Meet Deb Ashton, Founder & Senior Vice President, Strategic Customer Experience, FinancialForce

Deb Ashton

Deb Ashton is Senior Vice President of Strategic Customer Experience and a Founder of FinancialForce. Deb has been instrumental in the growth and ongoing success of the FinancialForce business. In her current role, Deb’s mission is to work with our customers to understand their journey, ensure they maximise the value they derive from our solutions, and enhance the overall customer experience.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

As a founder of FinancialForce, my role is to ensure FinancialForce’s customer experience is best in class. I am continuously innovating and working relentlessly to deliver moments that matter for FinancialForce’s customers, employees and investors. I engage with many customers directly to understand their journey with FinancialForce and acquire feedback and insight to ensure they are maximising the value they receive from our solutions. The position I hold is a global, cross functional role specifically designed to drive advocacy for FinancialForce solutions and ensure that FinancialForce customers are wildly successful.

In my position, I build trust with customers and employees alike, while through collaboration and communication skills, I am able to facilitate executive level meetings and can quickly switch context to help dig into the details of different customer conversations. My goal is to ensure FinancialForce delivers what we say we are going to deliver, as well as to ensure that FinancialForce customers are managed with integrity and care.

When I founded FinancialForce in 2009 alongside the original CEO and co-founder, I was running our Engineering, Success and Support teams. I created the Customer Success discipline ensuring a customer centric mindset was built into the company’s DNA. In the ensuing years, I have built and managed our Product Strategy, Product Management, Product Marketing and Software Engineering teams globally. Most recently, my responsibilities focus on Customer Experience and Operations.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not exactly! I’ve always been very driven and determined to be successful at everything I do. My mantra is to work hard and be the best version of myself that I can be. Because I’m so high energy, I’ve always sought out new roles that push me further in new learnings or career paths. I set ambitious goals for myself, both personally and professionally, which take me outside of my comfort zone. With my career I always wanted to learn new disciplines and try new roles to help build high performing teams – that’s what drove me to the leadership level early on in my career.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

There are always career challenges. Starting FinancialForce and being the founder of a small business means you are wearing lots of different hats. I started off at the company running product management and engineering, support, success and HR and Finance. Over the years, as the company grew and we became more mature, I had to hand over certain roles to experts.

One of the biggest moves I made was from Chief Product Officer running product strategy, management and engineering to starting the new customer experience discipline for FinancialForce. This was a huge challenge but I saw it as an opportunity, which is essentially how I overcome the challenge. It is very rare in your career that you get the chance to build a new discipline and team from scratch, which was what I’ve done here at FinancialForce.

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What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Really, it’s starting FinancialForce and growing the business from 27 people when we started in 2009 to close to 1000 people today, with 1400+ customers globally.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Never giving up – I am competitive and want to be the best at everything I do. This makes me very determined to be successful personally as well as professionally due to the fact I operate well in teams and always want to drive success for the people and teams around me. I invest time in people whether that is team members or customers. I make sure I understand what motivates people, what challenges and difficulties they are facing, and how I can help them to be successful in whatever they are doing.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

I would say always be curious, always be learning, whether that’s within your role or within the technology environment you are operating in. Make sure you understand how to work well in a team and what your strengths are, ensuring you’re playing to those strengths.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Yes, I think less women choose the technology direction at college / university, which means the pool of women available for recruiting into technology roles is smaller than that of men. To drive more women into tech we need to engage them at school when it comes to the decisions they are making about A level and university courses. We also need to mentor them and ensure they are included in important conversations and their voices are heard.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Companies need to have a diversity and inclusion policy in place that makes everyone, regardless of who they are, their background, gender or race, feel equally involved in and supported across the business. This can be initiated through education, in addition to the creation of a Diversity and Inclusion committee, like we have at FinancialForce, which ensures there is a recruitment and hiring process that supports diversity. At FinancialForce, we also celebrate the differences in the cultures, backgrounds, etc. which are a part of our organisation.

There are currently only 21 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Ultimately, we have to put more women on our Boards and into C-level positions, especially in enterprise technology companies. In the near term, we need to ensure an inclusive environment that attracts diverse talent, and a hiring process that includes a rich, diverse talent pipeline of talent.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Reading Forbes, Accenture, Deloitte and McKinsey articles regularly, and following technology leaders and entrepreneurs on LinkedIn and Twitter, as well as reading the articles they are posting is a good place to start.