COVID-19 raised a number of challenges for many customer verticals as work-from-home became the new normal. Organizations needed to extend their networks into hybrid and multi-cloud environments to give workers remote access to do their jobs while also protecting corporate assets from the growing number of cyber threats that sought to take advantage of the disruption. Sonya Andreae, Senior Vice President & Chief Customer Officer at Infoblox, is helping customers address these security and network challenges while enhancing their working experiences.
Andreae brings over 25 years’ experience leading customer teams — including Professional Services, Customer Success, Technical Support, Critical Accounts and Maintenance Renewals — to Infoblox, a SaaS unicorn that delivers the world’s most reliable, secure, and automated network.
“The pandemic magnified the critical role our solutions play in keeping businesses up and running during this shutdown,” says Andreae.
A Leader Finds her Customer-Centric Path
After graduating from college, Andreae set her sights on working for Apple because she was impressed with their customer-centric technology. She leveraged her student secretary experience at Michigan State University to get in the door at the company as an administrative assistant. At Apple, Andreae worked hard, took technical courses, built a great network of people, and eventually worked her way into management.
Andreae spent eight years in Apple’s Developer Technical Support group in various roles, but always focused on serving customers. Her first explicit role as a company leader came when she was tapped to become the Director of Customer Service at HomeWarehouse.com, a start-up which was later acquired by Walmart.com. Spending so many years in “hands on” roles gave her a strong foundation for leading customer facing teams at Packeteer, TiVo, Drobo, and now Infoblox.
About three years ago, Andreae took on the role of SVP & Chief Customer Officer at Infoblox. She enjoys working on the customer operations side of the business because understanding customer needs is the key to better serving them, and can influence the company’s product roadmaps and strategic direction.
While Andreae has always enjoyed solving problems, she has a natural desire to serve people. “I believe the key to my success was that I had several mentors,” she says. “Their advice early in my career to build strong relationships and leadership skills truly paid off as my purview and team grew and I climbed the corporate ladder,” says Andreae.
Standing Tall During COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic and associated shutdowns have reinforced the shift to cloud-based solutions and the benefits of extending networking and security into hybrid, multi-cloud environments. Infoblox’s team worked quickly to help customers implement cloud-first networking and security solutions to enable them to quickly shift to remote work. Andreae notes the effect this had on the company’s growth. “To help us meet customer demand, we hired nearly 500 people in 2020. Not only did we on-board most of them remotely, we’ve maintained productivity through using our own products for remote work.”
Infoblox also proactively reached out to its healthcare customers and offered to conduct remote network health checks at no cost. With everything they were dealing with, the company thought this would give customers greater peace of mind, and it did.
To ensure no disruption to the company’s technical support, Andreae made the decision to move her global team of more than 200 to work-from-home mode a week before the rest of the company did. She knew that if her team members were exposed to the virus, the company would have a lot of sick people as her teams tend to huddle in groups to solve customer issues. Since so many of the company’s customers are in healthcare, banking, government and other sectors that deliver essential services to communities, Andreae knew that she could not risk having a large percentage of her staff out. “We had to maintain 24x7x365 capacity in case our customers needed us,” she says.
Challenges during the Pandemic
The rapid pace of technological change is a constant challenge. Customers’ needs and the manner in which they want to be served change alongside technology. Andreae is proud of how her team is constantly coming up with great ideas on how they can improve.
Another challenge is time. For Andreae, it is critical that she and her team can quickly and ruthlessly prioritize initiatives based on ROI and customer impact.
Preventing employee burnout is another priority. It was already challenging to get her employees to take time off to recharge even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Each team member dedicates a lot of effort into taking care of customers, which translated into investing many hours. With the team all working from home, their days start earlier and are filled with back-to-back Zoom meetings, resulting in many of them working into the evenings.
Bringing Efficiency with Innovative Cloud Solutions
Andreae feels that this is an exciting time to be working in networking and security. The pandemic prioritized workplace transformation for all organizations that wanted to keep operating through the protracted shutdowns. To enable their remote work pivot, organizations turned to Infoblox for DDI and security services that could be delivered both on-premises and in the cloud.
Infoblox’s innovative cloud-managed BloxOne DDI solution is helping customers extend their networks beyond the four walls of the enterprise, combining the flexibility and scalability of the cloud with the power of DDI and DNS services to enable organizations to manage and secure their network users, wherever they are located. In this way, the company is taking networking into the cloud, just as AWS did for storage and Azure did for compute.
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this cloud-first shift. Infoblox provides the cloud-native networking and security services businesses need to simplify their workplace transformation.
An Inclusive Work Culture
At Infoblox, the team takes great pride in building a corporate culture that is customer-centric, promotes learning, and is supportive of each other. This means it puts the customer at the center of everything the company does. “We deliver on our initiatives. We aren’t afraid to take some risks and try some new things,” says Andreae. “Our employees respect and care for each other. Our employees are our greatest asset, and we create an inclusive culture where all feel valued and respected, which has been critical to our success. We also value diversity as it helps us ensure we are thinking about the needs of all of our customers. Maintaining that culture is a daily priority and is deeply embedded in everything we do,” she adds.
Infoblox has several exceptional employee development programs. Its new hire onboarding program is comprehensive and well thought out. In addition to the standard onboarding process to cover employee benefits, the company spends time talking about its culture and what it means to be a Bloxer. An executive meets with the new hires and each new hire is assigned a buddy. The company has invested significantly into its learning programs for management, leadership, soft skills, and technical skills. Andreae notes, “We have several Employee Resource Groups, and I am the executive sponsor for the Women@Infoblox Network (WIN) group and Pride & Friends. Infoblox is committed to a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture that celebrates different backgrounds, ideas, and lived experiences of our employees, business partners and communities. Having a culture where people feel included ensures our employees fully lean in and engage.”
Essential Traits for Businesswomen
As an experienced businesswoman Sonya believes that every professional should possess the following major traits:
- Solid leadership skills
- The ability to motivate and inspire people.
- The ability to connect with employees and customers in an authentic way to build relationships and trust.
- Establishing a culture of inclusive teams.
- Good listening skills.
- Trusting your intuition but, also being committed to getting the numbers to validate.
- Hiring people with different backgrounds and experience than your own. Consider putting more weight on the potential of the candidate versus their current skill set.
- Knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and hiring people that are smarter than you and with complementary skills.
- Possessing a diverse network of people.
- Having respect for all people and being approachable.
Facilitates Quick Solutions
Infoblox simplifies the DDI and security services that underpin workplace transformation. When businesses around the world shifted to remote work, many rushed when extending networking into the cloud, often at the expense of security. This frequently resulted in unreliable connections, security gaps, and a poor user experience. Companies using Infoblox solutions made this transformation smoothly. At the beginning of the shutdown, a global consulting firm called the company to remotely deploy BloxOne Threat Defense to their 200,000 employees. This would have taken months to roll out on-premises for a traditional security software, but Infoblox was able to do it in two days over the cloud, demonstrating its value in enabling the cloud-first infrastructure enterprises need for the post-pandemic world.
Helping Businesses by Adding Value
Andreae hopes to always be in a role where she is serving people in some manner. At Infoblox her goals center around customer centricity. She has kicked off several cross-functional teams focusing on improving the experience along the customer journey. She has mentored her peers on developing customer centric thinking and helping them connect the dots to operate in a more matrixed fashion to ensure all functions at the company are aligned to taking care of customers.
“As Infoblox continues to expand our cloud-first solutions to make networking simpler and more secure, my team and I will continue to listen to our customers’ needs to delivering the value they need,” she says.
A Note for Upcoming Leaders
Andreae advises aspiring business leaders to “Research and learn from other company’s successes and failures. While it might be tempting to just figure it out on your own, remember that takes time, which is of the essence when bringing a new product or service to market. By researching how other companies have tackled business problems you can jump to the end state and focus on the fastest way to get there.”
Maintaining our culture is a daily priority and is deeply embedded in everything we do.
The ability to connect with employees and customers in an authentic way is the foundation of building relationships and trust.
We deliver on our initiatives. We aren ’t afraid to take risks and try new things.