In conversation with Mary Sauer-Games - Episode 4 - Inspiring the Next CMO series

Updated: Jun 9

Join Lou in a conversation with Mary Sauer-Games, an industry VP of Product Management. Discover all about:

  • the podcasts Mary has been enjoying on daily walks during lockdown

  • the inspirational healthcare frontlines – especially their determination and providing hope to us all

  • progressive change in attitudes and working practices over the years

  • Michelle Obama’s amazing balancing skills and hatred of public speaking

  • Mary's passion for problem-solving and the importance of understanding your customers’ needs

  • and Jane Goodall and the power of persuasion.

Podcast: Website, iTunes, Podbean, Spotify, Google


Podcast channel: Website, Google Podcast, iTunes, Podbean, Spotify

Transcription (contains Amazon affiliate links):

Lou: Hello hello!

Right. This is our Inspiring the Next CMO podcast series for Behind the Fluff podcast from The International Bunch. It’s specifically for those in marketing, those interested in marketing, those in academic publishing, scholarly comms and libraries.

Who are we going to be talking with today? Mary Sauer-Games. Mary is a VP of Product Management. Mary talks with us about:

  • Enjoying podcasts on daily walks during lockdown

  • Being inspired by those on the frontlines of healthcare – their determination and hope

  • Progressive change in attitudes and working practices over the years

  • Michelle Obama’s amazing balancing skills and hatred of public speaking

  • Mary’s passion for problem-solving and the importance of understanding your customer needs

  • Jane Goodall and the power of persuasion

So why don’t we just jump straight in? Let’s go.

Lou: Welcome everybody to our Behind the Fluff, Inspiring the next CMO podcast series. Now, you can find lots of great resources to help inspire you to raise your game in marketing at I am delighted to have Mary Sauer-Games with me today. Mary is Vice President of product management in the industry, and Mary and I used to work together I think some eight years ago. So hello, Mary.

Mary: Hi. It’s so good seeing you again. Thank you for inviting me to participate. It sounds like a lot of fun, I’m looking forward to it.

Lou: Thank you so much. So what we're going to do first is we're going to start with a very simple question. Everyone does this, we have a campaign that goes out on #IntBunchWordOfTheDay and we always want to find inspiring words to include in this campaign, because poor Yasmin has to pull together about 365 words for the whole year, so we're kind of going sneaky in these interviews to say, let’s get some words out of here. So what is your favourite word, and what does it mean?

Mary: My favourite word to use, and I get teased about it all the time, I like to say ‘awesome’, like really loud – ‘awesome!’ And particularly for my colleagues on your side of the pond, they're always kind of very scared when I do that because it is - what does it mean? For me, it's like saying great. It's like saying good job, but just something a little bit more special. So when I say it, it means like I really think this is a great idea and it's meant to be inspiring and more than just a pat on the back. It's just like: this is really awesome, or this is a great thing that we've done. So, ‘awesome’. That would be the word.

Lou: Absolutely. I love it. I use awesome as well. I think it's a brilliant word and it's definitely a very positive one too. I think on our side of the pond, the reason that people are like that is because we hear it a lot on the American side, but I just think why not adopt it? It's brilliant.

So, first things first, we want to know a little bit more about you: so what's the best thing that you have discovered in the last year?

Mary: It's funny you should ask. I’ve been thinking about this, and it is podcasts. I know podcasts have been around for a long time, and it was just a medium that I did not use it all for whatever reason. I don't really know. But since the pandemic, and we have actually been sitting in front of Zooms every day for like literally eight or nine hours straight. I have been setting aside like a half hour every day, sometimes 45 minutes so that I can just get away and actually walk, and so as I go out and walk, since I can't go out and walk with other people and have conversations, I started listening to podcasts and I really, really enjoy it. So for me, that was the big discovery this year.

Lou: Yes. I'm completely there with you. I love things like Audible, listening to audiobooks now. It's just stuff that we did not do before. Now we are actually taking a bit more time, and it's great to be able to take some time out and listen to some, there are some excellent podcasts out there. Very funny ones as well that I find myself chuckling to as I'm walking along or running.

So, who inspires you?

Mary: Usually, when I think about people who inspire me, they are people who are going above and beyond. In particular, I am inspired by women who are in leadership positions and really kind of pushing the boundaries. More recently though, if I think back again about this year, where I've been really inspired is thinking about all the people who are on the front lines literally every day. I think about people who are working, particularly in healthcare, and having to deal with just incredibly difficult situations. They're really the lifelines to the families of the COVID patients that are in their hospitals, and the fact that they come back every day and keep doing the same thing, which has got to be so disheartening for them and sad, I just find inspiration that they keep coming back and keep moving forward and provide hope to their patients and they provide hope to their families. So to me, that's been a shift in my thinking about who inspires me.

Lou: Yes, I completely agree. Incredibly special people. I honestly don't know how they do it and I don't think they probably know how they've continued and done it, because you can see all the imagery of some of them and how much they've suffered. I mean, what a year?

So, on a more positive note, well, I don't know if it's going to be positive or not; we'll have to wait and find out, but when you were young, what did you want to be?

Mary: Exactly what I'm doing right now. It's hard to believe but yes, when I was little, and I think back on this and it's just kind of funny; I had two sisters who are younger than I am. We would always kind of play house, and my two sisters were always Mums and they were always carrying their baby dolls around and I was always the one in the house who was like: ‘I'm going to work today.’ And I would pack up my stuff and I was going to be a business person. I'm not really sure I do exactly what I'm doing now, but it was like I'm always going places. I was always just working in a business, and always the professional woman. I never had any kids. I actually ended up having kids in real life. It's really funny that you end up kind of following your dreams in some ways.

Lou: Absolutely. I mean, I think you're the first person who is actually doing what they thought they were going to do when they're young. Did you have a little briefcase as well?

Mary: Well, I don't think I knew what a briefcase was back then so, but if I knew I'm sure I would have.

Lou: Oh, yes. So if you were to have dinner tonight with anybody in the world from any time, whether they're alive or dead, who would it be?

Mary: Well, it would be Michelle Obama, and it goes back to my comment about who is it that I admire? And generally it's very strong women who have made an impact. I find her to be absolutely amazing. She's intelligent, well-educated, extremely professional, she takes the high road. She has been able to balance a very public and very professional life, and still, you know she appears to maintain a very good balance with her children, her mother and in being able to promote her own interests regarding children's nutrition and exercise. And just lots of things that I think are very, very inspiring. So I would love to talk to her and just find out how she is able to kind of balance all of that because I think that that's amazing. She continues to be her own person when she's married to someone who is such a strong personality and recognized worldwide, and still be able to maintain her identity and strength. I think that's amazing.

Lou: Yes, absolutely. I’m listening to her audiobook at the moment and about her growing up and her life. She's fascinating. She is an incredibly fascinating and inspirational individual.

Mary: Yes, I read her book too and I had no idea that she really hates public speaking. You would never guess that, or you know, she had no intention of really helping with a political career and then just kind of get swept into it and then again, coming into her own and being able to be able to really have a presence, and I just found it inspirational.

Lou: Yes, absolutely. I completely agree with that. That would be an incredibly interesting conversation as well. That would be a fantastic conversation to have at dinner I'm starting to think about it now. I don't want my brain to go off that way, I’ll have to pull myself back in. So, tell me about your career and how you got to where you are today.

Mary: When I think back on my career, it has been kind of interesting. I think it's combined probably three different things. One is just a real desire to be and work with people. So that's been consistent. Loving solving problems and figuring things out, and then as I'm figuring those, taking those things back out into the marketplace and getting people really excited about them. And also to see their excitement when they say: this was exactly what I was talking about way back when.

When I graduated from college, I had a Degree in Economics, and I went to work for an economic forecasting firm in the auto industry. I actually started my career in automobiles and it was a very different time to today, and it's a very different industry than the publishing and information industry. But I was always sort of in that information side of it. I started out in a sales position, but a lot of it was also working with economic models, modelling and statistics and online services.

From there, I moved to another organization, this was in the Detroit area. And again it was automotive related, and we again, it was more of a sales position, creating studies for customers in the large automotive companies. And as I started to work in sales, I started seeing things that people needed, and I came back with some product ideas and the next thing I know I'm working in the product department and then starting to create new products for, actually, automobile dealers. It was very interesting and then it turned into kind of marketing. So like, how do we sell this back to them?

That whole process was really exciting to me and a lot of that was, again, online. I got to a point where, as much as I liked what I was doing, the industry probably was not as kind to women overall, and it was a very challenging environment, being a female and being one of the few females in a non- secretarial kind of role, both within my own organization as well as the customers that we served. I really wanted to be in a different kind of environment, and so an opportunity opened up with a publishing company in the Detroit area so I made the change and I have never looked back as far as you know, moving into the publishing world.

I think it was much more inclusive and it was - I hate to say this – this is going to date me so badly, but at the time I started working for them, we were doing reference publishing, and so you can think about those hard books that were behind the shelf in the library where you say, no, nobody can touch those. They would watch who took those books off the shelf very carefully. And we were actually moving those into CD-ROMs.

Lou: Love it!

Mary: Because I had worked so much with online databases and online services, I really had a good understanding of the electronic medium, and it wasn't too many years after that we actually started moving into the web. So that was a very short stint with CD-ROMs. But in the creation of these services, it really became apparent that you needed to have a much greater understanding of how users use things. Before it was all about the content, you just put it in a book format and you published it. As we moved into this electronic medium, it’s now starting to think differently: how do people want to use it? What's changed? So from there, we started doing a lot of a user observation. And again, just as I continued to move up throughout my career, it's just been building products, working with end users and then relating the value of that to them.

I think at each step along the way I just continued to kind of grow and build teams and motivate teams to learn to follow some of the practices that we used early on to reach out to end users and make sure we understood what those needs were.

Lou: I love that. I started in sales too in my early career, and I think it's because, for me, Michigan is for many of us, known to be as really the heart in the US of the automotive industry, and I can imagine how incredibly chauvinistic that industry probably was, certainly at that time. I was just thinking about what you were saying about Michelle Obama, you for me are one of the women in my life that have inspired me, and I find you incredibly inspirational, and I absolutely loved working with you when we worked together. I just think you're awesome, and it's just really interesting to hear how you've done in your career and what you've done. We've all done the old CD-ROMs!

Mary: I do sometimes say CD-ROMs, and I see my son look at me like: what are you talking about?

Lou: Absolutely. Yes, it’s just like a DVD, darling. I hope he knows what DVD’s are!

Mary: He does. We've got some friends who have very small children, and they have no idea; they think they're like nice coasters to put things on.

Lou: Oh, brilliant. So what have you been most proud of in your career?

Mary: I think it's been the ability to build teams that really want to collaborate, work together and focus on solving end-user needs. I've worked with a lot of really, really smart people over the years. I feel blessed. They have their own academic achievements and a lot of times they come to solving problems based on what they know in their head space, and what they think their customers want and they start building requirements.