Firstborn child. First-generation college student. First woman CEO at Lumavate.
Stephanie (Mayes) Cox ’03 is hardwired to do things first and move fast. She doesn’t find herself unique in that matter, but she recognizes that being the leader of a tech startup provides unmatched opportunities to capitalize on her strengths.
At Lumavate, she is emboldened to build the type of company she wants to work for; it’s one of the reasons she prioritized revising the core values after becoming CEO in 2021. Since then, Cox has focused on building a great team and trusting the team to do great work. They share a commitment to “move fast, deliver results; be bold in thinking; be amazing to work with and prioritize personal life.”
Cox is pleased that employees have leaned into the core values, in personal practices and collaborations with customers, partners and vendors. The Lumavate culture enables Cox to be, in her words, a “leader of leaders.” “My success is based solely on how successful I can help team members become,” she said.
As rewarding as she finds mentoring, managing operations and fundraising to scale the business, Cox always looks for more ways to contribute. “I like to be challenged in life, especially in my career. I also like solving really complex problems,” Cox said.
Confidence is one of the qualities that makes her an effective decision-maker.
“When you’re a CEO in tech, and it’s a startup, people don’t talk about how often you’re failing. The reality is you fail a lot more in a month than you are successful. I like to be transparent about failures because there’s always something to learn from, and when you fail fast there’s an opportunity to iterate.”
Thinking like a CEO may come naturally to Cox, but she didn’t always think about becoming one. The career journey up to now wasn’t so much intentional as the result of hard work and luck, she said. Cox’s strong work ethic developed during childhood when she showed the first signs of being an overachiever, by her own account. “If the ‘Book It’ goal was 100 books for a pizza, I wanted to be the one kid who read 200. It was always about more than the pizza!” she recalled.
That was in elementary school. In college, she maximized her academic opportunities because “taking extra courses didn’t cost extra.” As a result, Cox graduated from Franklin College with a minor in rhetoric and a triple major in English, journalism/public relations and political science, in four years, without taking summer classes.
“I was the first person in my family to go to college. I really didn’t even know what a corporate job looked like. My biggest aspiration after college was to become a VP of marketing or CMO (chief marketing officer). I didn’t know anyone like me could be a CEO. I didn’t see many women being CEOs.”
Cox, in fact, contemplated going to law school, but decided to pursue a career in marketing instead and had two job offers to choose from after graduation. She chose a marketing role at a “mid-sized” company that won her over due to its company culture and casual-dress policy that allowed jeans, which was a rarity 20 years ago, she said.
The company was a great fit for the new grad.
“My first boss out of a college taught me what a leader should look like, and taught me to recognize my own potential and successes,” Cox said. After only 18 months on the job, Cox was chosen to lead the company’s rebranding efforts, which led to a marketing leadership position at her next employer.
“The opportunities I had there have influenced every job choice I’ve made since. One important thing I learned was how to take my experience and apply it to any industry.”
That philosophy is the premise of her self-imposed “70-30 Rule,” meaning she seeks job roles that include a majority of familiar challenges but at least 30% new learning opportunities. Following the rule throughout her career has enabled Cox to launch brands, new products and geographic expansion, as well as speak at conferences around the world, all while driving phenomenal growth for her employers.
She was only getting started when a business consultant told her over breakfast that she would make a good CEO; that was seven years ago.
“I laughed because it seemed ridiculous,” Cox said. “I didn’t know anyone like me could be a CEO. I didn’t see many women being CEOs in tech, and I didn’t see it for myself.”
When she mentioned the conversation later to her spouse, Josh, he whole-heartedly agreed with the consultant, who noted that Stephanie was keen on foreseeing and solving future business challenges while others were distracted by the present and their competitors.
“I wouldn’t tell you from that moment on I started trying to become a CEO, but it led to some reflection. I really believe if you work hard, and you do great work, good things will come to you.”
When she went to Lumavate as vice president of marketing in 2017, she sought ways to engage throughout the company. “I did great work, and I kept getting more responsibilities,” Cox said. After five years at Lumavate, she began the transition process to president and ultimately the CEO role, which she’s held for more than a year now.
“I love what I do, and I’m fortunate to get paid for something I’m so passionate about,” Cox said. She also loves to cook for her family. She and Josh have 16-year-old twins, Grayson and Olivia, and their youngest child, Grace, is 13.
But, it’s at the head of Lumavate where she thrives and has the potential to make the broadest impact since technology influences virtually every facet of our daily lives. The reality makes Cox passionate about “democratizing tech” and working to ensure career opportunities, qualifications and certifications are accessible to anyone interested in having a part. That’s the significance of Lumavate.
According to Cox, anyone who knows how to use a computer can use Lumavate to build a digital experience; previous experience in information technology and coding isn’t required. Most exciting is that the digital experience can market a product or service.
“You just need to have the idea; tech should be the easy part,” Cox said. “Lumavate wants to remove the barriers and perception that you have to have a certain level of education or skill to enter into tech. Lumavate can empower everyone to do more.”
Lumavate clients span manufacturing, consumer goods and life sciences industries, with notable names such as Cummins, Herff Jones, Roche and Delta Faucet. Franklin College joined the list in December 2022, after announcing its new partnership with Lumavate.
“Being able to give back and participate in helping students grow is really important to me,” Cox said.
Through the partnership, she and the vice president of customer experience at Lumavate are collaborating with Franklin College Director of Digital Fluency Andrew Rosner to develop a syllabus for a course this spring.
Students also will have the chance to earn certification on the Lumavate Platform and other digital tools. Plus, Cox will be a guest speaker in classes.
“When we started talking to Andrew I was impressed because he understood there’s often a gap between what students — anywhere — learn during college and what’s expected on the job. He wants to help better prepare Franklin students to help accelerate their marketability, and that is very exciting to me!” Cox said.
“The opportunity for students to build a portfolio of work with Lumavate in addition to their critical-thinking and writing skills from college courses is going to help set them apart to employers.”
Cox is pleased that Lumavate hired Nick Brems ’19 as a product enablement manager and hopes current students will take full advantage of opportunities to strengthen their digital fluency, no matter their major.
“We need diverse talent in the tech ecosystem,” Cox said.
Lumavate has 20 employees throughout North America and has sustained a remote work model since the pandemic’s onset in 2020. Cox works from her home in Westfield, Indiana.
POSTED Feb 21, 2023