“Anticipate problems and eat them for breakfast. Meaning if you proactively look ahead at what might go wrong you can get a jump on it and either deflect a problem altogether or mitigate its impact.” —Lisa Harris, CFO, Venrock
Earlier in December, I hosted one of our first Executive Engagement events—focusing primarily on women CFOs of venture capital firms. I was beyond inspired to be surrounded by this powerhouse of ladies and couldn’t have put together the event without help from Lisa Harris, the CFO of Venrock, who I am proud to also call my friend. For this month’s Executive Engagement, I was lucky enough to be able to sit down with Lisa and learn more about her career, passion, and mission.
Lisa’s resume is nothing short of amazing. Her drive and dedication to her career, team, and personal growth is inspirational. Lisa is committed to the development of women and leads through example, cultivating an environment where women are lifted up and pushed to new heights in their careers. Lisa is proud to follow in the footsteps of her mother, a successful accountant and CFO who raised three kids and countless animals in northern British Columbia.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in your profession?
- I don’t think there is a woman in business today who hasn’t faced some kind of overt or indirect sexism, hasn’t been patronized, marginalized, or the subject of micro-aggressions in the workplace or elsewhere, and I certainly have experienced my share. And while one might otherwise imagine this to be even more prevalent in venture capital, my current firm is the rare (and refreshing) workplace that values its people for their contributions, performance, and accountability—period—making it an ideal place for female professionals to thrive.
If you had to give a piece of advice to a younger version of yourself, what would it be?
- Speak up…and speak up again. Very early in my career I had a senior work colleague criticize me (openly mock me) in front of a large team for what he thought was a stupid question and as a result I hesitated to ask a follow-up question. Turned out it was a critical point for the engagement and had I spoken up the second time it would have avoided a lot of grief for the client. I haven’t ever hesitated to speak up since then and I always try to give others the opportunity to do the same. Not only could it impact the outcome or how you are perceived, but how you treat the people on your team will be remembered.
What is your motto in life and how does it relate to your work?
- Anticipate problems and eat them for breakfast. Meaning if you proactively look ahead at what might go wrong you can get a jump on it and either deflect a problem altogether or mitigate its impact. Inherently problem solving with a crystal (albeit dusty) ball is a critical skill for any business leader.
If you could choose any other profession or career path at all, what would it be and why?
- I would sincerely love to be a world-class chef. Feeding people makes me happy and the combination of the chaos and teamwork of an exceptional restaurant kitchen would be thrilling. And any veteran CFO has, out of necessity, learned how to stand the heat and how to put out fires.
If you could have dinner with any woman leaders, who would it be and why?
- I would be honored to share a meal with Sheryl Sandberg. I met her early in my career and while a person of smaller physical stature, she exudes such firm, directed confidence that I felt myself wanting to follow her around the room and listen to everything she said like a fan girl. Her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, and the associated Lean-In movement has been a game-changer for many women professionals and she has inspired me beyond measure.
We are grateful to Lisa for participating in this edition of our Executive Engagement blog series, the second of many to come. We look forward to 2019 and the opportunity to provide you with interviews of more Executive Women and events with the network.
Executive Women Network—December 5, 2018