Leigh Winter Martin, ’05
Alumna Spotlight: Leigh Winter Martin, ’05
Interviewed by Nora Peterson, ’14
Leigh Winter Martin, ’05, is the director of marketing programs and product marketing at Liquid Robotics, a Sunnyvale, California–based maker of wave- and solar-powered ocean robots that roam the seas to fight crime and save the planet. I love reading profiles of alums who have achieved great heights in their career—often at young ages. This is not that story; this is the story of someone who is 40 and still finding her way. It can be hard to admit our struggles and failures in an Instagram-filtered world where it seems like everyone is kicking ass, so here is a little raw honesty from the other side.
You have an impressive marketing track from long tenure at Cisco in various marketing functions and most recently in the Robotics industry. What led you to join Liquid Robotics as its director of marketing?
We’re all friends here, so here’s the bio behind the bio. After Booth I joined Intellext, an AI-based search startup in Chicago (Professor Waverly Deutsch introduced me to the CEO!). I was the director of marketing communications—which at a 15-person startup also meant I was the entire marketing department. It was an amazing year, but we never quite found product-market fit. So I headed out to the Bay Area to join my fiancé (a fellow GSBer, we met on our Random Walk and started dating just before graduation). After the startup failure, I was getting advice to not pick another risky job, and I started looking at some of the bigger tech companies, eventually landing at Cisco to help build their small business brand.
I knew pretty quickly it wasn’t a great fit, but thought I would stick it out for a couple of years and leave after having my first child. Little did I know that it would take longer than anticipated to make the switch. It didn’t seem like a good idea to look for a job when I thought I could get pregnant any given month and then later going through IVF, which was all-consuming emotionally. It’s not the kind of thing you plan for when you graduate from Booth and are ready to take on the world. It really derailed me. I did eventually have the children I wanted, but professionally I was miserable.
Eight years later I found myself free (a result of a convenient round of layoffs targeting my salary level after my VP had been ousted) and set about course correcting my career back to something that would make me happy. I took six months off to explore a few industries, and realized I wanted to get back to the forefront of tech and zeroed in on the drones/robotics space.
Liquid Robotics hit all the right spots for me on my happiness axis—great culture, great people, and a product I knew I’d be excited to work on every day. But I had to take a hit on my ambition axis to get there, taking a pay cut and an unimpressive title (both since corrected, but true story: I would “forget” to bring my business cards to networking events because I was secretly embarrassed about my title, thinking many of my friends and fellow alums were so far ahead of me in life). However I was happy to go to work every day, which was such a liberating feeling after so many years!
What are the most unexpected use cases for Liquid Robotics?
I am most inspired by the work we do with scientists around the world. The Wave Glider that we make is the platform, but the sensors added to it and the data collected is where the magic happens. For example, we work with several researchers who are trying to track seafloor motion in order to better understand earthquake risk along the Ring of Fire, and the Wave Glider is helping position seafloor sensors with sub-centimeter resolution. You can’t do this kind thing in real-time with boats—it’s prohibitively expensive. We’re helping scientists to explore the ocean in new ways.
To date, what has been your most rewarding professional experience?
Mentoring and supporting other women. I’ve coached several women through the business school application process (one of whom is now a Booth alum—hi Linh Lam!), and love offering help and encouragement as they navigate how to ask for promotions/raises, or to go after a job even if they don’t technically meet all the requirements (a man wouldn’t let that stop them). It has the side effect of making me walk the walk myself—if I am telling them to negotiate a job offer, I better be doing it myself.
When you attended Booth (2005), marketing was vastly different. What was the most valuable marketing lesson you took away from Booth?
Are you saying I’m old?! I would have to say the class I took on Faxing: The Future of Marketing. ;)
Seriously, though, I’d probably say the analytics. The conjoints and regressions really stuck with me, and when paired with the creative side I came into Booth with, I feel prepared to tackle anything.
What has been the most valuable advice you have received in your career?
The most valuable advice is something I’ve heard my whole life from my mom (also a Booth alumna, class of ’75): “If you want it, ask for it.” Nothing is going to just be handed to you, whether that’s a promotion or a raise or an expanded role. You need to speak up and ask for it. It’s what she did her whole career, and it was ultimately a big factor in her getting chosen to be the founding president and CEO of the California arm of Northern Trust. I have tried to do this throughout my career, and what I always encourage women I mentor to do. Most recently it paid off in allowing me to expand my role to encompass Product Marketing—before we could go down the path to replace someone who left the company, I asked to add the role to my portfolio.
What's on your wish list for your career as something you wish to accomplish?
I still very much want to run my own show someday. At Booth I did the New Venture Challenge my first year. Back then it was much less likely that you would actually start your company; it was more of a business plan competition. For context, there was $50k total in prize money, not the $700,000 like this year! We made the finals solely based on our presentation skills, but I never really considered making a go of it. I didn’t have the courage to do it right out of Booth, and I regret that.
You are very involved with Booth alumni including as the President of the Bay Area Alumni Club. For those considering a move to the Bay Area or just visiting, any recommendations on how to connect with the local alumni?
When it comes to Booth, I’m a big fan of the cold outreach. The directory and LinkedIn filtered by our school is your friend. Most alums are happy to talk to each other especially if there is a specific and reasonable ask or relevant topic. You can also check out our local alumni club page—there are a lot of great events throughout the year.
How can readers learn more about what you are doing or get in touch?
I’m always happy to connect with any GSB’ers/Boothies! My email is email@example.com.