Meet Catherine Harrell, CMO of Dude Solutions. Catherine leads all aspects of the marketing organization, including the company’s marketing strategy, product marketing, communications, demand generation, and branding. Dude Solutions started in a Cary apartment back in 1999 as SchoolDude, when founders Lee Prevost and Kent Hudson started providing SaaS solutions to manage K-12 school facilities. It was bootstrapped until Warburg Pincus, a New York private equity firm, invested $100 million in 2014. The company, a TBJ 2019 Fast 50 recipient, made headlines again when it exceeded $100 million in revenue in 2018 and was acquired by the private equity firm Clearlake Capital Group in 2019.
Catherine and the company’s female-dominated leadership team are growing Dude Solutions at 25% a year. Since February 2019, she’s been building a marketing organization focused on driving the company’s strategic initiatives through cross-functional collaboration and innovative approaches to client acquisition and retention. To date, Dude Solutions has made six acquisitions and expanded beyond the K-12 market to provide cloud-based operations management software that automates mission-critical enterprise asset management workflows for more than 13,000 clients in the education, government, healthcare and manufacturing verticals.
Double-digit growth has its challenges. In this tight labor market, this former IT recruiter is committed to developing and cultivating top talent and a diverse workforce. Catherine is highly regarded by her current and former employees and committed to inspiring and encouraging others in their professional development. Just ask Jennifer Hutchison, who worked for Catherine at Citrix and PrecisionLender: “Catherine and I have worked together in both a highly matrixed organization and a tech startup. In both fast-paced work environments, she invested energy and time to develop individual team members, which is a rare skill set. Taking time to ask, ‘What do you want to do in your career?’ Such a breath of fresh air to have a leader who decisively cares about her team and their personal career journeys.”
Prior to Dude Solutions, Catherine was Executive Vice President of Global Marketing at PrecisionLender, Vice President of Marketing at Citrix ShareFile, and held a variety of marketing leadership roles with Intuit, the global leading provider of business and financial management solutions for small and mid-sized businesses, consumers and accounting professionals. Catherine holds an MBA from Duke University and a BA from UNC-Chapel Hill.
Catch up with Catherine, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Airstream ambitions in our Q&A.
Q. You joined Dude Solutions a little over a year ago. What can you share about that first year?
It’s been a whirlwind of an adventure. All technology companies have a pace that tends to be warp speed, and Dude Solutions is no different. In the last year, the company has a new private equity investor—Clearlake Capital—completed an acquisition and continued double-digit organic growth! The Dude is a 20-year old company with a deep, rich history and culture. It’s been a joy to really immerse in that culture and understand the special sauce, and also be a part of the leadership team setting the course and pace for growth to the next level and chapter of the business.
Q. What do you hope to accomplish going forward and what do you feel is going to be your most valuable contribution?
As CMO, my top priority is continuing to build and develop a highly engaged, high-performing marketing team that makes a big impact on business growth goals. This means that we are driving brand awareness with our target clients across four distinct verticals, creating demand for our solutions and partnering internally to ensure that the experience that we create retains, delights and motivates our clients to consider even more solutions from us. To do this, we have to be a strategic and collaborative partner with all corners of the business. While business outcomes are important, I hope that my most valuable contribution is developing, mentoring and influencing as many employees as possible to do their best work and be the best versions of themselves every day.
Q. What do you think the greatest challenge(s) is/are for high growth tech companies in the Triangle today?
Hands down, it is recruiting, retaining and nurturing a DIVERSE talent base. Diversity is so critical for creativity, innovation and to really fuel a company’s growth. The Triangle is growing quickly, and yet we are still a small market compared to other tech hubs around the country. We need to ensure that we are deeply tapping into the diversity we have in our local environment, and making the Triangle a friendly and attractive place for all types of people to consider for relocation and a long career runway of professional development. I think tech leaders across the Triangle should be making diversity one of the critical few business priorities and driving the change we need throughout all levels.
Q. What drives or shapes the person you are today?
I was really fortunate to “grow up” at Intuit which is an amazing company on so many levels. During my 12 years with the company, I worked across three continents and four different business and product lines and for over a dozen dynamic leaders. Intuit is world-class at developing talent, innovation and design for delight—and no matter how big they grow, they consistently focus on unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit within. Intuit’s culture is anchored in understanding deep customer insights and designing technology-driven solutions that not just solve problems, but truly delight. So much of who I am today, how I coach and mentor, how I solve problems and think strategically about marketing and the business is attributed back to my training ground at Intuit in my early and mid-career.
Q. What did you think you were going to do professionally when you were young?
For a long time, I wanted to be a professional ballet dancer. I had a six-foot poster of my hero Mikhail Baryshnikov in my room! In high school, I realized that I was most likely not going to be in the .001% of people who make that dream reality. I was reminded recently of how much I still love to dance at Dude Day, our annual company employee development day. All Dudes go offsite, listen to motivating and educational speakers and learn more about how we can better connect and collaborate together. Our guest speaker, Michelle Poler, came on stage dancing for her keynote “Fear Less, Do More” and asked the audience to stand up and join her. I immediately did, and then looked around and realized I was one of about 10 people in the 600-person audience who was dancing! #nofear
Q. Share a “Fun Fact” about you with us.
I have a goal to visit all 50 states before I turn 50 years old. And by visit, I mean that I have to stay overnight and do at least one fun cultural experience in each state. Just driving through and stopping to take a photo does not count! I have 11 more on my list and I am planning to visit Connecticut and Vermont this year. Next summer I’m going to try to talk my husband and kids into renting an Airstream for a family vacation and hitting a lot of the central midwestern states like Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota. All recommendations are welcome.
Q. If you weren’t doing your role now what would you be doing professionally?
I would be running or working with a nonprofit dedicated to empowering women entrepreneurs. I truly admire what local leaders like Cindy Eckert of The Pink Ceiling and the founders of xElle Ventures are doing to fuel and empower the growth of female founders and businesses in the Triangle. My time at Intuit and at Citrix ShareFile made me deeply passionate about startups and growing small businesses. In my next chapter, I plan to find a way to be more involved in fueling these movements and enabling the success of women founders. Or if and/when my kids are all out of the house, I might put everything in storage, grab my husband and hit the road as a travel photographer!
Q. If you could change something/anything (pie in the sky) what would you change?
If I could wave a magic wand, I would solve the gender pay gap. I would make all women around the world instantly compensated at the same rate as their male counterparts. And I would ensure that this gap was permanently eliminated moving forward. This means breaking down so many of the internal systems and mindsets at companies large and small that slow-burn or create barriers to the process of eliminating the gap. It would also help women truly understand, embrace, communicate and ensure they are getting compensated for the tremendous value they bring to business and their communities.
Q. What gets you most excited about the future?
At The Dude, I’m incredibly excited about the problems that we solve for the unsung heroes that are our clients. I’ve learned a lot over the past year about the leaders of operations across industries—at our schools, cities and local government, healthcare, and manufacturing facilities. These are dedicated, behind-the-scenes people that make the amazing things happen, whether it is ensuring that students are safe and warm, citizens have an easy way to communicate with local officials about city planning and stewardship of tax dollars, manufacturing production assets are efficiently up and running, senior living residents have exceptional services, and hospitals optimize patient safety and care. As we continue to innovate and solve these important problems well, there is a tremendous runway for the business to grow 10x what it is now—and more importantly, to impact the lives of so many people in our country and beyond.
Q. What do you love to spend your time doing outside of work?
I have three children who are growing up at the speed of light. My husband and I really try to appreciate each moment with them – watching a soccer game, gymnastics practice, drama performance and even some of the homework time. It is hectic, and yet I try to take advantage of the small moments in our shuttle service life to hear about what is on their fascinating minds. One of my passions is taking them on surprise adventures—whether it is a trip to somewhere fun or even just a hot chocolate date or hike in Umstead, it’s great to keep them guessing about what happens next. Call it change management training for future careers!