2017 Third Quarter
My Board Journey: JULIE CULLIVAN
By Eve Tahmincioglu

Cullivan is a senior vice president for business operations and CIO at ForeScout Technologies, Inc. Director for Axon.

What interested you in joining Axon’s board?

When I got the opportunity to interview for the board position, it quickly became apparent that to deliver on its people-based mission, Axon had to become a technology company focused on the cloud and artificial intelligence, with security a top priority. Many of the same opportunities and initiatives that I have been driving in high technology organizations applied directly to the transformation well underway at Axon.


How did you become someone who is sought-after for boards?

What I bring to the table is a broad set of roles that span running go-to-market strategy and business operations, as well as information security and technology. Every company today needs to be a digital one, and my technical background and business-line experience is valuable to that effort. 


Has your technology expertise helped propel your career?

There is no question that my technical experience has provided me with many career opportunities. There aren’t many roles harder than being the CIO for a high-tech company, where everyone feels they could do your job better. I have learned that although technical chops are important, the ability to build relationships, assess and minimize risk, and execute are far more important. 


What are the key issues in technology facing corporations today? And what should directors be thinking about?

There are so many exciting opportunities for companies to enable their businesses by leveraging new technologies. The ability to deliver new capabilities to customers, partners and employees has never been faster. Having said this, many of the same legacy challenges of data governance, integration and security still apply. It is important that directors understand both the technology and security roadmaps for the companies they serve and encourage strong partnerships across the business and information technology functions. 


What are the challenges you faced as a woman in technology and a woman on boards?

I was lucky enough to start my career in Silicon Valley and I always felt I had strong sponsorship. My advice to others is to take risks and go for what you want, because no one else is going to give it to you. I have taken on more than one role that I wasn’t sure I was ready for, but I did what it took to succeed. I know there is much more progress to be made in this area and organizations like the Athena Alliance, which introduced me to Axon, are accelerating gender diversity in the boardroom by cultivating bespoke relationships with female executives and companies. The Athena Alliance is doing amazing work to not just match incredibly strong women leaders with boards, but to give them the tools, coaching and training to be prepared for the entire journey.

Do you think companies are bolstering diversity in Corporate America and in the boardroom? Are things getting better?

It is getting better. I have observed many appointments of women to boards in the last 18 months, including my own. Few boards can ignore the need for diversity and are reaching out to organizations like Athena Alliance to get the help they need to find qualified women candidates. As I spend time with young women that are earlier in their careers, I’ve noticed they are choosing to go to companies where they see women in strong executive management and board positions.


What mistakes have you made in your career that you’ve learned lessons from?

I am learning all the time from mistakes and successes. Going from several large enterprise companies to a pre-IPO startup gave me the opportunity on a daily basis to think differently and not pattern match. Every company is unique in its maturity level and culture, so taking a balanced approach to minimize chaos and maximize agility is important.


What advice would you give women looking to get on corporate boards?

I would recommend you invest the time to understand what it means to serve on a board, decide what type of board you want to be on, and most importantly, call on your networks and your own determination to ultimately make it happen. It took me about a year to realize that networking alone was not the answer. I feel very lucky to have met Coco Brown, CEO of Athena Alliance, just as she was brainstorming with a group of successful women with board experience on how to improve board diversity. I was thrilled to be a founding member of the Athena Alliance and be one of the first women to work through the board journey process. The program not only gave me access to board openings, but helped me build out my board biography, practice my board pitch and attend board simulation events. I would not be on the board of Axon if I had not joined the Athena Alliance and committed the time and energy it takes to make it happen.


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