Sunday, September 22, 2019

Highest paid Google executive says sponsorship was the key to her success

I've always admired powerful and accomplished women. So I was excited to go along to see Dame Minoche Shafik, Director of the LSE (who herself was the highest-paid University head in the UK until she voluntarily decided to forgo some of her salary last year), talk to Google's CFO, Ruth Porat, about the future of the school at LSE 2030. Ruth Porat is the highest-paid executive at Google, making $47 Million (£38 Million) a year.

Ruth and her husband, Anthony Paduano (who runs a law firm), met as students at LSE. They were at the LSE to discuss a new endowment scholarship fund they had established for women students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Dame Minoche said at the start of the talk that her ambition for the LSE is to be the leading social science institution with the most significant global impact. It is already ranked 2nd in the world, just behind Harvard University.

Ruth began her discussion by talking about the importance of AI. She said that they were using it at Google to reduce their energy costs by 30%. AI is also at the heart of its algorithmic search engine.

Ruth said that AI is a simple concept and not hard to understand if you break it down right. But that on the face of it, the terminology makes it sound highly complex. The key to understanding AI, as with most topics, is education. 

Ruth added that the future of AI impacts every industry. It takes a combination of Social scientists and engineers to build AI systems. Later in her discussion, Ruth talked about the importance of education. She said that much of business life is jargon, but you need to be educated to cut through that.  

Ruth went on to talk about her father, who instilled the importance of education in her. Her father attained a PhD in physics and then became a Stanford professor, where Ruth also studied (Stanford, University of Pennsylvania, LSE).

Ruth talked about how to change the company culture. She said that this always starts at the top. She gave some great examples of how she changed Morgan Stanley and Google's culture to make it more ethical and supportive of diversity. Any tech company that wants to progress today, needs to be cognizant of these forces.

She asked the room how many women had experienced men talking over them in business meetings. Everyone laughed in acknowledgement.

Ruth then said that when this happens, she always points it out, since, as she put it, 'if you don’t want my voice now, then do you even want me here in the room?'.

The most important part of Ruth's talk for me was how she transformed her career through her relationship with great sponsors. Initially, she said that she had worked at Morgan Stanley for an egotistical boss who had taken credit for all of her work.

Ruth realised that despite her best efforts, she would get nowhere with this individual at this company. So Ruth began to search around for someone who wanted to take a risk on developing her.

She did say that often employees think that this person will just appear as if by magic. However, Ruth said that She had to 'earn the right' to have a great sponsor who could provide her with judgment, insight and help open doors for her.

Ruth explained how one sponsor persuaded her to take a job on the financial trading floor, a notoriously male-dominated environment. It served her in her career, though. Later a sponsor helped her secure a role in Financial Institutions Risk at Morgan Stanley in 2006, which really catapulted her forward to her eventual role as CFO at Google.

One sponsor said to her: ‘I will be your senior air cover. I think you’ll soar, but I will have your back if you run into difficulties.’ Ruth said this is what she now says to those in business that she sponsors. 

Dinner with a fellow LSE alum at The Delaunay after the talk.

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