The Cowen Partners Origin Series profiles executives from across the globe who are changing the face of business. Read along to hear their stories.
Leigh Gower, as she tells her mentees, was never one to say “here’s my North Star, my career is going to be this, and this is what I’m going to be when I grow up.”
“I have guided my career more on doing things that I want to learn about or following my curiosity and just not continuing to do things I don’t enjoy,” said Gower, who became the first chief technology officer for Dutch Bros Coffee, an Oregon-based beverage chain with 700-plus drive-thru locations, in late 2021.
For Gower, the beauty of technology is that it’s rarely in a steady state. Companies are constantly testing and refining their applications and innovating new solutions to meet ever-changing internal and customer needs.
“There are improvements introduced frequently that take you in new directions for how to solve existing challenges,” Gower said. “Rarely is anything built perfectly the first time. There are always opportunities to find areas to unlock greater efficiency.”
Gower’s career path has been equally dynamic, and it’s come full circle from her college and immediate post-college days, when she worked her way up through management at a Pacific Northwest restaurant chain. After a long-term management consultant role at Seattle’s Slalom, Gower entered the tech world at T-Mobile, serving the last of her eight years there as a senior director of product and technology before becoming vice president of technology at Blue Nile. Today, she’s back in the hospitality industry and combining her skills to guide the publicly held Dutch Bros’ technology evolution as it scales toward a goal of 4,000 shops in the next 10 to 15 years.
When seeking new roles, Gower looks not only for new challenges and opportunities, but charismatic and disruptive leaders – founders or CEOs who think outside of the box and push the envelope and inspirational visions.
“I always look for companies that work together toward a common goal – so more collaborative, less political or competitive environments, ones that are customer- or field-focused…and then also dedicated toward philanthropy or giving back,” Gower said. “I think Slalom helped entrench quite a bit of that in my DNA and made me realize those are definitely things I valued in a company and culture.”
Gower is helping transform Dutch Bros’ IT team into a more readily available partner to the entire company while supporting technology that enables day-to-day operations and building out long-term infrastructure plans.
“One of the reasons why I took this role is I have a background and a strong reputation and experience for building really effective teams and building really effective team cultures,” she said.
Since her days as a student athlete in high school and college – she studied math, economics and Spanish and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Puget Sound – Gower has heeded the advice of her father: Be authentic, and your perspective matters.
“I’ve believed in that message my whole career: that every single person that makes up a team brings experiences and backgrounds and thoughts and perspectives that others on that team may not consider,” she said.
So as Gower builds teams, she doesn’t focus solely on specific skill sets to fulfill functional needs. She also considers factors such as gender, accessibility and personality traits, including introversion and extroversion, to fill in what’s lacking and bring different voices to the table.
“I don’t look for folks that fit what’s currently there,” she said. “I actually look for folks that are possibly going to challenge the status quo or raise boats, take us in a new direction. Whether you are inherently talented in technical fields like architecture or dev, or whether you just have a really strong propensity to understand what makes a good experience for a customer, there’s roles throughout tech to support all walks of life.”
At T-Mobile, Gower initially led a digital product management team as the carrier was undergoing a business and digital transformation. The company eventually tapped her to take on responsibility for a T-Mobile for Business team with technology roles from architecture and DevOps, to automation, quality assurance and systems maintenance. And when she was accepted into the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, Gower opted to forgo an MBA and stick with T-Mobile.
“I was learning so much on the job already, that that was an opportunity for me to figure out as a leader how I could use my skills and talents to really unlock the potential within those teams,” she said.
Gower advises those looking to take on technology leadership roles to “own your seat.”
“You are in that seat for a reason, and that is because you bring a unique perspective, skillset, background or experience that brought you there,” she said. “You belong there. Your colleagues want and need to hear your contributions and ideas.”
The Origin Series by Cowen Partners fosters the union of emerging leaders with purpose-driven executives and peers who share similar aspirations. By leveraging our comprehensive tools, expertise, and network, we enable you to shape your leadership trajectory towards generating a substantial influence on your organization and the community.
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