Gene Lee, CCXP, Drives CX Alignment as Mailchimp’s CXO

By Gabe Smith CCXP posted 04-15-2021 12:19 PM


Atlanta native Gene Lee, CCXP, is a designer at heart.

“CX professionals take interesting paths,” he says. “If you look at my career trajectory, it started in classical graphic design and medical illustration. Over the years, my work has ranged from leading corporate branding to designing entire digital ecosystems with a number of fascinating brands, both in agencies as well as in-house.”

Gene’s CX journey began in earnest at Scholastic, where, as Creative Director, he helped the organization begin to navigate the waters of digital transformation. “Scholastic was my first in-house job after working in agencies,” he recalls. “I started to see the differences in how we work because every division had their own different ways of working and different P&L and KPIs.”

Gene says that the need to unify the organization around the customer was his “lightbulb” moment connecting his design work to CX. “I didn’t realize there was a label to it at that time,” he laughs. “I just knew the opportunity.”

After spending time as VP of UX at Nickelodeon, Gene took on the role of Global Head of UX Design at Sony PlayStation, where he honed his role as cross-functional connector during the run-up to the launch of the PS5  across the various channels like web, mobile, console, VR, and the many streaming set-top boxes. “It wasn’t just a job, it was an adventure,” he recalls.

But for Gene, the journey was just beginning.

Evolving CX at Mailchimp

Armed with a passion for breaking down silos and a track record of success, Gene found a kindred spirit in Ben Chestnut, the co-founder and CEO of Atlanta-based Mailchimp, which aims to democratize marketing technology for small businesses. The possibility of working for the company meant more than just a move home—it represented an alignment in values. “Ben had the same vision that I had,” he says. “We connected on the question of ‘what is the gap between our brand and our customer experience?”

That connection led Gene to accept the role of VP of Design at the company, where he quickly realized that he didn’t have to explain the value of design to anyone—it was already embedded in the company culture (“a refreshing change,” he says).

As he entered his second year with the company, Gene knew there was more work to do to differentiate design and CX, and his promotion to SVP represented an opportunity to do just that. “I was talking to Ben about the idea that we needed to really infuse experience because design has a connotation that is limited to branding and the visual design aspect,” he says. “And there was a pivotal moment as I stepped up into the SVP role, where I wanted to be clear that CX is a discipline, it's very strategic, and it's a bit different than design. I made sure from a title perspective, I separated that out—I was the SVP of CX and Design.”

Giving the Customer a Seat in the C-Suite

Mailchimp’s CX evolution continued with Gene’s recent elevation into the role of Chief Experience Officer. For Gene, the promotion is less about the title and more about his ability to foster continued alignment and partnerships across the organization to better understand and serve Mailchimp’s customers. “My role here is representing the customer experience view at the executive level and then tackling and blocking for my team,” he says. “Now, I'm not the only one. It takes a village, which means that CX has to be delivered across all the functions.” To enable greater collaboration, Gene oversees the work of CX, UX, Brand, and Operations, and he’s more excited than ever about the organization’s capacity to drive experience excellence. “I continue to strive to be the best partner to help shape and influence the experience—and that’s the job at the end of the day,” he says.

Investing in Himself

For Gene, it’s critical to continue to invest in his own professional growth and development, whether that’s through books (he mentions the works of Jeanne Bliss, CCXP and Scott Belsky’s “The Messy Middle” as key influences) or through professional certification.

“Even though CX has been around for a while, it feels like it’s trendy,” he says. “People jump onto that bandwagon. And the more I got into it, the more I realized that how some people were defining CX was not how I was defining CX.”

The search for a credible definition of CX led Gene to CXPA, the consensus-driven knowledge domains, and the CCXP program, for which he feverishly studied—“I was like a mad scientist with a whiteboard in my office,” he says—and passed the exam earlier this year.

He says that CX professionals who aspire to a CX leadership position or a seat in the C-suite should tune out the noise and orient their energy around the customer. “Chase after your passion and your impact to the customer. Don't chase after titles--because titles mean different things,” he says. “CX is really about the customer and ensuring that there's value in what we do for them. When you pursue customer obsession, the title will take care of itself.”