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What I’d say to me back then - don’t be afraid to take the long way round for the perfect job, says Confluent’s Stephanie Buscemi

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett May 10, 2024
Summary:
Buscemi plotted a two-year transfer from one career to another, and never looked back.

Stephanie Buscemi
Stephanie Buscemi

Hailing from Silicon Valley, and growing up right in the heart of the technology industry, Stephanie Buscemi had a very clear career plan when choosing what to study at college and which internships to pursue. And it very much was not technology.

Buscemi’s original goal was to work in broadcasting. She studied broadcast communications at university and did several internships in broadcast journalism. But ultimately she wanted to return to the Bay Area, and breaking into broadcast journalism as a rookie there wasn’t a realistic option. Buscemi says:

In the US, you have to go to a very small market and earn your stripes.

Back in the Bay Area, Buscemi realized how much appreciation she had for technology having grown up around it. While she was making the transition in her head from broadcast journalism to which industry and which line of work to pursue instead, she came to the realization that all companies would need to leverage technology. And fortuitously, she was sitting in one of the capitals of tech.

Once she’d made that decision, Buscemi consulted a lot of people in the sector about how best to get her break. One suggestion was going into sales, using her broadcast journalism background and communication skills to get a 100 percent-commissioned entry-level position, effectively paying for herself while learning on the job. Buscemi considered this option and had some job offers, but decided sales wasn't right for her:

I was interested in what's the story you tell, having done that from broadcast journalism, it's a lot about storytelling. I wanted to be part of the marketing organization.

Marketing

Rather than rush into an entry-level sales job, Buscemi took a longer path to reach her target – a career in tech marketing. She guessed it would probably take two years, and allowed herself that time; 

It did take two years, which is nothing in the grand scheme of it, but at the time it felt very long.

Her first step was to transfer to the marketing department for networks like ABC and CBS that she was doing broadcasting work for, to get some experience there. Back in Silicon Valley, she adopted a bridging strategy by getting a position at an ad agency that had both B2C and B2B accounts. She was hired immediately to work on the Nestlé account, thanks to her previous experience in radio and TV marketing: 

It was a very natural progression going from working for that to an ad agency that had some consumer brands and needed someone to help them with the marketing.

Once at the agency, Buscemi’s sights weren’t on the B2C brands, but very firmly on how quickly she could switch to a B2B Tech account. She moved over to the Cisco account, and then to the Business Objects account. She recalls: 

They said, 'You're pretty good, would you like to come work for us?'. And that's how it all started.

Buscemi has since held marketing leadership roles at some of the biggest B2B tech brands: Hyperion, SAP, Salesforce, and for the past three years, CMO at Confluent.

Roles

Working in technology marketing back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, women were  generally confined to logistics-type roles like event planning, Buscemi says:

They weren't in roles that were directly defining or shaping the product. The majority were in operational logistical roles, which are of value, but you're not having domain expertise or critical expertise on what is that tech company's product and solution offering, and what are their products and services.

To go beyond being seen as logistical coordination, Buscemi leveraged what she’d learned at Business Objects, the power of data and analytics in marketing:

From very early on, I was a marketer that wasn't really waxing poetically about the Pantone color of the company logo. I was a marketer that was saying to our CFO, 'If you give me a dollar, this is how many dollars I'm going to give you back'.

This was down to Buscemi being extremely data-driven long before it became the norm:

I got that foresight because I had worked for an analytics company and I saw this is where marketing is headed. I was an earlier adopter of that, and that really resonated with a CEO, a CFO, a head of Sales.

They were interested in somebody who could quantify precisely how it would help them make deals and get their sales done. That was initially how Buscemi got into roles leading growth teams very early.

As she progressed in tech, Buscemi also learnt how to distinguish tech companies into three groups: product driven, sales driven, marketing driven. She explains: 

Most of the tech companies where you have a tech CEO founder, they're product-driven. I found, later in my career, that getting myself closer to product was of critical importance on my path to becoming a CMO. I spent time in product marketing.

Prior to becoming CMO at Salesforce, Buscemi says all the firm’s product marketing was distributed and sat in product management:

We ultimately consolidated it. It was 18 different product line teams that started to report to me and we created a centralized product marketing function. That's critical because if you are at the heart of what is the problem the company solves and how they do it, how the products and services actually work to enable that, you're extremely valuable to an organization.

Paying forward

Having built her own successful career, Buscemi now invests a lot of her own time to pay it forward, mentoring and sponsoring young women, offering coaching and a sounding board in the former, and helping open doors and get access in the latter. It’s something she views as mutually beneficial:

The flip side of it selfishly is, I've been at this a long time and I don't want to be insulated. I don't want to be somebody who isn't current with how this next generation and this next workforce thinks and values. I always leave every call, every coffee, every meeting with the people I'm mentoring and sponsoring getting just as much out of it.

Buscemi also has advice on how companies can encourage experienced women back to the workplace after career breaks:

You have these women who are extremely capable, they were working in the corporate world. In 10 years, things evolve, some of the terms change, but they're just as smart and capable. It's about making their re-entry into the workforce easy for them. The most successful companies create programs for that so that people can come in and it doesn't become so overwhelming.

Companies need to create a clear returners program that breaks work down into timed sections, so women know what is expected in the first six months, and then 12 months, and then 18 months, Buscemi argues: 

Then it isn't that long before you go, I've only been back a year and a half, but it feels like I've been back 10 years. If companies have an open front door and a systematic way to say, the first six months we're going to focus on onboarding you or re-entering you into this, it short-circuits it and makes it far less overwhelming.

I'd tell myself...

If Buscemi could go back and give her younger self advice, it would be that you don’t need to know it all and it’s ok to ask: 

I was a bit of a purist. I believed to be a CMO – and you could just scratch out the word CMO to whatever they're climbing towards - I needed to do absolutely every part of marketing. I've probably done a rotation in every single job in marketing. And that's not the case.

Her personality meant she didn’t want to ask people to do things she didn’t understand, and that she needed to excel in every aspect of marketing before she felt she could effectively lead a team:

I've now realized I would need to live to 200 or older to be able to be a master on all these things, especially because they're all ever-changing.

As leaders, what you actually need to master is asking really good questions, she concludes: 

That’s the most important skill to understand what they're trying to do, and help them remove obstacles and be successful. You're simply not going to be able to be an expert on everything when you're leading a really large organization. You have to trust your team, and you have to be highly skilled on asking the right questions.

Image credit - Confluent

Disclosure - At time of writing, Confluent and Salesforce are premier partners of diginomica.

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