As a child, Brown-Philpot didn’t grow up aspiring to be chief executive officer of a technology company -- things just lined up that way.
Brown-Philpot wanted to be an accountant and while interning at a firm in the 1990s, she found herself working with a partner who happened to be African-American. “I was like, ‘OK, there’s a black person who is a partner at this firm. This is something that I can accomplish.’”
But with more experience and education under her belt, her drive and ambition grew, too.
She wanted more, so she did more. Brown-Philpot found herself back in school, graduating from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in 1997; working a stint as an accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers; and later becoming an investment banker at Goldman Sachs in 1999.
Still, that was not enough for the future CEO hopeful. She went back to college, getting her graduate degree from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. She would soon join Google in 2003, where she met her mentor - Sheryl Sandberg. Brown-Philpot founded the Black Googlers Network (BGN), an employee resource group with a mission to cultivate Black leaders at Google and beyond, empower the communities where we operate, and transform the tech industry to reflect the diversity of its users.
Then after nine years at Google, she became the CEO of TaskRabbit, a company that hires freelancers for odd jobs.
In an article that appeared on NY Times, Brown-Philpot explains what it like “Being a Black Woman in Silicon Valley.” She also discussed her early upbringing, which ultimately fueled her fire for greatness.
Tell me about your upbringing.
I grew up on the West Side of Detroit. My mom raised my brother and me by herself. We didn’t have a lot. My mother worked a job that didn’t pay a whole lot of money, so she had to make a lot of sacrifices. But she prioritized education. She would fall asleep helping us with our homework at night. She always taught us that no one can take your learning away from you. And with that, you can go anywhere and do anything.
So I focused on getting good grades. I wasn’t always a popular kid. I didn’t have the best clothes. But I was a smart kid. It’s cool to be smart in Silicon Valley. It’s not cool to be smart on the West Side of Detroit.
And then you went to Penn.
I had no idea what an Ivy League school was. I was a fish out of water. My high school was 98 percent black. Penn was 6 percent black. So I had to [a] find community. I had to figure out how was I going to succeed in this environment where most people don’t look like me, and don’t come from where I came from.
Without disparaging all accounting firms, what did you see that made you realize that wasn’t your path?
Look, I still have that degree. I still love accounting. I just wanted to do more. So I went to work at Goldman Sachs in investment banking. You can’t graduate from Wharton and not spend any time in banking. In that process, I worked on a bunch of tech deals in 1999. There were all these users and eyeballs, and these companies are going public at higher valuations. So I got very fascinated with how come this industry is generating so much wealth — what is this entrepreneurship thing?
You’re one of the few black executives in Silicon Valley. How has race shaped your professional experience?
I get discriminated against all the time. No one thinks I’m a C.E.O. I sit on a plane and tell somebody, “Well, I run this company.” They’re like, “What? You run a company?” And it’s like shocking. You could imagine someone else sitting in that seat where no one would be surprised.
Starting the Black Googler Network was sort of selfish in the beginning because there just weren’t enough black people at Google, and I just wanted to get more. We have a recruiting problem and a hiring problem. There is a whole community of people that we haven’t tried to hire, so let’s go try to hire them, and then we can all be happy.
How was managing in India different than in the United States?
I had to adapt my style. Google, at least in the U.S., was very consensus-driven. In India, it was a lot more directive. My style is to naturally be consensus-driven, so I had to immediately adapt.
My Detroit upbringing taught me how to be directive. I had to defend myself from bullies. So I knew how to speak up. So I just had to go back to my roots.
Why did you leave Google?
I came back from India, and I was running the operations team of about 600 people globally. I’d been there for nine years. I had a corner office. And I was sitting there, floor-to-ceiling windows, two sides. My dog was there. I had a table. I had a couch, an assistant. And as I sat there, I realized I needed to move on and do something else. This is not it.
You may read the interview in its entirety over on NY Times.