When Ellen Gannaway Lail ’84 meets with a Fortune 100 client, chances are she will be the only woman in the room. As Regional Sales Director at Pure Storage, a data storage company, Lail has managed to succeed in a competitive, male-dominated industry.
While she didn’t initially set out to become a leader in the technology industry, Lail wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. “I made the best of every situation that was presented to me, and I feel that Hutchison was a big part of equipping me with the skills to persevere,” she says. “Hutchison ingrained in us very early on that we could do anything we wanted to do,” says the former student council president, who now mentors female leaders in her field and aspiring tech entrepreneurs at Georgia Tech.
Attending Hutchison in the sixth through 12th grade, Lail enjoyed studying English and the arts, including Pat Newberry’s ’02, honorary alumna, and Margaret Wellford Tabor’s ’55 English classes, as well as Karen Wellford’s art history class. Having competed in soccer, golf, volleyball, and track and field, Lail served as student council president her senior year. She received the Russell Award for leadership, an award for excellence in art, and was voted “Best All-Around.”
Also during her senior year, Lail developed her interest in technology when she took a computer science class at MUS, and for her final exam, wrote a program for an ATM machine. She went on to complete her undergraduate degree in journalism at the University of Georgia, where she worked in the college library’s computer lab.
Following graduation from The University of Georgia in 1988, Lail faced a tough job market and realized that available career opportunities in the journalism field would not allow her to make ends meet. She landed a sales position in cable advertising at Scripps Howard. After demonstrating her computer skills, she later moved into technology sales at BellSouth.
While at Scripps Howard and BellSouth, Lail completed her master’s in Industrial and Organization Psychology at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga to help set her apart from competition in future career opportunities. She then moved through the ranks, from Branch Manager at BellSouth Business Systems, to Director in the Office of Strategy and Operations - Public Sector at Cisco, to Vice President of Sales - Mid-Atlantic/Southeast and Federal Division at converged infrastructure company VCE, after which she joined Pure Storage.
Founded in 2009 and based in Mountain View, California, Pure Storage is the market’s leading independent solid-state array vendor, enabling the broad deployment of flash storage in the data center. Working out of Atlanta, Lail started at Pure Storage as its 200th employee in August 2013, and as of 2019, the company has 5,000 employees globally and continues to grow. On October 7, 2015, Lail was invited to visit the New York Stock Exchange’s trading floor to celebrate Pure Storage’s initial public offering, listed as PSTG.
Having chosen her career in a male-dominated industry, Lail has built “scar tissue” along the way, learning to navigate different approaches to completing projects, competition, and conflict resolution. When reflecting on her success, she notes, “I recognize that I will not always be the smartest person in the room. However, odds are, I can develop the best plan 50 percent of the time; and if I don’t have the best plan, I know I can outwork my competition. I am a hard worker, and believe in doing my best at whatever I decide to do. My hard work will be recognized and will pay off over the long term.”
Lail stressed that there’s abundant opportunity for women in the technology field and believes they have a distinct advantage. “The way that women problem solve, just makes for a better solution,” she said. “There is a lot of research that shows that diversity in thought, when collaborating, yields better ideas and makes companies more profitable,” she added.
Living in Atlanta with her husband, Mike, Lail remains involved in the Hutchison community, volunteering as a loyalty representative for the Annual Fund and serving on the National Alumnae Board.
Sharing her expertise with others in her industry, Lail serves as a mentor for female leaders through the leadership development program Women Unlimited, having completed the program herself in 2009. She also serves as a mentor for Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center, which supports technology entrepreneurs as they start and develop companies.
When examining keys to her success and advice she shares with others, Lail emphasizes the importance of not only hard work but open-mindedness: “Give yourself permission to evolve. Don’t be so rigid in what you think you should be doing that you don’t try other options or entertain opportunities off the beaten path, because you never know where it can take you.”
From the December 2015 issue of Hutchison Magazine