“From the Desk of” is a new editorial series focused on the members of Round and how they lead. From startups to some of the world’s biggest tech companies, follow along to see how some of tech’s most successful technologists think about leadership within the tech industry.
Kathy Wang is passionate about the future of storytelling. She is the Head of AR Product at TikTok, where she launched Effect House, the company's first AR product that allows creators to build, publish and share effects on TikTok. Prior to joining TikTok, Wang served as the Director of Product at Magic Leap, where she led product management & marketing, monetization and strategy across the end-to-end platform. In addition, she also served as Director of Product Strategy & Business Development, during which she led strategic content partnerships with Disney, HBO, Alibaba, H&M, NBA, and The New York Times.
Wang has an expansive background in tech investing and financing, having worked at Andreessen Horowitz, focusing on consumer internet startups and Allen & Company, where she advised companies including Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Twitter, Intel, Yelp, Etsy, Universal Music Group and Activision Blizzard. We sat down with Wang for a conversation about how she leads.
Impact-driven, ambitious, collaborative.
As is the case for many leaders, my leadership style has evolved over the years and was shaped by other leaders I've met throughout my career. There are three people in particular who left particularly deep impressions on me: the first was Jean-Claude Biver, the former CEO of Hublot. During his time leading the company he developed trust with his teams by crediting others whenever something went right and taking the blame himself whenever something went wrong. This strategy sounds simple but is much harder in practice — and it's something I aspire to do every day with my teams. The second was someone completely unexpected, Bob Palmer, CEO of C&S Grocers, who quietly inspired a tremendous sense of pride and self-management in a labor-intensive, unionized warehouse environment. Lastly, the third were the founders of MOD Pizza, Scott and Ally Svenson, who truly changed my mind that doing well as a business and what’s good for the community aren’t mutually exclusive. It proved to me that leading with impact is important.
During the pandemic, my previous company went through a large-scale reduction-in-force (RIF) that allowed me to reflect on how to lead (and be led) through periods that are critical to an organization’s culture and legacy. Among other things, I learned how to be optimistic but realistic about a company's future, how to let go of employees with grace, how to restore morale after sudden turmoil, and how to regenerate progress and growth after a shift in business model.
I learned the hard way that “treat others as you’d like to be treated” is an ineffective way to manage. Every person has a different working style with unique motivations and frustrations, and it’s the leader's job to identify the roles and projects that engage the strengths of those around them. Now, I try to treat others as they’d like to be treated. This approach applies not only to those I manage but also to those I collaborate with cross-functionally. For teams facing a lot of fiction, I always recommend everyone take the Color Code test based on the Hartman Personality Profile, and discuss their results as a group. You’ll likely learn that part of the reason for your conflict is that each team member has different underlying drives, meaning what motivates you won’t motivate someone else.
Today’s tech industry is much livelier and less rigid than many other industries, both from a business perspective — innovation and change happen at a fast pace, and things can become outdated quickly — and from a people perspective. The best tech leaders recognize that good ideas can come from anywhere, not just those who've worked in the industry for a long time but also from very young or unlikely entrepreneurs. They stay open to change, “contrarian” ideas, and non-traditional business models or organizational structures. Cutting-edge tech is unique because its products often take many years and many hype cycles to mature. For companies working in areas like AR, AI, blockchain, or space, for instance, I think it's important for leaders to have both a clear vision for the future and to be able to clearly articulate the roadmap their teams should follow to get there.
I recently read a piece that poked fun at the fact that even those who predict doom-and-gloom for the future of tech can't wait to get their hands on the latest iPhone. On a more serious note — though I'm not an academic or economist, so take my musings with a grain of salt — I think that by most measures of societal progress (e.g., life expectancy, child mortality, poverty), technological advancements have raised the world's living standards. Until now, as critics often point out, these advancements have come at the expense of our planet, which tech exploits for its finite natural resources. But new technologies like renewable energy give us some hope that we can find ways to decouple growth from exploitation. Of course, it's an extremely complex, ever-evolving topic, but I'm optimistic based on the recent progress that's been made. That is, as long as we're not all destroyed by sentient AIs first 🙂.
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