Our most successful customers, some of the largest and most successful companies in the world, realize the full value of Pivotal’s cloud platform, data products, and services when they get expert help addressing change management and digital transformation.
This week, we are very excited to announce the appointment of Siobhan McFeeney as the leader of our transformation practice at Pivotal Labs. From her interview below, it is easy to see how her experience as a steward of change in top roles such as CFO, COO, and CEO will have a big impact—helping our customers transform culture while using data and technology to impact profitability, acting more like a data-driven software company.
In 2014, The San Francisco Business Times voted McFeeney as one of The Most Influential Women in Bay Area Business, and her pedigree includes a Bachelor of Business Studies, Economics, and Law as well as a Masters in Finance from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland—one of the top-ranked universities in the world and the top school in Ireland. If that wasn’t enough, she also attended Harvard’s Executive Education program.
In her early career, McFeeney was the director of mergers, acquisitions, and investor relations at BP and led the integration of several acquisitions. She also became the CFO, COO, and Interim CEO of AAA in Northern California, a group with 1600 employees and 4000 independent service professionals. Her CFO role was not typical. Besides normal finance, accounting, audit, risk, tax, and legal functions, she also was responsible for vendor management and the measurement of all aspects of business performance. Most interestingly, she led member (customer) experience—the part she is most passionate about.
As COO, she convinced the AAA board of a new strategy, led the turnaround, and helped everyone—from the board down to each frontline employee and partner—see the necessary change ahead, ultimately putting the customer at the center of their culture. She also introduced NetPromoter Score to measure customer loyalty and reinvented teams, processes, and technology along the way. Most recently, McFeeney was a Pivotal customer at a San Francisco start-up—she has first-hand experience with Pivotal products and services.
With her considerable experience developing board and C-level metrics, broad change management success, customer experience responsibility at a billion dollar firm, start-up chops, and track record of using technology to get results, she will add a big shot of adrenaline to scale an already successful and growing team.
Would you tell us about your upbringing and how you became involved in managing change?
Of course! I grew up in Dublin, Ireland and moved to the States in my mid-twenties. Like most other students at the time, I left Trinity and headed down the accountancy track, starting my career at KPMG. Fast forward a few years—and I ended up in a major oil & gas company. They were about to merge with another giant and had no plan for integration or transformation. Nothing was built to align—technology, culture, processes, nothing. I saw the integration between technology and people as a great way to solve problems, assuming there was an absolute laser focus on the customer.
Keeping the customer at the center of everything we did, regardless of the company, product or culture, has been key to successful change where I have worked.
Could you share some of the relevant highlights of your career?
Well, I have had the opportunity to work with some incredible brands as they were reinventing themselves. Most recently, I led AAA, one of the most recognized brands in the US for decades, and needed to modernize and ensure consistent customer delivery on their key promise—tow service. This was a huge, complex undertaking and very rewarding. We started with design thinking as well as process and technology transformation to reinvent the tow service you see today. Not only did it involve technology upgrades for the tow drivers and dispatch systems, it required major cultural changes to compensation and geography optimization. There are many levers to push and pull when companies undergo major change. When you change one piece, there is an immediate impact felt somewhere else in the organisation—intentional or not. There is no such thing as just changing one piece of your business. The domino effect usually means everything changes. At its core, you impact the company culture.
At AAA, transformation became very real when we helped everyone get very close to the customer. People need some tangible manifestation of the customer. We did a lot of workshops and interviews with customers. Perhaps the most impactful element was introducing the “marble” to represent a customer. I know—it sounds odd. When we talked about customers leaving and how to attract new customers, it did not really have an emotional impact on the employees responsible for this or even the board. So, we tried an experiment. We put thousands of marbles in a jar and put them in front of our board. We asked them how many marbles they thought were in the jar. I am sure they thought we were crazy, but they got into it and became pretty competitive at guessing how many.
We finally revealed how many there were. Then, we told them that the number represented how many customers left AAA every single day. That moment made it very real for them. When they could physically see how many customers walked away and did not see value anymore—it was shocking. The marble became “the customer” in discussions and decisions.
We placed a jar in every room in the company. You simply could not talk about new HR systems, product features, sales goals, anything without the customer being present. It made a profound impact on the culture and making decisions with the customer in mind.
Would you tell us how and why you came to Pivotal?
After leaving AAA, I joined a very early stage start up, and we picked Pivotal to help us fast track the development of our website applications. Sitting in the GM role, I spent every day with the team. This experience made Pivotal’s position very real for me. It convinced me that a new way of working together, using new methods, could change everything. As well, I spent some time talking to other clients who came to Pivotal to learn how to build software in a new way. Soon, I realized this was just the beginning of reinventing their entire company. Every company today is on their journey toward becoming a technology company, and Pivotal Labs and Pivotal software have proven across all industries that they are the secret weapon for real transformation.
What is your role inside Pivotal and what are you focused on?
Companies start out by looking at digital transformation, and they quickly realise the depth of change needed, particularly once you set upon changes for building software, being data driven, and innovating with technology. Pivotal offers so much in this space today. To offer a complete solution, we are building out our transformation practice and addressing process change, design thinking, cultural impacts, physical layout changes, and more. Then, it will be the complete solution. I envision our ability to continuously learn, improve transformation roadmaps, and develop new tools as we learn from the market, clients and, most especially, end users.
What types of challenges will you solve for customers?
We need to help companies help themselves. This is both easy and complicated. Deciding to transform the way IT runs and functions is significant—it’s not about IT anymore—it’s about being a digital business. Transformation will not only change how software is built and drive innovation, it will change how people spend their days, how they feel about their work, how new people are hired, and how the customer experience evolves. When change and transformation is introduced to a mature and successful company, it can cause significant anxiety in the workforce. People want to know how they are impacted. In addition to providing labs, platforms and data, we need to provide support and tools to help employees, teams, and leaders change. Even the most enthusiastic change agents need help getting started. We need to give people help and support until it becomes second nature. This becomes the glue that holds it all together and ensures long term success for the entire company.
What do you like to do in your personal time when you aren’t living and breathing Pivotal?
We have four children. They keep us pretty busy outside of work. I also like to run a lot—long distance cross country gives me time to get back to a great balanced place, and, ironically, it is the most relaxing time for me. My husband and I met while mountain climbing in the North Cascades, and I still climb today with my eldest son. He trekked into Everest Base Camp with our expedition team this past spring. I really believe you actually can do everything you want to—you just have to give up on sleep!
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