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Learning to Lead: Interview with Cathy Jhung, VP at Hercules Capital

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What were those things you wish you had known when you first had to lead a team? Not just the broad takeaways, but some real, actionable tips and practices. Hear it firsthand from others who have been there in our Learning to Lead series. 

Catherine (Cathy) Jhung is currently a VP at Hercules Capital, the largest, non-bank provider of venture debt to venture and PE backed companies across technology, life sciences and sustainable and renewable technology industries. At Hercules Cathy mainly focuses on deal origination for technology companies. Prior to Hercules Cathy was a VP at Cleantech Group, where she oversaw the company’s data business and managed a 20+ person team of sales, customer success, research & product folks.

 

In her own words:

“I love selling.  I’m genuinely interested in discovering what makes people tick and what they really give a damn about and why.  I’ve been a selling stuff for about 20 years now, from suits and nylons at Ann Taylor to taking a SaaS startup from 5 to over 600 subscription clients to cleantech investment data and now venture debt.  I’m the proud mother of a spirited 3 year old and my husband and I love hosting and cooking at home for our friends and family.”

Your role now is an individual contributor, but all your prior jobs were leading or managing teams. How has the transition been for you? 

Moving to Hercules was a career change for me – like most of my career decisions, not necessarily “planned”. But there was an opportunity and I was interested in moving to the buy side and managing deals. After managing for so long, the flexibility in being an IC again and not needing to be responsible for anyone else besides myself has been a nice change. Running a team can be exhausting – you’re constantly recruiting, thinking about motivating a team, balancing their needs with the business objectives. Sometimes I felt like I was a personal and professional therapist too which was exhausting.  But I go back and forth. I miss the mentoring, setting a strategic direction and making decisions that impact others. But I don’t plan on making a change back to management anytime soon.

What was the hardest part of first becoming a manager? How did you transition? 

One of the weirdest things was that people that were once my peers were now reporting to me. I had been in sales so in some cases these were people I had been competing with, or were older than me. It was super stressful in the beginning – I was insecure and worried if they thought I was qualified since it was my first time, and everyone knew it.

I just tried to be as transparent as possible – I even shared my concerns on my own abilities with my team and didn’t try to pretend like I knew everything. By being open, I found out that my team was actually happy and excited about me managing the team, which helped me think, “wow, maybe this will work”.

People also think that once you’re a manager you’re just running meetings all day or working with other people. But it’s not this immediate transition. I still had the largest quota on the team, and then the unique thing about sales is that I would have actually made more money closing my own deals instead of focusing on hiring and managing. So there was this mindset shift I had to make from closing my own deals to focusing on everyone else that was on my team. Luckily I had a good line of communication with my boss, who had a very casual, open, friendly and relationship based style. That’s definitely something I’ve learned over time in all my jobs. Having someone you work with and for that shares the same values is so important. It’s exhausting to work with someone with a different value set.

What are some practical tips you have for running meetings or 1:1s?

I have to admit I do better in a 1:1 setting than large group meetings. I don’t have this rah-rah style and in some cases I even had different opinions on how to run a group sales meeting than some of the executives I worked for. I didn’t think it was necessary to run through pipeline and stack rankings because everyone already knows where they stand and I didn’t think they needed to be called out in front of others – that’s a better forum for 1:1s. For my group meetings I used them a lot to share updates from above and other departments. I’d have other departments like product or marketing join, or use it for training. We met weekly on Mondays.

For 1:1s, I used the time to figure out how they were doing. It was a lot of “what’s going on?”. We’d start with life, what’s new, and there is usually something they want to share. It was also a good transition into how things were going at work. Practically I would also make sure to have bullets of everything I wanted to cover and to weave it into the conversation. Especially if I knew I would need to have a “tough” or crucial conversation. But I found that most people already knew what tough conversations had to happen and would bring it up themselves. It’s better for them to come up with their own solutions, and then you can followup with “ok, then what’s your plan, how can I be helpful? How do you want to approach it?” Then they see that their manager is going to help them get the resources they need to get more visibility, or get past that roadblock.

What are some specific things you did when you were transitioning into a manager that were particularly helpful? 

Being open, honest & vulnerable really helped. I did that with everything – myself, the company, the business. When I shared with my team, I found that they shared back with me. As a leader you want to know where your team is at, what they are challenged with, what are they trying to achieve, what are they worried or annoyed about. If they don’t see you as someone who is thinking about what they are thinking about, they won’t feel like you are on the same level. For me, leading is through people’s hearts, you’re not some benevolent dictator. Don’t forget that ultimately we’re all people and that everyone is more comfortable when you are open about sh*t. And don’t worry so much about how you sound. Everyone wants to share, so just be who you are. Sorry, that wasn’t very eloquent. (We disagree. We love it Catherine!)

Any last parting advice? 

I think it’s also important to look for things that fulfill your needs outside of work. I’m involved with an organization called CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) to a foster child in San Mateo county. My involvement there was fueled by my need and interest in mentorship which I didn’t get in my current work.

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