Celebrating Women in Tech with Panzura CEO Jill Stelfox

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Meet Jill Stelfox. Jill is a serial founder and entrepreneur, holds multiple patents, and is the chief executive officer (CEO) and executive chair of Panzura. Panzura’s award-winning CloudFS global file system gives the ability to access files from anywhere with visibility, security, and control.

Alongside leading Panzura to successful new heights, Jill actively celebrates and elevates women in tech. She co-founded Women in Sports Tech and is a sitting member of their board.

“One thing I’ve seen is that women want to see it in order to be it,” says Jill. “They want to know that it’s possible. Sharing stories about other women in tech can show them that it’s totally possible. Look, if a grandma of two can be a CEO, you can too.”

Can you please introduce yourself, as a person and as a professional?

I’m Jill Stelfox. I am a mother of two and a grandmother of two: a one-year-old and a three-year-old. I am happily married for 33 years. Great family life. I am also the CEO of Panzura.

Why is Women’s History Month important to you?

Women’s History Month is important to me because while women have come far in terms of equality—especially in the workplace—there is still a ways to go.

As a woman in tech, I have raised a couple hundred million dollars’ worth of venture capital and private equity, and I have returned billions to investors. Yet, I am often the only female CEO in an industry and certainly in a room.

Panzura was refounded under your leadership, resulting in many successes on both the technical and cultural fronts. What are the challenges and the opportunities of “refounding” for startups?

Refounding a startup is challenging because the premise of it is you take the core of the goodness that’s there and you change it. We refounded the company three years ago and since then we’ve grown 485%. Panzura has tripled the number of products that we have in the market. We’ve added hundreds of customers.

Helping the team that was here understand that the transformation is going to lead to greatness takes a lot of handholding and care in the very beginning. All kinds of great things have happened through really seeing the possibility of hybrid cloud technology and what it can do in terms of understanding what’s going on with your data for customers.

It’s been hard work and tons of fun.

Can you tell us about a Panzura success story for which your experience as a woman CEO and veteran strategist was critical?

I’ll never forget the very first day that we took over Panzura. It was May 7th, 2020, and those were the early days of Covid. Imagine getting on a web call during that time and announcing, “The company’s been purchased and I’m your new CEO.” People were filled with the fear and uncertainty of everything. Some people got teary-eyed about it.

It instantly changed me forever.

It’s a wonderful time for women to run companies because we can usually see when people are hurting. Men can too, but we have more freedom as women to be able to do something about it. So it was easy for me to be empathetic and to be “the caring person.” That is my nature.

I’d had all these fancy notes about what I was going to talk about and how I was going to change the technology … how we were going to do all these great things and go after new customers and new markets. Honestly, none of it mattered on that day. On that day, what mattered was being human—talking about how scary this was, and what would “being okay” look like in terms of the company.

When I hung up the call, everybody seemed happier. They were in a calm place. I hung up that call and thought, “I need to do this really well for these people. They deserve comfort and they deserve kindness.” My mission became not about the tech, but about the team.

How has AWS supported your goals for Panzura?

Our AWS relationship started through some folks approaching me—and they were women—about what an AWS partnership could mean to the company.

We had raised some new money and the new investors that we brought on were also women.

The night that we signed the agreement with AWS, which was for us a company-changing agreement, we celebrated with a dinner. At that dinner, we realized that the entire transaction was done by women. It wasn’t because we were trying to do something gender-based; it’s because we were all in positions where we could affect change in this way.

I’ll never forget in my whole career that the first time I did a multimillion-dollar transaction, it was all with women and it was AWS and it’s outstanding.

To answer your question about how does AWS support our goals—when we refounded Panzura, we switched from selling to mid-size companies to selling to large-scale enterprises. There are some of the largest financial institutions, healthcare institutions, and manufacturing companies in the world. We work with them to take their data workloads that are on-premises servers to the cloud in a really effective way.

When we do that, we can reach out to our AWS team and get instant access to the AWS team member of that specific customer account. It’s amazing. It’s literally one phone call and we have the right people in the right meeting with the right attitude.

We are so aligned philosophically with AWS on the mission of bringing these important workloads to the cloud and really helping these companies be more effective in what they’re doing to make their companies successful.

The second part about working with AWS that’s great is our technology runs through AWS. As an AWS Partner, we have a technology stack that’s available in the AWS marketplace.

So it’s a two-part relationship with AWS: technology and go-to market. On the technology side, we have met some of the brightest thinkers. They’re so invested in our success. You get in these rooms where you’re talking about solving a technology problem. It’s an AWS person and Panzura people, and the exchange is so free and open and productive and useful. It’s a great relationship in that way.

Can you share some advice for women founders?

Yes. I have always had a coach. When you play sports, it’s just so natural that you would have a coach. In business, you need a coach, too. There always has to be somebody that’s on your side to cheer you on.

These are not expensive resources, and they can be found at any level. It’s just a matter of reaching out. Sometimes we as women don’t ask for that kind of help, but it is there to be given.

How do you envision the future of women in technology?

The future of women in tech, in my opinion, is that we represent at least 50% of those in tech.

We’re certainly capable of doing it and we’re capable of doing it along with managing everything else in our lives: our families and our homes, our pets, and our spouses. We can do all the things and still be capable of being equal at the table.

We have made a lot of strides. When I first got into tech 25 years ago, there were no women around at all. Now I see women at all levels. I don’t see them very often at the C-Suite. But definitely, if you look at our board, our board is 50% women, our company is 30% women.

We have come a long, long way. And I think we have more to go, but we’ve come a long way. We need to raise each other up as women, we need to hire each other. We need to boost each other, we need to promote each other. We need to do all of those things.

What’s next for you, for Panzura, and for Panzura with AWS?

On a personal note, hopefully I have a third grandchild soon.

On a work note, I could not be more honored to be the CEO of Panzura. I want to keep being the best one that I can be for this wonderful team that we’ve created.

We are determined to change, along with AWS, an industry that hasn’t changed in 20 years. There is a more efficient and safe way to store, locate, and manage your data. We want to be part of that revolution, along with AWS. We have made our strategic commitment as a company to be all-in on AWS. We are super excited about the possibilities of really changing the world.

Megan Crowley

Megan Crowley

Megan Crowley is a Senior Technical Writer on the Startup Content Team at AWS. With an earlier career as a high school English teacher, she is driven by a relentless enthusiasm for contributing to content that is equal parts educational and inspirational. Sharing startups’ stories with the world is the most rewarding part of her role at AWS. In her spare time, Megan can be found woodworking, in the garden, and at antique markets.

Jill Stelfox

Jill Stelfox

Jill Stelfox is chairwoman and chief executive officer of Panzura, a software company that transforms cloud storage into a high-performance data management system. Stelfox brings more than two decades of corporate leadership to her role, having held key positions with notable technology-driven firms including Zebra Technologies, Graffiti Sports, Defywire and Noblestar. Prior to being named CEO of Panzura in 2020, Stelfox founded and served as co-CEO at mid-market catalyst firm EDGY, where she helped companies such as McAfee, Adobe and USAA transform, align and operationalize business and technology processes. Over the course of her career, Stelfox has built and led enterprise software firms, driving stakeholder value through successful venture funding, private equity placement, and M&A activities which returned more than $1 billion to employees and investors.

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