WHO SHE IS: Karen Brewer, Chief Marketing Officer & SVP, Ellucian, a software and services provider that helps higher education institutions achieve student success

LOCATION: I split my time between northern Virginia and San Francisco offices

SUCCESS STORY: Coaching and mentoring colleagues and helping them advance their careers.

WORK SCHEDULE: I have been blending my work and personal life for years, striving to manage my time every day.

KIDS: Greg, Michael, Harrison

SANITY VICE: Hiking Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County, Calif., and coffee with girlfriends on Saturday mornings

RECENT SMART READ: I have always been a fan of Guy Kawasaki. He is sunny, conveys a simple message and engages an audience well. My pick: Enchantment, The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Actions.

BEST TIME-MANAGEMENT TIP: Have a game plan for the week, put out your clothes and pack your bag the night before each work day and get the kids to do the same. There is less drama with the kids in the morning and it creates good habits for college and beyond!

GO-TO TECH: FaceTime – I love checking-in with the kids when I am on the road — assuming they will accept the invitation.

BETTER WAY TO SAY WORK-LIFE BALANCE? Be thoughtful with your time


1. You transitioned from interim to permanent CMO of a tech company. How is it going?

The best part about accepting an interim leadership role is getting insight into the company, the market and the culture before committing. I highly recommend this approach and I would do it again. One of my first experiences was attending the annual customer conference with 9,000 others. At that point I knew that I wanted to permanently be part of Ellucian. It’s exciting to work for the technology leader in higher education who helps institutions improve student success.

2. You took a career break along the way. Tell us about that, how long you took, and what you did during the break knowing that you wanted to work again.

I spent about seven years as a marketing and sales consultant on a part-time basis while the kids were young. My specialty was filling a gap with small companies to help them plan and successfully launch products. I learned how difficult it was to work 20 hours a week and spend the rest of the time being a mother to three boys. That was probably the most challenging time in my life!

I got a little restless and agreed to be the Chairman of the steering committee to rebuild the town’s park. A few other mothers who had also left the full time workforce joined me. We developed and executed a plan that included fundraising, design, marketing, PR and grant writing… with kids in tow. It was a personally rewarding experience to rebuild Boyle Park in Mill Valley, Calif. It was also a great way to keep my business skills sharp, socialize our children and give back to the community.

3. Did you find after your break that you were more selective about what kind of work you would do and how you would work?

I was highly selective in my approach to re-enter the software industry full time. My criteria included targeting a successful company that could offer a challenging leadership role, a positive culture and an opportunity for career growth. Compensation was a factor since childcare and private preschool was expensive. My husband had flexibility in his career at the time, so I didn’t limit myself in terms of how I would work. The best opportunity happened to come from a previous employer who hired me into a global leadership role.

4. What are you doing to “work smart” these days?

At work, I am focused on priorities that are aligned to business priorities. We are getting more effective and efficient in the way we operate within marketing. Personally, I am always trying to improve the way I manage my calendar. If I am going to start my day early to accommodate Europe or the East Coast, I know I need to block my calendar for family time in the early evening. If I am traveling and I lose a weekend, I know that I may sometimes need to take a personal day to catch up.

5. What is the media missing about working moms, in your opinion?

I would like to see more stories of mothers who have taken an improvisational approach to their careers. Just because a woman has decided to take a few years or months off to focus on their children does not mean they have lost their expertise and ability to contribute in business. I would like to hear more about working mothers who have successfully moved in and out of the workforce as well as companies who make this a business and cultural norm. Mothers who are contracting or consulting part time should not feel like second-class citizens. What are companies doing to make them feel like they are part of the valued workforce?

5+. What advice do you live by as a working mom?

Create a plan. I am a firm believer of developing goals and action plans. I believe that it is extremely important to continue to think broadly and deeply about your expertise, your goals and gaps to achieve your goals. What are your career “Must Haves,” “No Ways” and “Nice to Haves?” All the studies prove that if you visualize and write it down, it’s more likely to happen. Never stop learning. Whether you are taking a break from your career or you are a full time working mother, you must take time to continue to challenge yourself and continue to learn. You will be more marketable inside and outside your company.

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