The Big CEO Interview: Cory Munchbach, CEO, BlueConic

BlueConic’s Cory Munchbach, has gone from employee number 17 to CEO in just eight years. She talks to TLNT about her rise to the top and how she strives to set a culture everyone loves:

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May 13, 2024

On paper, Cory Munchbach is just the sort of person journalists love to talk to.

For starters, she’s a female CEO (just 10% of Fortune 500 companies have one); but she’s also a CEO in the technology space – and that, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, makes her a “lonely minority” [68% of tech start-ups have no women on their boards at all].

“I have to appreciate that it’s my responsibility to be visible,” reflects Munchbach of the substantial extra weight on her shoulders that being a standard-bearer for female achievement must be.

However, is it really cool in 2024 to be doing profiles on CEOs just because of their sex?

TLNT would argue not, and it’s a good job too, because Munchbach also agrees.

“At the same time as acknowledging that I’m a female leader, we [ie CEOs] are all trying to do the same job,” she says. “What I think – however – is that we’re at an interesting time right now, because I would argue that instead of talking about female leadership, I think we should just be talking about what ‘good leadership’ is.”

Pushing back

The issue (and perhaps the media is also has a part to play here), is that often people just don’t want to let this point of difference go – not even people she has worked with along the way.

“I’ve moved through an ecosystem where I’ve always been one of the few women around, which is a point of difference anyway,” she says.

“But there’s still a view of ‘CEO-dom’ based on the most common profile – that says you’re older, white and male – which is an intense thing to deal with. It creates,” she says, “the pernicious enemy of expectation, where I have literally had you have some people tell me you ‘you don’t ‘look’ like a CEO’. That is a burden.”

She adds: “This creates something of a mental toll around how you have to show up, or present yourself, which takes you away from your flow of being authentic.”

She says: “There’s a still a strong narrative backed up by considerable data that says if you’re an assertive  strong woman, you’re ‘bitchy’, whereas if the same descriptor was used for a man, he’d simply be called ‘driven’, and ‘striving for results’.”

Munchbach continues: “If you’re ‘visionary’ you’re criticized for not doing enough research – which is again, not something that’s often leveled at men. Most of the time you can brush this stuff off, but sometimes it’s more visceral, and it can cut deeper.”

Making her own impact

So how is Munchbach rising above all this, cutting her own groove, and creating a business that reflects her values of making sure progression is based on merit?

“In our business we simply say we aim to get the right people in the right seats – by making sure we clearly define our competencies, and hire according to that,” she says.

As the leader in the business, she accepts that this culture signal comes from her, and that while the temptation might be to artificially push (for example), for more female representation, she says it’s a blunt instrument by which to try and create change.

“It’s unfortunate that the sorts of tools used in business to supposedly demonstrate ‘progress’ are clunky,” she says. “On the one hand, diversity metrics are rudimentary, and potentially reductive.

But, on the other, they do at least force one to clearly see how we define who is qualified for roles. So my view is that gender diversity or other diversity numbers should be used as a way of showing that progress is being made, but not to make that the goal process itself.”

To do this, Munchbach  argues it’s all about creating the right processes – or what she calls the right ‘system’.

She says: “You have to create a system that says you’re about a range of the right skills, experiences, and qualifications and support that with a diverse.

Then, if you get diverse people great, but equally, if that same system produces all male hires for a while, we would totally accept this, because it’s not a good approach to reduce things to a fixed point of view.

As long as the hiring committee that aims to interview as many people  is diverse, and we aim to interview as many as we can from diverse backgrounds, then that’s the systems-based approach that’s needed.”

A career underpinned by personal growth

All of this really is quite a HR-led approach to leadership – but perhaps it’s unsurprising really, because ultimately, Munchbach says being a CEO was never the big drive – her aspiration has instead always been about personal growth:

“I can hand on heart say I never had this great fervor to be CEO. It definitely wasn’t my ambition,” she reflects. “I had no linear career path expectation. What I always made sure I did though, was try and makes career choices where I thought ‘what would be an interesting position for me to take, than would enable me to grow?’

She adds: “With every step I’ve taken, I’ve wanted to learn something new. I’ve been fortunate in the ways things have unfolded, and to have ‘learning moments’. But to the best of my ability, I’ve tried to strive. And this is simply what I would like others in my organization to do too.”

This philosophy has seen the business awarded a Best Places to Work accolade by Built In (in 2022, 2023 and 2024), and Munchbach says she definitely won’t be one of those leaders who implement strict RTOs.

“Flexibility works for our company; we have a strong DNA around this anyway. It was a business decision we’ve made, and it’s one I really think is the right one.”

In a world where it seems female CEOs still (as Munchbach puts it), “need to be working 1100%” just to get the same recognition as men, there is clearly a long way to go before people simply acknowledge great leadership for what it is.

In the meantime though, BlueConic will be doing its thing, no-doubt adding to the many awards it’s already been showered with, and letting results do the talking.

“Trying to put leaders into some sort of box is always fraught with trouble,” she concludes. “At the end of the day, CEOs – whoever they are – should be measured against what they bring to the table, and the sort of organizations they ultimately create. That’s what I’m focused on doing.”