Gentry Women in Tech Virtual Series
Portraits byHillary Jeanne
Written byRobin Hindery and Fredric Hamber
Three years ago, our team at Gentry launched our first-ever Women in Tech Conference highlighting dozens of powerful female founders, VCs, and C-Suite executives. The 300-person event was followed last July by another sold-out event. While we won’t be able to rekindle that in-person energy of the conference in 2020, our team has been hard at work to bring you this issue filled with the stories of fascinating innovators, social entrepreneurs, and trailblazers. We hope you will be inspired by their fascinating stories and we encourage you to join us for the inaugural Gentry Women in Tech Virtual Series launching on August 28, 2020.
Samira Khan, Senior Manager of Global Impact Engagement, Salesforce
From traveling as a child to Pakistan and India, to a Fulbright Scholarship in Bangladesh, to consulting jobs in Malaysia and Hong Kong—to name just a few examples—Samira Khan has spent her life living the mantra, “Think globally, act … globally.”
Even a worldwide pandemic hasn’t changed that, and when we spoke in May, the senior manager of global impact engagement at Salesforce.org (the tech giant’s social impact arm) was “working around the clock” to continue supporting nonprofit, educational, and philanthropic organizations at a time of unprecedented social and economic uncertainty. “COVID-19 has made the case for my work even more powerful,” says Khan, an Illinois native who describes herself as someone who has always loved building and strengthening human connections.
Khan received a degree in Management Science and Engineering from Stanford before moving directly to Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, followed by a Fulbright Scholarship to Bangladesh to work with female victims of acid violence. A career in consulting took her to postings all over the world before she landed back in the Bay Area to join Salesforce in 2018. “It represented to me the intersection between technology and good,” she says of the San Francisco-based company. “They’re living what they say they do; they’re walking the walk. And Salesforce.org was the ideal role that combines technology with my desire for social development and to drive social change.”
One of Khan’s proudest accomplishments before COVID-19 changed the global narrative was spearheading a major gathering of impact management stakeholders last December, including representatives from corporations, nonprofits and foundations, and intergovernmental organizations. She is currently developing the next version of the initiative, considering the effect the pandemic will have on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), human rights, and equality, and how to increase cross-sector collaboration, she says.
In the months leading up to our interview, Salesforce launched multiple initiatives to help the world navigate the pandemic, most notably Work.com, a comprehensive guide to help businesses reopen as quickly and safely as possible.
“As a result of COVID-19, there is a whole new set of activities apart from my day-to-day job that I’m focused on,” says Khan, who was sheltering-in-place at her Redwood City home along with her husband and three daughters. “But the long-term vision has stayed constant: How to strengthen corporations’ roles as leaders of society and use business as a platform for change.”
Leading and Learning
Lauren DeMeuse, CEO, Roam Analytics
When we sit down for a video interview in May, Lauren DeMeuse has been CEO of healthcare analytics company Roam Analytics for eight months. More than a quarter of that time has occurred under the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place mandate. Yet DeMeuse is taking a glass-half-full approach to the current crisis, using it as a time to hone her teamworking and communication skills, build up her own resiliency, and focus on good news where she can find it. For example, she notes, “We’re having our best quarter ever; it’s actually our first profitable month.”
DeMeuse has had an interest in science and health since her childhood days growing up in Palo Alto and visiting the California Academy of Sciences. At age 10, she moved with her family to Houston and then went on to study molecular biology at Princeton. “Early on I realized life in the lab wasn’t the right fit for me,” she recalls of her decision to simultaneously pursue a certificate from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs. After a stint working for former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist in Washington, DeMeuse heard that Google was forming a health team at its Mountain View headquarters. She jumped at the chance to return to the Bay Area and work in a role that applied science to the business world, she says.
In the years that followed, she earned an MBA from Stanford, where she met her now-husband, had two daughters (now ages 2 and 4), and spent nearly seven years at big data company Palantir Technologies helping build its healthcare team and working as chief of staff to former Chief Information Officer Arvind KC. “At Palantir, I had the chance to learn about building software platforms and using technology that was very machine-learning oriented to optimize our internal operations,” DeMeuse says. So, it seemed a natural fit in May 2019 when Roam Analytics—a Bay Area company that applies machine learning to healthcare—was looking for a COO.
DeMeuse was met with a financial outlook that required urgent attention. “I had to set a new product strategy, a new commercial strategy, and oversee layoffs in month one,” she recalls. Fortunately, Roam’s board had faith that she could right the ship—so much faith, in fact, that she was promoted to CEO five months into the job. “I definitely had to come to grips with my own areas of weakness and see them as opportunities, so I leaned more heavily on my team,” she says of her place at the helm. “I just had to go through it and realize where I should stop and let others take the ball and run with it.”
As she navigates managing a company remotely and achieving financial stability, DeMeuse is also focused on the well-being of her employees, urging them to distance themselves from social media and half-jokingly “threatening” to buy them sleep-tracking devices. It’s been a challenging year, with much uncertainty still ahead, but the newly minted CEO reflects on it with clarity and wisdom. “If I’m learning, then I’m happy. And this has been a huge learning opportunity.”
Rika Nakazawa, Founder and CEO, BoardSeatMeet
Rika Nakazawa attributes many of the fortuitous twists and turns of her career to chance and good timing. But closer examination brings to mind a quote credited to Roman philosopher Seneca: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
Nakazawa was born in Japan but spent five years of her childhood living in Scarsdale, New York, and later followed her older brother’s lead by attending college in the U.S.—in her case, Princeton and UCLA (with a break in between to determine whether she would pursue a path in sciences or humanities). “My first job ended up being at a startup within Sony in the early years of the dotcom era,” she recalls, “and the rest of my career has been pretty much defined by disruptive tech.” Various stints in marketing and business development followed, taking her to Tokyo, San Francisco, London, and New York, before she finally put down roots in the Bay Area in 2006, working as a development executive for NVIDIA.
Working in the company’s notebook business unit—at the very time that notebooks outpaced desktop PCs—was exhilarating, she recalls, but she also observed something far less pleasant. “At NVIDIA was the first time I really started to notice that more than 80% of the time, I was the only woman in the room,” Nakazawa says.
Over the next decade, as she rose to increasingly prominent positions in marketing, development, and strategy for American Express and other companies, Nakazawa became a vocal advocate for women in business and technology, particularly those aspiring to leadership roles. A women’s conference at her alma mater Princeton in 2018 led to a crucial awakening. “I attended a session on women in board governance,” she recalls, “and the widespread absence of advocacy and sponsorship. I realized, I need to do something about this.”
In 2019, Nakazawa founded BoardSeatMeet, a digital platform that facilitates connections and interactions between women executives and corporate boards in order to drive gender parity in board governance. According to reports last year by Deloitte Global and SpencerStuart, women hold just 16.9% of board seats globally and just 26% of board seats on the S&P 500.
BoardSeatMeet launched its beta version in May, as Californians and millions of others sheltered in place, but Nakazawa was able to find the bright side of ramping up a startup in the midst of a pandemic. “COVID-19 has shone a huge spotlight on the need for empathetic leadership and high-performance boards, because boards are so involved with risk management,” she notes. “It’s been shown that gender-balanced boards perform better and that diversity correlates with profitability.”
And in case you’re wondering: BoardSeatMeet’s own advisory board is two-thirds women. Like most of Nakazawa’s other achievements, that’s not by chance.
Paying It Forward
Megan McClarty, Data Engineer, Instagram
Megan McClarty recalls the childhood day in rural Manitoba when her family first got access to the Internet at home. As she searched for and read information about animals, her passion, she felt a world opening up, delighted to have so much knowledge easily accessible. “I distinctly remember being so excited I couldn’t sleep that night,” she laughs. In middle school she learned HTML and began building websites. Animals remained central in her life: her father was a professional horse trainer and she rode thoroughbreds from an early age, jumping and showing. “All of the family friends were involved with horses,” she says.
Upon entering the University of Winnipeg, she declared a major in physics, having enjoyed the subject in high school, but without real thought to a career path. But her decision to continue with a master’s in electrical engineering, focused on solid state physics and semiconductor research, was definitely pragmatic. She didn’t want the academic life of an itinerant professor, but rather hoped to parlay her technical background and scientific education “into something that would give me a career that would allow me to keep having horses,” she recalls.
Equally pragmatic was her decision to move to the Bay Area for proximity to the semiconductor industry. She enrolled at UC Berkeley to earn a second master’s degree, this time in materials engineering. She currently works as a data engineer on the Growth Analytics team at Instagram. “A data engineer,” she explains, “is someone who works at the intersection of software engineering and data science to build out pipelines or applications to provide data insights. It’s someone who enables a company to effectively use the data that their applications generate.”
For McClarty, the appeal of her daily work is “you can iterate very quickly. As you’re working on something you can see the changes that you’re making, which I really enjoy. I like being able to try out different things, and in a day, to give something a try and if I don’t like it, revert it.”
In a show of empathy and support for those entering the job market during this challenging year, she recently joined a data scientist friend in hosting “virtual office hours” via Zoom in which recent college graduates and job seekers can ask questions of people working in data-related fields. She also writes a blog with short tutorials on technical subjects that she thinks haven’t been adequately documented elsewhere. So: the child who relished access to information is now a professional with a mission to make it available to others.
She also remains a steadfast equestrienne, playing position number one on her team at the Menlo Polo Club and South Bay Polo. Her pony is named Bitcoin, and she’s proud to have competed in her first USPA tournament last year and received her rating from that organization. She calls polo “an adrenaline rush all the time. In a chukker you’re running—it’s exciting—you come off the field feeling tingly. It is really exciting to be galloping and riding in close proximity to other riders.”
McClarty sees parallels between polo and her day job. “You basically have a lot of frameworks or technical guidelines for training a horse and data engineering,” she says. “There are a lot of opinions you can get from experts in the field. There’s a lot to learn and resources to help you improve, but when you get down to it, there is putting your own spin on it. At a certain point when you are actually going in, you get to make your own decisions. You take all the learning, but also have the freedom to improve.”
— Fredric Hamber
Strength and Resilience
Susan Winter, Managing Director, Global Head of Loan Syndications, Silicon Valley Bank
Susan Winter is a warm but reluctant profile subject. She’d much rather hear your story than highlight her own personal and professional successes. But she’ll happily discuss her lifelong love of animals and the outdoors, so we think she’ll be comfortable with this analogy: In the high-stakes world of investment banking, Winter has never been the show pony; she has been the reliable workhorse behind the scenes—the one everyone can count on.
Or, as she says, “I’m kind of just in the boiler room, making things happen.”
Winter grew up in Wisconsin, spending all her free time in nature, but she knew early on that she wanted to work on Wall Street. After receiving a bachelor’s in economics and a Duke MBA, she did just that, landing at JPMorgan and later at The Blackstone Group and Barclays in the late ’90s and early 2000s. Then an opportunity arose on the West Coast, in the form of a job offer at Silicon Valley Bank. “I could do finance and be in banking, but also get out of New York and come to this amazing place,” she says of the Bay Area. “Silicon Valley Bank was much smaller at the time, and I had never really done technology, but I took the job because they were sitting right here in the middle of the innovation economy.”
Shortly after arriving in 2010, Winter, a Senior Managing Director, became SVB’s Global Head of Loan Syndications. She has held the job ever since, overseeing a team of 16, supporting clients in the innovation sector ranging from enterprise software to AI, renewable energy, and wine, and helping SVB grow into a world-renowned financial institution with more than $75B in assets and approximately 3,700 employees.
Winter says she’s proud of the bank’s “moral fiber” as much as its financial success and Who’s Who roster of clientele. It’s clear she fits in well: earlier this year she was awarded the bank’s prestigious Biggerstaff Award for individuals who exemplify the company’s core values, outstanding leadership, and extraordinary performance.
That same character is reflected in SVB employees’ actions during the COVID-19 pandemic, Winter says. “People were pulling all-nighters to process amendments and deferred payments for early-stage clients and to onboard PPP loans,” she notes, referring to the federal Paycheck Protection Program. “We’ve also dramatically augmented our already strong community philanthropic and enrichment programs, including medical research and immediate fulfillment of food and care for people in need. We know people have been impacted in so many ways.”
For her part, when we spoke in May during shelter in place, Winter was enjoying the increased quality time with her twin daughters and taking advantage of the natural wonders of her local Half Moon Bay community. “We spend a lot of time at the tidal pools,” she shared. After all, even workhorses need to unwind.
Gentry Women In Tech Virtual Series Sponsors
Morgan Stanley • Cooley • Harker
Sponsors In Kind
Four Seasons Silicon Valley • J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines • SkinSpirit