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11.04.2014The 5 Fundamental Rules For Resolving Big Problems

So what are Carine Clark's fundamental rules of engagement, and how do they apply to other entrepreneurs?

Cheryl Conner, Forbes.com

My great career hero Carine Strom Clark knows a good deal about hard challenges. In 2002, she left a stellar career at a software giant (Novell) to take her chance on the little known startup (Altiris) and helped to make it a global enterprise. Following Altiris’ acquisition by Symantec in 2007, she not only stayed, but served five more years as the CMO of all of Symantec worldwide.

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She left Symantec at the top of her game to be CEO of another startup (Allegiance) that required fast growth and new funding. She’s a wife and the mother of two sons. And she’s a cancer survivor who beat horrific 20% odds. Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to sit down with Carine over lunch. “How have you succeeded at such differing challenges?” I asked her. She didn’t pretend it was easy, but her answer surprised me: “Whatever the problem in business or in life, the rules are the same.”  I arranged a follow up chat to delve deeper into her strategies for overcoming the odds.

Carine served at Novell at roughly the same time as I did in the late 1980s. I’ve had several opportunities to work with her in years since. (My team served as PR agency of record for Altiris during all but one of the years of its life.) But this is where our similarities end as she has leapt continuous hurdles:

  • She earned an MBA degree while employed at Novell.
  • At the height of her success she left Novell to join Altiris for a third of her former salary. (“Are you really sure about this?” her husband had asked. “Yes. Very sure,” she had said.)
  • She became VP Marketing for Altiris in 2002, which was acquired by Symantec at the beginning of 2007.
  • As an unassuming girl from Utah she was not only invited to continue, but was appointed worldwide CMO of Symantec, the second largest software company in the world. She succeeded, but better still she rocked the assignment by creating a worldwide marketing organization that could run with or without her.
  • In 2010 she was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer of a rare and aggressive variety that left her with only a 20% chance she would live. Friends and other executives urged her to tell no one (and doctors agreed) as the impact of the news would surely end her career.
  • She informed everyone, and left her role at Symantec for a six-month period to focus entirely on attacking the cancer in the way she tackled every other great challenge: head on.
  • She survived.
  • The day before her return to Symantec, Carine’s boss (CEO Enrique Salem), who had held her position open for the six-month departure, was fired.
  • The new CEO, in his first meeting with Carine, sized her up and said, “I fear you’re not at 100%.” She replied, “I’m not. I’m at 75%. But that 75% is better than anything else you’ve got going or are going to be able to get.” He conceded the point and she went back to work, taking her marketing organization to greater heights than before.
  • While still in treatment she left Symantec in December 2012 to lead Allegiance at the strong urging of the founder and his board to head a team of 70 employees who needed more funding and a more rigorous structure for growth. The founder wanted to remain. Carine, joining the team as an outsider and still recovering from cancer (she completed chemo treatments in June 2013), became the founder’s new boss.
  • Under her leadership, Allegiance has grown to 110 employs and $20M in revenue within the past year and a half and has secured $23M in new funding. The founder remains with the company and is happier and more fulfilled by his role than before.

So what are Carine Clark’s fundamental rules of engagement, and how do they apply to other entrepreneurs? Here are the secrets she shared that she uses to address every challenge she faces, large company or small, business or personal:

  1. Be yourself and be transparent. “I’m always myself and I’m not afraid to get it wrong. I don’t have to pretend anything,” she maintains. Carine is a big advocate of “failing fast” and “failing frequently” along the path to success. Because she drives herself with abundance thinking and an eye toward the longer-term goal, she has no ego or territorial role to protect.
  2. Don’t let fear run your life. “I’m afraid, but don’t let fear determine what’s going to happen,” Carine says. This trait was extremely vital in Carine’s recovery from cancer. When the doctors refused to tell her the odds of survival, she insisted. When the doctor finally confessed the answer, he couldn’t understand why she wasn’t collapsed on the floor or crying. “Would that help me get better?” she said. Of course it would not. “I’m wired differently than most people,” she said. “I’m your 20%, or your new 21.” She helped the doctors design a plan of attack even more aggressive than they were recommending.
  3. It’s okay to participate from behind. “I’m not afraid to be ‘the one in the back,’” says Carine, and she insists to me she’s an extreme introvert. This is stunning to me, particularly since for the past 10 years, in addition to all else she’s accomplished, she also plays in a band. (The company band “Manage This” was made up of four Altiris employees who reported to Carine. It took them two years to convince her to join, and she sits in the back, playing keyboards, while her comrades play lead. The band has recorded two CDs and placed as a finalist in the Battle of the Corporate Bands.) “You learn a lot about teamwork in business from a band,” Carine tells me. “You can read each other without speaking. When one guy is doing a solo everybody else backs up and has a role. The drummer does what a drummer should do. And even with a front man and a lead singer, that person is only fabulous because everybody else is doing their job.”
  4. Never give up. “‘No’ doesn’t mean ‘no’ to me.” When my father needed equipment from a veterans’ hospital I called and called and called and said “Give it to me.” The officials said they’d never encountered a situation like this. “You don’t know my daughter,” he had said. The motto above the door of her home reads, “This family does hard things,” a theme that her Symantec organization also printed on wrist bands as they raised money for cancer as a show of support during Clark’s treatments: “This company does hard things.”
  5. Learn to be a “Peaceful Warrior.” Treat people with kindness, and give people a reason and a way to say “yes,” she maintains. “If you’re a jerk to people, it’s easier for them to say no. But if you just approach them as a person…I have found I can get most things I need.”

I observed another great strength in Carine I’d propose is secret #6: Address hard circumstances with calmness. Carine is clearly an individual that is able to excel in hard times by keeping her emotions on an even keel. This allows her intellect and instincts to stay intact when she addresses difficulties such as health issues, market and organizational changes, hirings, firings, and the drama that tends to leave most individuals undone.

These are wise secrets that would help any executive. However, as I visit with Clark she notes that some of the most profound influence on her current life has to do with the learning and perspective she gained during her fight with cancer. Even she didn’t realize how strong she could be until she was put to the ultimate test, she confides.

She was also surprised by the advice from doctors that as a professional she should protect her career by hiding the cancer and the treatments. Intuitively she knew that to beat the disease she would need to involve her full circle of associates and deal with the consequences of her illness in the open and with transparency, as she has always done with every hard task.

As she did so she was stunned to receive confidential emails from nine male executives in Symantec who were also dealing with cancer and had followed advice to keep the illness and treatments to themselves. The suffering they experienced was horrific on an even greater level than the illess, she realized, because of the isolation they felt. One of them said, “I just received a bad performance review because I am always so tired. But they have no idea I’m dealing with cancer on the side.”

Clark feels strongly that the open support she received from others and even from the company itself, which matched the funds employees raised in their efforts, was influential in helping her to prevail against the terrible odds.  She also notes that while her 20% survival odds “were like winning the worst lottery ever,” the perspective her illness has given her is a gift beyond measure. “Time is precious to me now,” she says. “I outsource everything that doesn’t matter to me. I outsource my housekeeping so I can go home and night and spend my time with my son.”

Notes Greg Butterfield, the CEO of Vivint Solar who hired Carine into Altiris and as a board member recommended and hired her again to Allegiance, “The strengths Carine has demonstrated are hard to put into words. She has a vision that’s inspiring, and the intellect and the operational chops to put her vision to work.”

“It’s a very rare combination,” he says. “She is able to lead by example and by capacity, and to inspire team members to accomplish what they don’t believe they are strong enough to attain.”

Carine describes her professional and personal mission succinctly: “I’d like to influence as many people as possible for the better—so that they can inspire others for the better—as I possibly can.”

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