As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Larissa Rydin.
Larissa Rydin joined the Tiltify team in 2020 as the Vice President of Strategic Partnerships. With her, she brings over 20 years of experience in marketing, corporate development, and nonprofit leadership. Prior to joining Tiltify, she held positions at ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Autism Speaks and the Alzheimer’s Association, and United Way Worldwide.
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?
My career path has certainly been a winding road. From my first biology class at the age of 14, I just knew that I wanted to be a geneticist. Unfortunately, I had to work a full-time job in college and could not balance the course load in my junior year. After I graduated with an economics degree, I spent nearly a decade in sales and marketing in the hospitality sector. Then one day I stumbled upon a job posting for a local nonprofit that completely changed my trajectory. I spent the next decade in leadership roles at various large non-profit organizations planning high-profile fundraising events and working with Fortune 500 companies to develop their social impact strategies. Most recently, I held the role of Vice President of Strategic and Brand Partnerships at United Way Worldwide where I oversaw the Innovation, Foundations, International Giving, Cause Marketing and Business Development teams. It is through that work that I was introduced to Tiltify. I was ready to use the skills I had acquired throughout my career to transform the way charities and brands drive social good and awareness in this increasingly digital world.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The most interesting thing thus far at Tiltify happened about 6 weeks into my employment. Our CEO asked me to support a fundraising event on our platform. He invited me to a meeting titled “Tech Review”, so I thought it was a meeting with our staff to review the technology requirements for the event. I joined the zoom call to find Steve Buscemi, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Kevin James, Rob Schneider, and a number of other celebrities waiting on the other end. That solidified my notion that this new role was going to be a fun new adventure.
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?
This is certainly not the first mistake I made, but definitely one that has stuck with me. I was overseeing the Tampa office for ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital at the time. A member of the executive team called me and said that the CEO was flying into Orlando and needed someone to pick him up at the airport and take him to his hotel. Orlando is over an hour away from Tampa, but I agreed nonetheless. I had never met Rick Shadyac before, and I was incredibly nervous. I waited for him at baggage claim and successfully ushered him to my car. I plotted the directions to his hotel and started on my route. I made the right turn to exit the airport parking lot. A few moments later, he very calmly pointed out that we were going the wrong way down a one way street. I immediately turned around and started going the right way. Nevertheless, I was mortified but made the best of the remainder of the car ride. Despite that, and for reasons I still don’t understand, he always requested that I be the one to pick him up from the airport.
The lessons learned in that story are to always watch where you are going and to brush off your mistakes and make the best out of any situation.
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 I have been blessed with many great bosses and mentors throughout my career, the person who had the most influence on my success was my father. He was a welder with a 7th-grade education, but he wanted a better life for me. He, along with my mother, sacrificed and saved to send me to the best private schools. When I got my first job — as the mouse at Chuck E. Cheese — he sat me down for one of his typical lectures. This one, however, has stayed with me my entire life. He said to work hard, even when my boss wasn’t looking. He said to take pride in my work no matter how mundane the task feels. And most importantly, he said to be grateful and honored that someone selected me as the best person for the job, and that I should never take that for granted.
I lost my father in January from COVID-19. I continue to work hard every day to make him proud.
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?
I was a competitive dancer throughout my childhood, so I have always had an emotional connection to music. Whenever I am stressed, upset, or need to clear my head, I turn on Spotify and take a quick break and reset. For those high stakes meetings, I do have a go-to song. Michael Buble’s Feeling Good always puts me in the right headspace to go win a deal or face a difficult negotiation.
I do recall one time where I was pumping myself up for a big meeting in San Francisco. I snuck into the bathroom a few minutes before the meeting, put on my headphones, and turned on my song. I was really nervous so I started to sing along. And let me note that I am a terrible singer. I was feeling good (pun intended) and walked out to realize that there had been another woman in the stall next to me. She exited the stall and gave me a grin as we stood side by side washing our hands. I walked into the meeting a few minutes later, and she was there sitting at the table. I won that deal and we became good friends. We still laugh about that experience.
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?
It is important for all teams, but even more critical for executive teams, to be composed of individuals with diverse backgrounds. This should not be limited only to race, age, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. It is about the melding of different experiences. The executive team develops the strategy for the organization. You need to bring diverse points of view to the table in order to better identify blind spots and evaluate an approach from alternate perspectives. Equally as important is the need to create a safe place for these perspectives to be shared. Everyone should feel like they have a voice and the ability to challenge ideas. And most importantly, the team has to trust each other and accept that the best ideas are not often your ideas — but the amalgamation of different approaches.
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.
This is a hard question for me to answer as I think we still have so far to go in order to reach that goal. To create a truly inclusive society, we have to eliminate exclusion. We need to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard, and everyone has an equal pathway to success. To do this we need to address the historical biases that have contributed to segregation and discrimination. And we need to educate ourselves and be more tolerant and understanding toward people who are different from us.
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 an 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?
Very simply put, the executive team is a group of leaders that oversee decisions for the organization.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being an executive. Can you explain what you mean?
Here are two myths I am more than happy to bust!
Myth: Executives have all of the answers
Let me assure you, we do not have all of the answers. There is a ton that we don’t know, and we know it. We rely heavily on our teams to teach us new things, push us, and shape the strategies that we implement. We cannot do it alone. But we are in the role because of our experiences and our knowledge. And because someone, somewhere puts trust in us to run their organization.
Myth: We have a glamorous life
Our lives are far from glamorous. Being an executive often requires long hours, and stressful decisions that impact bottom lines and people’s livelihoods. There are many days where I sit in front of my computer, scarfing down a box of Wheat Thins as my only meal that day. I miss more of my kid’s sporting events than I should, but I do make sure to always kiss them goodnight, even if they have been asleep for hours. It is hard work, you have to make sacrifices, and it doesn’t happen overnight.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I do believe that female executives face a unique set of challenges. The most common obstacle is that they are not treated equally. Whether that means a lower pay or persistent gender stereotypes and microaggressions, women are often put on an uneven playing field. This is a challenge I have faced throughout my career. I can recall countless meetings with Fortune 500 companies, where I attended alongside a male subordinate. If we met with a male executive, he would inevitably assume that my male co-worker was the boss, and often only make eye contact with him.
As a result, and this is one that plagues me, many women often struggle to form an accurate self-assessment and feel like they are in a place they don’t belong. They can exhibit self-doubt and put more pressure on themselves not to fail. While I do not love the term “imposter syndrome” as it implies that it is a disease and not the result of one’s environment, I agree with the sentiment. My brain often convinces me that I am in a place I do not belong or that I am not qualified to handle a task or job. These ideas are certainly not true as I have the qualifications and experience. Yet after years of being underestimated and overlooked, on the hard days, it is easy to let the doubt creep in.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Making the jump from the nonprofit sector into the for-profit tech sector was a huge leap. While I continue to work with charities and brands, I have more knowledge about digital platforms, content creators, and live streaming than I ever thought I would. Despite that, the biggest difference for me was moving from highly structured, established, nonprofits with thousands of employees all over the world to a nimble and growing technology start up. I have felt the absence of comprehensive strategic plans and a policy and procedure for everything. But in this lies the appeal and excitement as I get to establish those policies and chart TIltify’s path for growth. I have the unique privilege of taking the best practices from every place I have worked and combining them into something great.
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?
I believe the biggest difference between a manager and an executive is the level of staff they oversee and the scale to which their decisions influence the organization. That said, I find the more important distinction to be between a manager and a leader. While managers have people work for them, leaders inspire people to follow them. A good executive needs to do both.
A strong leader must lead with honesty and integrity and be comfortable making decisions. They need to build confidence in their teams and inspire them to follow them on the journey. In order to do this, they must articulate a clear vision and make sure their teams understand their role in the bigger picture. They must not be afraid to challenge the status quo, and should advocate for those they oversee. And most importantly, they must have strong communication skills and possess the ability to build both vertical and horizontal relationships within their organization.
A strong manager, on the other hand, needs to be able to execute the vision. They need to break down the roadmap for their team and direct day to day efforts. They need to review resources and establish policies and procedures. And in doing all of this, make sure they look after their people by listening to and understanding their needs.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
The best advice I can give to women leaders is “don’t be afraid”. Don’t be afraid to share your ideas, don’t be afraid to take risks, don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo, and don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself and those you oversee. And most importantly, don’t let years of hearing the words “you won’t be able to” translate into “I can’t. When they underestimate you, go out there and prove them wrong.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Having worked in the non-profit sector for nearly 20 years, social good has always been part of my charge. From raising funds to cure childhood cancer at St. Jude, to leading United Way’s global fundraising efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic, to developing social impact programs with the world’s top companies, I can confidently say that my work has helped make the world a better place.
One of the most meaningful programs I created was with Lyft and DoorDash. Launched in 2018, I co-developed the Ride United program to address unmet transportation needs for individuals and families in the US. The program has provided millions of grocery deliveries to families in need, as well as free rides to job interviews, voting booths and medical appointments.
Despite the impact of those programs, I would say that my true legacy lives with those I have managed. It is one thing to be great at your job, but it is another to pass along those skills to others. I look to understand what motivates each member of my team, to help them grow and develop, to inspire them, to push them, and to teach them what I have learned throughout my career. It is through that work, that we as leaders, can truly make a positive impact on the world.
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.
Every morning when my daughter leaves for the school bus I remind her to compliment three people that day. I came up with this “mission” as a way to teach her to be kind and always find the good in people. The compliments must be genuine and sincere. And they must be shared aloud with that person. Every day when she comes home, we talk about the compliments she gave that day. It is a simple gesture that can truly make someone’s day. You never know what that person is going through or how one compliment can change the trajectory of their day. So if I were to inspire a movement it would be that. Try every day to find three things you like about someone — it can be a stranger or someone you know — it can be a personality trait or a piece of clothing — it doesn’t matter — as long as you share it with them.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I am not sure if it is an official “life lesson quote” but a phrase that I love is “Just keep swimming”. Whenever I am faced with a barrier or a situation where I feel I can’t go on, I say the phrase to myself in the voice of Dori from Finding Nemo. Just Keep Swimming. Just Keep Swimming. Just Keep Swimming. Swimming. Swimming. It is a simple reminder that I can get through it. Sometimes I may need to swim harder, sometimes I may need to slow down, but if I just keep swimming and don’t give up, I will reach my goal.
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
Having always loved the field of genetics, I have been following the development and launch of the various COVID-19 vaccines. At the center of that work is Kathrin Jansen, the head of vaccine research and development at Pfizer. I would love to learn more about her work at Pfizer, her experience as a female executive in the pharmaceutical industry, and what it was like racing the clock to bring a vaccine to market to stop a global pandemic.