When I opened up the newspaper today to the front page news that Ruth Porat had been named CFO of Google and was leaving Morgan Stanley, my first reaction was of supreme jealousy.
Not jealous of Ruth, but jealous of the Google employees who will soon know the privilege of working alongside her.
Ruth was my boss at Morgan Stanley for my first job out of university, during her tenure as co-head of the Technology Investment Banking Group at Morgan Stanley. Ruth was my first female business mentor, alongside Internet legend Mary Meeker. It would be difficult to overstate the impact Ruth has had on how I developed views of not only my own potential, but also the potential for all women in business and technology.
Let’s be clear: I owe Ruth.
Ruth took a risk accepting me under her wing at Morgan Stanley. Sure, I was graduating with excellent grades from Columbia, but my CV was far from that of a picture perfect investment banker; I was also a cocktail waitress, and I had taken several years off in the middle of college to switch schools, a no-no in those days. But Ruth took my enthusiasm, budding talent and work ethic at face value – in short, she took a chance on me. She opened up doors for me professionally by sending me as an envoy to the company’s headquarters in Europe during the heady turn-of-the-millennium internet days. It opened up a whole new world for me professionally and personally, and I have never looked back.
From the perspective of being her junior (and I was very junior), Ruth was, and is, a master of her crafts, both financial and interpersonal. She always displayed a confident leadership style backed up by an extremely high standard of technical acumen and a stand-out work ethic. But she set herself apart from her other senior contemporaries in banking because her leadership was characterised by approachability, transparency, teamwork, and a willingness to teach anything and everything she had to offer. That included the machinations behind the deft consensus building skills for which she is well-known, and her calculations for very sound risk taking.
It was from Ruth that I first learned the playbook (and value) of exercising patience with challenging colleagues or clients, how to navigate crises with a cool head, and when to sense optimal moments for assertiveness and bringing people around to your perspective. I learned how important an (appropriate) sense of humour is in the workplace. Crucially, from Ruth I learned the benefits of developing confidence earned through hard work, and how to employ that confidence to put myself forward for new challenges.
By watching her first hand, I saw that learning along the way should never be a barrier when you are called to step up.
Ruth always struck me as a woman who valued her privacy, and anyone clambering for scrutinizable details about this unique woman will surely have to wait for the day she pens a book. However I wish to celebrate her appointment to Google today by sharing one small memory, because it was a pivotal moment of my life that I have never before spoken about, even to her:
Around 1998 at an internal meeting, after rolling off her rich and varied resume to a room packed full of a hundred or so of our colleagues, she punctuated her own introduction with the off-the-cuff remark “I just can’t seem to hold down a job!” Everybody, including me laughed. She was already a well-respected, stand-out star.
But in speaking that brief sentence out loud to an audience not known for its comfort with self-deprication, she displayed a new brand of fearlessness that I instantly yearned for — and have sought to build on ever since. In that moment Ruth lacked fear of judgement – judgement for choosing diversity of experience over narrow focus, for choosing broadening skillsets over pigeonholing, and for choosing humility and transparency over elitism.
It became clear to me that afternoon that she was proud of her unusual path, and that I should be proud of mine too. And even if Ruth didn’t know exactly where the journey was taking her, she seemed confident that every episode of her experience would eventually play its rightful part. I have spent my years since working for Ruth doing just that: gathering experience and skills that are coming together now in a most unusual and unexpected way.
The mentor role Ruth has played in stoking my own ambitious curiosity was coincidentally already marked by Google last week – when Google X Solve for X unexpectedly shined a light on my current work by awarding me a prize for ‘Moonshot’ thinking — for research on technologies for mental health at Imperial College London’s Institute of Global Health Innovation. Ironically, there was one item that didn’t make it into my award speech that night. Ruth Porat’s ability to manage her own stress in the workplace, to not allow the troops below to become affected by the pressure on her, remains the gold standard by which I have compared every subsequent boss for the last decade and a half. This comparison ignited my curosity to research and develop new technologies that can help with stress and anxiety.
The luckiest Google employees will, of course, be the young people just starting their careers like I was. Especially the young women who will have the opportunity to watch, work and learn alongside a person with huge integrity, a literally infectious work ethic — an open-minded leader who is funny and who commands respect simply by being her authentic self.
So good luck to you Google, here are five things that every Google employee should know about working with Ruth Porat:
- You are very, very lucky to have her.
- Her door is, incredibly, always open.
- Her ability to balance the personal with the professional is something every working dad and mom can learn from.
- If she opens a door for you, don’t just walk through it, RUN through it.
- Never, ever sleep on the couch in her office.*
Sarah P. Jones is a former technology investment banker and global retail marketing director who is currently conducting a PhD in technology-led anxiety treatments at the Institute for Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London under the supervision of former U.K. Health Minister Professor the Lord Ara Darzi. She is a fellow of the WISH World Innovation Summit for Health. This blog is her personal space, as is her Twitter @mhealthtekkie.
Out of pure coincidence, on March 19, 2015 Sarah received an award as finalist for the Breakthrough Innovation prize at Imperial College and was recognised by Solve for X powered by Google [x] for “Moonshot Thinking” for her project to innovate mental health through mobile technology.