Women In Business Q&A: Liz Graham, VP of Sales and Service, Wayfair

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Liz Graham/Wayfair

Liz Graham oversees customer service and sales for all of Wayfair's US and European brands. Prior to joining Wayfair, Liz served as Vice President of IT Operations at HubSpot (HUBS), the world's leading inbound marketing and sales platform, where she created a cloud-based data warehouse to facilitate access to diverse data sets. Liz also served as the Vice President of Operations with HubSpot, where she increased employee satisfaction and cultivated the unique company culture. Before HubSpot, Liz held several senior level operations roles at Comcast Corporation, Northeast Division, including Vice President of Technical Operations and Vice President of Network Operations Centers. Liz earned an A.B. from Harvard College, an M.St from Oxford University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. She lives outside of Boston with her husband and daughter.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My parents have always encouraged curiosity, and set a high bar for academic achievement for my sister and me. My mom and dad both ran their own businesses, and introduced us early on to the responsibilities that come with managing and growing an organization. They always emphasized how important it is to have the right team to support you, which has stuck with me throughout my career. Every year, I challenge myself to try something new.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Wayfair?
My career has taken many pivots - from corporate lawyer to a wide variety of roles in operations including product, network operations, technical operations, and business intelligence. The fact that I didn't have a classic "call center" background was a plus at Wayfair, because I bring different perspectives to how we solve customer issues. I love to iterate and experiment, and at Wayfair, I am surrounded by colleagues who share a similar mindset.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Wayfair?
Growing our team by more than 60% over the past year - without compromising the customer experience - has been incredibly rewarding. We opened two new locations in the U.S. and expanded our operation in Galway, Ireland, and will be bringing over 1,000 new jobs to these locations. The challenge is keeping a high standard for the customer experience as we go through such rapid growth. We have an incredible amount of internal mobility and autonomy for our Sales & Service Consultants, which means that employees often move into new roles very quickly. We keep a close eye on areas like first contact resolution and customer NPS to make sure that the influx of less-tenured employees doesn't alter our high standards.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Deepen your understanding of the data that drives your business - ecommerce is both data and technology driven. Become comfortable diving into the root cause of a problem through data analysis, or use it to spot an emerging opportunity. Be willing to experiment and fail - learn and move on. This is a fast-paced industry and first movers gain a definite advantage.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Be fearless about jumping into unfamiliar roles where you might not be an expert. I have built my career on moving into new areas of the business where I can blend my leadership expertise with a fresh perspective to tackle the challenges of the role. I've always been comfortable with a steep learning curve - and with not being the expert. Knowing what questions to ask is a great way to dive in headfirst.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I focus my time and energy on the areas of my life where it's most needed at any given time. There might be a demanding project at work that requires long nights for several weeks. Or I might escape for an extended weekend to travel with my family. My husband and I have both adjusted our careers to raise our daughter. We have a strong partnership, which has been critical as I've continued to juggle different responsibilities. I also find time for exercise and meditation nearly every day. Even if it's only 15 minutes, it's a lifesaver in terms of helping me stay focused and recharged.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
One issue is certainly the lack of diversity in the c-suite and boards of most​ companies. Developing more senior female leadership is critical for a business's success. The tremendous bottom-line results of having women leaders was shown in Quantopian's research, where women-led businesses in the Fortune 1000 outperformed the S&P 500 by 226% over a 12-year period.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Throughout my career, I have had mentors who have offered their insights and pushed my thinking on my own development areas, and where I could grow my career. Getting unvarnished feedback, especially as you progress in your career, is incredibly helpful. Don't dismiss negative feedback - if you only surround yourself with people who tell you what you want to hear, your development will stall. I mentor several women and men and being a mentor is an enriching experience - I am constantly learning from my mentees.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire women who have moved into public service and are influencing our national debate and policy-making. Two women who were attorneys with me at Davis Polk - Kirsten Gillibrand and Terri Sewell - are now serving in Congress. I recently heard Janet Yellen speak at Harvard and she is both a brilliant and an inspiring leader who has spent most of her career helping to shape national economic policy.

What do you want to accomplish in the next year?
We have an ambitious agenda to keep pace with the growth of the business by deepening our personalized sales and service experience. The two key elements to achieving that goal are: expanding our team with new hires who embody our problem-solving mindset, and enhancing our customized tools and technology platforms to provide quick access to answers and solutions for our employees.