Ep 36: Cindy Warner: Transforming the World Through Democratization of Data

Diva Tech Talk was delighted to interview the fascinating Cindy Warner, whose rich, multi-level career and mission story is inspiring.  Cindy began as a pre-med undergraduate aiming to become an orthopedic surgeon, at the University of California in San Diego. Unfortunately, in her second year, to her dismay, she frequently fainted at the sight of blood, which reoriented her career. So after obtaining her degree in business administration, with a minor in computer science from Grand Valley State University in Michigan, she began an internship at IBM, selling typewriters.  “I always say to people that the litmus test for how far we’ve gone in technology is to realize we had four type fonts, then.” After a typewriter-focused year, IBM moved Cindy into System 23’s, the company’s first all-in-one minicomputer and then to selling System 36’s, manufacturing-centric midrange computer systems.

There “I learned about this small, innovative company called FedEx,” (www.fedex.com), Cindy said. “The intriguing thing about FedEx was the speed with which they wanted to move packages, through technology. They also wanted people to be able to accurately plan their lives around a time-sensitive service.”  However, “If you wanted to be in technology at FedEx, you needed to be in operations, first.” So Cindy’s initial job there was as a courier where “I could learn the business of delivering packages.”   She became a FedEx Operations Manager, where she ran a number of western Michigan operations station, and then the company transferred Cindy back to southern California where she led a FedEx station “right in the middle of Los Angeles.”  In L.A., she had the unique opportunity to lead a large operation situated in the midst of the 1992 riots (“a good day was when our station wasn’t shot at”), and even personally delivered packages to Hollywood celebrities. Cindy soon also took on additional responsibilities on FedEx’s technology team working as a liaison conveying real-life field experience to developers creating the first PowerShip, a mailroom device to accelerate shipment of packages.  “What I learned, there, was that business analyst functions in technology were absolutely invaluable.  I found that was my calling: finding how and what would make a business run better with technology.”  She moved from Southern California to New Hampshire, where she ran several stations in FedEx’s Eastern Region.  “But I didn’t want my career to be only about transportation.  I wanted to broaden my horizon.”

To do that, Cindy moved back to Southern California where she worked on a large Oracle systems implementation for a Fortune 1000 dental equipment manufacturer. “I loved doing the consulting part, which led me to Ernst and Young.” She spent 9 years at E&Y/Cap Gemini, first implementing back office Oracle deployments, and subsequently moving into front office consulting in the area of customer relationship management. Working on that, she found “there is a distinct correlation between back office functions, and customer satisfaction.”  Cindy worked for two years on The Warner Brothers lot, where she had lots of fun and the unique experience of brushing elbows with film/TV luminaries (“working out next to George Clooney at the gym!”). Then moving back to the Midwest, to be close to family, she became a partner at Cap Gemini, after Ernst and Young divested its consulting practice. The downsizing of CG’s worldwide consulting operations brought her to next opportunity: building an SAP  CRM (customer relationship management) practice, for Accenture.   “The exciting thing about that time was that Salesforce.com was taking the market by storm,” Cindy said. “It was a really interesting period.  They were going after SAP, Siebel, and a lot of the big guys.”   Coming from a developer’s perspective, “we looked at ‘clicks not code’,” Cindy exclaimed. The simplification of functions that cloud-based Salesforce.com CRM brought to its customers was astounding to her.  “This isn’t months, it is minutes. The speed of business that Salesforce enabled was pretty amazing!”   No surprise, she was offered the chance to build out Salesforce.com’s (www.salesforce.com) professional services practice, and create an “enterprise presence” at the company ---- an assignment she fulfilled for two and a half years, commuting frequently from Michigan to California and other parts of the globe.

In courageous fashion, leaving Salesforce.com at the beginning of the 2008 recession/depression, Cindy decided to “spend more time on entrepreneurial ventures.” She already owned a 1938’s-style diner, and unique specialty market in Northern Michigan, and decided to replicate it in downtown Detroit.  “That lasted about a year until the economic crash in September 2008, at which point we saw the traffic volumes waning, as the auto industry suffered, and decided to close the store.” Closing the business was very hard. “We loved being a business in Detroit. We employed all Detroiters, and they were some of the best employees I have ever employed.  It was a great experience, but a hard one.”  Cindy moved over to Alix Partners, a company solely focused on helping large corporations restructure so they could turn around their operating models and be sustainable.  “It was deploying a life lesson. It was a cleansing of my soul.  I understood their pain,” she said. “In some cases, I was emotionally vested in helping those companies sustain.”  From there she migrated to becoming a managing director at PWC Consulting for several years where she helped build out their cloud computing and Salesforce.com practices.  She then made the move to computer industry behemoth, IBM, to direct its worldwide cloud computing strategy, and also build their Salesforce practice, but the entrepreneurial “itch” returned.

Years before, over lunch with Marc Benioff, founder and CEO for Salesforce.com, Cindy posited the opinion that CRM, at some point in the future, would have to become consumer-centric (vs.  being an exclusive tool for enterprises to have all the information they needed about their customers at their fingertips).  And that germ of an idea has blossomed into her new startup:  360ofme (www.360ofme.com) which she founded in May, 2016. Now employing a staff of less than 10, with ambitious plans to dynamically expand over the next 3 years, she is very excited about the future.   “The data of YOU is proliferating wildly,” she said.  “And it is in silos of data.”  A consumer’s healthcare information, purchase decisions, ownership decisions, financial records are all held by the organizations with whom the consumer does business. “None of that is in a single place.  None of that has context.” So 360ofme has a strong and focused mission. “We want to give consumers the ability to control their own data, have it with them, share it, and gain insights that will allow them to live better, more predictable lives.”   360ofme demonstrated their first prototype at Dreamforce 2016 (Salesforce.com’s annual convention) and its first beta version will be available in November, 2016, with a full platform launch in January, 2017.  The first three vertical markets will be finance, healthcare, and automotive ---- highly regulated industries with crucial consumer data. “Consumers can intentionally interact with companies in those markets,” Cindy said. As the leader of 360ofme, Cindy focuses on market presence (being the “face to the market”), being the “face to the client” and also is the company’s in-house researcher, doing market research and competitive analysis.  

Cindy catalogued her top three leadership strengths as enthusiastic passion for what she does, a belief that everyone should have fun, and a tendency to be highly collaborative.   When speaking about women in leadership roles, she noted that she has always felt the need to prove herself because of that, “I’ve almost felt that I have nothing to lose!”   She also shares her main leadership lessons:

  1. Humiliation is not a leadership trait.  

  2. Helping people find their voices is essential.

  3. Never take “no” for an answer.  “Don’t let people tell you that you can’t!”

  4. Don’t take yourself too seriously!  Have fun along the way.

In her philanthropic life, Cindy’s favorite organizations include The Special Olympics, veteran-oriented nonprofits, women in technology causes, and reform of the U.S. justice system as it relates to inmates with mental health issues.

Cindy Warner can be reached via email at cindylwarner1@gmail.com; and her exciting new startup company, and a full-fledged demonstration of their products/services, can be found at www.360ofme.com.

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Diva Tech Talk Team

Podcast Divas