Harvard in Tech
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Harvard in Tech

Harvard in Tech Spotlight: Melissa McSherry, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Data, Security, and Identify Products at Visa

Melissa McSherry, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Data, Security, and Identify Products at Visa

I spoke with Melissa McSherry, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Data, Security, and Identify Products at Visa. Melissa joined Visa over 5 years ago after her former Capital One colleague, Jack Forestell — now Visa’s Chief Product Officer — asked her to consider a role at the company. When he joined, Melissa was pregnant with twins and was not yet ready for new opportunities but they reconnected a year later when the timing was better to revisit the opportunity. When Melissa spoke with other Visa team members in her interview process, she was struck by the level of creativity and agency she could have and that the company’s culture embraced. One person even asked her to design her ideal role. Melissa was also incredibly inspired by the mission of using data to democratize credit access globally. She had done this prior at Capital One but mostly at a national scale and felt that Visa’s global reach would enable her to create even more impact. Responsibly priced credit empowers more people financially to invest in their homes, children’s education, and businesses, which in turn, raises the global standard of living. Melissa was incredibly excited about the impacts of Visa’s work in truly making the world a better place and decided to join.

Melissa shared her advice for prioritization, collaboration, leadership, organizational structure, and fulfillment.

Sort inbound requests effectively. Whenever a new task, email, or request comes up, Melissa quickly sorts it into either the “fast” bucket or the “think further” bucket. Melissa then motors through items in the “fast” bucket right away. For items in the “think further” bucket, Melissa blocks at least 1.5 hours each day to circle back on them. In this way, she is deliberate about her use of time, ensuring that she never mistakenly looks at one thing multiple times (or misses anything) and that she does not spend too much time simply reacting and has sufficient time to plan strategically for the long term.

Build empathy. In approaching any collaboration, always aim to understand the other person’s goals. Travel the distance to bridge the gap between your respective perspectives. The further you can go in bridging that gap, the faster you can get to shared progress.

Always be calm and positive. Regardless of the circumstance, there is rarely, if ever, merit to being explicitly angry. Positivity is always the best option. You can be passionate and clearly state your opinions without losing your cool. In keeping a balanced demeanor, you can better navigate disagreements and challenges internally and externally and build stronger relationships throughout.

Prioritize goal alignment over organization structure. Make sure there is a shared sense of what the team and the company are trying to accomplish. Be clear on what the highest leverage activities are and what framework people should use to prioritize their inbound requests and different projects. Regardless of the exact organizational structure, this goal based alignment will lead to long term success.

Decouple business and technical managers. In more technical organizations where subject matter expertise is more needed, create an organizational structure that balances the evaluation of the quality of the work while also making effective decisions around the prioritization of resources. The former should be done by someone with great technical competence. These people can better evaluate technical work and can help motivate, guide, and retain technical people. The latter should be done by someone with great business competence. While sometimes the same person can be skilled in both areas, commanding a high level of expertise in both spheres simultaneously is rare and more often than not, it is best to decouple these different responsibilities. Agile structures can support this type of decoupling where each person has a different reporting (technical) and agile (business) project manager. It is crucial that both the technical and business experts have a deep respect for each other’s value.

Have a perspective on what you want to do and why. Understand what makes you happy and what is the higher purpose of what you are trying to accomplish. With this understanding of yourself, you are better able to filter through opportunities and find the job, team, and company most aligned with you. People are always at their best when they are happy. Making decisions based on your happiness function helps you perform and feel your best and create the most impact for your company and for the world.

Melissa realized that having a manager she respected and doing work with global impact was crucial. At Visa, she has found both in Jack Forestell, Visa’s Chief Product Officer, and Visa’s incredible work in leveraging data to democratize access to credit.

Editing since he was not CPO at the time that he joined/reached out to Melissa



Harvard in Tech is Harvard University’s official alumni organization for technology

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