Jill Stelfox is the Executive Chair and CEO of Panzura, the fabric that transforms cloud storage into a global file system, allowing enterprises to use the cloud as a high performance, globally available data center.
Prior to joining Panzura, Jill founded and acted as Co-CEO of marketing consulting firm EDGY, where she helped companies from McAfee to Adobe to USAA to transform business and technology processes.
Jill is a proven technology leader with 20 years of experience, during which time she has managed to create intersections between industries that once may have been considered unthinkable, often carving out opportunities hidden beneath established, legacy solutions.
This includes a set of patents around how data is moved, shared, and computed across a cloud environment.
When Jill Stelfox became the CEO of Panzura in 2020, she was the only female CEO in data management. That’s still the case. Since then, Panzura has made the 2022 Inc. 5000 List of Fastest Growing Companies in the US, and has become the market leader in hybrid, multi-cloud data management.
Jill and her long-term business partner, Dan Waldschmidt, re-founded Panzura in 2020, just as the pandemic was looming. While companies across the state of California were getting ready to close their doors ahead of the first lockdown, Panzura was getting ready to throw its doors wide open and start doing business.
The company has now brought several products to market, experienced a record-breaking 485% rise in annual recurring revenue, and achieved an average customer satisfaction score in the high 80s. But enough about the company. Let’s talk about its CEO.
Jill’s father was a teacher, and was the first person to make her believe she could do anything she put her mind to. “Make sure you get some qualifications!” he’d say, rather progressively for the time. “So that you don’t have to rely on a man for income!”
Jill got her degree in accounting from California State University, Chico, and set to work as a chartered public accountant. A decade later, she went to work for a man who owned his own accounting firm.
Months into the role, he told her, “You could be running this company as its CEO in six months!” Not long after that, Jill had the keys to the business and was embarking on her first stint as CEO. These “enlightened male mentors,” as Jill refers to them, would be looked back on fondly as career catalysts.
Early in her career, there were very few women in leadership positions to look up to. It was around this time Carly Fiorina became the first woman in the world to lead a Fortune Top 20 company — that’s how rare it was.
There is still a glass ceiling for women in the world of tech. It’s a ceiling that Jill Stelfox has broken through, and she’s passionate about smashing it altogether and leveling the playing field. Perhaps that’s why the board of directors at Panzura is now composed of four male and three female directors, furthering the company’s gender equality goals.
According to Jill, women have to work twice as hard as men when it comes to getting things done in tech. She recalls doing the investment rounds at Panzura, and having to talk to more than 70 investors to secure one term sheet, while men in the industry would typically only need to talk to half that amount to get the same investment.
Then there are the countless meetings where, despite being the CEO, men from other companies would look to other men on the Panzura team when asking a question, instead of doing business directly with Jill. In her own words, she’s now developed a sort of “irreverence” in these situations — being bold, being direct, and above all, being herself.
Overcoming and dealing with this inherent gender bias is a never-ending battle for Jill and her female peers, but it’s a fight that will eventually be won. Today, as the CEO of Panzura, Jill puts a premium on diversity, fairness, equality, inclusion, compassion, and determination as the key characteristics for leading a company in the tech world.
When Panzura was re-founded in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, employees were understandably anxious, stressed, and distracted. Jill knew that a culture of compassion was what was needed, and it’s something that has stuck with the company since. That compassion is also crucial when it comes to building diversity and inclusion.
A lot of businesses think that diversity and inclusion are about “balancing the books” and hitting hiring quotas. While that plays an important role in leveling the playing field, Jill believes that diversity and inclusion require a more philosophical approach.
According to her, there’s this old-school expectation in business that everyone must conform to an office-based stereotype, but if diversity is to be truly celebrated, people need to be allowed to express themselves. This fosters a culture of empathy and inclusion from the ground up, and leads to gains in morale, productivity, and focus.
If you would like to get in touch with Jill Stelfox or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page