Leadership by Geoff Colvin

Google's new commerce boss: 12 lessons

February 17, 2010: 12:44 PM ET

When former eBay (EBAY) executive Stephanie Tilenius emailed me yesterday to tell me that she's the new VP of Commerce at Google (GOOG), I was, I admit, surprised and a bit puzzled.

Tilenius is a former Internet hotshot who did it all. She led eBay's Korea and Asia-Pacific operations, ran eBay Motors, built PayPal to $1 billion in revenue, and after that headed global product and eBay North America. When she left the company last September, Tilenius told us that she hoped to find a CEO position.

So now, she's a VP at Google? Her new gig, she contends, is a better opportunity than being chief executive of any Internet start-up. Her position, VP of Commerce, is new at Google. Tilenius is overseeing development of digital content and commerce in the cloud, plus she's responsible for everything commerce-related, including product search and payments. This means she'll be in charge of Google Checkout, the online payments system that rivals eBay's PayPal. With all the new devices coming out for consumers, she says, there's huge opportunity for innovation in mobile and local commerce.

"The lesson learned here," she adds, "is not to be focused on a title but an opportunity."

Tilenius, in fact, has never followed other people's career rules. Graduating from Harvard Business School in 1996, she passed on an offer from Goldman Sachs (GS) to work for a start-up called Firefly. She recalls that she was one of 10 people from her class who had the courage to go to an Internet company. After Microsoft (MSFT) bought Firefly, Tilenius co-founded PlanetRx.com. She took the online healthcare and e-commerce company public in 1999, postponing her honeymoon for the road show. As the Internet bubble burst, PlanetRx did too.

Tilenius once told me that ever since her days at PlanetRx and throughout her nine-year run at eBay, she's kept a list of lessons learned over her diverse career. Yesterday, on her first day as Google, she agreed to share it. Many of Tilenius' lessons are common sense--all about challenging yourself and embracing change. But her list includes good advice for anyone trying to navigate wisely. And as for her pals at Google, they might learn something about their new VP of Commerce...

1. Hire the best talent. Surround yourself with smarter people who have complementary skills and who challenge the status quo.
2. Think big. Develop BHAGs: big hairy audacious goals. Imagine the impossible and you will be surprised how much you can accomplish.
3. Aim to make a difference. Make the world a better place.
4.  Say what you mean and do what you say. Execution and follow-through are critical. Thomas Edison said "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration." My father used to always remind me of this.
5. Competition makes you stronger. It also makes you serve your customers better.
6. Always put the customer first. And remember, you have to have a great product or service that is differentiated to win.
7. Take on the hardest challenges. Get out of your comfort zone. If you have not failed at something, you are probably not innovating.
8. Truth-seeking is half the battle in winning. You need to know where you stand in the war.
9.  Move fast in a land-grab. Get network effects first. Remember, you need both popularity and profitability.
10.  You can be an entrepreneur in a big company.
11.  Pay it forward. Be a mentor.
12.  If you make a mistake or fail, it's OK. Fix it fast and move forward. But make sure to take the lessons away so you do not repeat them. Einstein said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

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Pattie Sellers
Pattie Sellers
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune
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Pattie Sellers has written more than 20 Fortune cover stories including "Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo," "Muhtar Kent's New Coke," "Oprah's Next Act", "The $100 Billion Woman" (Melinda Gates), and "Gone with the Wind" (Ted Turner). She co-founded Fortune Most Powerful Women and oversees the Fortune MPW Summit, the preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond—and programs such as Fortune MPW Entrepreneurs and the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Pattie also develops Live Content across Time Inc. Her blog, Postcards, is about how power players lead and navigate their careers. Pattie won Time Inc.'s prestigious MVP award for her performance in 2012.

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