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Being an Ally, with Mike Steib

Being an Ally, with Mike Steib


Episode 114: Being an Ally, with Mike Steib

As the CEO of XO Group, Mike Steib’s road to becoming a successful leader has not only been a result of hard work and dedication; but also of networking and influential women he has worked with in his life. On this episode, Mike talks about the diversity at XO Group and how it impacts growth and leads to more success, women as Board of Directors members, and the impact his wife had on him as both a life and business partner. With his new book on driving the most impact in careers, managing energy, and managing stress tune in to listen to Mike’s personal and professional experiences.


Episode Transcript

00:13 Kristy Wallace: Hello and welcome to the Ellevate Podcast. This is your host Kristy Wallace, with my co-host Maricella Herrera.

00:20 Maricella Herrera: Hey, Kristy.

00:20 KW: Hi. So excited today for our guest, Mike Steib from XO Group. We do occasionally have men on the Ellevate Podcast, even though it is Conversations With Women Changing the Face of Business, because we know that it's a team sport, and men and women need to be the change makers in business and in lives to create a more just and equal world. And Mike's been doing some amazing work and not just as a leader of XO Group, but as an author, as a family member to his partner and to his family and will continue his advocacy on the stage at the Ellevate Action Summit on June 21st.

01:02 MH: Yup, next week.

01:04 KW: Cannot wait, cannot wait.

01:06 MH: I'm so excited that we have Mike on on the podcast today. He's been so amazing in the weeks leading up to the summit and helping us build this. It's great, I'm a huge fan.

01:18 KW: Yeah, he's been one of our favorite speakers just because he's been such a huge proponent for the event supporting us in many ways and championing us on, and that's what you need. It takes a village, and we're honored to have him as part of ours.

01:33 MH: Yeah, it's great. When I think of the men that have been involved with both of the summits, with the one last year and the one this year, it's so incredible. It really is. I mean, last year Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, he was amazing to work with, Wade Davis, you know, he is one of my favorite advocates and friends of Ellevate. And Mike this year has been really, really inspiring.

02:02 KW: Yeah, Mike has been amazing and he's lucky because he has a phenomenal partner and Kemp will also be joining the stage 'cause we're having a real conversation, not just about how business leaders can drive change but how partners, family members, team members within the the personal constructs can support each other and really help everyone, lift everyone up, help everyone thrive through the spirit of equality, balance, and ongoing support.

02:36 MH: Right. I mean, talk about a power couple between the two of them, and they're gonna be on stage and they're gonna be having a conversation about that, and also including other women that have worked with them through their careers and really... It's real.

02:51 KW: Yeah, I cannot wait. This is the panel out of all of them that I'm the most excited about. I know I'm gonna learn a great deal and just some phenomenal people. So check out the Ellevate Action Summit, it is going to blow your mind, and more importantly it will expose you to conversations that you're likely not a part of today. And I can honestly say that because I'm talking about gender inequality every single day, and I am certain that I will learn things, that I'll gain new perspectives, that I will hear from people with experiences different than my own. And that is so key, it is so core to how we will all, as a society and a world, continue to grow and evolve because we're opening our minds to what's going on around us.

03:38 MH: Yeah, I'm so excited.

03:40 KW: Yes. Alright, so check out the Ellevate Action Summit. You can sign up for the live stream, so you can join us from your computer wherever you are or your phone. And June 21st, we look forward to seeing you there in person or online, and enjoy my conversation with Mike.

[music]

04:07 KW: So Mike, would you mind telling us a bit about how you came to be CEO of such a great organization?

04:14 Mike Steib: Hi, Kristy, thanks a lot for having me and I'm a big fan of the work that you all do. So I have really been looking forward to this. Let's see, I came to be CEO of the XO Group, I guess sort of at first gradually and then suddenly I could share with you a whole bunch of the things that I did in my career and in trying to make myself qualified for a job like this. But the opportunity here really presented itself when I was connected to my predecessor, the founder of our organization David Liu, by the investment banker who had taken our company public, who had been an advisor to David and the company for a decade and a half and who had been a mentor and a friend to me in my professional life. And she saw an opportunity to bring in new leadership, she connected us, one thing led to another and here I am.

05:07 KW: That's networking. We are all about that here at Ellevate. That's such an important story to share and the people that you know and building those relationships. I know you went to UPenn, right?

05:21 MS: I did, I went to UPenn, I...

05:23 KW: I went to Villanova, so we're like...

05:26 MS: Oh so did my brother, yeah. We're so good, we're Philly people. Also, I got a degree in Economics at Penn and more importantly I met my wife.

05:34 KW: Oh, I love that, you don't hear so much about that anymore, that's... So clearly your affinity for Penn is quite strong.

05:44 MS: [laughter] Yeah, I owe Penn a lot.

05:46 KW: [laughter] You and I were both coming out of school around the same time, and so much was happening in technology in this start-up space that you've worked at NBC Universal, at Google doing a lot of really interesting work. And then now with XO Group where you're really taking community and marketplaces, and how do you create this combination, this melding of the two in a way that's really building those connections in an online space. And it all came from your connections to start, So what was that experience like, working in technology during this time of great transformation?

06:28 MS: I'm so fortunate I had a chance to work at NBC Universal in both strategic and operational capacities in the early millennium when all of these really exciting things were happening in this space when... At the time, when bandwidth and mobility and storage were just starting to hit that point in the adoption curve, where it was gonna really have an impact on the way people connect with each other and consume media. And I had a chance to be at Google sort of in the adolescent or I don't know, early teenage years of, maybe the early teenage years of Google and its development. And the way that the company reinvented... So many ways that people consume content and information, and the way that the industry monetizes it. So for me, it's been a lot of fun to be on both sides of that. And as a leader and what I do today, I'm able to tap into both of those experiences, and boy is it really helpful.

07:26 KW: And I know that XO Group went through a significant transformation when you became CEO, and I love you're talking about kind of all of the building blocks, the things you learned, the experience you learned that then you can utilize in new ways and in new roles. How did you navigate that transformation? I think something a lot of business leaders get excited by but also overwhelmed by. And I would love to hear a little bit more about your experience.

07:54 MS: The last four or five years at XO Group, I guess I've been here 4 1/2 years, I've been... It's been the most exciting, fun thing I've ever done in my career. At this company we have these rich, beloved consumer brands, in particular, The Knot, where virtually every couple in America planning a wedding is going to touch one of our products. And the vast majority will deeply engage with our products, downloading our app, using our app and our website to plan their wedding, to find their venue, their DJ, create their wedding website, communicate with their guests, create their registries, and so on. People really know, and love, and trust The Knot brand because of all of the great work this company has done over the last two decades to bring the information, to bring the tools, and this love of this industry to people who are planning the weddings. We saw this incredible opportunity to take that brand and the skills and assets of this organization, and create on top of it a two-sided marketplace.

09:01 MS: On one side using software to really help guide every step of a wedding planning journey using everything that we know about weddings, and we know about the individual weddings that have been planned through our products, to recommend just the right vendor, to recommend just the right photographer, just the right calligrapher, etcetera, connect people to those local businesses, through a two-sided marketplace, and grow our business by adding many, many more small businesses, photographers, and DJs, and bands, and so on, into that marketplace.

09:35 MS: So you can come to us today and you can tell us you're getting married in 12 months, this is your budget, this is where you're getting married, how many guests are coming, tell us some of the things that you like, we help to create your style together, we help to identify you know all the things that are gonna make your wedding special, and then create this personalized ever evolving journey for the next 12 months to help you plan the biggest most important day of your life.

10:01 KW: And how much did your own personal experiences... You talked about meeting your wife in school, how did all of that play into this as well? 'Cause you're also a customer.

10:14 MS: I'm married and I have kids, which gives me all kinds of opinions on the topic of planning weddings and having babies, but to be honest, as a business leader one of your struggles is always to think, "Yes, you have good ideas," but remember you're often not the average user. At our company we invest a lot of our time and energy in deeply understanding our users. Twice quarterly we'll have brides, grooms, guests, and friends come into the office, and we'll interview them in front of the whole company, so that everyone stays in touch with our users. Every week we are testing some new product with a subset of our user group, whether it's user testing or just doing user discovery to understand what problems they have and how we can better solve them. On the other side, we're doing the same with our small business partners, it's incumbent upon us to stay right at the leading edge of what's making business work for our business partners. And in 2018 how are people thinking about planning their wedding? It's different than it was two years ago, and it will be different two years from now.

11:22 KW: It is such an interesting dynamic. And first I wanted to comment on your business partners. We've seen technology really have a positive impact on small business owners in terms of getting their brand out there, helping to facilitate not just the marketing, but the transactions to grow their business, and the learning and tools with which to do it smarter and faster. And it's something we thought so much about when I was at Zeel, which was more in the health and wellness marketplace side. But I love that you're talking about the small business owners because you're really creating such opportunity, and such personal and professional success for these business owners in a way that hadn't happened before.

12:08 MS: Yeah, through the work that we've done of the last few years, we have many, many more users who are not only looking to us for advice and inspiration, but want us to connect them to the small businesses to help them through this day. So every year we have more, and more people looking for more, and more bands, and photographers, and officiants, and wedding planners, and calligraphers. So we're bringing business, we're bringing more, and more business to those local businesses who are our partners, and we're growing that marketplace of local businesses every year.

12:40 KW: And that's very impactful to women as well because we know that women are starting businesses at a much faster rate, they are increasingly the majority of small business owners. And so creating this marketplace for them to really manage their business in an efficient and effective way is helping also create more opportunity for women and gender parity within those areas.

13:08 MS: The vast, Kristy, the vast, vast majority of my users, who we serve at this company are female. Also the vast majority of the people who work at this company, the vast majority of the leadership team, and even 50% of the independent directors on our board of directors are women. So that's... You are right that the businesses and the couples that we serve, we're primarily dealing with female users and female stakeholders, and we are motivated at this company, and we take very seriously our responsibilities to help them be successful.

13:47 KW: You mentioned earlier that, yes, you had gone through a wedding, and having kids, and a home but you're not reflective of your core customer. And a big part is knowing that customer and being able to solve her needs. And so I think about that so much here at Ellevate because my team... I very intentionally built a team that is reflective of a vast array of professional women from different backgrounds, different career stages, different industries as a way to really be able to tap into our community. And so you talked a little bit about your team, 50% diversity on your board is huge, strong diversity in your leadership. How does that make your business more successful by having the power of diversity behind it?

14:39 MS: It more than doubles the pool of people who you can hire to help you run the business and serve your users. And very simply, every time we open a job rec, we are in the market looking for the most kickass person we can find, we keep finding women, when we go out with that expectation. Part of it could be that the life stages that we serve at this company are more broadly interesting to a more broad array of people than, I don't know, if we were the latest beer delivery app or something like that. It could be that there's more... That the work that we do here has purpose to it, and that draws a broader range of talent when we open up roles. I also I think our culture and our values play into it as well. We have these six core values that sort of came up to... We hire really kind good people who expect themselves and each other to be excellent, and support each other in being excellent. And so when you have a culture like that, it's a place where people of any gender or any diverse background can feel comfortable, can feel at home, and feel excited and rewarded working there. For us the benefit is we get more fantastic people working here, and it makes us better at our job.

16:02 KW: And so you mentioned you have 50% of your board as women. There's been a lot of debate and commentary about that for quite some time, many years now, where I think the average gender makeup of a board is 20% women, 80% men. And some CEOs are saying, "We just can't find good women," or, "They're not interested in being on boards." But yet...

16:28 MS: Yeah. Tell those CEOs to call me, I know some fantastic women who would be excellent, excellent board directors, who could serve on audit, who could serve on comp, who could serve on non-gov. I have terrific ones that I get to work with on my own board, but more broadly, the pool of talented women out there is greater than the number of seats that are available to them on boards, and the boards you say they can't find them are not working hard enough. I know really good people, I know really good women who should be on boards and aren't. So I get impatient with that when I hear that from other CEOs.

17:03 KW: I get impatient, too. [chuckle] So I appreciate you say, I am like, "Yes," we are so aligned right now. We talk at Ellevate a lot about women supporting women, but just people supporting people, right? And how do we support each other in the workplace and at home. And so I know you'll be speaking at the Ellevate Summit, and you'll be joined by Kemp, your wife, by Melanie Whelan who's the founder of SoulCycle and someone who you've been a mentor to. Even in this podcast, you've called out specifically women on your team and within your organization to amplify their profile, and to give them credit for the work that they're doing. Has this always come naturally to you? Was there some defining moment where you're like, "Wait a minute? We all need to support each other." How did this happen for you? Because we don't see it very often and it's been great to hear you give the credit and to amplify other women.

18:06 MS: I couldn't possibly self-diagnose on this. I can tell you, I was raised in a two-working-parent working class household, my mom worked and was a wonderful mother and I learned by experience as a kid that you can have both, when someone cares enough and is hardworking enough. And I married an amazing woman, my wife Kemp who you mentioned. I've often joked that sometimes I go to these award dinners and some old retiring CEO would say, "I wanna thank my wife for being the CEO of our home." And that is nice, and therefore in a lot of families that it's a wonderful thing, it's wonderful for everyone to have one working parent instead of two. Many families can't afford to do it. Some day, if I'm ever asked to give that speech, I will say, "Thank you to Kemp for making a lot more money than me for years and years 'cause it has afforded me the opportunity to take on jobs that I might not have been able to take on. And thank you to Kemp for being an example to me of what a great female leader can be."

19:20 MS: I really do think that makes me a better leader and a better executive, a better coach to the teams that I work with today. And now we were talking about the future of work and flexibility. Kemp is now a partner in and the CFO of a start-up that's helping to connect high impact professional women who on flex time roles with companies that are looking to do a sort of high touch professional maternity backfill, or special projects where they need a lot of experience, or to add gender diversity to their organizations. Her company is called The Second Shift. And I don't know, in a way it's so nice that, as I look at the work that we do across our family, she's an amazing role model to my daughter, the purpose of her work is so motivating and important. And so I don't know, Kristy, you asked me a hard question, I can't tell you how I... I probably can't well diagnose how I ended up being the leader that I am, but I'm quite sure that part of it is the wonderful home I was raised in, a big part of it is the amazing moment that I married, a big part of it is all the fantastic women who I work with who... Coaching is a two-way street and I learn a lot from them, and I've developed a lot as a leader throughout this journey.

20:47 KW: Yes, thank you. I think about this so much with my husband, and I also came from a family where both parents worked. And so you're talking about the impact of women and absolutely thank you so much for being an advocate, and an ally, and supporter but you also talked a lot about it's a two-way street, and it's about changing the dialogue and the conversation around business and family and how that functions. And so everything you said really resonates with me and I think is a refreshing point of view that we don't hear often enough.

21:25 MS: I'm glad to hear you say that. I'm reading Joanne Lipman's book right now, that's what he said. I don't know if you've gotten into it yet, but it's such a well-articulated, plain spoken explanation of what women deal with in the workplace. And I recommend it to everyone because once you are reminded of this, you notice that frequency with which in certain situations a man talks over a woman but a woman is less likely to talk over a man. Now I'm very lucky at the company where I work, it's a different dynamic. The ladies are in charge around here, so we joke from time to time that things are ladysplained to me, there's very little mansplaining at this company. [laughter] Paying attention to these lessons, I think for me, as you step outside of work or as I just try to imagine what folks are up against in different work environments, the book is great, and I really recommend it. And I think it's incumbent on all leaders, men and women to be really cognizant of the different dynamics at play 'cause if you're not, you're not getting the best out of the team, you're not getting to the best answers, and you're not being the best leader you can be.

22:44 KW: You just came out with a book yourself, The Career Manifesto where you talk about discovering your calling and creating an extraordinary life. I think myself included, everybody I know is desperate to find their calling and create an extraordinary life. It's always this evolution and wanting to get to that next stage. So what was the impetus for writing this book and what did you learn along the way?

23:11 MS: I guess the impetus is I think people like you, people like your listeners, people like your team deserve to have an impactful, meaningful, fulfilling, exciting, career and life, and it's really hard to achieve. And I think it's really hard to achieve because we often don't take the time to establish what impact we wanna have in our careers, to make a clear plan to pursue the thing that will have that impact in our careers, and then plan our years, and our quarters, our weeks, and our days in a way where we're allocating our time and our energy to the things that are going to drive the most impact in our careers.

24:03 MS: And the history of the book is that a lot of this is stuff that I had written for my teams when I worked at Google. We had a lot of career development discussions and I started to capture some of it and posted it and shared it around. I have taught a lunch and learn seminar the last couple of years of my own company, and just topics that everyone seems to struggle with, from career planning to time management, to running effective meetings, to collaborating cross-functionally and getting people to be helpful in achieving your goals, to being a better communicator and a cross-functional communicator so that you can get the support that you need to have success, to managing your energy, and to managing stress.

24:47 MS: These are all the things that just make life and work so hard and it's just that you always do feel frazzled and you're like you can't keep up. And when you go through this, when you go through what I've written, you'll come to understand a plan for your career, and then a bunch of tips and tricks for just how to make more time available to yourself and more energy... And to summon more energy to go execute a higher impact, a higher trajectory career plan. So it's been out for like two months, I've gotten a lot of great feedback and reviews, and it's been super fun to have, put it out there in the world and let some folks enjoy it.

25:29 KW: Yeah, I just bought my copy, so I cannot wait to read it.

25:34 MS: You didn't have to buy, I would have given you a copy.

25:36 KW: Oh, no...

25:37 MS: I'll bring some to the conference [25:39] ____.

25:39 KW: Okay, you'll have it at the summit, and I wanted to support you, so I got it, but I actually cannot wait to read it, because everything you just talked about is exactly what I wanna read about, everything from managing stress to communications and beyond. So thanks so much, Mike, for joining us today on the Ellevate Podcast. This was so much fun. I'm really glad we got to connect. And I cannot wait to see you at the Ellevate summit in June.

[music]

26:02 MS: This is great, thanks for the amazing work that you and your organization do. I'm honored to be a part of the upcoming summit and I'm here for you if I can ever be helpful.

26:10 KW: Fantastic. Thanks Mike. Thanks so much for listening to Ellevate. If you like what you hear, help a girl out. Subscribe to the Ellevate Podcast on iTunes, give us five stars and share your review. Also, don't forget to follow us on Twitter, @EllevateNtwk, that's Ellevate Network, and become a member. You can learn all about membership and all the great things that Ellevate Network is doing at our website www.ellevatenetwork.com. That's E-L-L-E-V-A-T-E network.com. Special thanks to our producer, Katharine Heller, she rocks. And to our voiceover artist, Rachel Griesinger. Thanks so much and join us next week.


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