First of all tell us about yourself! What do you love doing when you aren’t at work?
Growing up, I was a competitive figure skater and skated all over the world with some of the best coaches. In high school, I also was a cheerleader, track sprinter, and jumped hurdles. Needless to say, I am very physical and love any outdoor intense exercise! When I am running, walking, gliding, my mind is truly free and I get my best ideas! Movement and nature enable my creativity.
My parents were immigrants from Eastern Europe who worked several jobs and were never home. I was never allowed to have a pet as a child! Last year, we got a German Shepherd puppy named Teddy. He is now massive and weighs significantly more than I do, but he is the paragon of unconditional love and sheer joy. He still thinks he’s my baby and loves to jump on my bed and cuddle. He reads me so well, and when I am sad he tries to make me laugh. I adore Teddy!
Where did you start your career, did you always know what you wanted to do?
When I was a little girl, my mom would bring me to work and tell me to sit in the corner and “keep quiet and busy.” I would sit in her office, observe people and write stories about them all day long! I knew from a very young age I wanted to connect with people and share their stories. Through these stories, I wanted to help people see their inherent goodness and lift up the best of them. Through that, I wanted ultimately to challenge convention and establishment in all aspects of humanity and leadership. I’ve managed to weave in challenging the establishment, creating a sense of belonging and connection, and story-telling across every environment I’ve found myself in- diplomacy, journalism, tech and fintech. Leveraging the power to convene for impact, inspiration and change is the guiding principle in my career and my driver as a human being.
What are the greatest challenges or frustrations you face as a woman at the top (if any)?
My husband was appointed as the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden and I received a contract from the U.S. State Department soon after to serve as a quasi “tech Ambassador” and work alongside him on innovation, women’s leadership and connecting Stockholm to Silicon Valley more closely. The first thing I did was takeover the guest list for high level events we hosted at the Ambassadorial residence. The old guest list was filled with the same older, white men, and I began to fill it with young entrepreneurs, diverse young people and especially women. I was literally obsessed with giving women a seat at the table. Often, I feel we are just too complacent with making the effort to seek out and engage new female voices. We engage the people we are comfortable with, instead of seeking discomfort which actually leads to innovation. My personal pet peeve is judgment and judgmental people. I am radically open when it comes to personal identity and how people want to live their lives. I don’t use the word hate often, but I truly hate people who judge women on their choices and voices. That judgment scares women off from becoming leaders. I will crusade against it for my entire life if I have to!
Is there a woman who has really inspired you?
I’ve been fortunate to meet many incredible female leaders and also to have many extremely strong, wilful women in my family.
There is no single woman or person (because I’ve been supported, advanced and inspired by many men as well) who I can identify. I try to take something from everyone and learn something from every person who crosses my path. Everyone, sometimes especially our detractors or ‘enemies’, can be our greatest teachers.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
My daughter Aurora, and the fact that she challenges every single gender norm and stereotype vociferously and has been ardently been calling herself a feminist since age 8!
What’s the riskiest move you’ve taken in business?
I love challenges and change. I am the opposite of risk averse and will happily ‘throw myself off cliffs’ embracing any and all crazy ideas and opportunities. I’m a true entrepreneur in that sense, I love trying new things and solving problems no matter how daunting or how long they may take to crack. I have limitless passion for things that inspire or challenge me. My challenge is patience and pause. Today, I practice the art of reflection diligently and with mindfulness. It has allowed me to truly focus and prioritize so I do not burn myself out (something I tend to do as well!).
What 3 traits do you think are most important when running a successful business?
Passion, focus and fearless determination. It may sound strange, but I think those three characteristics also need to be founded in love and care. If you don’t love yourself, love your work, and especially love and care for your team and employees, you will never be a transformational leader. I’ve been given the advice many times that you shouldn’t be “too friendly” with your colleagues or that “kindness is a weakness” and I have never, ever adhered to it. Thank goodness for that! Every major accomplishment I’ve had was due to very much the opposite- being kind, being connected and being heart-driven.
What’s the best business advice you have ever received?
Your vulnerability is your greatest strength.
Any advice to future female leaders?
Listen, be open, see things from many different angles, but follow your gut and your heart.