This is an article from the fall 2017 issue of LSA Magazine. Read more stories from the magazine.
Jennifer Tejada (A.B. 1993) had no idea what she was going to be when she grew up. She toyed with the idea of medicine, then with a possible career in healthcare administration. But her biggest interest was in the journey of learning itself. At LSA, Tejada dabbled in everything from political science to fiction writing, enamored with the worlds of knowledge that were opening up to her.
“I am from a small town, and going into the classroom and talking about places so different from what I knew was the gateway to gaining a more global perspective,” says Tejada. “I became a person with a lot of wanderlust.”
It was with that same sense of adventure that she agreed, almost off-handedly, to run for student government with her hall-mate during her first year at school. To her surprise, Tejada won, and she spent the next year as vice president of the LSA student government. Her experience there gave her an early perspective on leadership, requiring her to balance her personal goals with a commitment to bettering the lives of the students she represented.
“I learned as a volunteer that leadership is not just membership,” says Tejada. “It’s a responsibility, and pay is not always commensurate with effort. True leaders are not in it for the money. Rather, it’s how we are wired.”
Tejada also took life lessons from playing on the U-M women’s golf team, where she gained an appreciation for teamwork, discipline, and good sportsmanship. Her experience also helped formulate her future leadership style.
“I realized that while I love competition, I don’t enjoy a cutthroat environment,” she says. “I am a collaborator and like winning as a team. I don’t like to take the world too seriously.”
Tejada also credits her membership in Adara, a secret society for female leaders on campus, with first showing her the power of women, which she’s carried on into her career through mentorship and promotion of women in the industry.
“I learned we are better when we work together,” says Tejada. “I realized the importance of helping other women, that reaching back only makes you stronger. You have to be willing to give and not just to take. That’s stayed with me throughout my career and as a mother.”
With graduation looming, Tejada was prepared to go on to graduate school for healthcare administration, following in her father’s footsteps. But it was her liberal arts experience coupled with wise words from her dad that encouraged her to dream big — and take a risk.
“I thought a broader experience would help me make a better decision about what I wanted to do with my life,” she explains.
Tejada demurred, and after what she humbly calls a “long chain of happy accidents,” she nabbed a job selling and managing brands at Procter & Gamble (P&G). The job was life-changing, reinforcing Tejada’s belief in the power of leadership and mentoring and underscoring the importance of being accountable to oneself and one’s customers. From P&G, Tejada went on to head companies in the tech, telecom, and hospitality industries before committing to the tech world, where she works today.
In 2016, Tejada became the CEO of PagerDuty, an incident resolution platform for websites, apps, and the technical infrastructure that enables them. You may not have heard of PagerDuty, but chances are that you browse websites, apps, and brands that use it. The service works like a hall monitor in the background of pages like Groupon or Eventbrite, pinging its engineers when there are unexpected disruptions or outages, leaving you — the user — to browse, blissfully unaware of any problems.
Tejada is excited to lead the company as it continues to expand, bringing the tools and values she gained as a liberal arts student to guide that growth.
“I benefited from a holistic education,” says Tejada. “It served my intellectual curiosity, but also let me experiment. The liberal arts gives you this opportunity to explore disciplines and see how they come together. Having a sensibility for the arts, design, communications, and beyond helps me think differently than an engineer. For what I do, that’s invaluable.”