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Women Of The C-Suite: Julia Shullman of TripleLift On The Five Things You Need To Succeed As A Senior Executive

As an executive, you wear many hats beyond simply overseeing a department. As a member of the executive team, or as some might refer to it, the C-Suite, it is my responsibility to see the big picture at all times. That involves everything from setting company-wide strategies, making tough decisions that impact the business and individual contributors, and constantly thinking about ways to motivate all of our employees and for the company and its people to continue on their growth trajectory.

As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite” , we had the pleasure of interviewing Julia Shullman, Chief Privacy Officer & General Counsel, TripleLift.

Julia is General Counsel & Chief Privacy Officer at TripleLift. She oversees the company’s legal matters and is responsible for ensuring that TripleLift’s technology, practices, and procedures meet global privacy requirements. She is also responsible for driving the company’s go-to-market privacy and public policy strategy.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

It’s a story of chance, luck and seizing the opportunities that were put in front of me (even those opportunities that terrified me).

My path to the C-Suite in ad tech was not one I ever expected or planned for. I started my career as an M&A Associate at a major law firm; the work was thrilling, but not fulfilling and the lifestyle was brutal. Instead, I wanted to be a part of a company where I could build something. So, I took the best in-house role I could find — a hybrid role doing M&A and general in-house work. While the role wasn’t my forever job, it was a solid stepping stone on my journey to discovering an industry that offered me more than just a “job.”

When I was first introduced to the ad tech sector, I immediately knew this was where I could make an impact, where I could play a strategic role not only within the four walls of a company, but across an industry. With a bit of chance, luck and a commitment to seize the opportunities presented, I found myself at the center of helping companies, like TripleLift, to navigate the advertising industry’s data-privacy future. There’s nothing quite like seeing, designing and influencing the viability of an entire industry’s future; it’s thrilling, fulfilling and a lot of fun.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Nearly eight years ago I joined the ad tech industry and quickly found myself in negotiations centered around the issue of privacy. At the time, these negotiations and the issues that surrounded them were given minimal attention by leaders across the industry. However, I could see the issues weren’t just “compliance,” but were only the tip of the iceberg. It was clear to me — and a few others at the time — that the issues surrounding privacy (combined with antitrust) would be the future of our industry.

From antitrust investigations and lawsuits to proprietary moves made by the digital gatekeepers, today there is no escaping the barrage of news coverage surrounding privacy issues in tech. As to what happens next in our privacy future… I have a lot of predictions but like most of mine over the years… folks think I’m crazy… until they come true.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Funny mistakes happen to everyone, whether you are an executive in the c-suite or someone just starting their career. But, it’s not the funny mistakes that I’ve learned from in my career. It’s the mistakes that I never imagined I would consider to be a “mistake.”

I joined TripleLift, my current company, from another ad tech company. I immediately thought “Great! I have a playbook for this.” Big mistake. Every company requires its own unique playbook. The playbook that worked at your last company — no matter how similar the company looks on paper — will not grant you the wins it once did. Take the time to learn how the company really ticks and create a new playbook, one that reflects the values of your new company and takes into account how teams prefer to work, i.e., collaborative white boarding sessions vs. asynchronous commenting in shared documents or vice versa, when you join a company.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

While there are so many people that have played a role in helping me get where I am today, there are three individuals in particular who really helped me to harness my strengths and pave the way for me to grow as a leader into the executive I am today — Nithya Das, Dan Hegwood, Brian O’Kelley.

When I made the jump to ad tech, I never saw myself going down the privacy route, or sitting on an executive team as a General Counsel and Chief Privacy Officer. It was Nithya, Dan and Brian who pushed me to take over privacy at AppNexus, push my way into industry conversations I thought I had no business in, speak on panels publicly, broaden my scope of responsibility to include strategy, systems design, product development and client relations and realize I could be a good manager and leader in my own way, no matter how terrifying doing so was at the time.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

Water, workouts, music and, importantly, deep breathing! And when none of those tactics work, I simply picture one of the many hard meetings or days I’ve had in my career (when you’ve led privacy at an ad tech company with a target on its back, worked on M&A transactions or taken a company through an exit of any kind, you likely have a few to pick from), and remember that I’m still standing (and laughing!).

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

The main reason is better business outcomes. While I hear skepticism and calls for data to back up my belief, diversity of opinion, work styles, strengths, weakness and experiences leads to better business outcomes. I’ve seen it in practice — in my own work and in others work. One day, I hope we have more data to back that up.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

  • Walk the talk. Don’t just say you want to create meaningful change in your organization, take the time and push for the resources and changes to make that change a reality.
  • Provide opportunities for underrepresented people in your organization. That starts with improving your talent pipeline, i.e., how and where you source talent to ensure diversity of candidates and improving opportunities for underrepresented people (invitations to join senior level meetings; present to the board; or work on high-profile projects; introductions to influential people in your network or mentors, executive level sponsorship behind the scenes, etc.).
  • Call people out (publicly or privately, as called for in the situation) for perpetuating the status quo, microaggressions or worse, typically without knowing it.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

As an executive, you wear many hats beyond simply overseeing a department. As a member of the executive team, or as some might refer to it, the C-Suite, it is my responsibility to see the big picture at all times. That involves everything from setting company-wide strategies, making tough decisions that impact the business and individual contributors, and constantly thinking about ways to motivate all of our employees and for the company and its people to continue on their growth trajectory.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

That it’s easy. That you have more “free time” because you are “just focused on the strategy.” As an executive, you’re not only responsible for the strategy — and seeing the big picture all of the time — you’re responsible for the success of your organization and each individual’s fulfillment and growth in their role. Just because you are no longer only executing tactics, does not mean you have more free time. There is nothing easy when it comes to the role of an executive.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Female executives who exhibit compassion or may be more soft spoken are often underestimated in the boardroom. And those that exhibit individualistic traits or have a more assertive way of communicating are criticized for not having enough compassion. Either way, female executives are evaluated — and criticized — in ways that their male counterparts are not. As a female executive who prefers a more modest approach to communicating a perspective or opinion, I am aware of the unique criticisms that I face. But, in my experience, sometimes it is better to take your time seeding perspectives and quietly building your reputation as an expert and powerful leader vs. forcing your point of view. My M.O. is to start out quiet and contemplative and seed ideas and my expertise at soft skills and diplomacy behind the scenes. Eventually I step in as an equal and expert at the table typically catching powerful men off guard in the process.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

I started at TripleLift in January of 2020. Naive to what was about to happen (as we all were), I spent almost an entire month traveling for meetings, not realizing that I was using up half of the in-person time I had left being away from colleagues. Over the last year, I have integrated into a company without being in person and expanded my team by hiring people that I have never met in person. I never could have imagined my first year as TripleLift’s Chief Privacy Officer and General Counsel being spent on Zoom calls from my living room

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

The role of an executive leader requires an individual who is decisive and able to operate — and make decisions — under extreme pressure. A successful executive never loses sight of the 50,000-foot view, no matter how tactical or minutiae filled their day gets. And, importantly, an executive leader has the ability to motivate others at all times, no matter what issues their day may have been plagued with, the best executives compartmentalize so they can put their team and the company first.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

So much of what I’ve already discussed.

Embrace self-promotion and team promotion even if it makes you uncomfortable. Use different tactics to push changes to the status quo — particularly the idea that the only people who should be promoted are loud, articulate, aggressive and skilled at “Shark Tank” style meetings. You pass over so much great talent if that’s the only talent you value or if you don’t invest in mentorship for burgeoning talent that just needs a little extra help or encouragement. I push publicly, privately, passive aggressively, and throw down. Take your time building relationships and seeding your unique personality as an executive and leader. They always say “first impressions matter” but don’t feel like you have to be completely understood and heard on day one.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I have never forgotten the mentorship that I received early on in my career. I make it a point to mentor young women coming into the space and ensure that they have what they need to succeed. Whether that’s helping them to find the confidence to speak up and lean into opportunities, advocating for equal pay for women, or offering guidance when it comes to taking the next step in their career, I want to make sure that every young woman has the tools to succeed.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

There are three very important things that I wish someone told me before I started my career. First, it’s all about perception and motivation. You can be the smartest person in the room but you need to convince people you’re smart, that they should want to listen to you, and want to work with you. Second, have confidence in your abilities. No one knows everything. Everyone is faking it to a certain extent. This isn’t a knock on men, but I find so many of them truly believe they’re experts after they’ve spent a few hours reading up on an issue and feel comfortable speaking about it. You rarely see women do that. We spend days, months, even years developing expertise and we get hit with one question we don’t know the answer to and still question our expertise even when we are leading experts. And, third, if you’re an expert in a field, it’s not all about your intelligence (or the depth and breadth of your knowledge), it’s about your ability to synthesize that intelligence and knowledge into digestible and relatable content.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

This movement is already well underway, but I’d like to see it come to fruition with laws — equal opportunity and pay for women. We’ve made it so far with women in the workplace, and it’s so incredible seeing so many women in positions of power — just look at our current Vice President- but there is so much more to be done, and until every single woman across every single race has the same opportunities as men and is making the same amount as a man in the same position, this movement needs to continue. It’s not only women that need to stand up for equality, but men too, and I hope one day we see us all marching in the streets for equal and fair pay.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” ― John Bunyan

There are too many self-centered people out there who rarely help others, particularly in technology. And when they do it’s only because they think it will help themselves. Or people compartmentalize their “charity” work and separate it from their career. I don’t — I make it a point to not compartmentalize and never expect to be paid back. I spend a number of hours a week mentoring, I’m always available for my current and former teammates and industry colleagues and I go out of my way to connect people — for jobs, career growth, advice, etc. It makes me feel better to help people with no strings attached. I believe in good karma.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

This question is a no-brainer — Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a true icon in my particular space, but for the country as a whole. Sadly, lunch or breakfast with her is no longer in the cards, but I would have loved to pick her brain on law in general, but more importantly, women in the workplace and gender equality. I think hearing her speak on issues that I too am passionate about would be awe-inspiring and something I could then pass on to some of those other generations that I mentor. What a legend she was, and we were so lucky to have her in the position she was in. Meeting her would truly have been a dream!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.

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