Cloudflare TV

🎂 Bonita Stewart— A Conversation

Presented by Michelle Zatlyn, Bonita Stewart
Originally aired on 

2020 marks Cloudflare’s 10th birthday. To celebrate this milestone, we are hosting a series of fireside chats with business and industry leaders all week long.

In this Cloudflare TV segment, we will have a fireside chat between Michelle Zatlyn and Bonita Stewart, Vice President, Global Partnerships & Americas Partnerships Solutions of Google.

Watch more Fireside Chats 🎂

Birthday Week
Fireside Chat

Transcript (Beta)

All right. Welcome. Hi, everyone. I'm Michelle Zatlyn. I'm one of the co -founders and CEO here at Cloudflare.

And thank you. Welcome back to our Fireside Chat for our birthday week.

This is actually my last Fireside Chat of the week, and I cannot be more honored to do it with Bonita Stewart.

Welcome, Bonita. Thank you so much for being here today.

Oh, Michelle, it's a pleasure to be here. And first, happy birthday and congratulations on your 10 years of success.

Oh, thank you so much. I was, as I was saying to you just off air, it's been, you know, a very cloudy 2020.

And so it's actually been fun to celebrate a little bit this week.

And again, it's it's I've met so many amazing people had so many great Fireside conversations.

I'm really excited for to speak with you today, because I believe each of these energize wanting to do more in the world, which is always a good feeling.

And great, excellent. Well, look, let's dive in. So this this birthday is all been about looking back at the last 10 years as well as forward to the next 10.

So maybe we can start a little bit about what you're currently doing.

So currently, you oversee global partnerships at Google and an amazing iconic technology company, which we're going to talk more about for the largest US publishers across a lot of Google's products like search and mobile apps, broadcast commerce news, which is sounds pretty cool.

You also sit on some boards, which we'll get to that job sounds great.

Can you tell us more what it actually means?

Yes, yeah. So sometimes you have to look at the different sides of Google.

So I'm on the business side at within the partnerships team. So my team works with all of these publishers across all industries, and they're utilizing our advertising technology to drive their business models, you know, and that is across everything that is digital.

So whether it's web, mobile, video, apps, whatever they have within their portfolio, and our mission is really to help them build sustainable partnerships that deliver economic value for them.

And I will say right now, during these extraordinary times, we're helping our partners chart a path for the future.

Some of our partners are more challenged than others, I think the news and publishing industry, and then there's others that are just morphing right in front of our eyes, in terms of media and entertainment, and what they're doing with streaming services, and then the apps and what's happening across all of the apps, whether it's from a commerce perspective, the app companies are playing their role in our everyday lives.

And, and for many of them, as we're working to develop our partnerships, we're also thinking about what are some of the new areas, what are some of the things that they should be thinking about in terms of pivoting into new areas and making investments right now, versus just stepping back.

Oh, I love this. You are literally helping invent the future for this really important industry, which is so exciting.

As you think about, you know, again, I think about publishing as the last decade, and you articulated very well, having a lot of change.

It's just, it's gone through a lot of morphing, a lot of change.

What are some examples maybe that you can share where how technology is really helping and helping make publishing better for all of us?

Yes, and I first of all would say, and I think we all can feel this way, the importance of the news industry.

Here we are, quality journalism. So it's something that we know, whether it's a large newsroom or a small local newsroom that we're relying upon for news every day.

So we're just, we've been thinking about this for a long time in terms of creating the sustainable future for those that are financially challenged.

So in April, we, through our Google News Initiative, we introduced our Journalism Emergency Relief Fund.

So we provided 39.5 million of financial support, and that was to over 5,600 small and medium-sized newsrooms, and that was across 115 countries.

So we know that this is global. And then on the technology front, I'm really most excited about how we're helping news partners with some of their data tools.

And these data tools are designed to help publishers understand their audience, really grow loyal readers, because as you can imagine, these publishers need subscribers right now, and they also want to increase their digital revenue through our advertising platform.

So one of, actually this was one of my favorite teams, they actually two years ago developed what they called the News Consumer Insights.

So they actually took a free tool, which we offered, that they had built and put it on top of Google Analytics.

And so now publishers can understand their audience, but they can actually start to make data-driven decisions.

So the team didn't stop there. So later, actually it was last year, they actually expanded to the editorial side.

So they started on the business side providing these data tools, and then they moved to the editorial side and built this tool called Real-Time Consumer Insights.

So this is also a free tool, but now a publisher can actually make quick decisions.

So as you imagine, you're reading something.

Now they can look and make data-driven editorial decisions based on these real-time content performance and insights that they might have.

So what we're trying to do at the same time as we shore them up financially, we're also thinking about how do we simplify our tools and deliver data in a way that helps them take metrics, and it just turns it into business intelligence.

That's great. Well, as somebody who does a lot of reading online, in fact, it's so important to not only stay in current with what's going on, but I just feel like when you're in technology, you're just trying to learn a lot.

Thank you for giving us access to so much information because it really does make a difference.

So thanks for sharing those.

You know, Google, you've been there for, I guess, 14 years, almost 15 years. I mean, what an amazing ride.

I mean, it's truly one of the iconic legends in technology, you know, as an entrepreneur or a company that we look up to, you know, want to emulate in so many different ways.

And you've been there for a long time, and you think about when you started at Google, what's kind of stayed the same over that time frame, and maybe what's changed?

Actually, it's been so interesting because when I did start in 2006, we were just a search platform.

And today, now the business expands across YouTube, we have cloud, who would have thought we'd have, you know, Android, we just announced Google TV.

And then there are other bets, where we just started to look at how we could be helpful in everyone's life.

And so when you think about Waymo, and the autonomous vehicles, and the importance of that, and then Verily, you know, they were right there at the very beginning, you know, helping as we were going through COVID.

And so I would say there's two things where we, that I think about, in terms of how we're building products for everyone.

But I would say what stayed the same for me, is being uncomfortably excited.

You can't stay somewhere for 15, or almost 15 years, if you're not uncomfortably excited and have that inner drive to make sure that you are thinking about change and being comfortable with change.

And I would say, secondly, and this is something that I learned early on, and it's really part of the Google lore, is that ideas come from everywhere.

And so ideas come from everywhere and from everyone.

And so if you actually stay true to that principle, that's where you have diversity of thought in you as you're bringing teams together.

And I would say in doing so, it has to be done in a non-hierarchical environment.

And so being in a collaborative environment is something that has stayed true.

And I think it's what makes Google what it is today, so that we can stay on the forefront of helping everyone.

You know, when I was starting Cloudflare, I would say that we used to say early on, we've got to be like Google, where anybody, that great ideas come from anyone, anywhere.

And that was an ethos that we really had learned from what, you know, again, Google is much further ahead of us.

And I feel like we've really kind of tried to inhale that ethos at Cloudflare, and I think we've done a pretty good job.

So I love that one. It's rare.

That's not how most companies operate. So you don't want to take that for granted ever.

It's amazing. You can't. Do you have an example of maybe someone on your team where they came up with an idea that you were like, wow, that's actually a really good idea?

Actually, the team that came up with the real time consumer insights.

I mean, that was an idea. We're always coming up. In fact, and some ideas are not even product led.

It was a team came together as soon as we knew the pandemic hit.

And we all had to work from home, we're very comfortable working from home, you know, as you know, you know, being at a technology company, but we weren't working, you know, all day at home.

And so the first thing that we thought about, you know, having that ethos of collaboration is, is how do we stay connected?

So we, the team immediately came together and figured out how we how do we recreate that coffee hour?

How do we for those that have a Peloton? How do we ride together, you know, to make sure we're having exercise and then fun things like let's see everyone's dogs and cats and whatever pets they have.

And so it was just creating that spirit of teamwork.

And so I would say my team is constantly coming up with new and different ideas.

And it's really based on the information at hand and what they're trying to accomplish, but they usually set the bar super high.

It makes you really believe in the future. Because there's so many, you would clearly work with such smart, talented people who care.

It really does. You hope for the future optimism.

Great. Okay, so you have this amazing career at Google, you've done so many interesting things shaped so many of our lives.

Thank you.

But you in addition, you also sit on two public boards, Pluralsight and Decker Brand.

So maybe you can share with us the audience, what a little bit more about both those companies who might not be so familiar with Pluralsight and Decker Brand.

Yeah, so they both represent two different industries. So Pluralsight is a SaaS company software as a service.

And they are very focused on democratizing technology skills.

And I will say, you know, quite mission driven, in terms of bringing together, you know, close to 7 ,000 authors and pieces of technology.

In fact, I've been taking classes on Pluralsight, you know, around AI as an executive.

And if you think about business today, and even going through the pandemic, and even all of the racial injustice, I think we're all learning, we're reskilling ourselves.

So whether it is from a developer, or from an IT perspective, but even as leaders, we're reskilling.

But when you think about what Pluralsight and what they're trying to do, and you can imagine, with the acceleration of technology, a number of IT areas will need to reskill their existing workforce and move them to the cloud, so that they have the skills to actually be able to use products like what you have.

And then the second area is Decker's, which is a retail brand.

And as you know, retail is going through its own acceleration. They have two iconic brands, which is Ugg and Hoka.

So you think about the pandemic and what's happening, but we're all at home.

So I, you know, I'm always in my slippers, you know, I must admit, or you're outside and you're exercising.

And one of the things that I read from McKinsey, when you think about retail, because it's not just Decker's, it's really the entire retail industry.

And in fact, e-commerce across all companies, restaurants became e -commerce companies.

And McKinsey said that e-commerce penetration in the US grew 10 years.

Imagine this, you're 10 years celebrating your business, 10 years in three months.

And so everyone had to raise their bar and really think about how they were going to conduct business differently and differently, you know, based on these changing consumer behaviors.

So between these two companies and, you know, sitting on the boards, it's quite interesting to obviously have the bird's eye view from a Google technology perspective, but to sit in the boardroom, to see how the boards are morphing, where there is absolute need in terms of reskilling and technology skills and allowing everyone to participate in that.

And at the same time, seeing the retail industry and how it's changing as well.

Well, I love my Uggs. So thank you for building a great product. And, you know, one of the big themes this week that I've just heard from so many different speakers is just this idea of matching talent to what opportunity is.

And so this reskilling all of the workforce to be able to make sure that they can evolve their skills to be more tech forward, because again, it doesn't seem like technology is going away.

So how do we make sure everyone can participate in it?

It seems really important. And I've heard wonderful things about Pluralsight. We also use it at Cloudflare.

So it's a great platform if you want to go learn about things like AI.

You're like, I've heard about that, but what does it mean? It actually makes it accessible and you can learn.

And all of a sudden you're like, wow, now I can say I'm an AI expert, even though you might have just started six weeks ago.

I feel like sometimes people don't realize how easy it is just to get started.

There's so many great platforms out there. Yes. And I think with even the future of work and worker mobility, just having those skills and being able to be a part of that reskilling process is, I think, exciting if you're a lifelong learner.

Definitely. Definitely. That's a good skill to have. Okay. So maybe one more question about the past and we'll move to the fore.

Because again, you've just been at such an amazing iconic company.

And when you think about the last 10 years, has there anything that surprised you about the Internet and what's happened?

That's a really great question. So I think what surprised me the most about the Internet is that you really can't leave home without it.

It's ever present in our everyday lives.

And so I think that is most interesting to me is that it's also brought the world closer.

My husband says he meets with India every day.

So when you think about how the world is flatter, but I can't think of any place where the Internet is not there.

And so having kind of this omnipresence in our lives is, I don't think I anticipated that.

And I've actually been through a complete arc of the technology and how it has changed going all the way from the mainframe to the personal computer.

And then when we just even started, there was IBM typewriter.

So it's just how everything has changed over time. But I think when the Internet came, I didn't think it would be as ever present.

That's right.

It's hard. Yeah, it really has impacted the way we do business and communicate in all parts of our lives.

It's in your car. It's in my refrigerator, my toaster soon, all the healthcare.

And it's one of those things where it's like, wow, this is not going away.

And you kind of think I couldn't have dreamt this up, but here we are.

So it's about finding the best way to use it. So I like that one. I like the ever presence.

It's good. You just can't leave home without it. I'm going to use that.

I'm going to borrow that one from you, Bonita. I like that. Go ahead.

Go ahead. Steal with pride because I took it from an advertising line. Oh, you did?

Good copy. Good ad copy. Very catchy. You need those one-liners. I want to slightly pivot a bit to people because I do think we can't leave home without the Internet, but it's all about people behind the scenes, people who are working hard to solve problems and to create these awesome solutions that you described that you're doing for your publishers.

And you've been a huge champion and pioneer for more people of color and technology, which is something, again, another theme I've heard this week about actually we're not doing as well as we should be there.

So thank you for all your hard work there.

Maybe you can share some of the different programs you've created to help encourage more people of color into technology and maybe some remarks of where you're optimistic and maybe where your frustrations lie, but what else you'd like to see.

Yes, I do think it's been part of my mission to make sure that technology is introduced, particularly into the African -American community so people see it as a viable career and not something that it's a path that requires a different risk profile or certain level of education.

It should be accessible.

So one of the things that I did, I was just doing some research and I found that close to 25 percent of the STEM grads come from historically Black colleges.

So I'm not an engineer, but I was thinking, well, 25 percent is coming from this particular cohort and there are many programs that we were working with HBCUs from an education perspective.

We would have a number of our employees would go and actually work with the faculty in terms of providing curriculum, but there was never anything for the students to have an immersive experience.

So yes, you could have someone come from Silicon Valley, you know, into the school.

So the thought was, what if we had Howard West? So we had a partnership with Howard University and worked with Dr.

Frederick and said, what if your students could actually spend time in the Valley so that they could have an immersive experience, not only with their faculty.

So they brought their faculty along with their students and then we had all of the experts and there was just an outpouring from Google of volunteers, you know, I'd love to teach the students, you know, is there a role for me that I can play?

And so since that time, that was done in 2017 and this is a long-term strategy, but it was done in 2017 and now we have over 10 schools and that's just historically Black colleges as well as historically Hispanic colleges and universities as well.

So it is one of my proudest moments, but we're not there yet, but we do have to plant these seeds that we know will grow over time and we have to capitalize on what the data tells us.

And so if it's 25% that have this desire and interest in computer science and other sciences, we should absolutely make sure that we bring them along and show them the other side and what's available for their careers in technology.

I love it. It's so simple and elegant, but you just think, of course this makes a ton of sense.

I mean, what was the students who come out to the program in the Valley and the faculty, what's been some of the feedback or reaction from them?

Do they like it or they go home saying, ah, that's not for me?

No, actually, so we started in 2017, so we've been doing it for three years.

And so I do think it's understanding the Valley in a way where it's not a mystery.

And also come in as a cohort. So they're not coming in by themselves into the Valley, they come in as a group.

So their own posse coming in to the program.

And so the feedback has been on both sides. I would say it's been rewarding for the Googlers who have participated in addition to the students and the faculty.

And there's just been ongoing investment. And I don't have the actual numbers, but I'm sure if you spoke to Dr.

Frederick from Howard, he would say that there has been increased interest in computer science at the school.

And so that's where we know we're making progress, is there's increased interest.

I love that. And I'm sure people leave saying, that was an amazing experience.

I'm going to do this. Because I'm sure they come, they say, wow, if Michelle can do it, so can I.

Because it's just this, as you said, it demystifies the Valley and makes it accessible and lets people know it's viable.

And I'm on a mission to get more people wanting to be interested in technology, because I just think it's such a great career choice for so many people.

So thank you for setting those up.

I think that's great. I love that. Again, you've had such an incredible career.

You've also been really outspoken about leadership, because again, you've done so well.

So many people want to have your career, Benita.

And so you've really been outspoken about leadership. And you have something called the four C's.

Clearly, I don't know if you have a big marketing background, but you've got good one-liners and your framework.

So the four C's around character, concentration, culture, and courage.

Can you maybe share more about us about why the four C's matter and how you came up with this?

Yeah, sure. It is something that I do study.

And I think leaders should constantly study how they can lead their people better.

As you mentioned, that is the most precious asset, our people.

And so actually, this is a very interesting story. It's almost divine intervention.

But early in my career, my father actually passed away when he was 47.

So I was my first year in college. But many years later, I was visiting my grandmother's house just to take care of some family business after she passed.

And I found this speech that my father wrote. And it was called The Trail to Success.

So imagine, here I am. And my father was one of two African -American pilots to fly the world's first supersonic bomber, which was Mach 2 at that time.

And so I find this speech with such simplicity, such grace. It had clarity.

And so he just highlighted this personal framework for me. And he was the one who actually laid out the four C's.

And it's just been a simple template. I share it with everyone because it helps decision making.

It helps life purpose. And so he did write about the concentration, the culture, and courage, and character.

And it's just a way of setting your priorities. And so today, I use these principles.

It's a roadmap for me. So focusing my skill building around concentration, thinking about cultural intelligence, being able to, what am I learning?

Am I learning about different things and building my curiosity? Courage is so important.

It just gave me the confidence that this is part of the trails to success, is actually being courageous.

And then lastly, he just talked about character.

It's the commitment you make. It's how you show up. And as part of that, it helped me make tough calls.

I just pull out the four C's. So I had to think about whether it was personal or professional.

But at the end, and he even wrote a poem that was in the speech, but he said, in being your noblest, that's success.

And so I thought, how can I lead a life and lead others, and be noble, and just adhere to the four C's?

I love that. Your father sounds like a remarkable human being, because that's, as you said, to kind of find this, the trail to success, and then find these four C's, and now to be able to use it feels like a really nice way to honor him.

So thank you so much for sharing that with us. I'm going to start to refer to the four C's in my frameworks on a daily basis, because I think they really resonated with me as I read about them.

As we say, steal with pride. That's good.

That's great. The other thing you've said, again, you've just done so many leadership speeches, is that you have a favorite quote from Peter Drucker, and I want to get it right, is, the best way to predict the future is to create it.

So the best way to predict the future is to create it.

Why do you like that quote so much?

Because you own your own narrative. So if you're in a situation, you just create your way out.

Or if you're thinking about something new that you want to do, you just do it.

And so that's why I love that particular phrase, because it just, it gives you, it's freeing.

It makes you fearless, and it allows you to just go into an experimentation mode with something behind you that I think is pretty forceful.

Definitely. Can you give us an example of where you've said, I'm going to create my own way to predict, to create the future.

Can you give us an example where you've done it?

Yes, actually, right now. So two years ago, I had an idea to actually change the narrative for women of color, and just to have a new narrative that was really biased for us.

And so on October 15th, my co-author, and she's also a fellow Harvard Business School alum, Jackie Adams, were launching a new book.

So it's called A Blessing, Women of Color Teaming Up to Lead, Empower, and Thrive.

A Blessing requires a bit of explanation, because a gathering of unicorns is similar to a flock of birds.

So when you have a gathering of unicorns, it's called a blessing.

So we also did research as part of the book, and we found that 47% of black women in our survey in 2020 are frequently, are always the only woman of color of their race in professional situations.

And so that's why we focused on a blessing, and we looked at, it was a data-driven survey.

We have some anecdotal stories throughout. We have other contributors as part of the book, but we looked at 4,005 desk workers, knowledge workers across four races.

So we looked at black, Latinx, Asian, and white. And then we looked across four generations, and this is something that hasn't been done, but we looked at Gen Z, then we looked at millennials, and we looked at Gen X, as well as boomers, again, across these four races.

And we just found the data so illuminating.

We think from a leadership perspective, we call it generational diversity.

While everyone's focused on DNI, there is this nuance of generation, and we think it's going to be an important component of the next era of leadership.


I can't wait to read this book. So it comes out on October 15th. Correct. Yes. And where can we all find your book?

Where can we all pre-order it in droves? Yes, you can go to, and you can read more about the book.

Good for you.

What was it like going through... I mean, it sounds like it was very data -driven.

What was it like writing the book? How did you decide to write a book with your partner, Jackie Adams?

Well, first of all, Jackie is a former CBS White House correspondent, so I had a solid journalist, and then I'm from the tech world, more analytical ideation, really thinking about how this could land and how we could take our insights and make them actionable so that they could be simple yet clear and actionable.

I love that. I always talk about when people say, hey, who should I start my company with?

I said, someone who looks different than you.

You want a lot of diversity to cover a lot of surface area, and it sounds like you and Jackie make a great founding team to create this book with the journalist's background and the data and the tech.

What was it like? Has it been an easy process, or what was easier and what was harder than you thought?

Well, I think when you get two MBAs, we were very focused.

This is what I have to do. We had deadlines for ourselves.

I think now that we have the book, and it's interesting too because we started on this project two years ago, but now here we are having a very different conversation in the world.

Now, all of a sudden, it's preparation, meeting opportunity, and it's landing right in the middle of the conversation as there are more discussions around racial injustice, around how to build more inclusive leaders, how to have allies.

We have a whole chapter on allyship. We do think while it's important for women of color to read the book, at this point, it is a leadership book and the notion is how could you be a better leader?

This is perhaps untapped talent that you should probably be taking advantage of.


All right. Lead, empower, We will all go check it out. We have 20 seconds left, Benita.

Any advice to graduates who want to follow in your footstep in 10 seconds or less?

Yes, zigzag. Just stay curious, build domain expertise, get global experience, really raise your hand for stretch assignments, and lastly, just take risks.

Be courageous. Amazing. We're going to leave it there.

Benita Stewart, everyone, thank you so much for joining today. Thank you, Michelle.