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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

A Woman at the Top: Meet eBay Exec Richelle Parham

Richelle Parham is everything you think of when you hear “power woman.” She’s a marketing executive who has led teams at Visa and top marketing agency Digitas, and is currently the Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for eBay North America.

In addition to overseeing eBay’s marketing activities, including brand advertising, consumer product marketing, loyalty programs, internet and customer relationship marketing, global citizenship, search optimization, customer insights, and seller marketing, she also heads up eBay’s Women’s Initiative Network for North America, a program that inspires and develops eBay’s female employees to prepare them for leadership positions of their own.

We snagged a few minutes with Richelle to learn more about her role at eBay, her efforts to help other women succeed, and her personal secrets for success. If you’ve ever dreamed of the C-suite, this is advice you’ve got to hear.

You’re involved in eBay’s Women’s Initiative Network—tell us more about that.

The eBay Women’s Initiative Network (which we call WIN) is a global effort across eBay Inc. that's all about empowering, inspiring, and developing our next women leaders. I’m responsible for the North American version of WIN, which we call WINNA.

We held our latest event in late September and had an incredible day where we hosted our manager and above level employees for a full-day session. We introduced them to women executives outside of eBay in an amazing panel discussion featuring women executives from all industries, including an astronaut! Each of our guest speakers discussed her story and answered questions, such as: What did it take to get you where you are? Who inspired you along the way? What roadblocks were you faced with? How do you handle key things like self-advocacy, negotiation, or risk taking?

Our keynote speaker, Anne Wojcicki of 23andMe, not only talked about her business and the challenges she’s had, but also about what inspires her and how she made the decisions she has made in her career.

We concluded the day with a workshop on gender intelligence, focused on what men and women need to do to understand how they can work and grow their careers together more effectively.

Your work to develop future women leaders is so inspiring. What’s your best piece of advice for women who aspire to be executives?

The best advice I have is this: You don’t have to know exactly what you want to do, but you have to know the things that you like to do.

By identifying the things you like to do, as well as understanding the things that you’re really good at and the things that you might need to improve on, you can start to create a plan and develop what I call a toolkit. A toolkit is all the things that you need to learn and grow in order help you to reach the next level.

I also recommend what I like to call a personal board of directors. These are the people who understand you, know your strengths, and know the areas where you can improve. Most importantly, your personal board of directors can give you guidance, thoughts, and suggestions as you continue on your career journey.

I reach out to my own personal board of directors often. In particular, I always look to them for guidance and advice. And, because they know me so well, they’re able to give me very pertinent and relevant information that helps me in making good decisions.

I also believe it’s important to have and be mentors and sponsors. A mentor is someone who talks with you and helps guide your decisions. A sponsor is someone who talks about you to others who can influence your career and create opportunities for you.

What’s been your biggest challenge in your career?

Since I’ve been in marketing for so long, my biggest challenge has been figuring out how I can continue to be motivated. Part of the challenge—particularly when you’ve been at a company for a long time—is that you can start to feel like you’re in a routine, or like you’re not growing.

The advice I give to others in this situation is that you have to continually reinvent yourself along the way. What I’ve done, particularly when I was at one company for 13 years, was to do something completely different every two or three years. That allowed me to grow, and it allowed the organization to understand the great things I could do along the way. It also allowed me to be more well-rounded, and it made me more marketable for more roles, both within and outside the company.

For me, it’s important to stay relevant, continue to grow and to learn, and not to be afraid to take risks.

What’s the hardest decision you’ve had to make in your career?

When I left Digitas, I had been at the agency for over 13 years—I actually considered myself to be a lifer there. Then, a new great opportunity came up outside of Digitas, and I had to make some difficult decisions. But, after thinking long and hard, and speaking to my personal board of directors, I made the decision to leave the company.

While I think about Digitas every day, and I speak to someone from that company at least once a week, frankly it was probably one of the best moves I could have made. By making this hard decision, it created new outlets and new ways for me to learn in different industries. I went from the agency side of the house to the client side, and it was tremendous in terms of helping me grow my skills.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Every day, I accomplish something new. And it’s mainly because the world is continuing to evolve and customers are continuing to evolve. Every day, there’s a new challenge, and every day you have to overcome that challenge. While there are big things that happen along the way, frankly I like to count those little things as well, because sometimes those little things have a big impact over time.

I’m proud of all the things I’ve done. I’ve made some mistakes along the way as well, but I’ve learned from those mistakes. They make you stronger and they help you build out who you’re going to be in the long term. I’m pleased with where things are right now—but I’m not stopping.