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Women in Business: Robin Goldberg, Chief Experience Officer of the Minerva Project

Robin Goldberg is the Chief Marketing Officer of the Minerva Project, a groundbreaking venture to reinvent the university experience for the world's brightest and most motivated students.
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Robin Goldberg is the Chief Experience Officer of the Minerva Project, a groundbreaking venture to reinvent the university experience for the world's brightest and most motivated students. Prior to joining Minerva, Robin spent more than five years at Blurb in key executive roles as Senior Vice President, International and Senior Vice President, Marketing and Business Development. During her tenure, Blurb grew to be a recognized leader in the self-publishing industry shipping more than 1.8 million books in 2011 to 70 countries. As head of International, Robin led Blurb's geographic expansion into Europe, Australia, Canada and Latin America and was responsible for delivering more than 50% of Blurb's revenue. Prior to joining Blurb in 2007, Robin spent four years as Senior Vice President Global Marketing for Lonely Planet, leading all marketing and business development activities and aggressively driving sales revenue up 50% over a three-year period in a category that was without growth. Robin redefined what marketing meant to the organization, driving the first consumer segmentation model, developing a brand positioning, and introducing guerrilla marketing and innovative publicity. Previously Robin held several key marketing roles in technology as well as consumer brand companies such as Nestle, Clorox and ClickAction. She holds an MBA from The Wharton School and a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of California, Berkeley.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I have my parents to thank as they instilled a strong work ethic and set of values that have grounded me throughout my life. As soon as I turned sixteen, I took a job so that I could buy a pair of boots. Seems silly now, but I've never forgotten that time as I learned early on that nothing was going to be handed to me. To this day, I have never felt entitled and have always believed that if I want to achieve and accomplish meaningful things, I have to work for it. As a leader, I still expect to work hard and value those that are willing to do the same.

I've also learned that success is about much more than what one can accomplish alone. It is about empowering a team to come together to do tremendous things, sometimes exceeding even the most ridiculously high expectations. Experience has proven time and time again that leading a talented, passionate group to achieve a major accomplishment is so much more rewarding then achieving alone. I look to surround myself with individuals with the same strong drive and willingness to roll up their sleeves to make things happen.

How did your previous employment experience aid your position at Minerva Project?
I started my marketing career in a coveted brand assistant role at a traditional consumer packaged goods company. It took only a year to realize that I needed something more empowering and more innovative - that I had to be at a place where I could take more risks. I also quickly learned that I love building something from the ground up and have done that now at each organization I've been a part of. At Minerva, I bring together my marketing foundation, the hunger to build something extraordinary, the willingness to do the unexpected and unconventional, and the desire to make a lasting difference in the world.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
There are three things that have been key for me in maintaining the balance: setting priorities, blurring the boundaries, and having an amazing husband. I have always wanted to play a key role in the lives of my two boys, so I have set my priorities and hold them sacred. Family dinners are a given when I'm in town, and I've been known to fly back from the other side of the world to get to a musical performance or a school event. I have never been willing to miss an occasion when I knew that looking out and "seeing mom" in the audience would make a difference. I wouldn't trade those smiles for anything.

I've also included my kids in my work life as much as possible. When the boys were little, their images were on the cover of a software package. When I was at a travel publisher, they both contributed to a book that we published (and they were credited). Today, they serve as my favorite in-house focus group when I need to understand the perspectives of high school and college students. I've let them into my professional life versus trying to achieve balance by keeping business and family separate.

I've traveled a lot in my career and, whenever possible, I found ways to take the family on the road with me. This meant they had a chance to experience international travel and we had the opportunity to experience some magical family moments. The fact that they could be a part of my professional travel experiences blurred the lines of work/life in a good way.

All this said, it couldn't be done without an amazing husband who believes in the same family values, helps to handle the daily routines as well as the life maintenance stuff, and is willing to do what it takes to help hold it all together.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Minerva Project?
A highlight and absolute joy is the people that I get to work with each day in an effort to reimagine higher education. Many comment on what an audacious task we are undertaking, and I can only respond that it is the people involved in this effort that make it an engaging, thought-provoking, exhilarating, and rewarding place to come to work each day. I think back on the past fifteen months and marvel at how much we have accomplished as we have hit or exceeded every milestone we set out for ourselves.

Starting from scratch is always challenging and we hold ourselves to an extraordinarily high standard in all we do. We refuse to compromise. In our unique case, we must have this discipline as we are building an unparalleled undergraduate experience for the brightest and most talented students in the world. When you're dedicated to educating students, you have to get it right.

Why do you think hybrid universities that offer online and offline learning are growing in popularity?
Our society is in desperate need of a solution that helps to make higher education more accessible and affordable. Student debt is at its highest level ever at more than $1 trillion dollars in the U.S. alone. But, what makes it worse is higher education isn't delivering the expected results, and many students are graduating ill prepared to take on the jobs of today - let alone the jobs of the future that are still to be defined.

As change is critical for our collective future, there is more attention being given to how technology might positively change the face of higher education enabling more effective teaching, better learning outcomes and reduced costs. The big wins come from leveraging technology to improve on a current system versus just replacing it. At Minerva, we're focused on delivering a superior education for a fraction of the cost, making it a model that many are watching closely.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I've had the pleasure of working with wonderful colleagues, yet throughout my career I've looked around the senior ranks and felt there just weren't enough women. It's not about quotas or equality - it's about ensuring that any team has a balance of perspectives and I find (in general) that men and women bring different perspectives to the conversation. The best teams I've been a part of include a mix of men and women and a mutual respect around the table so that all voices are equal and valid.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
The fact that the book has received so much attention is reflective of the reinforcement and encouragement women need to feel comfortable taking their rightful place at the table. I hope the momentum from the Lean In movement encourages women in any role at any level in each organization to feel confident and empowered to find their voice.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I consider myself lucky as my first mentor took me under her wing when I was just 22 years old, in my first job out of college. We were in a male-dominated, technology company, and she helped give me the guidance and the confidence to speak up and stand up for myself. She continues to be a mentor and dear friend to this day. More recently, I've had the pleasure and opportunity to work with two exceptional female CEOs. Both were incredibly supportive and gave me advice and guidance to help me succeed in executive roles and to grow in my career. The most significant guidance was around communication. To this day I continue to put much of the advice I was given into practice. Knowing how much I benefited from the mentors in my life, I'm thrilled that I now play that role for others and hope that I can support their success the way that my mentors supported mine.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
The female leaders I admire most are the quiet ones whose names you won't find on the front page of newspapers and magazines. They are not self-promoting their successes, but instead following a passion, using their strong and persuasive voices to inspire change, and empowering those they lead to accomplish incredible things whether in government, non-profits or businesses. The best leaders are known to pass all the accolades to their teams - and so it is those that have stayed away from the spotlight (yet made a real difference) that I most admire.

What are your hopes for the future of the Minerva Project?
I couldn't be more excited that we are welcoming our Founding Class in September 2014. It is another milestone on our path to make an extraordinary undergraduate experience accessible and affordable to every deserving student from anywhere in the world. My greatest hope is that, with the preparation and education we provide our students, they will do exceptional things as global leaders and innovators to make this world a better place for us all.

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