Amy Pressman is the president and co-founder of Medallia, a company she envisioned while she worked as a consultant for the Boston Consulting Group. She has also worked as an independent consultant for technology-based companies in Silicon Valley, an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, and a legislative aide on Capitol Hill. She has an MBA from Stanford University and an AB from Harvard College.
Sramana: Amy, tell me about the journey that led to your business career. Where are you from? What kind of childhood did you have?
Amy Pressman: I am from Boston, Massachusetts. I grew up in a family that did not do much in the way of business, so I sort of fell into all of this. I decided I wanted become a businessperson when I was a Peace Corps volunteer. I was stationed in a town on the north coast of Honduras. It was the former headquarters of United Fruits, and even though it was not the headquarters any longer, there were a number of people there who still worked for United Fruits.
I saw how well the people who worked for the company lived compared to the [other] people who had good, stable jobs. Of course, there was a lot of history around United Fruits, and they were not necessarily the best employer all the time. I did see the positive way in which business can change people’s lives. I decided at that time that I wanted to have that type of responsibility.
Sramana: Where did you go to college?
Amy Pressman: Harvard. I joined the Peace Corps right after that. A lot of people join the Peace Corps because they go to the career fair, and they are not sure what they want to do. I saw it and thought it sounded very interesting. I thought a lot about it, wrote a paper on it, and contacted the founders of the Peace Corps. I had been an exchange student during high school and had decided that I wanted to go back to a third-world country and live and work there, not just stay there as a student. I thought the Peace Corps was a good vehicle through which to do that.
Sramana: How long was the Peace Corps assignment?
Amy Pressman: They are typically two years with three months of training. I ended up staying an additional three months. I was there from 1987 to 1989.
Sramana: What did you do when you returned from the Peace Corps?
Amy Pressman: I started preparing to go to business school and I took my GMAT. I did have a political bug, so I worked on Capitol Hill from 1990 to 1993. I worked as an aide to a number of senators. I worked on healthcare and a number of children’s issues. In 1993, I went to business school at Stanford.
Sramana: Going to business school at Stanford in 1993 means that you faced the Internet head-on.
Amy Pressman: Yes, but I was kind of oblivious. On my application to business school I wrote that I wanted to get my MBA because I needed to gain business credentials since I had not actually worked in business since graduating from college. My plan was to leave school and start a business. There was a high-tech club at Stanford, and I did not join it. At the time I was graduating I ended up in Europe trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I was trying to decide between business and journalism, so I was there talking to people at publications. In some ways, they had suffered from the rise of the Internet.