Executive POV: Adobe’s Stephen Frieder on leading in transformative times

Great leaders are great because their teams are great. That was one of the key takeaways from a conversation we had with Stephen Frieder, president of Adobe Americas.

Frieder, who played point guard in basketball growing up—often called “the 1,” it’s the position most responsible to set teammates up with good shots based on their respective skills—leads a group that is responsible for marketing to, and building relationships with Adobe customers, and enabling their success.

We sat down with Frieder, who frequently chats with some of Adobe’s biggest customers, to get a better pulse on the trends, challenges and opportunities he sees ahead, as well as what great leaders are made of.

What are your three top strategic priorities for the remainder of this year?

Frieder: First would be helping our customers be successful and drive business outcomes for them. I’m also very much focused on empowering our teams to be productive and collaborative, even while working from home. And finally, helping Adobe scale, repeatedly.

You are talking to leaders at some of the biggest companies in the world. What are some of the most common challenges that they talk to you about?

Frieder: Everyone has acknowledged that digital is the primary channel for them to communicate with their customers. And of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated that acknowledgement. Companies have also realized that digital is not just a revenue channel, either. It’s about the total sum of experiences, perception, and long-term loyalty. It’s become a CEO-level imperative.

The challenge is that companies are struggling on the execution because it requires getting your customer data into a single view to effectively manage experiences across all these different channels. The fact is that many companies still have data pockets all over the organization that are siloed and disparate. Bringing them together into a much-coveted single view ensures the right message at the right time—to the right customer.

At Adobe we talk a lot about customer-centric business transformation, and that it’s not just about marketing. Can you talk to us about digital transformation in the context of your role in sales? How have you transformed your team, processes and mindsets?

Frieder: We used to be a product-centric organization, and now we’ve switched to where we are focused on solving our customers’ business problems. We’re serving our customers through a vertical lens, speaking to them in their industry language and focusing on solving their specific problems.

How are you empowering your team to succeed?

Frieder: We are focused on ensuring our team has the right information at the right time to do their job. We want to simplify and help the team become predictable in what they have to do, and helping them take a look at our customers from a lifestyle perspective. A big push for us across the team is account-based marketing, and using our own technology to serve the right information to customers. It’s made our team more successful and more efficient.

What does it take to be a great leader during a time like this?

Frieder: I’m a big believer in empathy. You also have to be genuine and show that you care about your people. A great leader genuinely cares about what they do because teams are more loyal when they know you believe what you are saying. And don’t be fooled, your people can see if you really believe what you’re going after or not.

I also cannot overstress the importance of being real and authentic always—but especially when things are not going well. And hold everyone on the team accountable for their business: Everyone should lead their business like they are the CEO.

A big theme on our digital media side of the business is #CreativityForAll. What does that mean to you, and what should it mean to your team?

Frieder: Creativity comes in all fashions. To me the meaning of #CreativityForAll is two-fold. First, is creativity in terms of how you attack problems. I am looking to my team to be creative in how they solve customer problems. The second part of #CreativityForAll is about making the tools that empower creativity available and usable for everyone—even my nine-year-old daughter, who is already playing around with Photoshop in Adobe Creative Cloud.