Why Great Execs Lead Like Great Parents – Marissa Freeman, Chief Brand Officer, Hewlett Packard Enterprise

Marissa Freeman is Global Head of Brand Experience at Hewlett Packard Enterprise where the mission of the multi-billion company is to improve the way people live and work in everything they do. Marissa’s world is all about storytelling and in 2015, Marissa helped guide the seismic shift of the $100 billion-dollar company as it split into two brands; HP and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

In this week’s Success Stories episode, she chats with Catherine Robson about the similarities between great leaders and great parents, the art of giving feedback to creative teams and her biggest lesson in juggling family and work life.


The Global Head of Brand Experience, Marissa joined HP when the business was known for printers and PCs but a year and a half into the job, HP strategically split into two Fortune 50 companies. For Marissa, it was a once in lifetime opportunity to guide the split of one of the world’s most iconic companies into 2 brands: HP Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

Marissa chose to stay with the enterprise side which was focused on tech like AI, robotics, high performance computing, cloud and big data.

“Even though that felt a lot harder to me, and it still does” she laughs “that was where I stayed.”

From the very beginning; HP has been a champion for a gender diverse workforce and that diversity is apparent from executive positions, board positions and down through the ranks. Meg Whitman, one of the most powerful women in U.S. business, was the CEO for 6 years.

“It doesn’t happen by accident,” says Marissa. “It happens by design and because it’s the smart thing to do.”

Marissa believes the traits of great leaders and great parents are incredibly similar and part of a unique professional forum for executives called Lead Like a Mother.

“It’s not necessarily for mothers, it’s about leading like a good parent,” says Marissa.

“Those qualities of being a good parent translate perfectly into being a good leader.”

“Structure, discipline, praise, respect. A hug now and then, a tear now and then. It’s ok. It’s better than ok. It’s the right thing; it’s a good way to lead people,” she says.

She manages to balance the nurturing side of her management style while delivering difficult feedback and staying hyper-focused on business outcomes surprisingly well. In her role, delivering feedback to creative agencies can be especially delicate where personal attachment to the work created, at times, can run high.

“I think you have to put yourself in the other person’s shoes,” she says.

“First you have to tell everyone in the room that you appreciate their effort, their time, and their work and what’s good about it. Point out the things that are absolutely wonderful.”

“Then you look at the strategy because every piece of work someone brings to me is built on a strategy. We’re not making art here; although sometimes it looks artful, it’s really about business. So, we go back to the strategy, look at the creative work and say – does this meet the strategy?”

“If you take it out of the personal and make it about the work, clearly and concisely communicate why the work does or doesn’t meet the strategy, it’s not subjective,” she explains.

“That’s basically my secret sauce.”

With 9-year-old twins, managing her physical and mental wellness around the competing demands of work and family life is often a work in progress.

“Build your network, build your village; it takes a village. Learn how to say ‘No’. It’s really hard when you’re climbing the corporate ladder and you see the brass ring in your sights, to want to say yes to everything,” she says.

“You have to figure out what will get you there and what you can say no to and still get there because you need to spend time with your family, particularly your husband.”

“Take care of your husband, of that relationship, your partner; husband, wife, significant other. When you have little ones and a big job and you both have jobs, you tend to put that person last because you think they’ll understand that the kids come first or you have to make that board meeting,” says Marissa.

“But that’s the absolute wrong thing to do. I learned the hard way. Thankfully my husband and I worked on our relationship and figured was would work for us and now we both absolutely treasure our relationship.”

Listen to this week’s full episode at The Constant Investor or on iTunes.