Ashley Mohan is currently the Catalyst Head of Industry at Google.
Ashley: I used to have permed hair that looked like a giant curly football helmet, typical for someone who grew up in Texas in the 80s and 90s.
R: Tell us about yourself.
A: I grew up in Brownwood, Texas, a small farm town with more cows than people. Later, I moved to Austin, Texas and then went on to study finance at the University of Pennsylvania. Throughout my educational and professional career, it was key for me to always be willing to take risks and not be intimidated by others with more experience or a stronger background. I strongly believe that in life, you’ll regret the chances you don’t take.
R: What are some risks you have taken that have impacted you the most?
A: My first big risk was attending Penn. At the time, only 30% of the Wharton class was female and no one from my family or Brownwood had ever attended Penn. My second big risk was living and working abroad in Costa Rica for three years.
R: Why did you decide to work abroad?
A: I worked for a startup during the first dot-com boom in the late 90s, and when it crashed I decided to take a risk and go abroad. Not knowing a lick of Spanish, I went to language school in Costa Rica and ended up finding a job there. Living in Costa Rica, I was immersed in another culture, learned about resilience, and really came to appreciate the remarkable culture that the Costa Ricans have built.
R: What did you do in Costa Rica?
A: I worked primarily in business development; this allowed me to meet with investors and entrepreneurs from around the world. This was a great experience because I learned how to conduct business in another culture, how to respect cultural norms, and especially how to be polite, yet firm, in business. It was at times tough being the only female executive in the room, but I had to develop a thick skin and make sure that I knew what I was talking about.
R: Why did you decide to work in tech?
A: The pace of tech was appealing to me. There is a relentless innovation curve that keeps you learning and mastering new skill sets. The curve is continuously moving up, but it has certain inflection points. For example, Google was not the first search engine, but there was a stepwise change in the innovation curve when Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed the best mousetrap. There’s been another step change as the availability of sufficient bandwidth has allowed for the proliferation of content consumption on mobile devices. Specifically in the advertising space, we are seeing a step change now in the type of content consumers prefer. There is a strong preference now towards content that is more authentic and personal.
A: It was the best place to take the skill sets I developed when working in business development and private equity, and to direct those skills into a focus on changes in consumer behavior, which is my passion. At Google, we help brands reach consumers in moments that matter to them and we help to facilitate that conversation.
R: What are some daily challenges you face?
A: I am always thinking about my team – are they set up with the tools necessary for them to be successful. Are they empowered to do great things, and do they feel emboldened to take risks. I also think a lot about our partners. I have the chance to work with leading companies in their field. How can we help them navigate the changes in technology and consumer behavior, bringing the best of Google to their brand? Finally, I have three children, so a big challenge I face daily is balancing work with family. This means having to balance my time and focus between two important parts of my life.
R: Give us a rundown of your daily routine as Head of Sales.
A: My day usually starts at 6 AM when I wake up and get my children ready for school. At 7:15 AM, I take the train to head to the office. I’ve found that I can be very productive on the train. During the day, I’m usually booked with meetings so I have to be really efficient with how to schedule time in the day to fit in all of my work. What I have found to be really helpful are walking meetings or “coffee walks,” meetings that are held outside with coffee instead of in a conference room. I’ve found that these are effective in inspiring creativity and a more open dialogue. I try to be home between 5:30 PM and 6:00 PM to spend time with my kids. That time is really special for me and I try to be fully present and keep my home an email-free zone. Once the kids are asleep, I typically do a little more work or try to get in some reading.
R: Where would you like to see the tech industry headed in the following years?
A: The industry is continuing to evolve technology to become an even more proactive force in helping people get through their daily lives and allowing them to engage in ways that are meaningful to them. Tech is an enabler in connecting people for common causes and around passion points. I would like to see it continue to make technology more personal, proactive and a way to bring people together.
R: What is an interesting company you have encountered?
A: I think that Airbnb is a brilliant example of transforming the experience of traveling and using technology to bring people together. Helping travelers feel like they can be anywhere and feel like they can “belong anywhere” has been revolutionary in the travel space. I especially admire their brand ethos.
R: What do you think is the biggest challenge women face in tech?
A: I feel there are a lot more women in tech now. However, numbers at the C-suite level are still small. So the big question is: how do we find a way to promote, foster, and cultivate a culture in Silicon Valley that is open and inclusive and that creates an environment where women feel they can be successful?
R: Do you have any advice for millennial girls?
A: I have two pieces of advice:
1) Be willing to take risks. 2) Seek out mentors.
I cannot stress how important it is to cultivate relationships with people you admire and find mentors that will help you in key points in your career. Being successful isn’t just about doing a good job, it is also about cultivating strong relationships and creating a network that can help you.
R: How do you take your coffee?
A: Black with one Splenda. If I feel like splurging, then I’ll drink a cappuccino.
Contributor: Ricky Rajani