Is the corporate ladder a thing of the past?
At what point should you decide your job isn’t a good fit, and start looking elsewhere?
Is it really possible to balance your career and home life – and be successful at both?
I recently sat down with Tina Todasco, Sr. Finance Director at eBay Marketplaces North America, to answer those pressing questions and much more. Before joining the team at eBay, Tina held progressively senior positions in finance within multiple divisions of Johnson & Johnson, after starting her career at General Electric as part of their Financial Management Program.
In this knowledge-packed interview, Tina talks about why the honest–and sometimes uncomfortable–conversations are crucial to your career, why more women should raise their hand for their next big role, and how to calculate which career moves are worth the risk.
LESLIE: Great to see you! The last time that we talked, you were settling in to your new role leading finance and analytics for North America at eBay. How’s everything going?
TINA: It’s going well. It’s been a good challenge for me to take on something that’s different than most of the roles I’ve done before. Stretching into places that are uncomfortable is where real growth happens.
How long have you been doing this now?
About 9 months.
Starting a new role can be stressful. How are you enjoying it so far?
I’ve found that when you take on something new, part of the stress comes from getting through a steep learning curve while you’re figuring out where to invest your time. If you aren’t prescriptive about that, you spend time on whatever is on your calendar and wind up being in reactive mode, which can prolong the learning curve. So, I’m actively trying to manage that.
How are you doing that if every hour of your day is scheduled? Are you blocking time for yourself to give you time to learn?
Yes! I suggest two things: one is blocking time for yourself, protecting that time and using it wisely. The second is investing in ‘side by side’ learning. Sit down with your team, find out what works well, what doesn’t, and tactically how they get their jobs done. With that appreciation, you’ll know what it takes to get one of your requests done, and give better guidance as a result.
Are you happy that you took this on?
Absolutely. It’s one of the most challenging roles I’ve had, and it captures a lot of what I want to do long term. Drive business results, make an impact, and manage a large, diverse team. There will always be hard days when you’re in a new role, building new muscle. But that doesn’t last forever, and it’s a great investment in yourself.
When starting a new job, what do you think is a reasonable amount of time to get past the steep learning curve and feel like you’re adding value?
I’ve found that it’s really different from one role to the next. My advice is to set your bar high, but be realistic about what you’re going to accomplish. Otherwise, you may quickly burn yourself out.
I will often say to a new employee, keep a running list of everything you want to change. You have one opportunity to look at things with a fresh set of eyes, and you’ll see tons of ways to make improvements. But you have to draw a line. You won’t get to everything, and you may be surprised at how far up the list the line is drawn. Keep the list because those ideas are still good—they just might not be the most pressing to get done now. In the meantime, pick a few things and do them well.
Prioritization can be difficult no matter how experienced you are, and great leaders do this very well. On a related note, how do you define leadership?
The best way for me to define it is to give you an example of a strong leader I worked with in the past. One of my first jobs was a Senior Financial Analyst at Johnson & Johnson. I remember within my first week the CFO of our large, global business unit wanted to meet with me. I thought that was unusual since I was 3 levels removed and didn’t really have anything to report out on yet. But, I came to find out that he was someone who cared deeply about the organization and took the time to meet with every single new employee, no matter what level they were. We spent an hour together, and he wanted to know why I had joined, where I wanted to go with my career, and how he could help me be successful. It made such a lasting impression.
So when I think about leadership, one really important aspect is how you build and invest in your team. Strong leaders surround themselves with incredibly talented people who bring different skill sets and viewpoints to the table, and they invest in them. They also cultivate the type of culture that reflects their values and priorities.
The other equally important piece of the equation is driving the business. How do you drive the right business results, and make sure that you’re pursuing the right strategy? How do you build in the ability to make some bets? And hold people accountable.
The last piece is having a vision of the future. Too many times, we can get swept up in what needs to be delivered this month or this quarter. Strong leaders make the time to think about what’s coming up ahead, and how to get ahead of the curve.
I distinctly remember the very first time we met being inspired by your passion for developing and leading people. It’s wonderful that you’ve had good examples to follow because not everyone has that.
I couldn’t agree with you more. Early in my career, I was really lucky to have great managers who taught me a lot. From basic things like how to write performance evaluations and gather 360 degree feedback, to knowing how to appropriately stretch and challenge your team.
You talked earlier about making some bets. Do you feel like you’ve taken risks in your career?
Yeah, for sure. Every time I changed company, industry or took on a new role I’ve never done before, there was a degree of risk. Because there’s some chance it might not pan out. This is where you have to be confident in your capabilities as a leader and know that you’ll rise to the occasion, even though it may be very different than what you’ve done before. If you’re not nervous about it, you’re probably not stretching far enough.
Switching gears, what advice would you give someone who’s just starting out in their career?
My advice would be twofold: first, look for the opportunities and experiences that will grow your skills versus chasing after a title. In my view, the corporate ladder is a thing of the past. You’re just as likely to gain valuable experiences through lateral movement, especially early on. With a clear view on where you want your career to go, it will become much easier to determine what that path should be.
And second, never forget the importance of both what you deliver and how you deliver it. If you are the strongest technical person in your department, but no one likes working with you, that quickly becomes a derailer. And vice versa.
When you’re faced with the situation of having alternatives because you’ve performed well, how do you evaluate which new opportunity is the right job for you?
For me personally, I think about where my career is headed and if this role helps me get closer to my goals. It may be hard to turn down jobs that look really cool, but it’s important to stay true to your career goals.
I also ask myself “how comfortable are you in this space?” You should be slightly nervous and there needs to be some risk of failure; otherwise, you’re not pushing hard enough.
And, of course, find the right manager who promotes values that match with your own.
What happens when even after all of your due diligence, you find yourself in a job or company that is not the right fit? What do you do then?
I’m a big believer in when you get lemons, make some lemonade. I think many people in those situations think, “I’m out of here.” My take is, you came into this and thought it was good for a reason, so see what you can salvage out of that. Figure out what it would take to make it a great job, and pitch that to your manager. Have an honest conversation and come with solutions – not just complaints – and make it a compelling argument. Know that you went all in and gave it your best shot.
What if the problem is actually the rapport with your manager?
Yeah, that can be a tough one. My advice is to try two things. First, make sure you’re taking accountability for what you could do differently to improve the rapport. For example, in one of my first manager roles, I had a director who was constantly diving into the weeds and micromanaging me. Not my favorite thing. I took a hard look at why that was happening, and realized it only occurred when she wasn’t comfortable with the data. That was on me. So, start with what you control and what you can adjust to make improvements.
Second, you must have the really honest and courageous conversations with your manager about what’s happening. Let’s say you have a difficult interaction with your manager, and it doesn’t sit well with you. But, in the moment, you don’t say anything. You start replaying the conversation in your head, and somehow it’s always far worse than what actually happened. You start to feel like your manager thinks you’re incompetent and can’t do your job. But that may very well not be the case. If it is, then you need to know that so you can start addressing what went wrong. If it’s not, then you deepen your relationship with your manager by gaining that understanding.
People sometimes try to avoid the uncomfortable topics either because they don’t enjoy conflict, or just because they just don’t want to deal.
Yes, it takes courage to have those conversations. But, a good manager will appreciate and respect an employee who cares enough to bring it up. I know I do.
On another note, what are the challenges that you think that women, specifically, face in Silicon Valley?
With women making up only 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs and 10% of Fortune 500 boards, there’s clearly something at play. I see two elements to the challenge. The first is the inherent bias that exists, whether that’s conscious or unconscious. Unfortunately, we’ve seen a lot of news about that lately in Silicon Valley, and there’s work to be done there.
The second is where I focus more of my time, and that’s what women can do to take charge of their own career. One thing I’m particularly passionate about is more women raising their hand for new jobs and opportunities. We often hear that women look at a job description and think they need to have 100% of the job qualifications before applying; however, our male counterparts don’t feel the same. I’d love to figure out how we can encourage more women to have that confidence to stretch for new roles.
Why don’t you think they’re raising their hand? Is it confidence or is it a different degree of motivation – they want different things out of their career?
I think part of it is lack of confidence. But, the other piece is a bit of fear about the unknown. Many women don’t really know what it’s like in those senior level roles. They don’t have as much access to them, and there are far fewer role models. The result is women are less likely to raise their hand for bigger jobs because they don’t know what to expect.
There’s a lot more examples for men to follow. Is part of the issue because women are often times the primary caregivers at home?
It’s such a good question, and that’s what I hear all the time. But I just don’t buy it, especially in the Bay Area. The percent of women who go on maternity leave and choose to stay at home afterwards is pretty small. I think the bigger challenge is what everyone around them starts thinking. I’ve seen and personally experienced the perception of others that a woman returning from maternity leave will not want to take on a big job with more responsibility. But, this assumption is often made in isolation without actually having a direct conversation about it. By the way, this applies for both male and female managers. The key here is not to automatically jump to that conclusion. Have the conversation. See what’s changed, if anything.
With a big job comes a lot of responsibility – at work, and of course at home. You have a young family, you have a big job, and you have never had a break. How do you feel you’re able to be successful at home and at work?
From a work perspective, a big piece is being really clear about your priorities and how you can make it work. It could be that getting in at 7am and leaving by 4pm is what you need to balance drop off, pick up, after school activities, making dinner, and so on. Be willing to talk with your manager about what flexibility you need to make it work.
Aside from that, we also try to outsource as much as we can, so that when we are home we’re doing stuff that we enjoy with the kids.
Do you feel content with the level of bounds that you have – is it right for you and your family?
I do! I’m very clear on what it takes to make it work, and I’ve shared that with my boss and my entire team as we talk about work life balance. I’m also lucky to have a tremendous support network, starting with my husband who is truly an amazing partner.
Let’s talk about relationships. How important do you feel building and maintaining relationships are, professionally?
I’d be hard pressed to name something more important than building strong, productive relationships. Of course, the table stakes are knowing how to do your job well and delivering on your commitments. But that by itself is not sufficient to continue growing your career. A big piece of the equation is having a strong network and exposure to many leaders. As you move up in the organization, you’ll find these relationships are equally critical to recruit talent to your team.
Last question, what are you looking forward to in the future?
My end goal is making a lasting impact. I love what I’m doing at eBay because we provide the venue for thousands of entrepreneurs at small and medium sized business across the globe to do what they love. And I’m able to invest heavily in growing and developing my team. There’s nothing that makes me happier than to see my team get really pumped about what they’re working on. And to eventually move on to bigger challenges in bigger roles, and know that their careers are thriving.
And that’s what makes you an inspiring leader. Thank you so much!