AIB Featured Business Leader – Ruth Porat
Known for a work ethic that puts most employees to shame, British-born American financial executive, Ruth Porat, sets a leadership example that many of us could only hope to achieve. Porat is extremely dedicated to her career, working through her battle with cancer and pregnancy – she is said to have been making calls to clients from inside the delivery room during the birth of her first son. She is described as one of the most powerful women in Silicon Valley, and is said to be bringing discipline back to Google through her position as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Alphabet – Google’s parent company which was founded in 2015.
Porat’s career is particularly interesting as she has managed to crack the two industries with the lowest amount of women in senior positions – finance and technology. The mother of three’s strong work ethic and impressive list of qualifications put her in great standing for business success. At a young age, Porat moved to Massachusetts with her family, where her father was a research fellow at Harvard University. She was said to have a love for mathematics and problem solving, leading her to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and International Relations. Porat also boasts two Masters – one in Science/Industrial Relations and the other an MBA.
Porat’s qualifications led her to Wall Street, where she commenced her career at Morgan Stanley in 1987 as a junior banker. In the early 1990’s, she followed the then-President of Morgan Stanley to Smith Barney, only to return to Morgan Stanley in 1996. She became the head of Morgan Stanley’s technology banking team, just as the internet was taking off. In the years to follow, Porat occupied various executive roles at the firm, before she became CFO. Most notably, Porat led the team in advising the United States Department of Treasury during the financial crisis and the Federal Reserve Bank with respect to AIG. She clearly made her mark during that time, as in 2013, it was said that President Obama would nominate her as the next Deputy Secretary of the Treasury.
In March 2015, Porat was announced as Alphabet’s new CFO as of May 26th that year – a deal reportedly worth $70 million including financial incentives. Her brief was to oversee the restructure of Google under the name of Alphabet, while cutting expenses and returning discipline to the organisation’s spending. Amazingly, under Porat’s leadership, Alphabet’s stock (formally Google’s stock) has risen by 40 per cent, with the company’s market value increasing by $U60 billion in a single day. This is the greatest ever gain by an American company, demonstrating Porat’s significant influence. Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt called Porat extraordinary, adding “No normal person could walk into a massive restructuring, with new subsidiaries and compensation, and be completely fine” – except Porat.
Numerous sources have commented on Porat’s strong work ethic and ability to reason her way through the most difficult financial problems. Fortune reported, “she matches that analytical rigour with an approachability and warmth that make her a consummate boardroom diplomat”. Former employee Sarah P Jones wrote, “Her ability to balance the personal with the professional is something every working dad and mum can learn from”.
Porat has such a strong commitment to the job that when she shattered her shoulder blade and was told she needed immediate surgery, she returned to work for two days as her annual earnings call was looming. It wasn’t until after she explained Morgan Stanley’s results to the board that she went for her surgery. According to Business Insider, Porat prefers to refer to her life as a “work-life mix” – integrating her work and family into one entity. She believes that employees should find a mix of the two depending on personal needs, but work and home should never be separate from each other.
Clearly the mantra has worked well for the executive, as she boasts a range of awards and achievements to her name. She is Fortune Magazine’s 16th most powerful woman and one of the highest paid on the list. In addition to her role at Alphabet, she also holds a number of influential board positions. These include those on the United States Treasury, to The Council on Foreign Relations, and Stanford University’s Board of Trustees. Porat doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon, and we expect to see her continuing to climb the powerful women list in future years.
What do you think?
Ruth Porat’s journey is certainly one to admire, but I’m keen to hear what you think? Personally, I’m not sure that I agree with the work-life mix that Porat practices, as I operate best when there is balance. But I’d be keen to hear what works best for others? Comment your thoughts below to join the conversation.
This article was written by Laura Hutton on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources have been used to prepare this article: News.com.au , Business Insider, Fortune, Bloomberg and Forbes
Image Credit: JTA