Beth Finke is the recently retired Senior Vice President, North America Applications Customer Champions at Oracle, a cloud software company specialized in cloud-engineered database technology. Prior to working at Oracle, she worked nearly two-decades at Accenture where she pioneered the creation of their cloud business. She retired from Oracle in September 2023 and is exploring ways to utilize her marketing background, business experience, and passion for design to spark her next creative endeavor. Beth believes in the importance of mentorship and helping people to create their best personal “brand”. She loves to travel, spend time with her husband and two sons, and engage in the “hunt” for the perfect inspiration piece. Beth has been a C200 member since October 2023.
Eva Glassman: I know you’ve recently retired, but could you describe the work you did at Oracle as Senior Vice President?
Beth Finke: I had what I call the best job at Oracle because it was focused on our customers and their success. I was hired to transform their applications consulting business into a cloud consulting business. After a few years successfully leading that transformation, I was asked to lead one of the cloud application sales teams. I got to see the other side of the cloud world I worked in—not implementing the software but positioning and selling it.
Based upon feedback from customers, I proposed to my boss that we needed a greater focus on our customers’ experience with us. The business of cloud is being a service provider, which requires a different approach to how we support our customers who previously purchased on premise software. Being a service provider required us to up our game throughout the entire customer journey, making the experience amazing at critical moments.
In my role, I was responsible for the North America applications consulting business and all the applications sales support functions. I created and led a transformational program to reimagine the customer experience and how we engaged in, positioned, and sold our cloud services. We re-imagined how our sellers better understood their customers’ needs. It was an amazing experience to work for a Fortune 100 company and to be empowered to reimagine the way we serve a market that we have such a huge stronghold in.
That’s what I retired from—I decided to retire because I was tired. I have two young kids. I was always told in my career that I’m very creative and think about and solve things differently than many others. I was never disgruntled—I loved my work—I just felt like it was the right time for me to step back and rewire my brain to do something totally different. That’s what I’m doing now: trying to figure out what that totally different thing is. It’s a fun journey!
EG: What a wonderful opportunity you have, to pivot in your career and tap into your creative side more! Care to share your insights into what that next thing might be?
BF: When I first started exploring this idea of retiring about a year ago, I actually enrolled in college again! I’m taking interior design classes and getting an interior design degree. I’ve always had that eye; I loved decorating my room as a kid. I loved to imagine all different kinds of houses and would use playing cards to create 2D models of them on my floor.
I’ve also always had a passion for creating amazing experiences for people. My husband and I own a few properties that we fixed up—not to flip and sell them, but to rent them. We have one house where our tenant, who is renting our place while they work on her own remodel, collaborates with me on design ideas, using our home as her inspiration. [laughs] She’s using my house as a bit of a design template, and that gives me so much joy! I love seeing that she’s inspired by our house, that she’ll take those ideas and create a home for her family.
I’m trying to figure out how to take this idea of design and put it into an experiential model, if that makes sense. I don’t know what it is yet, but there’s something brewing in my head. Hopefully, it will spawn into something amazing. We’ll see!
EG: I read that your background is in marketing—I’m curious how you started with a degree in marketing and wound up where you were in Oracle. Take me through your career journey; what do you think were the biggest factors that led to your success?
BF: I have a marketing degree, but I also like to tell people I’m three credits short of having an advertising degree. This is going to sound awful, but I didn’t complete my advertising degree because I eventually realized the entry-level salaries wouldn’t allow me to quickly pay off my college debt. Also, I found that my advertising professors made me feel like I wasn’t creative. Ultimately, they squelched my confidence to pursue a career in the field. Isn’t it funny that, when I got into work, people told me that my greatest attribute was my creativity, yet when I was in college, my leaders demotivated me and didn’t make me feel like I could be a creative?
I started in consulting—arguably for not the most strategic reason. I was seeing a guy at the time who was a consultant, and he traveled all the time. He would call me on the airplane phones—back when we didn’t have cell phones—and say, “We’re not going out tonight because my flight is delayed,” and I thought, “I want that lifestyle. How cool is that?” [laughs] The salary I received as a consultant was much higher than what I would have made in advertising, too.
When I got into consulting, I was focused on sales, service, and marketing related projects. My marketing background and understanding of advertising allowed me to work on some amazing programs. I advised companies for 20 years, helping them think about how they go to market differently; it just so happened that I did it in the context of their technology implementations. I was in technology consulting, but I was not a technologist. I was always the person doing the corporate communications, change management, and re-engineering processes.
My marketing juices really took off when I was tapped on the shoulder at Accenture to go figure out if this software called Salesforce.com was a real tool that could make it in the marketplace. I had to market it internally, selling the idea that cloud was the next best thing and something we should invest in. That’s how my passion and my background took what I’m known for now—selling and delivering cloud applications, sales and marketing, and customer experience—and led me to my position at Oracle.
EG: I’m also curious about how you got involved with C200. Nancy Albertini was your nominator—how do you two know each other?
BF: I’ll never forget what Jill Smart, a senior woman leader at Accenture, said at an event very early in my career: “If you work really hard, you get really lucky.” That really stuck with me, because I’m not very lucky; I’ve had to work very hard for everything I’ve done. I worked my tail off and through the process, I developed a broad network.
I don’t know how it happened, but about four years ago, out of the blue, Nancy called me. She said, “I found your profile on LinkedIn, and I’ve checked in and people know you, and I want you to join a board.” I had been on nonprofit boards, but I had always wanted to join a private equity-backed or public company board.
So that’s how I met Nancy—I worked hard, and she found me out of the blue. She has this connection with everybody; I don’t think she has an enemy in the world. Her passion is connecting people —you can just feel it. She wants to take care of folks, and she’s taking care of me. Now as a C200 member, I’m just navigating my way to see how I can contribute and help other women in business.
EG: That’s incredible that Nancy simply connected with you on LinkedIn! It’s so serendipitous.
BF: I don’t respond to that many people on LinkedIn, either! Just the way she engaged me—she had me at hello! [laughs] She’s amazing.
EG: Aside from connecting with Nancy and getting involved with C200, along your career journey, did you have other female mentors? In general, what women are inspiring to you and why?
BF: You probably don’t want me to answer this question, because many of the women I worked for were highly competitive, threatened, and unwilling to help grow junior female talent. I remember a few months out of college feeling this way by some women leaders I was working for. One of the men who also led the team pulled me aside one day and said, “Beth, learn more from those people about what you won’t do instead of what you will do.” That advice from Stan Oyama a quarter of a century ago are words that I still live by.
The reality is that my mentors were men, and maybe it’s because my two brothers have always been coaches to me in my personal life (they even coached my soccer team as a kid!). That’s why seeing someone like Nancy, a woman helping other women, is so cool to me. She’s got so much confidence, strength, and a desire to help others out. That’s why I was so drawn to C200; I didn’t see the same type of support from the female leaders that I worked for. I’ve been on two or three calls with these women and I walk away from them beaming.
EG: Believe it or not, so many other members who I’ve asked this question to have a similar answer: they didn’t have many female mentors, or the women they worked with were not supportive. I think your answer is so honest and excellent, because C200 is a community that, by nature, has worked to stop the narratives of women feeling isolated in male-dominated fields and like the women that are there don’t have their back. You could have internalized the unsupportive behavior from your female colleagues above you and perpetuated it onto women rising after you—but you didn’t. Instead, you knew how important it is for women in business to have each other’s backs, and now you’re a part of C200.
BF: It was so lonely at times. I really made an effort to mentor other women in my career. So many women reached out when I retired asking if they can still count on me. Of course! I’m not going anywhere! [laughs] I’m still here for these women. As much as I was and am a mentor, I probably got more mentoring from them.
EG: This discussion leads perfectly into my next question! What does being a “woman in business” mean to you, and how do you apply that thinking to your work?
BF: I didn’t ever think of myself as being a woman in business; instead, I thought of it as, “Am I the best person to do the job, and can I prove to people I am who they need?”
I grew up with brothers and, I don’t know why, but I never got into the “boy versus girl” thing. Even though I was never very good at sports, my brothers were, and they wanted me to play with them. I still got out on the field and wasn’t intimidated by it. I took that same approach, not knowingly, in my professional life, where I never thought about gender. I just thought, “How do I do my best job, stand out, and do amazing things?”
That said, a man and a woman can say the same words or have the same tough conversations, but they will often not be received in the same way. Over time, as a leader, I had to be more aware of that implicit bias. Although I didn’t have that bias, there are a lot of people who did and still do. There’s a certain toughness that some people think a man can have but a woman can’t. That was probably the biggest pivot in my behavior I had to make, about eight or nine years ago. I couldn’t be as bold as my male counterparts.
EG: Now is the time I usually ask what you like to do outside of work, but you just retired, so I guess my question is: What are you up to now? You said you have two kids—are you spending more family time together?
BF: Absolutely. I spend lots of time with them. They’re the two cutest, funniest little boys—but doesn’t every mother say that? [laughs]
I love to travel. I’ve always had this dream that I would live in a foreign country—not move there, but just spend a few months every year to embrace a culture, and so we rented a house in Italy for next summer! I’m taking my boys over and my husband’s going to find a few days to come over and see us; he still works and is like, “Seriously? You’re doing what?” [laughs]
Of course, I love designing and decorating. There’s something about when I travel or when I’m decorating—I get into “the hunt,” or whatever you’d call it, for the perfect thing for a space or an event. When I travel, I usually pick something up that becomes an inspiration piece for a little project, whether it be decorating a room or throwing a party.
EG: What’s your advice to aspiring female entrepreneurs and corporate executives to advance their own careers? What would you say to those hoping to join C200 one day?
BF: Just be true to yourself. To return to that marketing and advertising mindset, it’s also about creating a great brand for yourself. I remember something strangely profound that one of my brothers said to me when I was really little. He said, “Beth, your brand lives with you; the world is small. What you do and how you treat people will follow you for the rest of your life, so create a good brand for yourself.” Looking back on that moment, he was probably 13 or 14 when he told me that.
EG: I don’t think I was that cognizant at that age!
BF: Me neither. It’s influenced how I think about everything. I tell my 7-year-old son all the time to be a nice person, a hard worker, proud of whoever you are, and to stick to your brand. Don’t divert because people want you to do something different. My grandmother, who passed away at nearly 104 years old, would say all the time, “When in doubt, Bethie, don’t do it.” That stuck with me when I was making decisions at work and now personally; if I doubt it or it doesn’t feel right, I just don’t do it.
EG: Trusting your gut is key.
BF: I do think that’s something women have over men. We have heightened intuition. I feel that there’s a high moral and ethical responsibility to do the right thing, and I expect greatness from myself and the people I surround myself with. I think of it as being a coach on any sports team: who do you want on your team? Sometimes I don’t want the best athlete; sometimes, I want the most positive or hardest working person. There’s an athleticism in business and there is the softer side of business, where intuition lives. I firmly believe intuition is very different in the female mindset than in men, and that’s something women can leverage in the business world to everyone’s benefit.
EG: What are you most excited about as a new C200 member? What does C200 mean to you?
BF: I didn’t know I was going to be so excited about joining C200 until I started joining the virtual forums, calls, and webinars. I just love sitting there and hearing these amazing things that women have done. Being able to learn from them in this environment is something I’ve never had before.
To me, C200 is part of this continuous desire to learn and grow that is innate in humans. We should always be continuously learning, and I see this as a community where I get to learn more and learn it from people that have really done it, versus from a professor in a classroom that has never stepped foot in a board room.
Even though I’m retired from business and want to go down this design route, I don’t want to lose the love that I have for business because I love solving the big complex problems that you get with it. Being a part of several boards helps keep my skills fresh, and I believe C200 will be another part of that. I can teach others what I’ve learned all these years, but still give myself space to go and explore something new and different.