Insights

Faces of Modern Leadership - Maria Alvarez

Shalace Gregg

The Faces of Modern Leadership series spotlights rising directors who are part of Diligent’s Modern Leadership initiative, a network of nearly 700,000 CEOs, board directors and executives. Modern Leadership aims to impact diversity, equity, and inclusion at more than 25,000 organizations worldwide, dedicated to building the largest, most diverse pool of highly qualified directors and executives in the world.

Maria Alvarez brings product, operational, technical excellence, international leadership, and digital transformation experience to the boardroom. Maria has delivered transformations for public, private, and high-growth technology, and security businesses, including Microsoft, Panda Security, Yahoo, Hewlett Packard, and Symantec Corporation. She is a technical leader with 20+ years of experience in software development, security, Internet, and AI industries. Maria was selected as the 2019 Cal Poly College of Science Distinguished Alumni Award recipient and most recently the 2020 top 100 Hispanic Information Technology Executive Council (HITEC) 100 Awardee.  A sought-after speaker and panelist, Maria earned the Microsoft Global Inclusive Award in 2016, and currently serves as the Diversity and Inclusion executive sponsor for Microsoft’s AI Platform Group. 

Maria has vast experience serving on diverse types of boards including non-profits, like STEAM: CODERS, an organization that introduces students in underrepresented groups to science, technology, engineering, art, and math. Most recently, she is serving at BB Imaging. BB Imaging is a services company that provides diagnostic ultrasound services, delivering accessible care for at-risk patients and turn-key solutions to providers. Maria was also involved with Woodbury University and served on the board of Workfront.  Additionally, Maria serves as a Technical Advisor of Grabbr, a social marketing platform company, and is also a member of the Security and Privacy in the Lifecycle of IoT (INTERNET OF THINGS) for Consumer Environments Advisory Council (SPLICE) at Dartmouth College.

 

Global Product and Technology Executive

Maria excels in portfolio management, product strategy, end-to-end programs, and process improvement, as well as at driving successful large-scale technology transformations. Maria is trusted and respected for partnering and leading effectively cross-functionally and internationally with cultural acuity. She has been promoted rapidly with greater responsibility in the Microsoft Cloud and Artificial Intelligence division to manage the Experimentation Platform that is used by teams across Microsoft like Azure, Xbox, Windows, Office, Bing, MS Teams, Visual Studio, etc. to make data-driven decisions through A/B testing. Maria also oversaw both product and technology teams for Panda Security, the first cloud antivirus security company in Spain. As CTO and Product Management Head, she led a €100M portfolio, with product and technology vision & strategy leveraging Microsoft Azure as a platform. Maria implemented product development strategy designed for improved speed of execution and delivery, cost efficiencies, metrics, and change management.

At Yahoo, Maria oversaw end-to-end worldwide tech business operations of Yahoo technology for over 7000 employees, managing a $1B budget as Engineering VP (Vice President) & Tech PMO (Program Management Office). Maria also managed several large re-organizations and acquisitions, including the Right Media acquisition for Yahoo and Semantic Machines for Microsoft.

Boardroom Expertise

  • Extensive engineering experience on how to run well-oiled organizations across multiple dimensions people (disciplines), products, processes, and technology.   
  • Product strategy, launching new products/releases to market. 
  • Establishing technology centers, attracting, and hiring talent across the world including diverse talent. 
  • Experience in multiple tech sectors and private and public companies: AI, search, advertising, security consumer and enterprise applications, experimentation, remote communications, and data management services.  

Helping Organizations Overcome Today’s Challenges

Maria provides insights on the tech and leadership capabilities needed to hire and compensate tech executives, including the skills required to lead the development of new products and platforms. She offers new perspectives and approaches to recruiting diverse talent and expanding different points of view to boards including work hybrid approaches, and the use of Artificial Intelligence to augment products and services.  “In the new era of remote work, FLEXIBILITY is at the core of attracting talent and retention. It is not just technology it is also an understanding that we can bring talent, foster collaboration, and deliver results by enabling and supporting employees where they are.”

As an example of how she helped an organization overcome business challenges, Maria advised the CTO of Grabbr through the setup of an international development group in the Philippines, advising on the hiring strategy for building a customer-obsessed team, as well as on the technology selection strategy for creating a successful, next-generation product and advocated for data and AI degrees at Woodbury university and provided feedback on the proposed programs

Bringing Her Superpower to the Boardroom

The best leaders have a unique ability or skill set that they bring to the board room. “I have the ability to connect to people, ask questions, listen with empathy, foster two-way communication, and build genuine trust,” says Maria. Her ability to manage complexity, recognize patterns and connect the dots across people, projects, and organizations helps her in the boardroom. Her keen sense of service and ability to build deep partnerships helps her bring teams together in a way that multiplies collaboration and success. “I use these superpowers to advise, coach, and provide insights to the CEO and board members, specifically in the areas of product strategy, technology trends, business operations, company culture, and diversity,” says Maria.

Diversity Brings More Diversity

Companies need leadership and boards that reflect the customers and employees they serve, not only to improve the performance and innovation of their products and/or services, but also to be responsive to the needs of everyone in society. Now more than ever, Maria encourages companies to incorporate and elevate different voices and integrate contrasting points of view that reflect the world we live in.  “The problems companies are facing today cannot be solved in a vacuum.  Having board members with a broad set of social and professional diversity with multiple perspectives can help the company anticipate change, assess risks, and discover opportunities that can result in improved company productivity, brand, and reputation,” says Maria. Maria finds that diversity brings more diversity, “It is like a flywheel so the more boards embrace it, the more benefits they will see in the companies they serve.” 

Challenges for Corporate Leaders Today

Maria finds many of the key issues facing leaders today to revolve around attracting and retaining talent and managing employee burn-out and well-being.  Corporate leaders also find themselves challenged to support a hybrid work environment. What are the right policies? How do we remain flexible while encouraging greater employee collaboration and connectivity? In addition, navigating the appropriate stances on social and political issues across the world, DEI, injustice, sustainability, and climate change continue to be topics of great concern.  Maria believes that empathy has always been a critical skill for leaders, but it is taking on a new level of meaning and priority. Far from a soft skill, it can drive significant business results from innovation to retention.

A Passion for Giving Back

Maria has a couple of passionate projects that she enjoys giving back to. One of them is a newly formed non-profit organization: Code the Spectrum, whose mission is to provide Education and Career pathways for Neurodiverse People. She is supporting and sponsoring the organizing committee for an upcoming one-day conference, the Inclusive Coding Festival, where students with neurodiversity will showcase their work and connect with industry employers. “This is a very exciting project as we want to bring more diversity to Microsoft and the tech industry,” says Maria. She is also deeply involved in the Cal Poly Computer Science Senior Project, where she created a program where senior Computer Science students develop a capstone project and use Microsoft engineers as mentors.  “It is an opportunity to train students, offer them internships and eventually offer full-time employment.  Since the program creation, for which I am also the executive sponsor, it has generated 4+ diverse full-time hires to Microsoft” says Maria.  



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