Penny Herscher leads FirstRain as Chairman with a passion for growing companies in new markets. Formerly as CEO, she has transformed FirstRain into the leading provider of solutions that find and transform high-value business web content into actionable intelligence for sales and marketing professionals around the globe.
Before FirstRain, Penny was CEO of Simplex Solutions, an electronic design automation company serving the global semiconductor industry. As CEO, Penny grew Simplex from just a few engineers to a profitable, high-growth software company. She led the company to a very successful IPO in 2001 and then through its sale to Cadence Design Systems in 2002. At Cadence, Penny was general manager of a major division and also chief marketing officer. From 1988 to 1996, Penny was an early employee and senior executive at Synopsys. She began her career in 1982 as an R&D Engineer with Texas Instruments and then Daisy Systems. She holds an M.A. in Mathematics from Cambridge University.
Penny serves on the boards of JDSU and Rambus. She is also active in the nonprofit world and serves on the board of directors for the Anita Borg Institute. She volunteers teaching business classes at Stanford Business School, the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, and Santa Clara University. She is also a speaker on leadership and career growth at various industry organizations.
1. How do you define success?
Achieving happiness while making a positive difference to the people around you.
2. What is the key to success?
To know what you want to make happen (in work or out of it) and then go after it. Don’t stop for anything or anyone.
3. Did you always know you would be successful?
I knew I had the chance to be successful, but I didn’t know if I could pull it off. I still worry about it every day. I’ll probably worry about it until the day I die.
4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Fear. Fear of disappointing my father. Fear of what people will think about me if I fail.
5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
To be truly interested in the well-being of other people. Life’s not easy for anyone and a little caring and kindness goes a long way.
6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Wandering around art galleries, gardens, and ancient ruins in Europe.
7. What makes a great leader?
The ability to inspire people to be greater as a group than they can be alone. It’s a combination of ideas, brains, beliefs, and charisma—and good old-fashioned guts.
8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
Seek a path that you are totally passionate about. If you love what you do, you’ll be good at it. And if you want a great job, take a good look at tech—it’s the future.
This interview is an excerpt from Success: 30 Interviews with Entrepreneurs & Executives by Jason Navallo.