Mark Organ & Leen Li on the Power of Sponsorship
Part I: Mark Organ
Mark is the CEO of Influitive, an advocacy marketing platform that helps the world’s most successful B2B companies spark, build and sustain a movement behind their brands through the voice of their customers.
Q. Tell us a bit about you.
I’m a serial entrepreneur and love to build things. I’ve had two major influences in my professional life. The first is that of a street-fighting type of entrepreneur, I’ve been running small businesses since I was 13. The second is my experience as a research scientist in molecular neurophysiology and management consulting, both of which instilled a love of efficient discovery. I've lived and built companies in Toronto, Silicon Valley, Chicago and Singapore. Founded 7 businesses, raised more than 15 rounds of financing, hired over 300 people, built 7 offices around the world, and helped a lot of people realize their dreams. I've made a lot of mistakes too. I hope that I can keep building new companies for a long time to come. And stay hungry + foolish.
Q. What are you passionate about?
My personal passions? My two families, the one at home and at work. Right now I am working on making my children laugh every day, which I feel is so important to their well-being. My greatest professional passions include creating new billion dollar categories in technology and developing new leaders. I am excited about some of the ideas around Holacracy and Deliberately Developmental Organizations - radical empowerment, pushing decision-making to the edges of the company, and developing people as a primary mission for a company.
Q. What is the key driver of a company’s success, its’ competitive advantage, to you?
Culture and people. Coming from Bain, a strategy consulting firm, I was trained in how develop effective strategy. It’s important, don’t get me wrong. But Drucker is right that culture eats strategy for breakfast, I have learned the hard way. Growth and development of people is my number one priority. This was a lesson learned over time and through my experiences. A big part of that journey was the shift from relying on myself as a “superman” to relying on others, which not only helps scale me up, but offers the best development opportunities for people. A reputation for personal and professional development attracts the best people, today more than ever, as Millennials and Gen Z see work more as an adventure than a career. It’s the way I’m growing and competing in a challenging market.
Q. What does success in empowering people actually look like to you? How do you measure it?
I have a big life goal to create over a trillion dollars in value from the people who work with/through my organization. I don’t mean dollars made by my company, but dollars people I train will make in their own companies. I make sure there are many great opportunities in my organization for people to grow - but the reality is, it won’t be enough for everyone – it stings a little when they leave, but that’s okay. As long as they are moving up in their journey, it Is part of my plan. Crucially, it preserves my ability to recruit the best.
Q. Tell us about Leen, who you sponsored into her new role as CFO of Wealthsimple.
Leen Li is an exceptional young leader and I saw this in her in 2003 when she first came to Canada. I hired Leen as Junior Accountant at Eloqua. At the time, we had a very ambitious goal to take on overseas expansion (Asia & beyond) and tasked Leen with leading the project. Under her leadership, the project was a huge success and became a jewel in the crown of the company.
Fast forward to when I created Influitive, I hired Leen again. She joined in an accounting role with the vision of becoming CFO of a tech company in 5 years. The role she came into was a big gap from her existing skill set - she needed to master the leadership and development of people.
One difference that I have observed between men and women in the workplace is that more often men can throw themselves out there more, even when they are less confident in their abilities. I noticed that Leen was holding herself back, so I came up with a plan. I double booked myself with two simultaneous meetings in New York and San Francisco, leaving no choice but for Leen to present to a panel of venture capitalists, a bit like “Shark Tank”, on my behalf. She was intimidated, to say the least, but I said, “Don’t worry, I’ve arranged a speaking coach for you - along with everything you need to be successful.”
She rehearsed over 100 times and it was a flaming success! The speaking coach we hired was blown away by her dedication. Many of our team members watched over livecast from Toronto. She gained so much confidence and became much more of a CFO immediately.
Leen recently joined Wealthsimple as CFO. We miss her a lot but I really think this is what more startup leaders need to do if you want to make a gender equal world! This kind of sponsorship to grow and develop and provide the right stretch assignments is key.
Q. Any other words of wisdom to share?
The idea of “Vivid Vision”. One of the challenges that a lot of people have is that they live too much in the present and the past and not enough in the future. The future holds so much opportunity and potential and the present only has problems. Without having a step into the future is not having optimism. I’ve gone through it for my company & it’s a wonderful process.
More women would have breakthrough success in their lives if they spent more time looking into the future - and drawing a path from today to get to that goal.
Part II: Leen Li
Q: Tell us a bit about you and your journey.
Today I’m the head of Finance at Wealthsimple. I first came to Canada 2001 to learn how to speak English and for the experience. I did my MBA in Finance at St. Mary’s in Halifax. I fell in love with Canada and decided to stay for three months to get a job after graduation. One of my classmates referred me to Eloqua, who had just raised series A. I joined the company and that was where the journey began.
Q: Can you share a bit of your relationship with Mark? What are the most impactful sponsorship activities?
I first met Mark 12 years ago at Eloqua and he immediately identified me as a person who could ‘do much more than just accounting’. At Eloqua, I started on a very cool International Expansion project where Mark simply had the confidence in me and wanted to help me achieve more - with proactive guidance.Mark always saw the leader in me and we stayed in touch. Five years ago when Mark started Influitive, he asked me to lead the finance and operations team with the goal of being a CFO one day. Mark taught me a lot about SaaS, financing, how to scale from 0 to 100, how to understand and present numbers and metrics. More importantly, he gave me the access to other great CFOs from whom I continue to learn.
When I was evaluating the opportunity at Wealthsimple, Mark was so supportive and caring in every single step. He truly cares about people’s career path. Without him, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Q: What is your advice for young women
Do everything you can to really understand who you are, where you want to be and find the right mentors to support you, as early as you can. Create access to opportunities and networks no matter what, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.