Spotlight on Aryaka Women – Karen Freitag

This March we’re putting a spotlight on women at Aryaka as we celebrate International Women’s Day. For this blog, I sit down with my next-door neighbor and Aryaka Chief Revenue Officer – Karen Freitag – for a candid conversation on her passion for selling, advice for women and simply what makes her tick as a sales leader in the C-suite.

[Shashi Kiran] Karen, where are you from and what kind of a kid were you growing up?

[Karen Freitag] I grew up in Oklahoma City, OK and San Diego, CA in a family where I was one of four girls. For as long as I can recall, I have always wanted to be in sales.  My parents joke that the first words out of my mouth were “Here’s the Deal” not the usual first words of “Mama” or “Dada”. Getting into sales was definitely not an obvious choice for me career wise, as my father was a CFO and my mother was a nurse. However, Sales was a natural fit for me as I have always enjoyed talking to people and my parents would tell you I have negotiated everything almost since the day I was born.

[SK] Who were some of your role models growing up? Any women?

[KF] I don’t recall any real women role models that I had, in fact the only female role model I can really remember from that time is Superwoman! I can think of a lot now, such as Sheryl Sandberg (COO, Facebook), Indra Nooyi (CEO, Pepsi), Arianna Huffington (Huffington Post) and Rosalind Brewer (Former – COO Starbucks/CEO Sam’s Club) just to name a few. This just confirms to me that we as women have come a long way!

[SK] How did you get into sales? Was it an easy decision?

[KF] My first job in sales was selling cosmetics as a makeup artist all through college. I was only working part-time but I would make as much or more money than the people who were working full-time. I loved it and it provided the funds to pay my expenses through college. Then I went to work for IBM right out of college and that is where I began my professional career in sales. I was fortunate that I had the opportunity to go through IBM sales training and that training is what really built the foundation for my success in sales.

[SK] As your career developed, did you ever experience a glass ceiling?  

[KF] I don’t feel like I ever have. My parents impressed on me starting at an early age that I could do anything in life that I wanted to as long as I was willing to put in the hard work. As I had increased success, I had the opportunity for increased responsibility.

[SK] Selling can be tough job with demanding expectations. How do you handle stress?

[SK] Mostly it is through exercising! I used to run a lot and I would run more for my head than my body! Now, I mostly ride my Peloton and I am in love with Barry’s and Orange Theory! And, if I am really stressed, I clean…Ha-ha!  It is very cathartic for me.  Also, I think maintaining a positive attitude is essential and you have to accept that sometimes things are out of your control.

[SK] What is your most memorable selling moment?   

[KF] That is a tough question!  There are so many memorable moments it is hard to choose just one. I would have to say my most rewarding though was when I was in sales at IBM. I was doing purely new business sales and I had a territory where there was an opportunity with a very large school district. Three other salespeople in the office told me I shouldn’t waste my time as they didn’t believe anything would ever come of it. But I thought it was an interesting opportunity and after understanding their needs I thought we had the perfect solution. It was the hardest deal I have ever done, I had to get really creative and think outside of the box and I had to bring in a couple partners to complete the solution. This deal took fourteen months to close and it was the largest deal in the region that year!  It was so rewarding especially when initially people told me I shouldn’t waste my time!

[SK] That’s a great story. I’m sure there are some that went the other way as well. So, how do you bounce back from a bad sales quarter?

[KF] Deliver the next quarter!  I always say, “Results Will Set You Free”!!  Seriously though, I think you have to take time to reflect and learn from it,  assess what could have been done differently, and make the appropriate changes.

[SK What advice would you give to women considering a career in sales?

[KF] I love sales and have been in sales my entire career, so I don’t know if I’m the right person to be asking because I would say, Just Do It!  Advice I would give anyone going into sales is to be yourself, be confident, understand what you don’t know and don’t be afraid to ask for advice.  I find people generally like to help others.  Early in my career I would seek out the best salespeople in the organization, those that delivered quarter after quarter, and I would ask them for advice and learn all that I possibly could from them. It was so helpful!

[SK] You must be on the road a lot. What does this mean to your family? How do you balance?

[KF] For me it is really about being present in the moment whether that is at work or at home. When I am with my family, it is about being present when I am with them. This  means not being on my phone responding to texts or email when we are at dinner or, when my boys were younger, it was just sitting and watching a movie with them without getting my laptop out or trying to do laundry at the same time. It hasn’t been easy though; I have had to work really hard for this type of presence. Also, I find balance by being true to my minimums. By this I mean that if you say that you are going to have dinner with your kids three times a week, do so. If you say that you will exercise a certain amount, do so. I have found that when I don’t stay true to my minimums, then life gets hectic and can feel out of control.

[SK] As a leader, what is your management philosophy?

[KF] It’s about being authentic and being myself, admitting when I am wrong, not being afraid to pivot when business needs dictate a different course of action, and being accessible to anyone in the organization.

[SK] It has been over a year now, but why did you join Aryaka?

[KF I saw Aryaka as a company that had potential for growth in an industry space that was exciting and on the cusp of significant growth. I respected the leadership team and thought Aryaka was the perfect size  company where I could really make a difference. And, I absolutely love sales development and felt that Aryaka would be a great place to apply this passion of mine.

[SK] When you’re not working, what is your favorite place to vacation?

[KF] Anywhere on a beach!

About the author

Shashi Kiran
Shashi Kiran is the Chief Marketing Officer at Aryaka Networks responsible for Aryaka’s global marketing, product management and technology partnerships. He brings over 20 years of experience in the hi-tech industry across marketing, product management, business development and partnerships.