Amy Chang

Board member @Disney and @ProcterGamble. Former EVP & GM @Cisco. Grateful to a phenomenal husband & amazing kid! Total food pusher. Startup advisor/investor and board member. She/Her.


The Provocateurs: Episode 21

Amy Chang: Becoming An AI Entrepreneur

Amy Chang serves on the board of directors for The Walt Disney Company and Procter & Gamble, and has previously served on the boards of Cisco, Splunk, Marqeta, and Informatica.

In 2018, Amy’s start-up business, Accompany, an AI/ML-based relationship intelligence platform serving Fortune 500 companies, was acquired by Cisco for $270 million. Post-acquisition, she led Cisco’s multi-billion-dollar 6000-person Collaboration business.

Prior to Accompany, Amy was at Google, where she led the teams for Google Analytics for over seven years, growing Google Analytics to serve over 86% of the entire web. She also fulfilled roles at eBay and McKinsey, having started her career in hardware with Intel, AMD, and Motorola.

In this Provocateurs podcast with Des Dearlove from Thinkers50 and Steve Goldbach of Deloitte, Amy reveals what provoked her to leave the comfort zone of Google to start her own company. She shares her insights on leadership – as the founder CEO of a startup you need to be “the everything,” from plumber to custodian to cleaner – and explains the importance of culture, transparency, and hiring the right people.

She also offers tips on becoming a new member to a board of directors, and the vital role of cardio exercise in taking care of your brain as well as your heart.


Quick Takes

The Transition from Google to a Startup

I have to say it was a huge adjustment at first, losing the massive distribution engine and just having that stripped from you, as a product person, all of a sudden you put something out and it's crickets. Nobody cares, nobody cares. And you have to build up the entire brand. You have to build up the story. You have to communicate it. It was such fantastic new learning, and really a kind of very dense unlearning, and the unlearning is more painful. The learning is fun, the unlearning is a little painful. And a lot of the unlearning was learning to live without resources.

Setting Startup Culture & the Value of No Assholes

I would say, leadership style wise, it all kind of started with wanting to be very deliberate about how we hired, how we promoted, how we retained, and how we let people go if they weren't a cultural fit. And we wanted to repel as many people as we attracted, and we wanted to literally put it as our number one value because we wanted to communicate, we will fire for this. If it turns out you are an asshole, we will take you off the team.

Managing at a Startup vs Fortune 50 Company

As CEO, it's all about creating an environment where your people can be their best selves and bring their whole selves to work. And that means understanding their hopes and dreams. It means understanding the environment they need to function well in. It means crafting development plans for them that let them have some stretch and let them take some risk while at the same time letting them shine in some of the areas they're best in. And the thing I found hardest was going from the startup where I so understood every single person's capabilities at an intimate level to managing again, this very large team where there's just no functional way to do that. And that loss of intimacy, if you will, was hard for the first year in rejoining a Fortune 50.

Full Transcript

Welcome to the Provocateur’s podcast, enabling you to think differently about leadership. 

Des Dearlove: Hello, I’m Des Deerlove, the co-founder of Thinkers 50, and I’d like to welcome you to Provocateurs, the podcast where we explore the experiences, insights and perspectives of inspiring leaders. Our aim with this series is to provoke you to think and act differently through conversations with insightful leaders who offer new perspectives on traditional business thinking.

This is a collaboration between Thinkers50 and Deloitte, and my co-host today is Steve Goldbach. Steve leads Deloitte’s sustainability practice in the US. Prior to his current role, Steve served as Deloitte’s US Chief Strategy Officer for eight years. He’s also the co author, along with Jeff Tuff, of two books, Detonate: Why – And How – Corporations Must Blow Up Best Practices (and bring a beginner’s mind) To Survive, and most recently, Provoke: How Leaders Shape the Future by Overcoming Fatal Human Flaws.



Steve, great to see you as ever. 

Steve Goldbach: Great to see you, Des. And I am so excited for our guest today, who is my dear friend, Amy Chang. I am honored to call her a friend. In addition to a great colleague, Amy serves on the board of directors for the Walt Disney Company and Procter and Gamble, and she served on many other boards including Cisco, Splunk, Marketa, and Informatica to name a few.

I met Amy when she was running Accompany which was an artificial intelligence, machine based, machine learning based relationship intelligence platform serving Fortune 500 companies and serving Deloitte, which is how I met her. Accompany was acquired by Cisco for $270 million. Post acquisition, Amy was leading Cisco’s multi-billion dollar,  6,000 person collaboration business.

So Amy brings tons of different kinds of leadership experience, whether it’s in the boardroom or leading a startup or leading a scaled practice in a Fortune 500 company. She’s also spent time previously at Google, where she led Google Analytics. She was at eBay and she was at McKinsey and she is an engineer by training and started a career in hardware with Intel, AMD and Motorola. So this is super cool, Amy. I’m so excited to speak to you. 

Just for, just for transparency. I got a chance to work directly with Amy while she was at Accompany and I found her to be one of the most amazing leaders. I think she is at the apex of nice people and brilliant people. And so there might, there might be people who might be more brilliant than Amy, but they’re not as nice as Amy. And there might be people who are nicer than Amy, but they’re not more brilliant than Amy. So she is at this wonderful apex. 

Why don’t you just start by telling us a little bit about your backstory. Were you always an entrepreneur-in-waiting? Did you know what led you to start Accompany? 

Amy Chang: Thank you for the lovely introduction. I didn’t know that I’d call myself an entrepreneur-in-waiting because I didn’t know. I was so scared. To leave the soft, comfy cocoon of Google and to go start something. And it was actually one of the scariest things I ever did in my career. I didn’t know if I could do it. So I would love to have characterized myself as an entrepreneur and waiting, but it didn’t. It didn’t even occur to me until we reached right around 86 percent market share with Google Analytics.

I’d started with the team when it was less than 1 percent market share. We bought this tiny company and then from its foundations, we made Google Analytics and we were a new entrant into the market. We weren’t anybody yet in that analytics market. And then it started to build and build and we doubled every six months.

It was an entire almost 8 year journey. At the end of it, I was kind of like, well, what’s the difference between 92 percent and 86 percent market share? Basically nothing. Right. And if you, if you know what next month, next quarter, next year is going to look like, I personally cannot live that way.

It’s an anathema – I just can’t function that way. That much predictability makes me want to poke my eye out. So I, decided, okay, I gotta do something different. And at first it was, well, what different kinds of things are there at Google? Because let’s stay in Google.

Then it became very clear to me what the massive distribution engine that is Google means. Anything you launch, even if it’s not fantastic, we’ll have a few million people try it out. You haven’t earned the right to have those few million people try it out. You just kind of have this giant engine. I just wondered, what would it be like to do it outside of Google without that bolstering and have to be on your own in the marketplace putting your idea out there your way and that’s that’s the genesis. 

Des Dearlove: So what actually provokes you then to leave the cocoon? Was it first the urge to do something different or the idea for the business? 

Amy Chang: The urge. I love that question. The urge to do something different.

I was sitting there for the entire last year of my tenure. We suddenly hit this 86 percent mark and it was kind of a wake up call. Because we hadn’t done the market share look in six months and it had hit a certain inflection point and it was just climbing like a hockey stick.

We had a launch, a big mobile analytics launch and I expected to feel the high from it. I expected that to last for, I don’t know, at least a few days, a week, maybe, and to be so excited about it. Right after all the launch flurry of activity died down, it didn’t feel right.

I felt let down. I felt like there was something missing. I felt like that’s it. Do you know what I mean? And it was this wake up call. And I kind of went, Oh, there’s something wrong here if that’s how I feel about it because the team worked so hard on this and it’s kind of a big deal in the industry. And yet my reaction to it is a little bit meh, there’s something wrong with how I’m currently spending my time. That was the wake up call and my boss at the time was Susan Wojcicki, who’s fantastic, and she encouraged me. I will say I struggled with whether or not to even tell her I was having these feelings for months.

I think the 20th time I woke my poor spouse up at 2 a.m. while he was slumbering nicely next to me. Steve knows Ryan well, he’s the calmest, coolest human, but the 20th time you wake him up at 2 a.m., he’s gonna be a little cranky. I was like, Ryan, do you really think I can leave Google? Do you think it’s crazy? 

I have a wonderful first generation immigrant Chinese mother who would articulate every fear I had about leaving out loud. She’d be: Who’s going to find you? Who’s going to follow you? Do you even know how to sell things? You’ve never sold anything. I don’t think anybody’s going to come with you to do this. I think you’re crazy to want to leave Google. So every one of my deepest, darkest fears, she would articulate out loud to me on an almost daily basis. 

So poor Ryan is woken up for the 20th time. And he finally says, I think you’ve already made your decision and what’s happening now is you’re a little bit afraid, but it’s okay. We’re not going to starve. We’re going to roof over our heads. Just go in. Let Susan know and it’ll be fine. So that morning I typed up my resignation letter and I gave it to her and she didn’t accept it. She said, well, okay. Can you take a sabbatical? Can you look at other things inside of the company? And she was kind enough to provide me with that chance. And as I was looking those thoughts around, well, what would it be like to test all of this against the open market, started to become more prevalent. 

Steve Goldbach: Amy, what then led you to discover the thing that led to the idea of Accompany, like what was one of the things we love to talk about is like, what was your insight? You know, what was your insight about your customer that said, I’ve got something that’s better than what the market currently has. 

Amy Chang: It was pain. Google Analytics had hit the point where we needed to do some enterprise account selling, right? And the way Google works, we went in to do a product review with Larry and Sergei and I outlined this entire enterprise plan where we’d have customer care people.

We’d have enterprise sales, but the whole normal machinery of selling to a big company like an Intel… Sergei’s point was: Okay. But I want to know that there’s actually a market here for an enterprise version of this. So why don’t you go sell the first 10 yourself and then come back to us? And once you’ve sold the first 10, then we’ll consider putting some sales resources on it.

Because at the time, you have to remember, each Google salesperson on average pulled in $6 million a head. So Okay. That’s a high bar to compete with as any new product, because on the ad sales side, they were so efficient. So I kind of went, okay, no problem. Right. I literally serve 86 percent of the web.

I think I can find 10 enterprise customers. It’s not going to be that hard. So me and my arrogance went away and said, okay, I’ll be back in a few months. Or actually I said, I’ll be back in a quarter. So long story short, enterprise selling is harder than I thought. And we were, I was in the room and it was a Monday and this big piece of news had come out about this particular potential client that we were in the room with.

There were 19 of them in the room so I didn’t even know everybody’s name and I didn’t have profiles or anything on them because at this time I’m running all of Google Analytics, but I’m also trying to sell myself. It’s not as if we know what we’re doing. So I wasn’t pre-prepped enough and they’d had a layoff that Friday that I didn’t read about and that I didn’t know about. It was a substantial restructuring for this potential client. I opened my mouth and I put my foot in it. I put my entire leg in it. It was terrible. I kind of wished the earth would open up and swallow me.

You know, when you get so embarrassed, you feel the blood creep from your neck all the way up to your hairline and you could just feel your face. Really hot. That’s that. And that was the fourth time that had happened in this whole enterprise sales process. Because when you walk into that room, you better know everything that’s going on with that potential client.

You better know everybody at the table. And it’s your responsibility as the lead salesperson to know all of that. I left that meeting and I’m sitting there thinking my calendar is my calendar. The names and the company for sure are in my calendar. Why is there not some kind of ML system, right? We hadn’t had generative AI come out at that point. Why isn’t there some kind of Algorithmic or ML system that can surface everything that’s relevant for me to know directly to me. Why can it not just be served up to me right before the meeting or the night before the meeting? Everything exists and is already there to do this, and yet nobody’s done this.

Why wouldn’t every single salesperson on earth benefit from knowing who they’re walking into the room with to try to sell? For that matter, every marketing person who’s trying to do any kind of real targeting. So I kind of just was very frustrated and the experience stuck with me. And so then I started to do a little bit of homework and research in terms of customer interviews with people.

I think my co-founder and I at the time (he’s my dearest friend from Google, he’s our technical co-founder) sat together and did 50 customer interviews, just kind of informal. Every single person had had this experience before. Every single person thought this was a problem that they would pay to fix, and that was the genesis of the idea.

Des Dearlove: So what fascinates me too is to go from a big scale organization like Google and some of the other organizations you’ve worked for to a startup. It’s so different. I mean, how did you find that transition, that journey, because the resources just don’t exist. They’re not there. 

Amy Chang: You know, you have to make it up as you go along.

I have to say it was a huge adjustment at first. Losing the massive distribution engine and just having that stripped from you as a product person, all of a sudden you put something out and it’s crickets. Nobody cares, right? Nobody cares. And you have to build up the entire brand. You have to build up the story, you have to communicate it.

It was such fantastic new learning and really kind of very dense unlearning. And the unlearning is more painful. The learning is fun. The unlearning is a little painful, and a lot of the unlearning was learning to live without resources. So, I mean, at Google they have an entire recruiting engine. So let’s say you have these open heads and design or whatever, right? They’re sending you candidates and yes, you self interview the candidates, but you don’t source them. You don’t have to reference check them. You don’t have to do any of the leg work before they’re served up to you on a silver platter for your consideration, right?

There’s all this machinery in the background and you want to talk about that. I mean, depending on Google infrastructure to do everything you needed to do is a beautiful thing. And all of a sudden you’re out and you’re learning. AWS at the time because Google Cloud wasn’t a force then so you’re learning AWS and then you’re finding out.

Oh, it doesn’t do this. Oh, it doesn’t do that. Oh, it doesn’t do this other thing. Damn it. We have to do that. And so a lot of that was painful at first. 

I remember this time I was at the board meeting and they treat you very nicely there. They take very good care of you. Then I got off the plane.

I’m still in my suit, I still have my suitcase with me. I came in through the door and it was probably 9 PM that night. We used to work till almost midnight, most nights on weeknights. The office was still buzzing and hard at work because a lot of our engineers might not get in until 11 AM because they’re just night owls.

So I walked in. There’s leftover sushi from that night and it’s starting to smell really bad on the table, right? There’s soy sauce spilled all over the table and the floor and stuff. I’m kind of like, really? So I put my suitcase down, roll up my sleeves, get the dish towel, and I clean up the table. I take the sushi out to the dumpster and I’m still wearing my suit. I’m thinking to myself, Okay, now this is a day. Six hours ago, I was being served sushi, and now I’m, I’m cleaning it off the floor. This is the life of the CEO. I’m a founding CEO. This is exactly it.

I’m the plumber, I am the custodian, I am the everything. 

Steve Goldbach: Well, that’s a good place to cut in on how you take care of your people. One of the things that struck me when we got introduced was just the way you had your leadership style and your policies around who you hired.

And I remember very specifically when I was introduced to you, I started looking at your website and there was a very clear, no assholes policy on your website. What was your. approach to your people? You clearly said, I got to take care of everybody and were willing to literally mop up after them.

Say a bit about your leadership style, maybe beyond the cleanup crew aspect of it. 

Amy Chang: I would say leadership style wise, it all kind of started with wanting to be very deliberate about how we hired, how we promoted, how we retained and how we let people go right if they weren’t a cultural fit. 

I don’t know if you remember the Netflix culture deck from way way back I think 13-14 years ago. It is still a fantastic deck in terms of giving overall guidance for founders before they sit down and start talking through values. That is what we did. We had a good friend come to facilitate and the three of us as co-founders wrote down separately, what was most important to us. And then we came together and we stormed and formed around it and we debated a lot of the points. And we also debated the language of no assholes because we felt like, do we want profanity in our values? I don’t know that we want that in our values. 

Des Dearlove: I think even Netflix, I think they call it no jerks.

Yes. No jerks. Yeah. I’ve talked to Reid about that. 

Amy Chang: We decided to say no assholes because it was so memorable. And we wanted to repel as many people as we attracted and we wanted to literally put it as our number one value because we wanted to communicate we will fire for this if it turns out you’re an asshole. We will take you off the team. And I did. 

There was one person who had a very critical skill set, but it became very clear that they violated rule number 1 within six weeks of us hiring them. When I look back on it now, we so needed this skill set, we compromised on that value.  We didn’t know that this person was totally going to violate rule number one, but there were clues as to their communication style and their values that we should have paid more attention to.

It became very clear within six weeks that this person was disrupting the culture of the company and so I let them go. That’s the shortest tenured team member I’ve ever had, and it was my mistake for hiring him in the first place, but it was so clear to us that all of us had dealt with enough people who are all about themselves versus the team or however you want to characterize the word asshole, right? Their styles would bring other people down, et cetera, et cetera. We’d worked with enough of these people in the 20 years of our careers that we just didn’t want to do it anymore and it was important enough to us to make it our number one value.

So, I think as CEO, it’s all about creating an environment where your people can be their best selves and bring their whole selves to work, and that means understanding their hopes and dreams, it means understanding the environment they need to function well in, it means so many things. You know, crafting development plans for them that let them have some stretch and let them take some risk while at the same time, letting them shine in some of the areas they’re best in.

And the thing I found hardest was going from the startup where I so understood every single person’s capabilities at an intimate level to managing again, this very large team where there’s just no functional way to do that. That loss of intimacy, if you will, was hard for the first year in rejoining a Fortune 50.

Des Dearlove: So how do you do that? I mean, presumably then you have to rely on symbolic leadership, more gestures. I mean, everybody’s watching you, but you can’t have a one to one relationship with everybody in the team. But, everything you do is amplified and magnified and you know but how do you, do you, will you consciously think, do you think about that?

Amy Chang: Very much so. I think that is exactly what is in your mind when you’re first starting. So can I, I’ll tell a 60 second context story around how I joined. I was on the board of Cisco and then Chuck decided he would buy our company and have me run most of our software platforms, our entire collaboration platform and that we would integrate our technology into the stack to give it more intelligence.

That was the genesis of how I came in but I’ve been on the board. There was this crazy, weird set of rumors when I came in because the person who held the position prior to me left to go be public company CEO and you know the SEC filing ramifications of that. One of the things was that the timing was very tight around the communication to the team and we literally closed the acquisition paperwork and signed it at 4 a.m. that morning after some very kind of indepth negotiations for the 72 hours prior. So I think I’d slept about five hours in that entire 72 hour period and we basically stayed overnight in the Fenwick offices. It needed to be done right before the announcement for him went out.

Then that morning I had an all hands with the team of 6,000 and it was broadcast worldwide. So they weren’t all in a room, but we’ll just say my predecessor did not do the loveliest job introducing me to the organization and we will leave it at that. But it was pretty bad. So it left a lot of questions in the team’s mind and they were wondering. Oh, I’d laugh because it’s so bad. You either laugh or you cry.

So the CIO and I had been friends because of the board work that I had done. He calls me on my way to do this world tour because I feel like one of the things I have to do is get out in front of the teams and talk to them and meet them face to face. I’m just going to fly around the world. I’m going to meet all my teams in town halls, and I’m going to spend hours with them, listening to them and just understanding what the issues were because the other piece of context is this particular group had not shown any revenue growth in three years prior while competitors for our products were growing in some cases, a hundred percent year over year.

So, you know, there’s problems. Right. And by the way, we fixed those problems. We actually publicly state we had 24 percent year over year growth the fiscal year prior to me being able to retire, but we had some serious problems. So he calls me and I’m on my way I think to Norway to go see our teams there.

And he says, Amy, I’m gonna, I have to tell you something and I think it’s going to hurt your feelings, but I think it’s better if you hear it, especially from a friend. And I was like, okay, lay it on me. What is it? And he said, there are rumors swirling around that you are a henchwoman from the board that’s come in to carve off this whole business and sell it.

There’s also a second rumor that you’re a henchwoman from the board who’s come in to cut one third of all the staff in this group because it’s not at growth. There were all these rumors and they all started with henchwoman from the board and something bad. And that was what everybody thought I had come in there to do and I kind of went, wow, okay, good to know that that is what is swirling around. Not sure where that’s coming from, but good to know. So I called our team lead in country and I told him, Hey, I am going to need you to ask me some really hard questions and I’m going to need you to ask them to me in the most direct and harsh way possible. So I literally want you to ask me, are you a henchwoman from the board who’s come here to cut a third of the team?

I need you to ask me right away at the very opening of the town hall so that it will encourage other people to ask really hard questions to because we’ve got to get it all out on the table or else these rumors are going to continue to circulate and take up time and space and we don’t have any time to waste because we’re losing market share every single day.

So let’s just get it out there. And he was, I mean, he paused on the phone. There was like, I don’t know, 12 seconds of very long silence. And he said, are you sure? And I said, yeah, I’m sure. I want you to ask me this. So we did this at the town hall and it actually turned everything. The level of questions that people were allowed to ask, I think really gave them a lot more confidence.

And by the end of that first visit to all the European offices, there were people who came up and said, Oh, we didn’t know what to make of you after that introduction with you and your predecessor. I will tell you a long story short, that the whole all hands meeting was supposed to be 40 minutes and my predecessor spent 25 minutes talking about his achievements & did not introduce me. And so I finally barged into the video and said, do you want to tell them who the random Asian lady is sitting next to you? At which point he couldn’t avoid it and actually he still didn’t introduce and just said, go ahead.

And that was his response to that introduction. So I introduced myself, but it’s awkward because there’s only so much you can really say in that kind of context. I got the chance to tell them I was going to come and see them all at their offices and do a town hall, but there wasn’t much more time to do a lot more than that.

So that’s the foot we started off on. Then after that, given how transparent I think we were willing to be helped the leadership team kind of see that that level of transparency was probably a good thing. Then we got going from there and the team changed. 

Des Dearlove: Yeah. And stories like that, they go, stories go around an organization so fast, good or bad.

Yes. But you’ll see bad tends to get quicker, but a story like that, where you, where you’ve, where you’ve been transparent and people have seen a different side that, that, that travels, you know, before you, I think that travels ahead of you and it makes such a difference. 

Amy Chang: I think it does. I think if you’re not hiding and instead you’re trying to be as transparent as you can and just saying, I don’t know. People would ask, well, are you going to make changes? Are you going to replace your executive team, et cetera. And I would say. I don’t know. I will answer you honestly. I don’t know, but I want to keep an open mind. And anyone who’s doing a great job, I want to know about it. I want to support them and I want to learn from them. But if there are changes that need to be made, I will make them.

Steve Goldbach: To some extent, when you’re in that kind of a role, you’ve got to know that every word that you’re saying is getting parsed in some way. And maybe that’s, maybe that’s a good, maybe that’s a good pivot to Just talking generally. So we’ve talked startup, you know, leader. We’ve talked leader at a scaled organization.

How do you think about board service generally? Because you’re on, you know, many different boards. So how do you think about the role of a board member as it relates to that same construct? Like every question you ask is sort of causing lots of work and organizations to go and answer those questions because Amy asked, you know, we got to answer it because she’s a board member.

Or how do you think about driving change from the boardroom rather than in the leadership chair itself?

Amy Chang: That one was one of the biggest adjustments. So Informatica was my first board and Sohaib Abbasi  and Godfrey Sullivan and Chuck Robel were all on that board and they were phenomenal mentors. One of the things that I think they did was help me understand the role of the board member and how it’s so different from the role of management. I knew nothing about it because it was my first board and it happened to be a public board. It was a huge adjustment to mentally reset and say, it’s not my job to fix this problem or tell them how to fix it.

It’s not my job to talk about the how, but it is my job to ask about the what and the why. And if I see something where it doesn’t seem to jive with where the market is going or what the reality of the situation is, I have an obligation to express that in a constructive way and an obligation to ask about it.

And so reframing that was, I’d say, bumpy for the first two, three board meetings, and then I got the hang of it, and I think that early experience with so many experienced board members who understood that distinction because they’d all been operators themselves. It was very helpful and they were willing to help me calibrate and understand.

And then I took that into Splunk because Godfrey Sullivan was also chairman of Splunk then and pulled me into the Splunk board and then into Cisco and Procter, etc. For everyone who’s taking on a board for the first time, I think the most helpful thing you can do, and there’s two most helpful things.

One is to meet everybody. One on one, if you can, before your first board meeting and just get to know them as humans, because here’s the thing is often you will have differences of opinion right in the boardroom because you have different lived experience and you come from different sectors and you’re supposed to bring different points of view.

That’s the entire point. But it doesn’t need to be personal. It doesn’t ever need to be taken personally when you disagree. And the best way to ensure that is if you’ve already had a conversation, one on one, you know, as humans, before you ever have that disagreement.

And I think that way people understand, oh, okay, you’re just disagreeing with my point. You’re not disagreeing with me as a whole person, you’re just disagreeing with that point. And so that investment I found, especially as a new board member coming in, for any boards that are more mature and have a lot of folks who’ve been there for a long time, you’ll learn a ton in those conversations and you create the foundation for those trusted relationships so that you can disagree and not have it become a federal case.

So that’s one. The second thing is in those one on one meetings, I’m looking for someone with whom I have good chemistry because I’d like to use them as a calibration source, if you will, so that, you know, the person with whom I probably have most chemistry and I know who will be direct with me, I say, you know, for the first couple more meetings, can I debrief with you afterwards just to calibrate?

On where things stand and where I could be adjusting to this particular board’s culture or to this particular company, just a little better, right? Because every single board is composed of different humans, which creates a different type of. feel and dynamic. And I’ve never had anyone say no. I mean, people are always very willing to help.

And so then after the board meeting, I’ll literally do a call either that night or the next day and just ask, how did it go? Where was I miscalibrated? Would you say, you know, you, you think I should speak up more, speak up less, et cetera, et cetera. Like what’s the patterning for this board and how, how can I be better?

Then they usually have very good suggestions and then we do that two, three times and then we’re off to the races. There’s not a need to keep doing it after every board meeting, but then there’s a line of communication open where somebody who’s very experienced with that board will tell you, if ever, let’s say you’ve stepped too much into management and you’re, you’re being a little bit too overbearing.

Des Dearlove: I mean, it’s almost like you’re looking for a cultural interpreter, somebody just in those early stage, just great. Let me understand how this culture works. So once I’ve got the cues, I’ll be able to pick them up for myself. No, that’s really interesting.

That’s really fascinating. 

Amy Chang: That’s a great way of putting it. A cultural interpreter. 

Des Dearlove: Let’s talk a little bit more about management. Tell us a little bit about your management mantra.

Amy Chang: So I for my people or for myself as a leader to make sure that I’m doing my job? 

Des Dearlove: For yourself, because I suspect this also touches right back to the beginning when you were feeling what you were feeling at Google and you knew it was time to what Whitney Johnson would say is you’d kind of reached the top of your S curve and it was time to jump to another S curve, you know and disrupt yourself.

But yeah, I think it, I think it probably yeah, relates to that. 

Amy Chang: It absolutely relates to that. It’s basically to operate always in the yellow, not in the green where things are comfortable and things are kind of coasting and you know what to expect, not in the red where your hair is on fire all the time.

But in the yellow where you’ve got to mix, you’re just on the edge of uncomfortable. You don’t know on Monday morning when you wake up everything that you’ll need to know by Friday when you go to bed. There is something new you will need to learn that week and you absolutely will have to stretch to try and learn it. That’s the zone that I love being in and that’s the zone where I do my best work and I support my team’s best. 

Des Dearlove: I think just to build on that. How do you manage others to do ot? Do you expect them to stay in the same yellow zone or how do you because because of it, you know, we’re starting to throw some kind of management ideas into this, but you’re just.

There’s sort of some of Amy Edmondson’s psychological safety. People have to trust to be in that space. Because we have a natural tendency to want to protect ourselves, but to stay constant in the yellow, people have to feel some sense of safety and feel that they have the support of the leader. 

Amy Chang: Yes, I think that it’s critical.

So knowing your leader is going to have your back so that you can take some risk in a large corporate environment, that’s particularly critical. And so one of the things is this. Again, apologies for the profanity, and I’ll say it in the non profane way, a poop umbrella. The higher up you get, the more you are also the poop umbrella, right?

So your people should be able to take plenty of risk, and you spread and you umbrella them from the effect of mistakes, because those mistakes – okay, that lands on me. My mistake. I did that. Sorry. Won’t do that again. This will not happen again. Sorry. Right? And it costs me a minuscule amount. Whereas for that person, it could be career ending if it was on their shoulders.

So, it’s kind of a permeable poop umbrella where sunshine should come through, but no poop should come through. Where I want my people to very much get credit for everything. I’m sure there’s a better way to put it, but any bad stuff, I put that on me, right? Any good stuff. This is the person who did the work.

This is the person who deserves the applause, shine the sunlight on them. I think particularly in a large corporate environment, people start to understand very quickly oh, she’s going to shield me from everything she can. So I can take risk. And when I do something good, I am going to get the accolades for that.

And it just reinforces this ability to take risk and the rewards for taking that risk. 

Steve Goldbach: And look, the benefit is, and just knowing you, it’s like, this is why people want to work for you, and this is why people will want to be in your orbit Amy, is like, just, you, you have this amazing way of energizing, of energizing people, which is infectious.

Given the last time we chatted, we chatted a lot about health and longevity. One of the things that I wanted to ask you, and maybe this is maybe this is a good one to end on, but just how do you stay in the yellow as a person who is under lots of different stresses? What do you do to take care of yourself and make sure that The stresses of life are not impacting your ability to be present with your teams and to behave in the way that you aspire to.

Amy Chang: So Steve, you and I talked about this in depth, but I had no idea how important cardio based exercise was, where your heart rate gets up to, let’s say 200 minus your age for a good amount of time every week. And I didn’t know how important that was to your brain as well as your heart. I joined the UCSF hospital board as my give back board a few years ago and in getting to know some of the neuroscientists and neurosurgeons there and understanding more about their practices around the brain.

That was one that was new to me. And ever since I have begun doing cardio exercise, I literally can feel the difference in my corporeal being and in the clarity of thought as well. And so, that’s one thing that I’ve reincorporated that I’ve lost for almost 20 years because what I used to do was force people if they had a one on one and no slides to walk with me because it was good for them good for me and people would say things to you when you weren’t facing each other across the table and instead you were walking side by side that they I found they would not say to you when you were looking at them like they would be more open and vulnerable about certain issues that they were having.

So I just started doing all my one on ones walking and I could get between six to ten miles a day just doing one on ones walking. And I thought, Oh, I’m getting plenty of exercise. I’m all good. But I didn’t understand how that elevated heart rate sweat cardio would make such a huge health difference. So I encourage everybody who’s not sweating every week, you know, doing some kind of real cardiovascular exercise to consider it because it.

It has extreme benefits for the brain as well as the heart. And for me, I was like, okay, my heart, I do care. But my brain, I really care about because if that goes like we are in deep, deep trouble. So I am going to take good care of all of this. So yes, that’s what got me. The other thing was sleep. I probably survived on five, six hours of sleep for 20 some odd years.

I mean, I really did. And I think I burned the candle pretty heavily at both ends and kind of just thought, Okay. Why? I just need my body to cooperate with what it needs to be doing today. There wasn’t much care involved. It was more just cooperate, just do what I need you to do. And now that I’m doing a portfolio of things, but I don’t have an operating role with the same intensity that I used to. I sleep like seven, eight hours a day, sometimes nine. And I’m just like, wow, I see the difference in clarity of thinking. And I see the difference in efficiency of operation. This, I wish I would have known this years ago.

And I, I, yes, I do silly things like, This is gonna sound really funny, but I have a pillow now that I stuff into a bag and take with me as a carry on because I sleep a lot better with this pillow, and I love it! So I’m that weirdo now who, you know, zips up their travel pillow into a bag and takes it with her.

But, and everybody has their weird things, and I would say, as long as they’re not harming anyone Take what you want on your trips with you so that you can sleep better. Because that quality of sleep is really important. I used to just pack very lightly and be like, I’ll survive. Which you will survive, but quality of sleep is really important.

After reading that Matthew Walker book, Bill Gates recommended this this book. After I read it, I was like, okay, that is eye opening and began to try and guard my quality of sleep more. And Steve, I know that this is an area of deep study that you’ve done across the board on health. And I’ve learned so much from Steve too on this front.

So he’s, he’s been very, very eye opening and educational on this. So I’m working on all this. 

Steve Goldbach: We got lots, we got lots to, I got lots to work on and I’m trying not to be a pusher about it but when, when it works, we’re all pulling the endorphins as well that you get from cardio exercise, you know, that little happy bubbles, you know, probably you’ll sleep better because you’re exercising more as well.

You know, there is a, there is a virtuous cycle here. 

Amy Chang: Yeah. And I’ve stopped drinking in the evenings. Now if there’s going to be any kind of wine drinking, it’s weekend day drinking. 

Des Dearlove: Oh, that’s impressive. Well, you know what? Really? We’ve, we’ve run out of time. I thought this would happen. We could probably talk for a lot longer, but we are out of time.

So huge thanks to our guests, Amy Chang, and to you for listening. This is the provocateurs podcast, and we’ve been Desdealove and Steve Goldbach. Please do join us again soon for another episode of provocateurs. 

Steve Goldbach: This podcast is part of an ongoing series of interviews with executives. The executives’ participation in this podcast are solely for educational purposes based on their knowledge of the subject and the views expressed by them are solely their own.

Podcasts should not be deemed or construed to be for the purpose of soliciting business for any of the companies mentioned, nor does Deloitte advocate or endorse the services or products provided by these companies.

AC: You’ve known me for a long time. I think you’d probably say that everything about my very being is urgent! I think I was born impatient and have always been one of those people that even when standing is shifting from one foot to the other, aching to move. This sense of urgency about the market window is shared by the team. Some people are more easygoing than others, but we all know that there’s a window and we need to get out there during that window. This team also understands that every user matters, so once you take users on, you better serve them as well as you can, as fast as you can. So, the funding hasn’t touched that sense of urgency. It did give us the runway and the means to build a product that requires an underlying data platform and an intelligence layer that sits atop that platform. That takes time and it takes money – two things funding helped enable.

Related Amy Chang Articles

Fast Company September 20, 2019

As artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning begin to make dramatic changes behind the scenes of how companies operate, hear from Cisco’s Amy Chang as she shares how the customer service experience will become more personalized.

Fast Company by Amy Chang, November 29, 2019

Amy Chang of Cisco reveals how watching people walking by and observing facial expressions and body language she could discern if they were actually enjoying working together.

Marie Claire by Brooke Hauser Aug 23, 2018

Amy Chang in Marie Claire’s Immigration Issue: “I grew up knowing I was going to have to bring it. Every single day. There’s no free lunch. No free rides. No free anything, just sheer effort and persistence.”