Adobe’s CMO on Her Marketing Career, Life in Silicon Valley and What’s Next

Ann Lewnes feels like she has the best role yet

Ann Lewnes thinks she'll never have a better job than the one she has now. Adobe
Headshot of Ann-Marie Alcántara

Like many college graduates, Adobe’s CMO, Ann Lewnes, graduated, did an internship but couldn’t find a job. So, she moved to California and 30 years later, she’s now a top executive at Adobe, where at the company’s annual Adobe Summit, she interviews all types of celebrities and explains many of the company’s newest products.

Adweek sat down with Lewnes at this year’s Adobe Summit in Las Vegas to hear about how she got to the role she has now, what’s next in her career and if Silicon Valley’s boys club culture has changed since she’s arrived.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Adweek: How did you start out in marketing?
Ann Lewnes: I came [to California] from New York, about 30 years ago and I had two friends from college out here—and I basically had no job, no future.

I found two jobs for someone who had my background and I got both jobs. One was at Sunset Magazine and the other was at Intel, which nobody had ever heard of. It was kind of a struggling chip maker. And of course I take the company job and Intel ends up being one of the world’s most successful companies.

"There’s no bigger issue right now than privacy. I think that everybody has a role to play in the protection of data."
Ann Lewnes, CMO at Adobe

I literally got in there just as the PC revolution was taking off. I did every single marketing job; I was kind of a go-getter and there was nothing too small or embarrassing for me to do. I just really had a lot of energy and I was a very different kind of person from the typical Silicon Valley person at that time.

I think everybody needs to do one more gig and so I said, I have one more big gig in me, and Adobe came to me and I went. I thought this company has so much potential that’s untapped and always being a more creative person myself I had a personal affinity to it.

At the Adobe Summit you obviously talked a lot about data and privacy. Do you think with GDPR and everything that’s happening with Facebook, marketers are becoming aware of privacy and what that means to their customers?
There’s no bigger issue right now than privacy. I think that everybody has a role to play in the protection of data. I would say brands certainly have a big role to play, I think technology companies have a big role to play, media companies have a role to play and I think consumers will increasingly have a role to play as well. And that means all of those different entities need to be aware and they need to be educated about how they can protect their customers interests or their own personal interest.

I think GDPR has really brought this to the forefront in a big way because it’s required now in Europe to have these obvious restrictions and governance that a lot of companies have done but have not been as visible. It’s also a complex issue, a big issue and it will not be easily solved and it’s going to take all those different constituents to play a very active role in helping to solve it.

Going back to the story of your life, you mentioned being in the Silicon Valley culture and how male dominated it was. What do you think has changed the most?
I think it has changed and it hasn’t. I don’t think Silicon Valley is that unique in that regard. We do have of course fewer women in our workforce. Clearly we all feel this is very important to do something and I think that starts very early. If you want to have female engineers and data scientists, that needs to start in middle school.

From a personal story, I noticed immediately that I was one of a few women but I have really never felt discriminated against. I think that the number one way to excel in Silicon Valley is results and that was always my primary kind of purpose: was to do my best, push really hard and to also advocate for myself.

"I’m not going to get a better CMO job than the one I have now."
Ann Lewnes

When I first went to Intel and really there were few women at Intel, I was doing the employee magazine and the guy who was doing the customer magazine, decided to leave. He was more senior than I was and he was going to go take another job and before he left he told me “Hey, if they offer you this job I’m making $37,000 and I want you to know that in case they offer you that.” Low and behold, they offer me the job but they don’t offer me the increase and so I went in and said “Hey, just wanted to make sure I was going to be getting that $37,000” and they said of course. But, I think that was a very early lesson that if you don’t ask, it won’t happen.

Sometimes it does but I think you have to be in charge of your own career and you have to advocate for yourself. There are a lot of circumstances where discrimination occurs and I’m vehemently opposed to it. But, I think if we can teach our girls early on to advocate for themselves and to work hard, it could hopefully mitigate some of that.

Is it disheartening to still see those issues today and that we haven’t progressed that much?
We have made progress because it’s so in the conversation. It’s so visible now what’s been happening. And again I feel that at Adobe, we just closed the wage gap—we’re at 100 percent parity.

I think companies really need to listen to their employees, listen to what’s going in the universe and they need to take action. And if you’re not working at a company like that you need to speak up and I think that’s what employees do now. They have a voice.

What’s the next thing you want to do at Adobe or in your own life to really capture a big milestone?
I have no idea. I’ve never really known what I want to do next and I put my heart and soul into everything that I do. I’m not going to get a better CMO job than the one I have now. It’s literally the perfect job because I work at a company that really values creativity, and really values impact. Those are super important to me and so I feel like I have the best CMO role.

Giving back is very important and creative fields are very important to me. I’ll continue to be interested in those and who knows what will happen but right now, we’ve made this company the success that we’ve all envisioned it could be and we’re super proud and I still think I have work to do.

@itstheannmarie Ann-Marie Alcántara is a tech reporter for Adweek, focusing on direct-to-consumer brands and ecommerce.