How to Build Your Personal Board of Directors at Work
Vivienne Wei is a VP at Salesforce, leading operations and strategic execution for our technology organization focused on Marketing Cloud and Customer 360. She empowers global teams to deliver trusted and innovative products so customers can accelerate their success. With her focus on operational efficiency and scale, she’s led cross-functional teams through several transformations including cost-to-serve optimizations and scaled hiring.
Vivienne Wei has led an inspiring and ambitious career, one that has taken her all the way to VP of Tech Strategy & Operations at Salesforce. Along the journey, she hasn’t hesitated to mentor and help those coming after her. A practice she learned from her earliest mentors — the first of which was her mother.
A first-generation emigrant from Shanghai, China, Vivienne ventured to the U.S. alone to study economics and mathematics at Dartmouth College, later trailblazing her way through Harvard Business School and Wall Street. Though she found herself in a foreign country, she was no stranger to hard work and determination. Since childhood, these were character traits she learned from her mom, who was a working parent and entrepreneur.
“I learned about resilience and making sacrifices for a greater mission from my mother. I never let anything stop me from achieving my mission. I want to set an example for my daughters the same way my mother did for me.” Now, as VP of Tech Strategy & Operations, Vivienne is setting an example for more than just her daughters.
Vivienne is passionate about helping individuals realize their fullest potential in the workplace and community. As part of her commitment to Salesforce’s core value of equality, she serves as an executive sponsor for our Women in Engineering group. She’s also actively engaged in the Salesforce Women’s Network (SWN), our Employee Resource Group focused on amplifying the progress of women through professional and personal development, allyship, and more.
“I’m most proud of co-founding SWN’s Expecting at Work group with Vartika Vaish. Vartika and I built the group in order to support, retain, and promote working mothers at Salesforce.” This led to Vivienne’s first book, Labor Force, which provides actionable advice for expecting mothers to excel in the transition to motherhood and accelerate their careers. “Women represent a tremendous opportunity for our global economy to grow. It is our job as leaders to create the culture and systems to make it happen.”
Finding mentors, coaches, and sponsors
While Vivienne’s experiences have made her a wonderful mentor to working moms and others at Salesforce, it was her own mentors who helped shape her into who she is today. Throughout her career, Vivienne has had a number of mentors, coaches, and sponsors who have become her personal board of directors. One of which was a leader she worked with at a financial services company. “He taught me grit firsthand as we navigated ambiguous, fast-evolving situations and continued to push through to put the puzzle together. I still benefit from the muscles built from those days.”
So, how did she build her personal board of directors? Vivienne mentions she reached out first and maintained those relationships over time. She says it’s something she’s worked on formally and informally, meeting people through mentorship programs and in trainings. “I’ve been paired up with product management and engineering leaders through mentorship programs — that’s more of the formal approach. And informally, I seek advice from leaders with whom I work on various projects.”
Whether someone is a mentor, coach, or sponsor depends on the relationship that was built. Vivienne explains that mentors may be your manager or someone more senior — “the person who’s a couple of steps ahead of you.” They help you navigate difficult situations and may not be someone you work with regularly, giving them a neutral third-party perspective.
Coaches are people who help you navigate your career. “A coach, in my mind, is somebody who would ask open-ended questions and help guide you through a situation.” On the other hand, Vivienne describes sponsors as those who “open doors and are willing to put their reputations on the line and speak for you when you’re not in the room.”
Where to find a mentor
Now that you know the distinctions between each, where can you find a mentor? Vivienne suggests raising your hand for new opportunities to network. “Anytime there are leadership training and development opportunities, raise your hand, because that’s where you might be getting paired up with mentors.” Taking that first step to connect with someone can be difficult, but Vivienne has tips. “Be authentic. Tell them exactly why you’re reaching out to them. What are the areas where you’re seeking help or support?”