Christian Sutherland-Wong is Chief Operating Officer of Glassdoor and a keynote speaker for Product Management Festival 2018. With a background in management consulting and banking, Christian shares his lessons learned from his time at Bain, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and a 10-day silent meditation retreat in the jungles of Malaysia.
Could you tell us about your professional journey and how did you come to be COO at Glassdoor?
I began my career in management consulting at Bain & Company in Sydney, Australia. At the time, I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do with my career but figured Bain would be a good place to learn a ton and get the opportunity to see the way executives make decisions. I also liked that Bain was a global firm and gave the opportunity for consultants to travel. In my second year at Bain I transferred to the San Francisco office and had a blast.
Once I decided I was going to go to business school, I left Bain and worked for a non-profit helping social entrepreneurs build companies that would employ people with disadvantages in mainstream employment (e.g. disability, mental illness, homelessness).
It was during this time I began to appreciate how important having a job was for someone. It was not just about getting paid. A job ensured people had social interactions and drove their sense of self worth.
It was during my years at Harvard Business School that my eyes were opened up to the world of consumer tech. I’ll never forget that when I left Australia in 2007, hardly anyone knew what Facebook was. When I came back for the summer break of 2008, EVERYONE was on Facebook. There was a term back in the day – “web 2.0” – to describe the wave of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter etc. Many thought it may just be a fad but I could see that it was fundamentally going to change the way people interacted and communicated with one another, and I wanted in!
After business school, I got an opportunity to join LinkedIn as the first Business Operations hire, and I worked on special projects for the CFO. It leveraged a lot of my consulting skills, but I hadn’t left management consulting to just do internal consulting.
It was pretty clear to me that for a tech company, the product team defines what the company does. And as people often say, the PM is the CEO of the product. So I got close to the product leadership and let them know that I’d love to become a PM, and a year later a position opened up to work on LinkedIn’s Premium Subscriptions products, and I jumped at it.
I was fortunate to get into product right at the time LinkedIn was starting to really gather momentum. In the space of a few years, we were able to more than 10x the size of LinkedIn’s Premium Subscription business and that meant I was now running a massive business line with a big team of PMs, designers and engineers. It was an awesome experience.
From the day we met, my wife and I had always talked about doing a trip around the world for a year. And after an amazing 5-year run at LinkedIn, it felt like the time was right, and we went traveling around the world for a year!
When we came back, I sought out “General Manager” role opportunities where I’d own product as well as the broader business. An opportunity at Glassdoor came up to lead monetization (both product as well as the broader business line) and it felt like a good place to go.
As Glassdoor has grown, I’ve had the opportunity to play a bigger role at the company and about a year ago, I became COO. As COO, I oversee most of the day-to-day operations of Glassdoor. I get to work with the product team, but also with many other teams, from marketing to sales to customer support that make Glassdoor successful. I love it.
As I reflect back, I think from an early stage my goal was always to get to run a company. Being a PM, the CEO of your product, as well as now being COO, are natural steps along that journey.
Could you share a couple things you love and find challenging about your job?
I love that Glassdoor is a mission-driven company, and that our mission is to help people everywhere find a job they love. As I mentioned before, helping people get jobs is very meaningful to me because I know how deeply important a job is to people.
I also love that working in product and tech allows you to define new things in the world. Nothing gives me a bigger thrill than looking over a person’s shoulder and see them using a product that I built. That is awesome.
At times I’ve found it challenging to find balance in my life. Often the most fun companies are the fastest moving ones, but that usually, in turn, requires you to give it your all. But I’ve certainly gotten much better at finding balance, and I have to say that having kids has demanded that I make time for what matters most, my family.
A few years back, you took a year off to travel the world with your wife. What prompted the trip at that time in your lives and has it affected how you approach life personally or professionally?
Yeah, this was something my wife and I had talked about doing from the moment we met. We both love to travel and had a very long bucket list of places we really wanted to visit. Around 5 years after leaving business school, we were both at points in our lives when the timing just felt right and so we took the plunge. We started the year off getting married in Vienna, then traveled eastward around the world. Most of the places we hit were pretty remote and places we would unlikely go to if it were just a standard 2-week vacation. We did a month horse riding through the steppes in Mongolia, trekked the Himalayan ranges in Bhutan, drove a 4WD through the middle of the Australian outback, sailed a yacht from the southernmost tip of Chile to Antarctica, and participated in a week-long hula-hoop retreat in Bali! Truly a once in a lifetime adventure.
One of the best things about taking time off from work is that it gives you time to think. In many ways, my 2 years at business school gave me the time to think about switching careers and doing tech. And during the year off I realized that I wanted to go beyond product and really run a broader set of company operations.
What resources do you draw inspiration from on a regular basis (personally or professionally)?
During our year-long trip, one of the things my wife and I invested time in was learning about the practice of mindfulness and meditation. This culminated in us doing a 10-day silent meditation retreat in the jungles of Malaysia. What an incredible experience. While I’m not always consistent with my meditation practice each day,
I have been able to lift my game in being present in most things that I do. I believe this makes me a better executive, a better husband and father, and better human being.
Want to hear more from Christian? He will be speaking at PMF on “Power of Transparency.” See our event schedule for more information on what’s happening at PMF2018.