How I Got Here: Susan St. Ledger, Senior Vice President, Salesforce.com
By ELIZABETH GARONE
Special to THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Susan St. Ledger always thought she would go back and get her M.B.A. But too many, not-to-be-missed career opportunities got in the way. Ms. St. Ledger doesn't regret any of them. Whether it was working as the chief of staff for the president of Sun Microsystems or introducing Salesforce.com's Software-as-a-Service (SAS) platform to clients, Ms. St. Ledger found little time for hitting the books or sitting in a classroom. "I think getting an M.B.A. is a great thing, but I think you really have to balance it with, 'What are the opportunities you're faced with at work?' " Elizabeth Garone spoke with Ms. St. Ledger about those opportunities in her career. Edited excerpts follow.
Full name: Susan St. Ledger
Q: You've had three senior vice president positions at salesforce.com since you arrived in 2004. Were the moves lateral or vertical?
A: They were essentially lateral moves. Salesforce is an incredibly fast-paced, high-growth company. With the high growth, there are just a lot of opportunities to focus on what you can do to help the company. To me, that's part of the fun of it. If you look at my resume, you'll see that they moved me a lot of different places at Sun as well.
Q: Why the move from Sun Microsystems to Salesforce.com?
A: Sun was an amazing company. I really had a fabulous experience there. I learned a ton. I really feel like they shaped my career. But I had been there 12-and-a-half years, and I felt like I wasn't growing at the same pace that I had been growing at earlier in my career. I had discussions with several mentors, and one of them asked what I really needed to round out my resume and take it to the next step. Timing was everything. I wasn't actively looking, but I had just started to think seriously about what a move might look like and at that point, I received a call from salesforce.com. When I got to know them better and saw their vision, it just completely blew me away. I couldn't resist the challenge.
Q: What about family and friends? What did they think of the move?
A: There's no doubt that a lot of people were like, 'What are you doing?' Essentially, I was moving from a very well-known and established company to something most people didn't know and didn't understand. It took a lot of explanation. But, at the same time, fundamentally I knew the reasons I was doing it, and I felt like I was definitely running to something not from something, and it was a very positive move for me.
Q: Did you ever consider going back to school for an advanced degree?
A: I come from a family of educators where education is of the utmost importance. I always did well in school and took it very seriously, and I always thought I would go for an advanced degree. Looking back at it, it was just timing. At the time I was seriously thinking about going back to school, it was the same time I got approached to be Ed Zander's chief of staff. Hands down, everybody I talked to in the industry said, 'You will learn way more in a year and a half attached to Ed's hip, flying all over the world and being in meetings with him, than you would ever learn from an M.B.A. (And if) you want to get your M.B.A. after that, then you can do it after that.' But, quite frankly, after that I just didn't feel the need.
Q: You started at the National Security Administration. Was it a conscious decision to move to the private sector?
A: Early on I knew that at some point I would switch over. But I think NSA was a tremendous early experience. They gave me a lot of responsibility at a very young age. The budgets were very good at that point, and NSA was doing a lot of bleeding edge technology, and it truly was the technology that attracted me there.
Write to Elizabeth Garone at firstname.lastname@example.org