How This Google Manager Really Feels About "Working Your Ass Off"

Photo: Courtesy of Abigail Posner/How Did She Get There.
As told to Caroline Hugall at the Google offices in Chelsea Market, New York City, on October 20, 2014.

Abigail Posner is Head of Strategic Planning at Google, where she manages a team that inspires brands to be more progressive in the digital space. On top of that, she's a driving force in making the organization more insightful. I met with her on a Monday morning in October and was struck by her tenacity and drive.


What did you want to be when you grew up?
"I didn't have a particular role, but I always liked fashion. For a nanosecond, I thought I'd be a fashion designer but then realized that I'm no good at drawing, and I don't really like the artistic side of it, so I scrapped that. I always knew I was interested in other cultures and being in the field hustling with people from all over the world. An outdoor market, like a bazaar, is my favorite place to be. I was very interested in how culture, business, people and senses, all interact."

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
"Golda Meir, Former Prime Minister of Israel. She was a badass in a crazy time that was extremely macho and she got the ears of all the biggest leaders in the world. It's not that I'm a feminist or not a feminist. She just had the guts to have an impact, and that's what I'm about."

What single book had the greatest impact on you?

"A book of simple poetry by Robert Louis Stevenson. My father used to read it, and still to this day he knows those poems off by heart. There's something very reassuring about hearing them."

When do you go to bed and when do you get up?
"I go to bed somewhere between 11:30 p.m. and midnight. If it's a normal day when I'm taking my children to school, I get up at about 6:30 a.m."

What is your favorite time of the working week?
"Wednesday evening, because I've gotten through some of the Monday hellishness. Evenings in general are a good time for me to get work done here at Google."

Can you briefly explain your career path to date?
"I have to start with school because it molded me a lot. I had a great experience in college. I found something that just clicked in me, and I've been taking that with me forever in my career. I studied Anthropology and I loved it.
"I was always interested in the confluence of business and culture, but there wasn't really an appetite for that when I graduated. So, I went into Management Consulting. At the time I was graduating in 1995 [during the recession], I was lucky to find a job. I was a little bit type-A and wasn't willing to just languish out there whilst something just right came my way.

"There was no concept of networking and my school wasn't very good at navigating for me. So, I was like, what are my options? Graduate school, banking, or consulting. Banking, I did not like at all; extremely male-oriented, extremely competitive and involved topics that just weren't interesting to me. I ended up accepting consulting, got a job, and realized very early on it was not for me. I was failing in it. Really failing. I pretty much got fired. It was terrible. I kept asking 'Where's the consumer in all this?' They were doing all these analyses and I was like, 'Where's the human being in all of this?' But, I didn't put two and two together.

"Luckily my mother (who was Dean of Wellesley College) set me up with a few connections to talk to and somebody said, 'You should go into advertising.' I was pretty taken aback as I'd only been exposed to advertising via TV shows like Melrose Place! I'd never known anybody in advertising. I figured I'd give it a shot, and somebody I met along the way told me I should become a planner. 

"At the time, the planning profession was nascent. I spent the first 11 years of my career at an agency called DDB. Planning was so new that you could work your way up very quickly. It was perfect for me. 
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"I got married and had three kids whilst growing in my career. At some point, I realized that this can't be all there is. This planning mindset isn't just for advertising. I didn't really love advertising. I liked the culture of advertising, I liked what I was able to do, but I wasn't in love with advertising. So, the year after I had my last baby I decided it was time to start having a point of view.

"I started writing articles, branching out, and looking at other things. I got big job offers from other agencies, but it was the same old thing and I wanted to do something different. I got a call from a headhunter who said there was a job at Publicis. The role was different and intriguing because it provided the opportunity to shape the planning department and the company culture. I connected extremely well with my boss and it was also a way to improve my salary. I joined Publicis, and although I was pitching ideas all the time, it was a tough time for the industry, and I started getting less happy.
"I realized that I had to start building a network — I didn't have one. To me, going out and meeting people was solely a social thing, and I didn't have time for that and didn't believe it was part of my job. But, little did I know it was part of my job.

"I knew I needed to meet more people, stretch my wings, and extend my social media reach. I remembered a headhunter saying that I should write a blog. I was skeptical; what am I going to write a blog about? Mommyhood in Manhattan? How many more blogs do we need?

"But, since I had done a lot of work on beauty and culture for a client (that never really went anywhere), I decided to share it on an online publication. Thus, my blog, Beauty Skew, was born! 

"After four years doing advertising at Publicis, I left — and I landed at Google!"
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What is the biggest obstacle you've overcome, as it relates to your industry?
"The ability to be agile. I don't know if I've totally overcome it, but I'm getting there. As a planner, I worked so hard, and my brief was done when I said it was done. But, if you do take that approach, then you can't accept feedback, and you can't evolve because when we work so hard at getting something perfect, we're resistant to changing it. And, feedback is so important; it's how you promote your work and how you get people to endorse it. So, the lesson here is: Don't work too hard for too long expecting perfection — you won't find it because it doesn't exist."
What motivates you?
"I'm motivated to make an impact...to show my kids what it's like to contribute to society and be a healthy and well-rounded individual. I'm also motivated by my own personal growth. I want to prove myself in my career, and I want to create something that is of value."

What advice would you give to your children at the start of their career?

"Always listen. Listen, listen, listen. I'm not the best at that, but it's something that we have to do and we have to train people to do. Be agile and flexible. Meet as many people as you can. Work your ass off."

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
"My family."

What do you believe has been the key to your success?
"Working hard. You have to work hard at a marriage. You have to work hard at raising your children. You need a strong work ethic. You have to love people and even if you don't love to hang around people, you have to love that what you're doing is to give them something."

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
"Appreciate how great our lives are. To notice it, see it and observe it. I teach a course here on being insightful. There are so many cool things in our lives that we just don't even notice. We'd be so much happier if we saw those things."
For more on how Abigail Posner got there, click over for her full profile.
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