066: Boston Speaks Up with ZoomInfo’s Guy Hudson
Guy Hudson is a marketing programs manager in the Boston office of ZoomInfo (NASDAQ: ZI), a global go-to-market enterprise SaaS leader.
Hudson caught our attention on LinkedIn where he’s posted several inspiring messages, including this official ZoomInfo corporate video he recorded for Juneteenth. Unsurprisingly, ZoomInfo CEO Henry Schuck recently came in at number eight on Business Insider’s list of the best CEOs of large companies ranked by BIPOC employees.
Hudson’s story is fascinating, and his journey is a worldly one. He was born in Liberia, and at the age of 7, he moved to Methuen, MA where he spent the remainder of his childhood. At Methuen High School, Hudson was a soccer player and star track athlete, eventually earning a track scholarship to attend the University of Memphis where he graduated with a degree in Sports Management.
He has matured into an example of a modern marketer that is both a wide-ranging generalist and savvy specialist. Thanks to the digital marketing skills he acquired early in his career at Boston-based Acquia, Hudson secured a job with the Phoenix Suns. It was with the Suns that Hudson honed his craft, helping bring the NBA franchise into the digital marketing age. Hudson oversaw the Suns’ embrace of a CRM and then led the team’s deployment of email marketing and database management programs.
His story only gets more interesting the more you hear. The Servideo brothers had the honor of jointly interviewing Hudson, and in the process, we learned so much more about our friend from Methuen. On the podcast, you’ll hear him share a story about living in Liberia amidst a civil war, and being scared for his life with soldiers outside his home. You’ll hear his honest thoughts on people needing to “walk the walk” instead of just “talking the talk” when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion. You’re in for a real treat.
What do you remember about the first 7 years of your life spent in Liberia? What’s your fondest memory from this time?
I don’t remember a ton but I do remember some enjoyable times with my family as well as the unfortunate times during our long civil war. My fondest memory is probably when my mom used to get dropped off by a taxi after work everyday at the end of our street, and I would be standing there waiting for her. I would be so excited to see her, it was always my favorite part of each day.
How would you describe the transition to living in the United States?
The initial transition was brutal because we arrived during winter. Due to my heavy accent it was also difficult to communicate at first but thanks to the family I already had here, and some genuine friends I made early on I was able to get comfortable pretty quickly. The one thing that really helped me to be myself and open up was playing youth soccer among other sports.
What was your experience growing up as an immigrant in Methuen, MA?
Early on it was annoying because I always had to correct people’s preconceived notions about Africa and Africans and that wasn’t just limited to the white kids. I consider myself lucky though because people I met would get past those stereotypes pretty quickly. I know some other immigrants in Methuen and surrounding areas that had it much worse than I did.
When you decided to focus entirely on cross-country / track in high school and quit soccer, did you care that you were crushing Kiel’s hopes of playing for a Mass state title? … But seriously, can you talk about the role of athletics in your upbringing, especially the commitment it required to reach the heights you did?
Haha I’m sorry Kiel. Quitting soccer was an extremely difficult decision and I still ask myself to this day if it was the right decision.
Through sports I was able to develop a work ethic, discipline, as well as a competitive and ambitious mentality. Sports also taught me very early on that you can’t reach peak success without some sort of help from others…..so always be the best teammate you can.
I was very much naive to how much commitment it was going to take me to excel at the college level. While high school track wasn’t a walk in the park, college track required me to be locked in all day everyday during the season (which was 3 seasons, xc, indoor and outdoor track). From 2 practices a day to the long trips for meets all over the country, there were definitely times where I thought to myself “why did I get myself into this?”
A lot of college-bound Methuen High grads stayed in the northeast for their university experience, but yours brought you to a new region of the country. Why did you choose the University of Memphis and how different was Memphis after what you’d known?
I think being an immigrant developed a sense of adventure in me. I knew pretty early on that I was going to leave the northeast for college. The decision to go to Memphis was based on 3 factors. I wanted to experience the southeast, the school had a great Sports Management program, and they were recruiting me pretty hard. Once I got there I realized pretty quickly that it was nothing like Massachusetts. From the food, to the accent, to the pace of life….everything was the complete opposite of what I was used to. I think this was also my first realization that people in different parts of the country are living completely different realities.
Then came Phoenix. Was that a move of necessity or choice? And, once again, what was your experience relocating to yet another part of the U.S.?
A little bit of both but mostly by choice. I had been anxiously trying to get into the sports industry and the opportunity with the Phoenix Suns felt like one I couldn’t pass up. Phoenix was much less of a culture shock than Memphis. It’s really an oasis out there, and sometimes it doesn't feel like real life. People are relatively friendly and I really enjoyed myself but definitely missed the faster pace of the Northeast. It’s what keeps me competitive and ambitious.
Your life has featured several major moves: Liberia to the Boston area, then Tennessee for college, then Phoenix for your career. Any takeaways from this journey that constantly introduces you to new places and lives? How did those changes play a role in the man you’ve become?
Moving around and having all those experiences has been invaluable. Not to mention that in between all of that I went travel crazy and visited 8 different countries in 16 months. Being exposed to different cultures in America and beyond not only helped me develop professional skills but also the social skills to be able to connect with so many different types of people in my professional life. I strongly feel that regardless of how much you study material and practice your craft for your profession, you can’t underestimate the importance of being able to engage with different types of people with an open mind.
Now you’re back in Boston. Do you feel like you’re “home,” or has that become a moving target?
I’m back and now that I’m married I do feel like I’m home. Knowing myself and my wife, it would be silly to rule out the possibility of any further adventures haha.
Let’s talk about the work you’re doing at ZoomInfo. What are you most excited about?
I actually just celebrated my 1 year anniversary and it’s an exciting time at ZoomInfo right now. In the past couple months we launched a partnership with Microsoft to integrate their Dynamics platform with our platform. We also acquired a SaaS startup called Insent which is an AI powered chatbot, and Chorus.ai which is the leader in conversational intelligence. Both of these acquisitions are massive steps towards ZoomInfo becoming a world class go-to-market platform. As exciting as our product advancements are, I’m probably most excited about how committed ZoomInfo has been to diversity, equity, and inclusion. A lot of companies are talking a lot about DE&I right now but not a lot are actually walking the walk. Instead of just putting out a generic statement about DE&I ZoomInfo’s senior leadership along with HR continue to engage with minority employees to make action plans and monitor the progress of those plans. There is more work to be done but I’m very pleased with the direction the organization is heading in.
Related to the subject of journeys, after the murder of George Floyd you shared a personal reflection through social media about the evolution of your perspective as a black man in America. Do you want to discuss that journey and share how your views continue to change based on the variety of life experience you’ve had at such a young age?
I was extremely lucky in the sense that I grew up around people that were very accepting. It wasn’t perfect but I know a lot of black people and other minorities suffered way more than I did. I’ll admit that even though I was aware of what goes on in this country I wasn’t vocal about it because in my eyes, my situation here was way better than what I came from in Liberia. I always lived by the motto that “it could always be worse, I came from worse”. It took the murder of George Floyd and the social justice movements to make me realize that just because I thought it could always be worse, we live in a highly developed nation and it could also be much better and we all have to want it to be much better.
What else should people know about you?
I love watching a wide variety of sports. For example I have many Sundays in the fall where I’ll wake up early for the European Soccer leagues, then watch a Formula One race, and then an NBA and NFL game later in the day. My wife hates it.
I love music production as well, but have lost touch with that a bit. I am also a car fanatic and low key geography nerd which fuels my desire to travel.