something you can’t put a price on.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, money or talent would be no object, what would you be doing?
I’d be skiing somewhere with my family in perfect powder conditions.
Hear Lara on CMO Moves discuss "How To Compartmentalize Technology And Design For Delight" and be sure to check out her tips for success.