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marketing Legend

Ryan Carlson, CMO of Okta

To say 2020 has introduced unexpected twists and turns for CMOs is an understatement. Even in the face of seismic shifts and unprecedented challenges, modern marketing leaders call upon their wealth of experience and wisdom to change course as needed and lead their organizations forward.

We interviewed five of those leaders to gain insight into what makes them tick and the insights and advice they can share as inspirational role models. Here we provide a glimpse into the third of these five CMOs: Ryan Carlson of Okta, whose character has allowed him to continually rise above challenges.

Like every effective leader, Ryan embodies the concept of yin and yang – how seemingly opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary.

Sit down with Ryan and you quickly get a sense of his relaxed demeanor and down-to-earth nature. Inspired by his Colorado upbringing, he’s likely to be wearing a flannel shirt as he regales you with tales about his younger days spent fly-fishing, backpacking, snowboarding, and hiking.

That casual manner and Ryan’s authenticity immediately put you at ease. However, they also belie an inner intensity that fires Ryan’s refusal to back down from a challenge – a characteristic that has served him well since his youth.

Upon graduating from a small rural high school, Ryan headed for the city to attend the University of Colorado. His Electrical Engineering degree paved the way for his entrée into product marketing – experience he would parlay into an eventual CMO position at a company he zeroed in on early for its great promise: Okta.

It may surprise you to learn that Ryan had to make several runs at the company where he has spent the longest stretch of his career. As he says, “I felt Okta was going to be special — I believed strongly in the company and its product. So I invested the time and energy to become part of their story.”

Today, even the naysayers acknowledge the success of our Active Directory campaign. I still refer to it when I want to remind my team and our partners to be bold.”

That time included nine months landing a Product Marketing position after initially being rejected. This dogged determination would also help Ryan ultimately earn his seat as CMO – again after being passed over the first time around.

Ryan’s gutsiness has established him in other ways throughout his career. In a notable example, this pluck drove him to take on the biggest of tech titans: Microsoft. In what still stands as Okta’s most successful marketing campaign, Ryan led the charge to “Rethink Active Directory,” in spite of considerable internal opposition.

For a closer look at Ryan’s standout career experiences and the authenticity, boldness and hustle that have helped him convert challenges into opportunities, enjoy this extended profile.

Download the full interview