Women in Business Q&A: Heather Gordon Friedland, VP, Local and Seller Experience, eBay

Heather Gordon Friedland is Vice President of Local and Seller Experience at eBay. She is the shopkeeper responsible for building products that help individuals and businesses sell and connect with buyers in eBay's global marketplace. Friedland has more than 17 years of experience in product management and creating excellent customer experiences. She has worked on a wide range of consumer technology products at both startups, beginning at Jump! Networks, and some of the most iconic companies in the industry, including Microsoft and now eBay. Recently, Silicon Valley Business Journal named Friedland as one of its Women of Influence in Silicon Valley for 2015. Friedland graduated from Cornell University, where she majored in Communications with a concentration in Business & E-commerce.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Many of the guiding forces for my career have come from my family. My mother has been a tremendous support. She took time off to raise my siblings and me, and returned to full-time work midway through our schooling. My mother's passion and encouragement infused me with a drive to pursue both a family and a challenging career.

With children of my own, motherhood has given me perspective on my priorities. Now more than ever, I want my time away from home to be impactful, so I choose the path of greater responsibility.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at eBay?
In the early days of the Internet, I was fascinated with how the Internet was changing the way I communicated. During my senior year at Cornell, I joined a group of students building a startup called Jump! Networks (www.jump.com), a personal information manager web site with free email, calendaring, contacts, group collaboration and synchronization with your device. I played a typical Product Manager role, working across all aspects of the product and business, including user experience, design, advertising, business development and product.

Following the acquisition of Jump! Networks by Microsoft, I relocated to Silicon Valley to work as a program manager on large scale global products, first within the MSN Hotmail team and then more broadly. I focused on solutions to complex challenges facing consumers and businesses including email, calendaring, group collaboration, Web search, Windows Desktop Search and user generated content and communities. These experiences armed me with a diverse set of leadership, product and software learnings. Key lessons learned included the importance of leadership, teamwork, listening to customers, conducting research, building global software at scale, strategy, and a deep understanding of business, all which prepared me for the challenges at eBay.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at eBay?
I've had the opportunity to lead several products key to the growth of eBay. I started driving our Buyer Experience from search to product pages. An efficient interface is critical to driving sales on a commerce experience, so we made it easier to discover and buy. Now as Vice President of Local and Seller Experience, we are identifying ways to make eBay an attractive platform to sell, whether you're an individual trying to sell something out of your home, or a large business looking to grow and reach our global audience of 157 million active buyers.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Become an expert and identify what you're most passionate about. Find roles where you will exercise your strengths and where your skills are needed most. Build and seek out teams where the people are smart, supportive, and passionate and inspire you to learn. And, no matter how hard a particular career decision may seem, choose the more difficult path; you will never look back and regret it.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Inside every product leader is a powerful, almost instinctual, connection to her/his customers. This means living, eating and breathing your product and sweating the details. Great product ideas and execution come from working on something that you are truly passionate about, engaging other team members, and staying closely connected to customers, research, and iterating upon the feedback.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Having two young children is a challenge, but my husband is a dedicated parent to our children and partner to me. We both have demanding jobs so we have childcare and a supportive community of family and friends. What's most important to me is to be present for the moments most important to my children. I go online to work at night when everyone is asleep and make time in my work schedule to attend important events whether it's a show, a volunteer event, or an after school activity. On weekends, we unplug to focus on family activities based on our children's interests. The key is finding ways to prioritize and manage both work and personal priorities in a flexible manner.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Women need big opportunities where they can make a visible impact to be recognized by the organization. Women need to volunteer themselves for big challenges and take on roles which will, in turn, offer more opportunities to grow.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have a number of mentors that I enjoy speaking to on a regular basis, including colleagues, friends, and former managers. Each one has played an important role in my life and offers a valuable perspective in helping me develop my views. It's been important to have a sounding board and an opportunity to brainstorm ideas with people whose perspectives I trust. In parallel, this group of mentors has also opened new career opportunities for me over the years. In return, I pay it forward. I mentor others across technology and business functions, all in different stages of their careers. I enjoy building relationships and helping to open doors for others. Most importantly I learn a lot through these discussions as well.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Female leaders like Sheryl Sandberg have publicly highlighted the challenges that women often face in the workplace. This advice is even more important for women in technical roles where there are even fewer female leaders. Within eBay, I admire Beth Axelrod, our SVP of Human Resources, who has been committed to developing the female leaders at eBay Inc. She and her team created the eBay Women's Initiative Network to drive awareness, training and new best practices that have successfully increased the women in leadership roles within the company.

What do you want eBay to accomplish in the next year?
Our goal at eBay is to do right by our customers through delivering fun and engaging shopping and selling experiences. Part of this is simplifying the commerce experience to the most important and most useful capabilities, and optimizing across the devices used to transact on eBay. We want to break down the barriers of traditional commerce and allow buyers and sellers to connect at the speed of thought. The future of commerce means continuing to make eBay the fun and easy platform to shop and sell!