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Legends of Tech

Presented by Chris Georgellis, Aliza Knox
Originally aired on 

A weekly podcast where Chris Georgellis, on the Customer Development Team, interviews people across the tech industry. From veterans, to hall of famers, day to day tech industry people as well up and comers. Get to know them as individuals, find out what drives them, how they got into tech, and what they see now.


Transcript (Beta)

So, Legends of Tech has started. Thank you for joining us today. I'm honored and privileged to have one of the leading female leaders in our industry.

She's a mentor, an advocate, an international superstar.

She's got an MBA, she's an honoree at Aussie, and she is a kick-ass woman slaying the tech world.

Please welcome Aliza Knox.

Good morning. Thank you. Good morning, good afternoon, good evening.

How are you? Good, good. Thank you so much for joining. It's an honor to have you on our show, Legends of Tech.

An honor to be on. I'm not sure if the title is a bit too grand for me, but it's great.

As you said, later on, I'm doing a panel with General Assembly called Kick-Ass Women Slaying the Field of Tech, and that's what I want to be when I grow up.

There you go. Lovely. Thank you so much. When I look at your career, I've seen some awesome brands that you've worked for, but I wanted to start at the beginning and figure out how did you get into, I guess, into your career?

Where did you start, and I guess how did you get to your first junction point in terms of your career?

I'm not sure how far back you want me to go.

I took a job at a bank out of college because I grew up in the US, and that was a pretty common thing to do at the time.

Then I worked in consulting for a number of years, mostly in financial services because I'd worked at the bank, and so that gave me some knowledge of financial services.

In 2007, when I was at Visa, I met Vint Cerf, who is one of the genuine founders of the Internet, who's an evangelist at Google.

I met him at a business meeting with Visa, and I wrote the appropriate business follow-up thank-you note, worked on the particular deal, and then I wrote a personal note around the side saying, I have no idea if this is appropriate or not, but I really enjoyed meeting you, and I've been hearing about tech at that time.

It was the only period of my adult life where I was living back in the US.

The rest of the time, I've been in Sydney or Singapore.

I was in the Bay Area, and I had seen the first .com boom and bust, and then .com was coming back, and I thought, you know, this Internet stuff, this is how old I am, this Internet stuff is really interesting, and I think I'm missing out.

I want to learn more about it, so I wrote to him and said, do you think I could work at Google?

He was like, I don't know. Send me your resume, and we'll talk. It went from there.

I spent some time talking to Google, figuring out what I could do. Clearly, from my background, I knew how to sell.

When you're a partner in a consulting firm, that's what you do.

You're obviously a confidant of large clients, and then I had worked at Schwab and Visa, helping them globalize, and so we, my family, really wanted to go back to Asia, so after a while, we settled on that I would run the small and mid-market business for Google in Asia, out of Singapore, where I lived before, and that was my entree to tech.

Wow, that's great. That's brilliant.

Let's start with, I guess, your time at Boston Consulting Group.

So, you know, following your career, you've gone from finance, and now you're in the tech world, so there's a bit of a diverse range of skills and capability there, so tell me a little bit about your time at Boston Consulting, and how did you actually get into that role and into that business?

Okay, well, so that was, I guess, one thing I could say about my career, although I really enjoyed it.

I think it's been great. A lot of it's been kind of accidental. I was living in New York, working at this bank, and then, actually, I moved briefly to American Express, and I really wanted to live overseas, and I had lived in England for six months during college.

It was a great experience, but it was very rainy, and I ate a lot of Brussels sprouts and cabbage, because that's what I could afford, and I liked them both, but I sort of thought I wanted to go to a sunnier climate.

I had studied a lot about Asia, but dropped out of Chinese my first week of college, because I was so daunted by it, and so I thought I would like to live in Asia, but I didn't think that I would be able to have a strong career in Asia, because I didn't speak an Asian language.

Of course, that was, I mean, it was silly in the sense that I could have gone to Hong Kong or Singapore.

It's not silly in the sense that even now, it would still be better if I spoke an Asian language.

So, this is so long ago that those of you watching in Australia will know Crocodile Dundee had just come out, and so I thought, you know, maybe if I moved to Australia, I would either meet someone like Paul Hogan or become Paul Hogan, I don't know, have a shrimp on the barbie, and so I thought, I'm going to get a job in Australia.

They speak English there.

It's close to Asia. I'm going to go, and I had a friend with whom I'd gone through business school, which I did at night while working, and she'd gone off to work for McKinsey, which is a global consulting firm, so I wrote to McKinsey, and then there was another firm in Australia at the time called Pappas, Carter, Evans & Coop that was a spin-off of McKinsey and BCG, so I wrote to both of them.

They both followed up. I ultimately got a job at Pappas, Carter, Evans & Coop, which went back to merge with BCG three years later, and that's how I got into consulting, so not at all purposeful, not at all focused on consulting more, wanting to go to Australia, and funnily enough, I'd interviewed with BCG when I was in college and had been too lazy to take the bus an hour to Boston to finish the interview, so I had some interviews on campus where I was in a place called Providence, Rhode Island, and BCG said, okay, well, the next round of interviews, you've got to come to Boston.

I was like, oh, that's too far, so I don't know because, I mean, it's all just kind of silly, but it's worked out, and so I went to Australia for what I thought was a couple years, and, yeah, it kind of started me on this nomadic path where I go from one S city to another, Sydney, Singapore, San Francisco, Singapore.

There you go. That's great. So, effectively, you went to Australia to get your job at BCG instead of going to Boston.

Yes. Well, basically, I got the job at BCG so that I could go to Australia, right, go to the beach, and, you know, consulting is a really great start for anybody.

I think tech's a great start, too, but consulting, you learn a lot about how to break down really big problems into small components.

You learn a lot about how to communicate with people, how to clearly articulate issues and potential solutions.

You learn a lot about analyzing data, and I think those three things have put me in a really good position in all of my other roles, including in tech, so it was a great, great background.

I left after 13 years only because I had a lot of executive search people saying, if you don't leave consulting soon, you will never be able to operate.

You will never be considered a business operator, and again, you know, there's nothing wrong with that, and BCG is great, and I probably could have stayed, but I thought, oh, well, I would like to learn what it's like to be a business operator.

I'm not sure I want to miss out on that. I mean, I should try, so that was why I left, and I still think BCG is a fantastic foundation and a fantastic firm, and I'm actually speaking on a panel for them next month.

I just, I really, it's a great, great company.

Give me a great, great background. Fantastic. That's great, and then, so 13 years at BCG, and then where was your next stop, and what made you go to your next organization?

Well, so BCG had eventually, I had said, you know, I really do want to go to Asia.

I was really serious about that, and they finally had said, despite the language skills, all right, go off to Asia and start our financial services practice there, which I did, and then Charles Schwab, the brokerage in the U.S., called and said, we'd like you to, well, they didn't call and say that.

They called and said, would you like to consider interviewing for a role to build out our international business, and after some discussion and them deciding that I might be a good person to do that, we moved to San Francisco.

By then, I'd had, we'd had our first child, and we thought it would be nice for my parents to get to know him.

Actually, sorry, we'd had both of our kids by then.

What am I saying? So, it would be nice for my parents to get to know them, and so we'll go to the Bay Area for a little while.

My husband is Australian. It took some convincing to get him to leave the lucky country, especially as he's from Perth, so he'd already left home to go to Sydney, and now, you know, going to the U .S.

seemed crazy to him, but we thought we'd have another adventure, go to San Francisco, work for Schwab, where I could learn to be an operator, and we did that.

Well, we were in San Francisco for a couple years, and then Schwab, the second dot-com downturn occurred, and Schwab decided that it really wanted to focus on the domestic U.S.

and close the international business, so I had a choice of staying or going to do some, taking, basically taking a package and going to do something else.

Although Schwab is a great company and does very well domestically, I wasn't particularly interested in working in the U.S.

I've always found working in international businesses to be somehow much more exciting, so I then actually took a job with Visa because what I really knew and was good at was international financial services, and if you want to stay in San Francisco, there's really nobody who does international financial services from the Bay Area besides Schwab had, and then Visa still does.

That's really it, so I had actually consulted to them when I was at the Boston Consulting Group, so they knew me a little, and I worked for them for six years, five in a bit years, running the commercial card, which is the card that goes to corporates, which is sort of the underdog at Visa.

Most of it's about consumer, as you're probably familiar with.

It was really fun. I learned a lot.

It was before Visa went public, so it was kind of a co-op, a big group of banks working together, and that was where I met Vint Cerf and got into tech.

I think you asked me before, and when I thought about it, maybe I really got into tech, so to speak, at Schwab because I spent the first year at Schwab building out international, and as we decided to slow that down, I spent the second year working on mobile trading at Schwab, and so this was in 2000 when we had WAP phones, which probably many of the people on this call haven't seen, and very, very limited functionality, so what we could do was allow people to look up stock prices, and we could allow people to do basic trading, so they could put in an order to buy or sell, and we had issues which sound crazy now, but two that I can remember.

One was that the phones were pretty kludgy, and the type was pretty big, and so we had to send people terms and conditions to sign off on on the phone, and you'd have to scroll, and scroll, and scroll, and scroll to get through them, and then the second was that people would click to trade, and cell service, you know, things still go down, but it was again not as good almost 20 years ago, well actually 20 years ago as it is now, so maybe if people pressed to trade, they wouldn't be sure whether the trade had gone through or not, or if they went through a tunnel while they were driving, so they would press again to trade, so we were having to determine, or you know, work the systems to know, were they pressed, did they want to trade twice, or did they just hit twice because they weren't sure that their trade went through, so I guess that was a very early exposure to tech, but not actually a tech firm at that time, although I think VZ is very much a technology firm now.

That's great, so you've got a fascination with international business, what attracted you to the international stakes in terms of business?

No, I can't say, I think what really attracted me initially was the personal side, I just wanted to learn about something besides my own country, and it wasn't really about the business side of it, but once I made that move to Australia and started working on businesses outside of the US, and you know, for the Boston Consulting Group, I would say I mostly worked initially on Australian New Zealand businesses, but also for a lot of multinational businesses that wanted to say, get into Australia or New Zealand, and then I started working in Asia, even when I was in Australia, and once I got to Singapore, I was working on businesses across Asia, and of course, occasionally working on businesses in Europe as well, or Australian businesses that wanted to go to Europe, or even Latin America.

I just found it incredibly fascinating to understand differences and similarities across countries, you know, what, for example, would be similar for a consumer, I don't know, for mortgages across the world, and what might be different in how people reacted to banks marketing, and for me personally, well actually, before I leave that, and I think one of the things you really learn in consulting is how to take a best practice from somewhere else in the world, and move it into your country or another country.

So, I mean, this is so long ago, but I know because you're in Australia, Chris, I don't know where people are watching this, but the very first thing, one of the very first things I worked on for the Boston Consulting Group in 1987 was for the ANZ Bank, and there was a project as to whether we should launch debit cards in Australia.

Would they work? Would people use them?

So, if you're in Australia now, or almost anywhere in the world, everybody has debit cards, but at the time, there were only credit cards, and credit cards had nice big margins, and there was a concern that maybe debit cards would eat into those, and one of the countries that had very successfully launched debit cards at the time was Denmark, and you know, this was before, basically before the Internet, so one of the things I got to do was call a lot of people in Denmark, interview them, and eventually go to Denmark, and figure out how the banks had launched debit cards, what they'd done, and help bring best practice back to Australia, and then ANZ launched debit cards, as did the other big banks, and the rest is history.

I think you'd be hard -pressed to find somebody in Australia who doesn't have a combined, you know, debit card that is their ATM card, but at the time, there were ATM cards, there were credit cards, they weren't linked.

It does, so anyway, so sorry, that was how did I get interested in international, so I started learning, hey, there's these different things you can learn from different countries, and different places, and you can sort of like a, I think a very senior partner of BCG gave me this insider description, sort of like a honeybee with nectar, you know, you take some ideas somewhere, and figure out how they can win somewhere else, so some of consulting, and some of business is about innovation, of course, and then some of it is about, hey, I've seen a good idea somewhere, and I think it's relevant to my market, how do I make it work here, so I think that was the first business side of being interested in international.

I think the personal side is just how much you learn, get to learn about different cultures.

Of course, in non-COVID times, there's travel, and if you like to travel like I do, if you're happy to get on a plane most of the time, or be a road warrior as you learn to be in consulting, the only downside of which is having to pack all the time, which I hate, then sure, you get to see some big buildings in Tokyo, or an interesting museum in Beijing, but what you really get, and you get a lot of really cool food, but what you really get is to see how they do business in other places, and you know, where things might be more formal like Japan, or harder if you're not local, because you don't speak the language, or where things might be easier, where you learn maybe not to point your foot at somebody, because it's against their customs, or religion, or you know, how to why, how to bow, and those are very basic, you know, I think things go a lot deeper than that, although I'm not an expert in any country, and that's the other thing you really learn to respect, is you are never ever going to be of a country that you're not from, you work at it, and you try to understand, and you try to learn, and you're always going to be learning, and so it's just, I just find it fascinating, I just really like it, and so I like the challenge, and I like the learning that comes with having clients in lots of parts of the world, we're doing business.

That's great, so tell me about your stay in Australia, and I guess what drew you to coming to Australia, besides the good weather, and Crocodile Dundee, what actually gave you the push to make the leap to Oz?

Honestly, not a lot else, I had come once, when I worked at Bankers Trust in New York, which is a bank that no longer exists, probably their best business, it was bought by Deutsche Bank, probably their best business was in Australia, and I had already said, hey, I'd like to live overseas, why don't you send me to Australia, because I speak English, and they had sent me to Australia, I really liked the bank, liked Australia, but didn't think that the role that they were suggesting was going to work for me, so I went back to the US, took a job at American Express, and then really, I think, regretted not having taken the international post, and really wanted to go to Australia, so that was it, mate, I wanted to go someplace with the beach, with a wider range of fresh vegetables than I had seen at the time in England, which of course, England has now too, where I could basically get along in the local language, so I got there and found out that I understood most of the local language, there were some, you know, for the Australians, there were some things that took me a long time to understand, so spit the dummy, no idea what that meant, in growing up in the US, a dummy was someone who wasn't very bright, which is not a nice thing to say, and I didn't understand why Australians were spitting at stupid people, the non -Australians here, it kind of means pouting, a dummy is a pacifier, it turns out, like a baby, so spitting the dummy means sulking, taking your bat and ball and going home, as the Americans would say, but it took me like a year, there was no Google to look it up, so I didn't know what it was, I felt too stupid to ask, and then there's another one, which I still never get right, is that I didn't come down in the last shower, right?

Yes. Which I think means, like, I'm not a newborn, I have more experience than that, and even now, I think I spend a lot of time saying I'm not the last drip out of the shower, which probably everybody, including me, so there were some adjustments to make, but yeah, I just picked myself up, went to Australia, didn't really know anybody, and started on this life adventure, and yeah, the first six months were great, everybody was really friendly, Australia was, like they said, there were barbecues and stuff, I was commuting from Sydney to Melbourne for work, so it's hard to get to know people, second six months were pretty hard, realized I didn't have any friends, people were friendly, but no one needed friends, because in Australia, I mean, now people are, like, leaving Sydney and going to ANU in Canberra, or going to Melbourne Uni, but at the time, people in Sydney stayed in Sydney, people in Melbourne stayed in Melbourne, and so nobody needed friends, nobody needed an American friend who'd shown up out of the blue, and did weird things, like said, I'd like Caesar salad with, actually, vinaigrette dressing instead of Caesar salad dressing, because I don't like anchovies, so that was very, there's another movie reference in that, for people who've seen When Harry Met Sally, very old movie, but that was what people thought of Americans, and I fit right in with that, and then after about a year, yeah, I actually made some friends, I liked BCG, and after a number of years, because I'd come in as a permanent resident, I was allowed to become a citizen, so I eventually took the oath at Waverly Council on Campbell Parade in Bondi, and became, not quite dinky die, but a real, converts are always more zealous than people born into things, so I am a die-hard Aussie.

That's brilliant, so in terms of the culture, I mean, how different did you see the Australian and American cultures be, in reference to when you came here, and what you experienced?

You know, I actually, I gotta be really careful about this, culturally sensitive, because of course they're different, and no Aussie would like it to be said that they're American, maybe vice versa, I'm not sure, but I think Aussies are particularly sensitive in saying, well, it's just another, you know, Anglo-Western country, but one of the things I was told at that time was that Australia was extremely chauvinist, and it would be very difficult for me, as a woman, to be successful in Australia, or to, you know, or to actually get things done, and I did not find that to be the case.

I had a couple clients who compared me to their daughters, or, you know, maybe had trouble with me as a young, seeing me as a young woman being their consultant, so I think sometimes what happens at consulting firms, even now, is that, you know, they hire a lot of very smart 24, 25, 26-year-olds, and of course there are partners who are more senior, but sometimes your clients are in their 50s, or 60s, or 40s, and so to see somebody who might be closer in age to their child, on the team that's consulting to them, sometimes people find it a little odd, and so I think sometimes some of the older men found it challenging to think of me as a consultant to them.

I'm not sure, it might have been a little more exaggerated than it would have been in the U.S., but I never found it at all overwhelming.

I found Australians, in some ways, informal, don't take themselves too seriously, but took their work seriously.

I had also been told, you know, they don't work very hard, it's the lucky country, everybody has, you know, they're drinking at lunch, etc., etc., and, you know, I'd come from the U.S., where in the 80s, bankers were also still having drinks at lunch, and it had led to actually problems, and in fact, when I left Bankers Trust, there was no alcohol allowed during the day, there was a floor in the bank at that time, still, where you could bring clients, but no alcohol, so I didn't find that as much when I got to Australia.

I think people did go down to the pub on a Friday.

I did find that, interestingly, Bankers Trust had beer in the fridge, which, like, we have beer in the fridge now at tech companies, and people don't drink it, except maybe on an evening, or probably a Friday evening, but at the time, that was a bit different, but I didn't find that people, at least in consulting, people weren't working short hours, people worked very long hours, pretty close to investment banking hours, and so most of the stereotypes weren't true.

I do think at that time, Australia wasn't quite as international as it is now, but the whole world probably wasn't as global as it is now, so to be honest, I think I found more similarities than differences, and I mean, there were some funny things, there were some laws that, again, they're so long ago, but I was surprised by some things, the stores weren't open as long hours in Australia, and one of the things I had to learn was that the butcher shops, the meat, and the meat section of, like, coals and woolies, they were only open on the weekend, they were only open Saturday morning.

Yeah, half day, that's how it used to be. Yeah, and things weren't open on Sunday, so that was pretty wild for me, because the US had long passed that, but of course, Australia is long past that too, like, nobody probably even remembers that.

Yeah, I still remember it, it was probably late 90s, that's when the transition happened, I think I remember being in Sydney was when the Olympics came around, that's when things changed completely, there was no half day Saturday, and you know, it became a seven day business.

That's brilliant. So, as you're working in your finance, and you know, Boston Consulting, Visa, Schwab, there's this tech bubble that's building in parallel, and you know, companies like Google and Twitter start to come to life, and you've been very fortunate to work at such great leading organisations.

So, tell me about your switch and transition into, I guess, into the tech world.

And in particular, your first role within one of those tech companies.

Sure. So, as I said, you know, I met Vint Cerf, I did all this talking to people at Google, saying, you know, what could somebody who's reasonably advanced in their career do?

I see a lot of people here are younger, and I don't know much about, I don't know anything really about online media, except for using it a bit.

And I think, you know, at that time, they felt that it would be useful to have some people with management experience, with sales leadership experience, who could bridge Asia and, you know, headquarters in the US.

And so, we had a meeting of the minds, as I said, about my going to Singapore to run what was then the small and medium sized part of about two thirds of the revenue from the ad business.

I spent the first, and I had some chats with people before I did it.

And so, one executive search person told me I was very brave, and would have a nonlinear career.

So, I think what they meant was, I was taking a huge risk, because my title was going down, I was about to be like an EVP, Executive Vice President, and I was going to become a director, take a director title at Google.

And although the worlds I was in were very different, in the sense that those titles don't necessarily mean the same thing, you know, on your resume, it looks pretty wild.

And I needed to take a pay cut, although I got equity, which in the end was, you know, that's that's the bet I took, and it was a good one.

And the remark was, it was a nonlinear career.

In other words, I'd already sort of left consulting to go into financial services.

And that's a little common, you know, if you leave consulting, you go somewhere, and you might go somewhere, you had some consulting experience, but it was a different career, you've gone from being a consultant to an operator.

And now I was going being from an operator in financial services, to tech, where I didn't know anything, didn't have any connections, didn't know what I was doing.

And I was a little nervous. I was a lot nervous. But I just thought, I really want to learn this.

And I really want to learn something new. I want to know what's going on.

This is this is clearly a direction the world's going, I'm going to try and I thought maybe, if it didn't work out, I could go back to financial services saying, hey, well, I have some tech experience, maybe you want me back in financial services.

As it is, I've never never looked back. And I think I am fortunate with the companies I've I've ended up with.

They do teach women to in particular, and so for any women who are listening, not to say I was lucky, I was fortunate, because on average, men don't say that they say, I picked this, or I went there, I chose it, or I knew, and women say I got lucky.

And so there's some blend in between.

But I did, I think, you know, it was happenstance that I met Vincent and happenstance that I decided to follow up with him and not another tech firm.

And of course, you know, we all know where Google is today. So when I, I spent about seven months at Google in Mountain View, learning the ropes, really, mostly because it was the school year for my kids, and I couldn't pull them out of school by the time Google and I had come to a meeting of the minds.

But it was very good.

It was very good that I got the opportunity to kind of see what things were like at headquarters, if you will, and get to know some people.

I think that's one of the most important things when you're working, not at the main campus of a company is knowing the people who you're going to be on video conferences and calls with all the time, it just helps build that bridge.

And you know, and knowing the culture, so you can be a bit of a culture carrier for them.

And then we came back to Singapore in 2008, which is where I've lived ever since.

And I started figuring out learning how to sell and learning how to lead teams to sell ads.

And there were people here, there were probably 25 or 30 people in Singapore, Google, when I got here.

Now there are 1000s. There were also people in India and Japan already.

But in terms of ads, for the rest of Asia, basically, for medium and small, we weren't selling anywhere else.

So we started with this tiny team here in Singapore.

And for people on in Singapore, we had a serviced office in one raffles key and move from there to what is now the exit tower to I think it's the exit tower now and then to Asia Square.

And now Google has this enormous building at Maple Tree on the west coast of Singapore.

So we used to get in, we need to if you're in Singapore, and you need to talk to people on the west coast, you know, you need to get in early.

And so we would Emmanuel sake, who's still at Google, and Sarah labor opposite Rob lab, who's also, I think, still Google and I.

So they were operations HR me would like race into the office who was getting there at seven, then 630.

Because we only have one or two facilities for video conference.

And we would grab it and you know, get get on our calls. And it's, it's wild, because it was certainly wasn't that early for Google, Google had already gone public by the time I'd been there.

But it was early in the Asia days for Google. And so it was really, really fun.

And I learned a lot. That's great. In terms of your learnings from your previous experience, then coming into Google, what, what was transferable in terms of your skills to come from one industry into another industry?

Actually, a lot was transferable. I think in the beginning, I thought, maybe there wouldn't be much.

But it turns out, there's a lot. So first of all, at the end of consulting, when you start out in consulting, you start with data analytics, and you start with communicating, how do you structure inductive or deductive reasoning so that you can create a slide deck or create some communication to discuss with clients.

And I'm sure those words I'm using are not how it's discussed anymore.

But at least it gives you foundational knowledge. Over time, you start to learn to manage teams, and then manage customers.

And then eventually, you are in charge of bringing in work, which means you're basically selling, you're becoming the confidant of CEOs.

So when you go to tech, and even through my other jobs, all those things are transferable.

I was managing teams of people at Google.

So that was helpful. How do you manage and motivate teams, I was trying to look at data, gee, we're selling well in India, but not in Japan, or we're selling these kinds of ads, and not these, or, you know, this industry vertical is working for us, but not this one.

And all of that, you know, and how do we learn more, how do we adapt more to different kinds of clients, all of that comes from data analytics.

So in my tech roles, I've always had very strong sales operations teams.

That's what they called it when I got to Google. So that's what I've always called it.

And we, you know, we have a very strong sales operations team here at Cloudflare, as well.

And so that's the analytics part. So there's the managing the team, the analytics, the selling, right?

How do you, you know, we, Cloudflare, we service small, medium and large enterprise businesses, all of that experience, how do you build a relationship with a client.

And it's, you know, learning that it's really, I guess, what people call consultative selling, but really, what you're trying to do is help your clients solve their problems.

That's what consulting is all about.

And consulting, in some ways, it's the hardest because you're selling only a service, you're saying, I'm going to bring this team of smart people who have a bunch of skills, and they're going to help you, Ms.

CEO, or Ms.

CMO, solve this problem that you have. So in a company like Google, or Twitter, we actually have a thing to sell, you can't see the thing so much.

I mean, it's not we're not selling mugs, we're selling ads, but it's actually a little more tangible, we're going to help you, we're going to use this ad to help you bring in more customers or see, help people understand your brand.

And then when you get to Cloudflare, we're working with enterprises to say, what challenges do you have?

Do you have a challenge that people are working outside of the office now, and you're concerned that there's a lack of security between them and the origin server at your company?

Are you worried that your communications with customers or your other locations aren't fast enough that the network isn't performing for you?

And so being able to learn how to work with clients, and actually understand what their pain points are, and understand what their problems are, and think about how what you might have in your toolkit can help solve their issues.

You know, that's probably the most important thing I ever learned. And that transfers really well.

That's what we do today. I mean, of course, we have a product.

And we have names of products at Cloudflare like Argo Tunnel, and Argo Smart Routing, and WAF.

But that's not really what you're doing when you work with customers.

People don't want to, they don't want to come to you and buy a product.

It's not a consumer good. You're not buying some talcum powder, or a bar of soap, or a face mask.

You're solving an enterprise challenge or problem. And so when I look back on it, I mean, I didn't plan this out.

It didn't occur to me, okay, I'm building some foundations here.

And then I'm going to go to this role and this role and build some more on them.

But having the advantage of hindsight, especially since this year is 2020.

So hindsight is always 2020, I guess I'd say. I can see that a lot of those skills were highly, highly transferable.

And I use them all the time.

In fact, it's hard for me to think of things that I learned that I don't use, really.

Right? There's so much more that's applicable from one role to the next than that is not applicable.

Yeah. So what advice, there's a lot of people, they start their career down one path, they study, they get a degree, and they're on a rail, and they're focused on doing the things that they've learned.

I mean, what advice do you give to people that are finding it tough to make the switch to another industry or take on another challenge?

Well, I'm mostly trying not to give advice because I'm not sure that, well, you know, they always say it's worth what you pay for it.

So here, it's free. So that's what it's worth.

And also, because I'm never sure that something I have to say is relevant to anybody else.

I think, I guess I'd say two things. One is, I think it's fine if you know exactly what you want to do.

And you plan a career and you want to just go down that path.

I think people do that, and it works for them. What worked for me was not that at all.

What worked for me was like, oh, here's something interesting I don't know about.

Here's a country I don't know about. Um, you know, we didn't talk about this.

I know we talked about it before, but I didn't even, I got my MBA because I wanted to, I think I thought I'd eventually do it.

But I got it because a long time ago in New York, there was nowhere to swim laps.

And that was how I exercised.

And I had to get a pass to get into the NYU pool. So I started taking classes.

So I, you know, so that I could swim in this pool. And then I got an MBA while I was working.

So I've done a lot of things, maybe for not the right reason.

You know, there was something I wanted to do or something I thought would be fun.

And because I wanted to do it, or I thought it would be fun. I really enjoyed it.

Right. And when you're really enjoying something, you probably have a good chance of being better at it.

I listened to a podcast. I've been listening to a lot of podcasts during COVID because I can't do my normal exercise.

So I'm riding a bike and listening to lots of podcasts. And the guy who started Wired Magazine, whose name escapes me for the moment, who's very well respected, had, he turned 68 and he had 68 tips or 68 things that he had learned that he wanted to pass on to his son.

I think his name is Kevin Kelly. And one of them was that enthusiasm is worth 25 IQ points.

So he made that up. He says he made that up.

I don't know where he got it from. And I don't think there's any data behind it. But let's say it's true.

And what that means is that the fact that you're loving your job or loving being in Australia or loving getting to swim while you're doing your coursework means that you're better at it because you're so enthusiastic about it that it's actually adding to your smarts.

So I really loved that quote because I think that it might be something that worked for me and something that would work for other people, which is just if you are doing something you mostly like, and that's mostly like, there are bad days in every job.

There are things you're going to hate or feel frustrated about in every job, right?

Just like in life, like, I don't know, you go to a new restaurant, you think it's going to be great.

You're frustrated with the service, but the food's good. I mean, there's just always things that don't work.

Nothing is perfect. There is no perfect job. But if you're in a job that you mostly like getting up to every day, which I have found to be the case in almost all of my jobs, and certainly Google, Twitter and Cloudflare, great companies, great challenges, you know, love what I'm doing at Cloudflare and the team that I'm working on, then you have a really good chance of succeeding.

So I think sometimes you can do things for a very driven reason.

You know, I want to keep going. I want to be the CEO. I want this role. Or sometimes you can do it for like a weird reason because you think you're really going to like it.

You know, you think, I really want to live in Japan and I'm just going to make that work.

Or I really want to know something about, um, I don't know, uh, logistics technology.

So I'm somehow going to get myself a job at shipping easy or ship it or Lazada or e-commerce and just learn that.

And because you're doing something that you really wanted to learn, then your enthusiasm helps make you good at it.

So I think that's the advice. I, I guess for all of these, you have to work at it.

So what happened to me with Google? Um, that was a bit of happenstance. You know, I didn't decide I want to be in tech at all.

I just met Vint Cerf, but it took like seven months to figure out what I would do at Google.

They, they were like, okay, we think we like you, but what are we going to do with you?

And I said, you know, and I think I like you, but I want to do something meaningful and I'm not going to start like, I didn't certainly start as director, but I'm not going to start at the very bottom.

And I want to go to Asia. So, um, it took some time. So I guess, um, it's good to have something that I actually don't have very much of, which is patience.

Um, there are other things that I've wanted to do where I've had to work at more.

Um, I'm on some corporate boards. I have been for probably the last nine or 10 years now.

And, uh, when I said, I think I'd like to go on boards because someday I might want to retire.

And that sounds like something interesting because it's somewhere between operating, um, and consulting.

Cause you're the main job of the, of a board is to hire or fire the CEO and basically to help with strategy, not that you spend your whole time hiring and firing, but that's just how they define main responsibility.

And, um, so someone said, you know, I was like, oh, I'm never going to end up on a board because I'm not C -suite, even though I was running a billion dollars of revenue at Google, I didn't have a C title.

And so there's this reputation that if you want to go on boards and it does happen, you've been a CEO, um, people will call you while you're a CEO.

As soon as you retire saying, you know, please, or CFO, please be on our board.

So if you're not at the C-suite, um, you probably have to work a bit harder.

So I said to a friend, oh, you know, it's never going to happen. This friend who had started going on boards and she said, well, have you ever told anybody that you want to be on a board?

And I said, well, no, because, you know, they just call you and she's like, no, that's not, um, you know, maybe for a few people, but that's not how most people end up on boards.

So that when I worked at, you know, I went to, I told everybody I knew, um, that, Hey, I'd like to be on boards.

And most board seats do not come from executive search, but when you're, um, not necessarily at C-suite or out golfing with buddies, there still is a lot of kind of the old, old world approach in boards, um, in every part of the, of the world.

Then search is a way to get in because some boards do use search.

And there's an interest in my case in having people who know technology on boards.

And in some countries there's an interest in having women.

Um, so, uh, you know, and in some places there's an interest in having people who have lived and worked in and understand at least part of Asia.

And so I went around telling people, I went around telling anybody who would listen and then went around making appointments with search people saying, hello, you know, this is me.

This is what I think I can do. I'd like to be on a board.

And so for that one, I really had to work at it. So I guess, you know, in the vice category, um, it's fine.

If you decide you really want something, go work at it, have some patience, especially for boards.

It takes time.

Uh, I've always been told that for jobs, you should be able to do a quick elevator pitch of what you could do for the company.

I've been told for boards, it has to be faster than that.

You have to have like three things. So for me, it's, I know Asia, I know tech or digital transformation.

Um, and then it varies, uh, very few people.

But I think what I would say is I come from consulting, which I think gives me all these skills that I mentioned, but most boards don't seem interested for some.

I can go, Hey, you know, for the Australians, we talked about that.

I'm a Sheila. So I'm a girl. If you want women on boards, here I am. Um, and for some there's the, I'm over 40 because they want tech people.

Um, but they're a little worried about having very young people on boards, which they shouldn't be, but you know, I can, then I can use my age to my advantage.

So I guess that's where I get to in terms of advice.

That's great. In terms of working on boards, what's it like?

I mean, you know, you're, you're running an APAC business for Cloudflare and you're also on boards.

How do you manage, I guess, the workload and I guess the prioritizing of different activities when you, when you have such a big commitment?

Um, I'm, I'm pretty organized and I'm very energetic, so I'm able to make the time, uh, to, to, to do both.

Uh, the agreement I have with the firms where I've been executive.

So I started this when I was at Google is that I, if this, if they ever believed that the board work is or was interfering with my executive role, that I would need to step down from the boards.

So I can't do too many boards at once.

At, at the peak I've had three, but probably two is good. I, I've gone down to one at this point.

We'll, we'll see. Um, I, I find that they use different parts of my brain.

Um, Cloudflare probably uses everything, but a lot of it is about running the business and managing the team.

Um, at the board, you do not run or manage anything, right?

The CEO is in charge. You are, uh, learning about and helping with governance.

Um, and you are, uh, working a bit on strategy. So those are, they're two very, very different roles.

So in some senses, it's definitely, definitely not left brain, right brain kind of thing, but it is maybe some separate compartments and they kind of keep me energized.

They keep me fresh because I get to do different things.

I think it's a little bit like, I think I'm just naturally curious.

It's a little bit like the kick I get out of doing some work in Japan and then doing some work in Australia and then speaking to a client in India.

Um, it's different every time and it keeps me on my toes and I have to keep learning.

And so I think actually I'm probably better at both things because of each other.

Um, I've had a couple instances where people have said, you know, we'd like you on a board, but we think as when you're in an executive role, no matter what you say about having shown up at board meetings, um, we don't feel like that's, you have enough time to put in.

And if you're willing to retire now, you know, you can go on our board.

And so far I haven't been willing to retire. It may happen.

Um, but one of the interesting things from my perspective that I've said to them is if you want me on a board as somebody who understands tech or digital transformation or has insight into how, um, Bay area firms are working, these are all things that people have said to me over time.

If I leave that job, if I leave that role, then my insight becomes not current, right?

You know, maybe six months, maybe it lasts a year.

Maybe I can go to conferences and keep it up pretty much, but I will no longer be inside a Google or a Twitter or, you know, a hyper growth Cloudflare.

I will be, you know, that's at the, at the leading edge of Internet technology and security.

I will be someone who's been at those places. So it depends what you want.

So I try to manage it both. I think most of the time I'm good at it.

I think people will tell me if I'm, if I'm not, um, my kids are, well, they had been out of the house.

They're in their early twenties. Now they're in the house because of COVID, but I don't think there'll be here forever.

So I have a little more time than maybe I did when I was raising children.

Um, but I do know some people who are raising children working and on boards, you can do it.

You just have to figure out how to manage your time.

That's brilliant. Fantastic. When we, when we were speaking before I mentioned, you know, what are your thoughts on mentoring?

And you raised a very, um, good point around there's mentoring, then there's having advocates.

I'd love to just hear a bit more about your, I guess, your view on advocates and I guess what, why that, why they are so important to people or individuals.

Okay. Well, I'm not sure the exact textbook definitions of, um, you know, or how people think about what a mentor is, but I, I think about a mentor as somebody who I can go to for some advice, which is great.

And I think it's good to have mentors, people you can bounce ideas off of.

Um, there's a woman I used to work with at Google, uh, who, uh, no, sorry, Twitter, who said she had a board of directors who kind of had a set of people that she would go to as advisors.

So instead of kind of, or her concept was like kitchen cabinet as what they used to call us government or cabinet or a board.

And so she could go to each one.

I think the thing about mentors is that you, um, you can get advice, but they may or may not be people who are going to do something for you.

And that's fine. And I think you can't necessarily ask people to do things for you, but what you'd like to develop over time are advocates.

You want people who will sit in a career meeting at your company and say, Chris needs to be promoted or Chris needs a chance at that next job, because I've seen what he can do.

He's a great interviewer on legends of tech and therefore he should be the next TV producer.

Um, so, or maybe, um, in companies I've worked at, we, there'll be, um, you know, a sort of a guideline about how many people we can promote at one time.

And you want your manager or your advocate. It doesn't have to be your manager.

It could be somebody who's worked with you a lot in another department saying, yes, Elisa is ready for that next step.

And yes, I, I believe in her. And so you can't really go to somebody and say, will you be my advocate?

But I think what you do need to develop within organizations are people who are going to stick their neck out for you, who are going to speak for you.

And, um, you know, one step towards that are people who give you references when you leave a job.

Those are people who are putting up their hands saying, I'm willing to say something great about them.

Um, and I'm not positive that I believe doing that on LinkedIn is really good.

Cause I figure anybody who's willing to say it all publicly, it's just, it's kind of fluff.

I don't know. I'm not, I just feel like it's, it's maybe not real. Doesn't really have depth, but, um, I do think what you really want are advocates are supporters and you may not have as many of those over time, but having them is really valuable.

And you see that with people who, um, maybe introduce someone they've worked with before to the company where they've moved to.

So, you know, I've moved to Cloudflare and there's a few people I've recommended from other companies that I've worked at who've gotten jobs at Cloudflare and you can't just bring them in, right?

They have to go through the interview process. But the fact is I've said to Cloudflare, Hey, I'm new here.

Maybe I don't have credibility yet, but I will.

I think this person I worked with before is really, really good. And I suggest you interview them.

That's an advocate. That's great. And these are, these are great tips because I think a lot of people focus on, you know, having a mentor and getting advice, but I think a lot of people do forget about the advocates.

And I think to your point, it's not about, Hey, can you be my advocate? It's about the good work that you, that you push and you try to do in terms of that.

Right. And I think, sorry, I think mentors can turn into advocates. It might happen that way, but a mentor probably having mentors probably isn't enough.

You need to make sure that somewhere along the way you've built up some advocates.


So you're, you're going to be on another talk later on today. Can you tell me a little bit about that and what that's all about?

Well, the question, some of the questions are pretty similar to here.

It's a panel of four women. So people won't have to listen to me as much.

I love the title. I told you that before kick-ass women slaying the world of tech.

It's free. I think you're living, letting me give advertising for this here, which I appreciate.

It's part of something that general assembly does as I think sort of group mentoring, if you will, and maybe giving some advice.

So I think it'll be similar to this, but about four different women and how they have approached their careers in different, very different careers in tech, women from different backgrounds, women in different industries, women of different ages, which I always like, I think it'd be really fun.

And I like those because I get to learn from the other people.

So I always get tips, tips from them too.

Like, like this idea from, from April at Twitter about having a sort of her own personal board of directors.

I think that's a great idea. That's great.

No, that's brilliant. I love, I love seeing those sorts of things happen and I will be, I will be tuning in today.

So I'm looking forward to that too. We've got a couple of minutes left and I wanted to really thank you for your time today.

And I hope you can come and join me again on the show. Probably the next couple of months would be awesome because there's so much here that I haven't covered and I, and I really appreciate you just going through and we, you know, I've discovered a lot about you today, which has been brilliant and fascinating.

And to be honest, quite inspiring.

And I think having someone like you in our industry or in our business or in this world is, you know, we're privileged to have you here.

So Elisa, thank you so much for your time today.

It's been brilliant. Good luck today with your other conference as well that you're going to be on.

And I look forward to having you again on the show.

Thanks, Chris. You're, you're a great interviewer and you're a great teammate at Cloudflare.

So it's been really fun to, to do this with you.

Thank you. Have a great day. All right. See you. Bye everyone. Have a good day.

See ya. Transcribed by