Building a Career as a Systems Leader — Julie Bornstein, CEO

Systems Leadership — May 2, 2019

Robert Siegel
May 6 · 4 min read

Skate Towards the Disruption

It’s axiomatic that business leaders frequently quote the famous hockey player, Wayne Gretzky, that people and companies need to “skate to where the puck is going to be” in order to be effective. The trajectory of Bornstein’s career shows that she has followed that strategy for over two decades. When she joined Nordstrom she went to the company’s fledgling online business, and did the same at Urban Outfitters and Sephora — all while adding responsibilities and functional skillsets. Bornstein was able to learn the ins and outs of the various core retail businesses where she worked, while also understanding the limitations of incumbents as markets have changed.

Experience Matters

One of the more subtle points that Bornstein made was highlighting the value of experience in digital and physical transformations. As someone who has over 25 years of operating experience, Bornstein appreciates the history of what she has learned at both incumbent and digital native organizations, and she believes it is her and her team’s ability to balance both — and that provides unfair competitive advantage. If the leaders of incumbents have a history of expertise in merchandising and store operations, these competencies are necessary but not sufficient in a world that will increasingly and intensely combine physical and digital.

And the Story Continues…

The nine leaders who visited us this year exemplified several key attributes of Systems Leaders — the need to inspire change in others, the importance of executing at the highest level, and internally absorbing fear and managing one’s emotions when going through times of extreme uncertainty and where the future is not deterministic. Issues around combining digital and physical, transformational technological change, complex ecosystems, the increasingly important role of government, and the personal challenges of all the Systems Leaders we saw were both profound and daunting. We are looking forward to continuing to build our knowledge on this topic next year when we meet with a new set of Systems Leaders, or when we revisit previous guests and explore how their journeys have changed over time.

Systems Leadership

A course at the Stanford Graduate School of Business taught by former Chairman and CEO of GE Jeff Immelt (@JeffImmelt) and Stanford Lecturer and XSeed Partner Robert Siegel (@robsiegel)

Robert Siegel

Written by

Lecturer @StanfordGSB, Seed-stage VC @XSeedCapital, @Cal undergrad, hockey/soccer fan, husband and father

Systems Leadership

A course at the Stanford Graduate School of Business taught by former Chairman and CEO of GE Jeff Immelt (@JeffImmelt) and Stanford Lecturer and XSeed Partner Robert Siegel (@robsiegel)