When Dara Treseder was growing up in Ibadan, Nigeria, she never dreamed that she’d become a senior executive for a company worth billions. But after moving to the United States to attend Harvard University, where she graduated with honors, Treseder went on to land top marketing roles at a succession of powerful corporations, including General Electric, Apple, and Goldman Sachs. Most recently, she made headlines when Peloton named her its marketing chief in August.
The influence of the world’s largest interactive fitness company has grown exponentially during the COVID-19 crisis, when gyms have largely been closed and the public has turned to Peloton’s virtual workout sessions for motivation. With more than 4 million members, Beyoncé and Miley Cyrus among them, Peloton has given socially isolated people a way to find community during the pandemic. The brand is now such a cultural touchstone that Saturday Night Live has deemed it spoof-worthy.
In addition to Treseder’s landmark role at Peloton, she sits on the Public Health Institute’s board and is a PG&E board director. She has also accumulated a series of honors, including being named one of Ad Week’s women trailblazers, Business Insider’s Top 25 most innovative CMOs, and a member of Forbes’ list of 50 marketing chiefs who are “redefining the role and shaping the future.”
An immigrant, wife, mother, and Black woman, Treseder’s path to success has not been without difficulty. It required sacrifice from her family and a steadfast belief in herself in a society that has historically devalued women of color, she says. Treseder appreciates that Peloton has committed to being an anti-racist company and that her Stanford education gave her the tools to successfully navigate the corporate sector.
“Even in my wildest dreams, I didn’t imagine I would be where I am, doing what I’m doing,” she says.
You moved to the U.S. to attend Harvard. How does being an immigrant inform your career and your success?
My mother was very inspirational; she emboldened me to dream big. My mother used to always repeat this saying to me, which is the north star for my life: “Ambition with contentment.” When I was young, I didn’t know what that meant, but now I know exactly what it means. She always encouraged me to not just accept the world as it is but to think about the world as it should be and allow myself to be an architect of that destiny. That was inspirational to me, because I felt my family had done so much to get me to the United States. My grandfather literally emptied his bank account so that I could go to college.
There’s a Yoruba saying that goes, “Anybody who knows how to think knows how to give things.” And when I reflect on my journey, I’m full of gratitude for my parents, my grandparents, and my family for investing so much in me to get here to the U.S. I wanted to make sure that I achieved something, that I made them proud of their investment in me. But once I got to the United States, it became about more than my family. It became about what it meant as a Black woman, because people look at me and they have no idea who I am or where I’m from. I’m just Black, and that’s the reality of being Black in America.
Black women are underrepresented in senior management roles. Did that discourage you?
I could see that Black people, especially Black women, were not taking up those spaces. I remember Ursula Burns [former CEO of Xerox] had been the only Black woman who had been the CEO of a major Fortune 500 company. I didn’t know about another Black woman until recently, when Rosalind Brewer was named CEO of Walgreens. Clearly, that’s not enough; we need more. So, for me, it became, “How can I be a part of the solution? How can I be a part of the change? How can I help make this a reality, where Black women are in positions of power and are able to lift up not just ourselves and our families but our communities? How can we inspire and show the next generation how to take up space and build a better world?”
You achieved a career milestone when Peloton named you head of global marketing and communications. How did you feel about getting this opportunity?
I am so grateful for the opportunity that I have at Peloton. It’s been beyond an incredible experience because people here really care about living up to our values, and that is so huge. Before I joined Peloton, they had come out with a pledge to be an anti-racist organization, and that was incredibly heartening to me. I also care a lot about physical health and mental health, and we’re motivating millions of people around the world to stay centered, active, and connected. That’s always been important, but it’s even more important now. So for me, it’s a joy to be in this position. It’s been absolutely a wonderful experience, and what I love about it is that I am empowered to bring my full self to my job. I’m able to bring everything that I have to offer to this position, which is wonderful, because I know that as a Black woman, people don’t always get those opportunities.
What is your advice to other Black women who want to succeed in corporate America but feel overlooked or undervalued?
The first thing I would say is to seek out opportunities that create other opportunities. When I was starting out in my career, I knew I had what it took, but I was undervalued. I realized that there were people within that organization who did value me, and there were opportunities where I could work on projects with them, even informally. I put up my hand and got those experiences, and I started to build allies. Also, you need to make sure that you are pushing yourself, that you are learning, that you are building your portfolio of ideas. So even when you’re in a situation where people don’t see your value, you need to say to yourself, “I’m not going to throw away my talents or not use them just because this person doesn’t appreciate them. I don’t need validation from other people. I can validate myself.”
You’ve previously held positions at Carbon 3D and GE. What did you learn from those experiences?
I had some remarkable experiences at Carbon, where I led global marketing and communications. Working at a startup, I had to help build the brand and generate interest, and that was amazing because when I left Carbon, it was like I had taken the company to a different level. And when I joined GE, I got to learn what it was like to work at a big scale for a large organization in a CMO capacity. I feel very much like I’m drawing on those experiences at Peloton.
During the brief time you’ve been with the company, Peloton announced a partnership with Beyoncé and digital memberships for HBCU students. What was it like to lead a marketing team during such collaborations?
It’s exciting to embark on industry game-changing partnerships. At Peloton, the Beyoncé collaboration was exciting because she’d been a Peloton member for years, so it was authentic and not just kind of a silly celebrity endorsement. It was also a powerful way to celebrate music by a Black artist and bring that culture into the intersection of technology and fitness.
With the HBCU partnership, we gave digital memberships to students at 10 HBCUs. That for me was such a powerful thing, because I had majored in African American studies at Harvard, and I knew that Black people have not historically felt comfortable in spaces around physical health and mental health. Some of that has to do with the history of how Black bodies were abused and denigrated. So, for me, being part of an effort to increase HBCU students’ access to Peloton felt full circle. It felt monumental.
What made you apply to Stanford’s MBA program?
I knew that, at Stanford, I would be not only developing the hard business skills, but also the soft business skills. I would be developing a more comprehensive toolkit. I would have a better understanding of how to lead. I would have a better understanding of why I need to use different types of leadership approaches and tools, and then I would have a better understanding of what I’m needed to do as a business leader. I knew that Stanford would allow me to develop more holistically.
What lessons from Stanford GSB have guided you during your time at Peloton and other companies?
The GSB helped me see that there’s a difference between how you see yourself, how other people see you, and how you think other people see you. Through the Interpersonal Dynamics course at the GSB, I really got to understand how people saw me. I’m not going to lie — some of it was really painful, because it was rooted in what I would call racial bias. But it gave me a level of understanding of how I could go beyond that, how I could rise above that, and how I could fight within that. That was deeply powerful for me. I also learned how other people saw me in terms of being a leader. I realized I had blind spots, and I still work on them daily.
The second thing that I got from the GSB is what I call business literacy. As a business leader, I feel that I can engage with anyone, whether it’s someone in the supply chain, operations, or in finance. And the third thing is that I consider myself a lifelong learner. I’m still reading a lot. I’m still studying, and I think the MBA program provided that structure that allowed me to unlock that aspect of myself, so I see myself first and foremost as a business leader. I have that confidence that I didn’t have before.
Photos by Andrew Perry