Executive Inc.: Joyce Mullen is a rare breed. A female CEO leading a Fortune 500 company
Joyce Mullen was looking forward to taking some time off after 21 years at Dell Technologies, but the break didn’t last long.
“I had a plan to take off six months or a year, and then after about two months, my husband said, ‘This is not working for me, you have to go back to work, you’re killing me.’”
Mullen (with marriage intact) set her sights on Chandler-based Insight Enterprises Inc., a company she had worked with extensively during her time at Dell.
Mullen joined Insight, one of Arizona’s largest companies, back in 2020 as the president of North America operations. She moved up and became the CEO of the company in January, replacing longtime leader Ken Lamneck who has retired.
Insight (Nasdaq: NSIT) is a technology provider that helps other businesses on their “digital transformation,” a general term that covers everything from helping customers to install Wi-Fi routers to shifting operations to the cloud.
Business has been good during the pandemic as institutions of all stripes had to rely more on technology to work. The company made $9.4 billion in net sales during 2021, a 13% increase from 2020.
Insight makes most of its money (62% of revenue in 2021) from reselling hardware produced by other companies. The company also sells software and services to helps customers implement the new technology.
Insight’s share price is down about 10% this year, in line with a general decline among tech companies.
Less than 10% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women
The company employed more than 11,600 people across the globe at the end of 2021, the largest portion (4,600) of whom are consulting and service delivery experts. Insight employs 1,250 people in Arizona and has openings for another 170 locally.
After earning her MBA from Harvard, Mullen started her career at Cummins, the Indiana-based engine maker. She then joined Dell and worked her way up to president of the company’s global channel, embedded and edge solutions division.
Only about 9% of Fortune 500 companies are led by women, a select group with now includes Mullen and Insight.
She said that even amid turbulence, there is still huge demand for tech.
“We’re now in a new era of a lot of uncertainty in the market, yet demand for digital transformation persists,” she said. “That’s a testament to the fact that you come out of the other side of digital transformation more efficient, less dependent on labor, the better client experience … I just read this book, ‘The End of Tech Companies,’ and the premise is basically that every company has to become a tech company. And I think that’s true.”
You worked at a startup right out of college. How did that inform your career? One of my professors was one of the founders of this company, and it was funded by the Saudi Arabian government. We were trying to track political events and military events around the world … we were trying to figure out if we could use that data to predict either political unrest or military activity. That thing was a total failure, by the way.
I was in charge of all these people really early, and had to hire them all and I had to manage them all and motivate them all. I had no idea what I was doing, but I really loved it. I loved building a team, I love figuring out how to align everybody around a common goal, I loved figuring out how to listen to them and understand kind of what they needed to do their job better. And, what I really figured out is that I loved leadership.
It took a few years before you realized the responsibility of being a woman in leadership. What changed your thinking on that? Early in my career, I was very concerned about getting any kind of advantage because of my gender. I didn’t want anything special. I just wanted to earn my way, on my own merits.
As a young woman in business, in a diesel engine company, and you’re dealing with Japanese customers who, you know, have never seen a woman present before; they thought I was the coffee person. So I go get a coffee. And then I’d come back and do the presentation and leave the meeting and make them all squirm, which I just thought was kind of fun. Or, you know, on Delta Airlines, you’re wearing a blue suit, and everyone thinks you’re a flight attendant. I mean, it’s just … there’s all of that stuff that you just sort of deal with… I didn’t really think that much about it.
It’s when I started to realize the impact of that on my team, so if I had members of my team who were having trouble with it, then I thought this kind of is getting in the way. It’s not reasonable.
It became something that I felt like I had a responsibility to work on for my team, then it became easier to work on. And then as you get further and further in your career, you realize how important a network is and how you need to pay it forward, and you got to help people and, if you do that, you’re helping your team get better too. So I actually became quite passionate about it.
How has the pandemic changed the pace of digital transformation? It has absolutely moved us forward, from a digital point of view, probably 10 years, maybe even more. We’ve seen a lot of focus on work from anywhere capabilities, that has implications for modern applications, you got to make sure they can work on mobile devices as you need it.
The sort of follow-on work from that has been around figuring out how to modernize infrastructure, which is really driven by a couple of things. One is figuring out how to use public clouds. And that’s been particularly exciting, especially given the supply chain constraints around hardware. And then everybody’s trying to improve their e-commerce capability, for obvious reasons … Well, to deliver a really strong e-commerce capability, of course, you have to have a good site, but then you have to have a really solid infrastructure behind it. So step one of that was figuring out how to shore up customer infrastructure, make sure that they were secure. And now we’re working on the e-commerce piece.
Company: Insight Enterprises
Title: President and CEO
Education: Undergraduate degree in international relations, Brown University; MBA, Harvard Business School.
If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would you dine with? Nelson Mandela. He was an incredible leader, he persevered through all that time in Robben Island. How do you stay sane in that environment and then come out stronger? He just was so smart about how he thought about uniting South Africa and really had such high emotional intelligence.
What do you like to do for fun outside of work? We absolutely love hiking. So my husband and I do a lot of stuff together. We love hiking, we love traveling. We love skiing. We tried to learn to surf the other day. That was humiliating for me; he was very good at it.
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