Kelly Steckelberg, CFO, Zoom Video Communication
By Samantha Walravens
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The full audio version of the interview can be heard on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, as part of the Women in Tech series hosted by Lehigh@NasdaqCenter.
Kelly Steckelberg joined Zoom Video Communications as CFO in 2017 and led the company through its 2019 IPO. Over the past year during Covid, she oversaw the company’s growth from 10 million to over 300 million daily meeting participants. Here, Steckelberg explains what it’s been like to lead a multibillion dollar company through a global pandemic, what Zoom is doing to support its employees, and the future of Zoom in a post-Covid world.
Samantha Walravens: Over the past year, Zoom has become our lifeline to work, school, family and friends. What are the biggest challenges the company has faced during Covid?
Kelly Steckelberg: It was really crazy. I remember March 15 was the day that everything changed. Almost overnight, we went from 10 million to over 300 million daily meeting participants. The first challenge was ensuring that our customers and prospects and that anybody who wanted and needed access to Zoom had access. We had to look at how that rolled through the company and IT systems— making sure the sales organization had the support they needed and that our data centers had the capacity.
As a leadership team, we came together on a very regular basis to look at the priorities and see where we needed resources. As CFO, I wanted us to be very thoughtful about the long and short term needs we were addressing. We had a backlog of support tickets, so, short term we tried to get that queue down but at the same time make sure we did not get ahead of ourselves in terms of hiring. We didn’t want to get overextended as a company, while reacting to this significant demand we saw.
There were certainly some bumps along the way. We have a radically transparent culture internally and externally, and when we did make mistakes as a company, we were very open about that. When we were having a particularly difficult time, Eric (Yuan, Zoom CEO) hosted “Ask Eric Anything” webinars where anyone could come ask him questions. We were very open in our blogs about some of the issues that we were addressing. I think that both our employees and customer base really recognized and appreciated how transparent we were during these difficult times.
Walravens: How is Zoom supporting its employees during the pandemic?
Steckelberg: As we move through especially to this pandemic, we have been very intentional about listening to our employees and really paying attention to what’s what’s happening with them. We do see that the pandemic specifically is stressing our female employees more than our male employees. In general, women are finding it harder to balance work, being a teacher, and often taking care of the home. These are responsibilities that still, unfortunately, fall to the women.
The goal is to create an opportunity and an environment where women don’t have to choose between family and career, where they can be in a situation to balance it all. That’s what we’re striving for at Zoom certainly. My goal as a female executive and leader is to help educate people on how they can do it all.
Walravens: What are Zoom’s plans for returning to the office?
Steckelberg: We are still working on our specific plans, but we do know we’ll be implementing a hybrid model. We have said publicly that it won’t be until the fall of this year earliest, and it might be later than that. First and foremost, we’re listening to our employees. We do these little pulse surveys to see how people are feeling. There are certainly pockets of our employees who are very anxious to go back to the office, and there are other employees who are nervous about going back.
Given this technology that we live on every day, there is no reason for us to be aggressive, and we never want our employees to have to worry about their safety. We will wait until everybody feels really comfortable and then probably wait till another month after that. While our employees are missing community and collaboration, we’ve seen that the productivity of the company has not been hindered during this time.
Walravens: What do you envision for Zoom in a post-Covid world?
Steckelberg: What we’ve all seen during this time is there are some benefits for some meetings or activities being conducted over Zoom, and our goal as a company is always to make these experiences be just as good as they are in person. As we continue to progress through vaccine availability, we’re never going to go back to exactly the way it was before. We’re going to go back to a way that’s better. What I mean by that is greater flexibility for employees. We’ve had a lot of employees who have moved to be closer to family or to lower cost-of-living locations, and that’s great because we now have a technology to support that so that certain employees who want to be remote will have a very similar experience to those who are working in the office.
Walravens: What are the key attributes of a good leader?
Steckelberg: First, listening, and not assuming that you know everything. Second, not being afraid to hire really great people who are more skilled than you are. The worst thing you can do as a leader, in my view, is have an insecurity that you need to keep it all to yourself and that have to be the go-to person. You need to empower your teams and ensure they are trained, so that you can delegate to them and give them the space to lead. Ultimately, you should be hiring a team that can succeed you.
Walravens: What advice would you give the next-generation of leaders?
Steckelberg: Keep looking for opportunities to expand your skill set. My career approach has been to say yes to anything that I thought was going to bring me new skills. It might not be a clear path straight ahead. It might be a lateral move to a different team. But, keep looking for those opportunities, because ultimately what you’re building is a very well-rounded set of experiences that will lead you to that next opportunity.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The full audio version of the interview can be heard on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. For more interviews with leaders, subscribe to Lehigh@NasdaqCenter podcasts.