Deep Dive with Carolyn Everson

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This is a podcast episode titled, Deep Dive with Carolyn Everson. The summary for this episode is: <p>Today, Matt is diving deep with Carolyn Everson, a longtime media and sales executive.&nbsp;</p><p>Carolyn shares her story, from her early career and business school, to her time at Facebook, to sitting on boards at companies like Disney and Coca-Cola. This episode is packed with learnings and insider perspectives from Carolyn’s career. Tune in to hear about:</p><p>⏳ Why it’s vital to take your time with a major career shift</p><p>👩‍🎓 When she believes an MBA is beneficial</p><p>🤝 How having a personal board of directors can help you scale individually</p><p>🔥 And more!</p>
Carolyn's early career
05:31 MIN
Career progression after business school
03:58 MIN
Making the decision to go to business school
02:43 MIN
Joining Microsoft
02:35 MIN
Making the move to Facebook in 2011
02:34 MIN
Helping scale a business to $100M in revenue
02:29 MIN
Helping scale a business to $100M in revenue
02:29 MIN
Scaling yourself as the business scales
01:59 MIN
Carolyn's take on "Lean In"
03:41 MIN
The future for Facebook
02:07 MIN
Moving to Instacart
02:10 MIN
Being on the boards of Disney & Coca Cola
04:16 MIN
The importance of the culture of a board
04:19 MIN

Speaker 1: Welcome to The Daily Bolster. Each day, we welcome transformational executives to share their real- world experiences and practical advice about scaling yourself, your team, and your business.

Matt Blumberg: Welcome to The Daily Bolster. I'm Matt Blumberg, cofounder and CEO of Bolster, and I'm here today with my friend Carolyn Everson. Carolyn is a longtime media and sales executive, including, I think, 15 years running a large part of Facebook's advertising business. She's now a board member on a few companies you might have heard of, Disney, Coca- Cola, and Under Armour, which is amazing. We will talk about those as we go today. Carolyn, it's great to see you here.

Carolyn Everson: It's great to be here, Matt. Thanks for having me.

Matt Blumberg: You have had an amazing career, and I love doing these in- depth interviews on Friday because I think a lot of people love actually hearing the story of how someone got where they got. So you're super well- known for your role at Facebook, but not everyone knows how you got there and the things that you've done since. So I've been looking forward to this conversation for a while. And you and I met pretty early in both of our careers, not quite at the beginning-

Carolyn Everson: Very close to the beginning.

Matt Blumberg: ... but pretty early. You actually get credit for me starting Return Path, which is a story for another day.

Carolyn Everson: It's such a good story. It's one of my most proud moments.

Matt Blumberg: No, it's a great story, and it's a story of me not doing something else, which you and I were working on together, which led to that. So let's start with sort of the early part of your career, and I'll define that for the moment as pre- Facebook. And pre- Facebook was a lot of stuff for you. It was Accenture. It was business school. It was Disney, which I didn't realize until I just looked at your profile, and probably not a lot of people have gone from the Imagineering team to the board. It was Zagat.

Carolyn Everson: I won't say I'm the only one, but I'm certainly the only one on the current board-

Matt Blumberg: The current board. Yeah.

Carolyn Everson: ...that has worked at Disney. Yes.

Matt Blumberg: So we'll come back to that.

Carolyn Everson: And then Bob Iger, of course.

Matt Blumberg: Right. Right. Then Zagat, the restaurant guide, which is where you and I met, and then Primedia and then Viacom and MTV. So let's do those sort of as a group. And obviously, that got you from Accenture and the world of management consulting into the thing that ended up being your career, which is media and ad sales. Talk about that journey. How did you end up in the field that has made you who you are?

Carolyn Everson: Well, I think it's always easy to look in the rearview mirror and try to piece together, " How did this all happen?" But I think probably what's most important is to say that it wasn't planned. And for example, Facebook wasn't started when I was in college. So if I had thought about one day working at Facebook, Facebook hadn't existed. And so, a lot of lessons, and I can connect the dots, I think, in chapters, are much easier to explain retroactively than perhaps when I was in the moment. But the quick story of the journey is, I graduated from Villanova University. I thought I was going to law school. I took the LSATs, didn't do as well as I had wanted to, got into a few schools but wasn't feeling it. And my brother, who's 10 years older than I am, said, " You should do something in business." And I wound up applying to a number of different jobs, and Andersen Consulting, which eventually became Accenture, gave me an opportunity to join their strategy practice, which may not sound like a big deal, but I was the only female hired that year in 1993. I was the only person from a non- Ivy League hired. So it was a big deal to get in from Villanova at that time, and that gave me some foundation for the business world. And then from there, it's really been opportunistic and about relationship building. So I was at Accenture, Andersen Consulting. I was working on a project of strategic alliances, went to Wharton for one week to do a management program on the topic, and an executive at Disney was in the class. And on Friday afternoon, he came over and said, " Would you ever consider working for the Disney Company?" And I thought it was the greatest question that had ever happened, because I've been a Disney fan from the earliest I can remember. And so, then I went to go work at Walt Disney Imagineering. And from there, I started to understand that, actually, where I really love to be involved is with consumer brands, brands that touch people, whether it's emotionally or in utility ways, but can really fundamentally change people's lives. That executive at Disney that hired me, Charles Adams, had gone to business school. So he was encouraging me eventually to go back. I did. I got caught up in the crazy 1997 through '99 dot- com 1. 0 craze, and everyone was trying to start a business. I was too. I decided to do one that I was passionate about, which was pets, and attempted to launch pets. com, raised money, $ 5 million, from Hummer Winblad, and one of the stipulations is that they would hire a CEO. They did. And when they brought the CEO in, we met and we had a fundamental difference of opinion about the business. I then thought she was going to bankrupt the business and she fired me. So I graduated from business school without a job.

Matt Blumberg: By the way, I don't think I knew that story.

Carolyn Everson: Yeah. Yeah.

Matt Blumberg: And knowing both of you, I'm not surprised to hear there was a difference of opinion.

Carolyn Everson: Yeah. So what's interesting, Matt, I'm not surprised you don't know it, and I'll tell you why, which is maybe another insight for this discussion. I buried it, meaning I took it off my résumé. I didn't talk about it. I didn't talk about it until I got to Facebook. And actually, Sheryl, I credit Sheryl with giving me the courage to eventually start talking about it, because I blurted it out one day in a conversation with her that I had been fired from my own company. What I didn't realize is I should have talked about it, because it gave me such cred in the tech industry. People love stories of failed entrepreneurs or getting fired from... How many people get fired from their own company? But I was embarrassed and I hid it. So when I met you post- business school, it was kind of not discussed. And so, I'm not surprised you didn't know it, but it is an important part of the story because I think it shaped me in a lot of ways. My confidence was rocked and I really started to understand the importance of who I was going to work with and for going forward. Business school happens. As I mentioned, I graduate without a job. I wind up at Zagat. That's where you and I met. It was a really interesting opportunity to be part of a family business, the only outside hire or the first big outside hire at the time. Raised a lot of money, 31 million, General Atlantic and Kleiner, and sort of was off to the races. But my last name was never going to be Zagat, and that comes with the territory, but it was great learning experience. And from there, somebody that had met me in that process brought me to Primedia, and I was at Primedia for a few years, and I started to really hone in on my general manager skills, not just ad sales. I was running multiple digital businesses. And then from there, somebody had recommended me to go to Viacom. And so, that is sort of the trajectory. And then when I was at Viacom, we were working on a massive, massive deal, multiple hundreds of millions of dollars with Microsoft. And that is how Microsoft came to the door and said they'd like me to go run their sales and trade marketing team. And I think, for me, I remember probably the biggest pivots were when I was at Viacom and I was trying to decide if I was going to go to Microsoft. There were three things that I thought about. One, I really wanted to be in more of a pure digital business, because the trends were obvious. Number two, I wanted to be in a global business or have a global role, because it was also very clear that that's the direction that many of the client and advertisers were headed.

Matt Blumberg: Well, and the funny thing is Zagat was a local business. Viacom and MTV were kind of national businesses. So you were continuing to expand scope.

Carolyn Everson: Yeah. So one interesting thing about... I know. Zagat, when I was at Zagat, some of the earliest deals we did were actually licensing our content in places like Japan.

Matt Blumberg: Right.

Carolyn Everson: So I had some taste of it, but I didn't have a media enough global role. And then the third thing was, I wanted to run something that was going to be core to the business' success. And at the time, advertising was not core to Microsoft's success. I mean, the way I think about it is, if that business catches a cold, does the whole organization have pneumonia? And Microsoft would've been fine at that time if advertising didn't do well, but I kind of wanted to be in the hot seat and having to deliver. And then, nine months later, I wound up having the opportunity to go to Facebook, where I spent a decade and a half. So it was quite an experience. Started with a team of less than 100 people, left at about almost 5, 000 people, operated in a few countries when I started to practically every country around the world, except the suspects that you would think. We couldn't operate in China. So we're going to have to progress-

Matt Blumberg: And not a lot of Iran and North Korea.

Carolyn Everson: Correct. Yes. But other than that, we were operating everywhere. And I did a short stint at Instacart, which I'm happy to talk about, and then really made a significant pivot recently to do a portfolio life and have been able to assemble a really incredible portfolio of companies that I'm on the board with as well as a private equity firm and a couple of VCs that I work with.

Matt Blumberg: Yeah. No. Look, it's been a great career and you are very mid- career.

Carolyn Everson: I'm keeping that in mind. I'm part of the Henry Crown Fellowship, and the Crown family supports that. They do a ton of amazing work in Chicago, and one of the more senior members is 88 years old. And when he met me a few years ago, I think I was like 47. He looked at me and he goes, " You're not even halfway done." And I was like, "Okay. That's a different perspective."

Matt Blumberg: It is. Yes. I like to think people of our vintage are quite young still.

Carolyn Everson: Exactly.

Matt Blumberg: Well, let's go back and unpack a couple things that I think will be interesting for people to listen to. And I'm going to start with maybe an unusual one, and it's one I haven't asked anyone before on this show. Talk about business school, and not from the perspective of what you got out of it necessarily, but do you feel like there is always value for someone to get an MBA or only sometimes? And do you ever write a job spec that says, " MBA required, MBA preferred"? How do you think about that? Because as you know, I never went to business school and I was on and off, " Should I go? Should I not go?" for eight years before I finally killed it. But I always wonder about that from the perspective of a hiring manager who did go to business school.

Carolyn Everson: So I definitely try not to make MBA a requirement for job descriptions. I think earlier in my career, I did, and I certainly have changed that for a variety of reasons. But I think business school is really amazing for a few different things. If you don't need these few different things, then perhaps you can go and not go to business school and be totally fine, which many people have. I think it's excellent if you are on a career trajectory and you want to fundamentally change it. So we had a lot of people come in from the military and wanted to change and go into finance or consulting or entrepreneurship. We had people in consulting that wanted to pivot out of it. So I think career changes, because it gives you a two- year real deep dive. You see a lot of different types of industries, especially if you do the case study method. You can have an internship. So I think it's great for that. I think it's even better for the network. I have this unbelievable network of business school classmates. And to this day, which I graduated in'99, we still have a WhatsApp group. Everybody is, it's everything from, " Happy birthday," and we remember people's birthdays, to people who are looking to raise money for their businesses. They're looking for hiring recommendations. Someone needs help on a health situation. It's just a network that will show up for you, I think, day in and day out. So those things are amazing. But do you have to have an MBA? No. And I think that you learn a tremendous amount on the job. And I think if you are in something that you love, which a lot of people are fortunate enough to be in that situation, then there's no need to step off the treadmill and go get your MBA.

Matt Blumberg: Yeah. Certainly, it was hard to do in the late'90s, because there was so much interesting stuff going on outside.

Carolyn Everson: Exactly.

Matt Blumberg: And I think a lot of people that you were in business school with were probably starting dot- coms on the side or the like.

Carolyn Everson: Yes.

Matt Blumberg: All right. So that's interesting. I want to move now to talk a little bit more about Microsoft. So you said something really interesting, which is that if you... One of the things you learned was that, hey, if you were going to go do something, you wanted it to be core to the company, and ad sales was not core to Microsoft at the time. When you took the job, obviously you knew that. Right? Ad sales was even less core to Microsoft, but there must have been something... And if I remember correctly, you were hired by Steve Ballmer, right?

Carolyn Everson: Yes.

Matt Blumberg: So there must have been something in the pitch to you that was like, " Yeah. I'm going to go make ad sales core to Microsoft." What was that experience like? Even though it wasn't years and years and years, it must have been fascinating. I mean, Microsoft's one of the oldest and most respected tech companies on the planet.

Carolyn Everson: Yes. So, look, Steve was very compelling, is very compelling, and the opportunity there to be squarely in digital, not have legacy linear businesses like I did at Viacom.

Matt Blumberg: MTV. Yeah. Exactly.

Carolyn Everson: To be in a global role and literally oversee all of the teams around the world. Those things were super, super compelling. And I really believe, if Facebook hadn't called, that I would've been at Microsoft for years. I still could have been there. Who knows? But I wasn't looking. It wasn't like I got in and then was like, " Oh, no. I need to get out." That was not the case at all, and I really struggled with even taking a phone call from Facebook. I was like, " I can't do this. I'm a very loyal person. I just had met the teams around the world. How am I possibly going to do this?" But the opportunity at Facebook just felt more right at the time and to build something from scratch in a product that I really did believe in, and that's what swayed me. I do think now in hindsight, I look back and say, " My goodness." Being responsible for revenue from about a billion to up... When I left, it was on a trajectory of 100 billion. Facebook couldn't operate without its ad business. It is an ad business.

Matt Blumberg: Right. It is. Yeah.

Carolyn Everson: Exactly. And I think there is something about being that central and that core. Now, over time, Microsoft has built a bigger ad business and it's very important to them. So, again, it could have been a timing thing, but there were very specific reasons in Steve's pitch that were compelling. I was going to be one of two women that were a corporate vice president, which is a big deal at Microsoft. And so, really, it accelerated my career growth.

Matt Blumberg: Yeah. So Facebook, what year did you join?

Carolyn Everson: I joined in 2011.

Matt Blumberg: 2011. So the company has already been around for seven, eight, nine years at that point.

Carolyn Everson: It had been around. Not public yet-

Matt Blumberg: Right. Not public yet.

Carolyn Everson: ...but it had been around. It was, yes, pre- IPO.

Matt Blumberg: And did you report to Sheryl or to David Fischer?

Carolyn Everson: No. I reported to David Fischer. David and Sheryl had worked together for many, many years at the Treasury Department as well as Google, and David was my boss for my entire 10 and a half years.

Matt Blumberg: Take us on the inside. What were the leadership levels like at Facebook? I mean, I think for so many people, even people who are in tech, who are experienced entrepreneurs, even those in media, like Mark, Sheryl in particular, it feels a bit like amorphous. What was it like being on the leadership team there?

Carolyn Everson: I think Facebook's leadership evolved dramatically over 10 and a half years. You have to realize Mark was growing up with the company, and the thing... I mean, there are so many remarkable things to say about Mark, but one of, I think, his best traits is that he is so deeply intellectually curious and would study, like early on, would study exceptional CEOs. And you could just see Mark's comfort level getting better and better over the years. Right? He would do weekly Q& As, and those got better and better. He would get better with press and better with earnings calls when we went public. And so, I was sort of watching him evolve into arguably one of the generation's greatest leaders that we've seen, and he's in sort of rarefied air in terms of that. The leadership team was also really composed of people that had been with Mark almost from the very beginning, at least the tenure that I was there, folks that had been practically from day one. And many of them are still there. So Javier Olivan is the COO. He is the current COO, but he had been with Mark practically from day one. Andrew Bosworth was Mark's TA at Harvard. He is the chief technology officer at Facebook. Chris Cox, who runs product as well as some of the newer products that are coming out.

Matt Blumberg: Let's pause there for a second.

Carolyn Everson: So a very loyal team.

Matt Blumberg: That's remarkable, not just because they're loyal, but very few executives scale from zero to 100 million in revenue, whether it was 100 billion or wherever Facebook is now. And to have a few of those in the same company at the leadership level is really extraordinary. What do you attribute that to? Is it something about the culture? Was it the tone Mark set? Was it coaching and mentoring? Intentional? Lucky?

Carolyn Everson: I think it's probably like you put a lot of things in a blender and you mix it up and this is what has transpired. I think that there was tremendous belief in Mark, in Mark as a leader and Mark's mission, because any of those folks that I... I just happened to name three, Javier, Chris Cox, and Andrew Bosworth. Any of those three could have gone on and started their own companies. They're certainly independently wealthy at this point, so they have everything from a financial standpoint. And yet, they're completely motivated and come in and work just as hard as anyone every day. And so, it's mission. I think they're incredibly mission- driven. They believe that they are serving a purpose. And I think it's hard when you are working on something as grand of a scale as Facebook. I know I felt this when I left. It was like, " Now what do I do? How do I think about impact when I am having an impact with billions of people every day and 10 million plus businesses around the world?" Everything is just so at such a scale that it kind of is hard, I think, to find your way after you leave a company like Facebook, because you have to recalibrate. Right? You have to remember what it was like to join Facebook when we were not reaching that amount of people or those businesses, and that's an adjustment.

Matt Blumberg: That's an adjustment. And I think the thing you just said that was interesting, because my question was about how do these people scale themselves or even how did you scale yourself, and your answer was about mission and purpose. And having a strong mission and purpose and feeling the impact of your work is absolutely like rocket fuel.

Carolyn Everson: Correct.

Matt Blumberg: Right? So I get that. And that still doesn't make you capable of being a strong and effective executive of a giant business when the last thing you did was a small business. So even for you, as you think about how you scaled your own capabilities over time, how did you think about that?

Carolyn Everson: I think the number one way we all scaled was going back to Mark's recruiting tip, which was to hire people better than us. And I know that those three I mentioned, myself, that is how we've thought about the world and our role, because you can only scale so much as a leader so quickly, but if you surround yourself with people that are better than you and have different expertise, things can start flying, especially if you get people aligned around a purpose and a mission, and I think that was core to the success. I mean, did we do leadership training? Yes. Do I think that it was completely earth- shattering and unlike anything out there? I'm sure it was good, but it's hard to teach this. And you're absolutely right that certain leaders... I had leaders that were amazing at opening a new office in a country, getting it to a certain level, and then they just hit a plateau, and you would see it. You would see it in the numbers. You would see it in the pulse scores of how their teams were feeling about the opportunity. And my job was then to say, " Okay. One of two things. Either, look, you've been amazing at this and time to tap out and gracefully figure out how to do that with them," or" Let me get you into another role that allows you to build something up, because maybe that's what you are. Maybe you're the zero- to- one person, but you're not the one to 10 or one to 100. And you have to know, I think, your skills and the team around you in order to get people in the most effective roles."

Matt Blumberg: Let me ask a different question about Facebook, which is around Sheryl and, in particular, around Lean In. So I think you were there when she published Lean In, and I read it the minute it came out. I loved it. I wrote a blog post about it. I actually got an email from her the day I wrote the blog post. So, clearly, one of the PR people or book promoters was like, " Hey, this is like a CEO blog. You should write him a note." I got a very nice note from her. What was the impact of Lean In either to you or within Facebook? Because obviously, it had impact and ripple effect in the world at large. But was that a big thing at Facebook? Was it a side thing?

Carolyn Everson: Well, I think that Sheryl's vision on Lean In and her work there definitely set a tone around diversity of leadership, and that was something that obviously she cared deeply about. So did Mark, by the way. So it wasn't just Sheryl. And I think that it showed up in particularly women wanting to advocate a bit more for themselves, potentially apply for jobs that they otherwise may not have applied for, because they were finding inspiration in the stories that were shared. And I think her Lean In Circles that were started and still are ongoing around the world, she just launched Lean In Girls for younger women, are really impactful ways for women to network and get together. Ironically, before she even wrote the book, we never called it a Lean In Circle because we didn't have that vernacular. But I have a group of women that we get together every couple of months for breakfast or dinner from business school that are in the technology media industry, and we share everything with each other, how our career is going, how things are going at home, whatever challenges we might be having on any level. And there is just something I think really helpful to have a network of people that you can fully, fully trust. I read a book early on in my career. It was by a McKinsey partner. It was about, " Every person should have their own board of directors." And it's not like you sit at a big table and have an agenda and a gavel and you start the meeting, but that concept of who are your personal boards of directors and your consigliere team that can be with you. I have a number of those circles, and they have been hugely impactful on me, hugely. And I go to them for different things, depending on what a decision may be.

Matt Blumberg: I would guess that that is one of the things that helped you scale over the years. It was being intentional about having that informal group and then using it.

Carolyn Everson: For sure. And I have had too many people to list out on this, but there have been a number of people that have been encouraging me, pushing me, giving me confidence when I lacked confidence, supporting me, talking about me in rooms when I was not in a room, which is really critical to advocacy, not just mentorship, but really championing me. And it sort of takes a village, and I've been blessed and fortunate to build a very strong network of people that have been instrumental in my career.

Matt Blumberg: All right. Last Facebook question for you. Where does Facebook go from here? I think that company, more than most, has kind of taken its lumps over the last few years, whether it's around politics, around algorithms, and teenage mental health. What's Facebook look like in five years or 10 years?

Carolyn Everson: I think that Mark is one of the few leaders out there that has vision that goes beyond decades. In his own foundation with his wife, Priscilla, they're working on... He's trying to cure cancer and cure diseases that he would like to have eradicated from Earth, and he takes a 100- year view of things. So I don't think I have a great description of what Facebook's going to look like in five years. If you had asked me even six months ago, did I think that they were going to launch a competitor to Twitter, or now X, called Threads? Of course, I'm not there. I don't have the visibility that they were going to do that, and yet they pulled that off. I do believe that Mark has a very strong opinion that we are going to be living in a blended digital and physical world. And his work on the metaverse, which I know has received both praise as well as a lot of criticism, given the amount of money that he's spending, I think he sees something in the future where there is this blending of the two worlds even more than we currently are. I mean, I would argue we're already blending digital and physical between our gaming, how often we're on our devices. So I suspect that if you look five to 10 years out, there'll be more of his vision coming to light. And whether his vision of the world, which is more virtual reality, or Evan Spiegel at Snap, which is more we're in a physical world with glasses and more augmented reality or some blending of the two, I think both of them see things a little bit more than the average person.

Matt Blumberg: That's why they are where they are.

Carolyn Everson: Correct.

Matt Blumberg: So you said a minute ago that when you leave a journey like the one you were on at Facebook, you have to recalibrate.

Carolyn Everson: Yes.

Matt Blumberg: So you left and you went to Instacart, and you were just talking about a company that's blending the digital and physical. Right?

Carolyn Everson: Sure.

Matt Blumberg: And you weren't there all that long, but what was sort of the one learning, if you had to distill it down to one big thing, that you got out of that experience?

Carolyn Everson: Well, I know that I went too quickly, and I think... So there's a lot of learnings in that.

Matt Blumberg: It's a good career learning. Yeah.

Carolyn Everson: Take your time. When you're making a very substantive shift in a career... And, I mean, I bled blue for Facebook. I traveled 90% of my time. I made a ton of sacrifices personally. So I just think I needed more time. So number one is time. Number two is do better diligence around the role. And this is my fault. This is not Instacart's fault. I think the role was presented as the president role with a wide range of responsibility, which was exciting for me. But when I got there, it was very clear that what Fidji, who's the CEO, who I have enormous respect for, what she really needed was somebody to manage the grocery relationships and the advertising business, and that was so small compared to what I had just done. It was domestic only, and I love global businesses. And it was a fraction. It was a fraction of what I had done, and that was a mistake. And I should have asked more questions. I should have done more diligence. I deeply believe, I love Instacart. I use it all the time. So as a consumer, it's an amazing service. And the team there, I've got enormous respect for. So I think they're going to do really, really well over time, but it was not the right role for me at that time, and I jumped too quickly and I didn't do enough diligence.

Matt Blumberg: Yeah. The thing on my résumé that has been expunged from the record was also related to that lack of diligence. So we can talk about that some other time. So one of the things you said early on is you fell in love early in your career with consumer brands. And fast- forward to now, you're on the board of probably the two best- recognized consumer brands in the world, and they got to be two of the top five or 10, Disney and Coke, as well as Under Armour, fantastic company with a product not quite the level of Disney and Coke. Talk a little bit about the experience you've had on those two boards, whether it's the things they have in common or the things they don't have in common. And what is it like inside the boardroom of some of the most iconic companies on the planet?

Carolyn Everson: Well, look, it's a complete honor and privilege to be on those boards. It is not something, again, that I planned for. If you had seen me in early of 2022, which is, I was at Instacart for a few months. January of 2022, I said, " Okay. I'm not going to make that mistake again. I'm going to take time, figure out what I really want to do." And time was my friend here because Coca- Cola came in about five months into that journey, and then Disney came in about eight months into that journey, and then Under Armour came in about nine months into that journey. And the opportunity to sit on a board of directors on those three companies with incredible fellow directors, who are mostly CEOs or prior CEOs or investors, is just... I feel like, talk about going back for your MBA, in many ways, I'm sort of seeing a whole new round of lessons and really leadership takeaways and challenges in terms of transforming businesses and geopolitical dynamics. I mean, you can list the topics that would happen in a boardroom of any of those three companies, and I'm exposed to all of it. And at the same time, I feel like I'm bringing a lot of value with my experience around my emphasis on culture, which I bring to all three of those boards, digital mindset, how to think about business transformation, how to think about growth versus just cost cutting, how to think about strategically the pivots that are happening with consumer behavior. And so, it's been an incredible experience to be on those boards, and I have rounded that out with... I work at Permira as a senior advisor a few days a week, and they've put me on three of their private boards, so much smaller company boards, which have a totally different feel, because there, you're practically rolling your sleeves up and really digging into the issues, whereas, obviously, you've got phenomenal leadership and long- term leadership at some of the other companies that I'm on. And then I do some work with basic startups. I'm helping Victress Capital with some of their portfolio companies, and I'm an angel investor in a number of companies. And I sit on the board of a company called Unitary, which is an early- stage AI brand safety company. I mean, some of my meetings are four people on a Zoom, virtual, and we're literally going through, " Okay. What's the pitch going to be? And which partners are we going to talk to? And how do we price this?" I go from that to sitting in a Disney, Coca- Cola, Under Armour board meeting with topics that are macro in nature around strategic transformation. And so, intellectually, it's super interesting to put the portfolio together.

Matt Blumberg: I'm sure. I can only imagine the board meeting around Florida and the political situation in Florida with Disney backed up against a startup board meeting where you're trying to teach a CEO how to read a P&L or how to read a pitch deck.

Carolyn Everson: Yeah. Wide range. Wide range of experience.

Matt Blumberg: A very wide range. But you said something interesting a second ago, which is sort of about culture, and we've talked a lot about culture and how culture extends into the boardroom. And I think you and I agree, and we talked about in the shorter episode the importance of a healthy culture in the company and really the importance of a healthy culture of a leadership team setting the tone for the company. What have you learned about the culture of a board and how much it does or doesn't matter to the health and functioning of the board? But then also, does that actually translate to the health and functioning of the company or is it sort of separate?

Carolyn Everson: So I think the boardroom has to be looked at as another version of a leadership team in terms of culture building. And so, what I have found... I'll use Coca- Cola because I've been on Coca- Cola the longest. It's a little over a year. I have found that the way James Quincey runs the board meetings to be an incredible formula. We have a dinner the night before. We have committee meetings the day before and then a dinner. The dinner is just James, the CEO, with the board members. And that is where, within two hours, you can get sort of a tour of the company on what are the opportunities and the challenges, how is he feeling about a variety of topics. It's just an amazing two- hour immersion. And then you go into the boardroom the next day and that pattern repeats itself, and you get to know your fellow board members. I've also spent time, of course, outside those two days with each of the board members. And I think that is really important, because you want to get a comfort level to be able to completely speak your mind, to challenge when you feel appropriate, to do it, of course, in a respectful and collaborative and collegial way, of course. I think a combative board member is probably highly destructive. I've seen that movie when I was on the Hertz board many years ago. That was not a healthy boardroom. And it's just so different when there is a healthy dialogue, where there's no pretenses. The CEO can be vulnerable, can talk about things that they're concerned about, can put questions on the table and get actual feedback. And I also think that you get out of it what you put into it. And one of the things that has impressed me in all three of my major boards, but I'll just stick with Coca- Cola as the example, their CMO and leadership team asked me to go to Singapore with them for a week. I had joined the board in July, and in September, I was in Singapore and I was with management. And they told me I could go to any of the meetings. I could meet with anybody one- on- one, that I could participate, and I immersed myself. And I'm doing that again. I'm going to Istanbul in a month or so, and doing that again. Now, I don't have a full- time job, so I can go do that. I can put a lot of extra time and work with the company in a different way than just showing up for quarterly board meetings. And that's the way I've wanted to construct my big board assignments.

Matt Blumberg: Well, and it gives you an opportunity to have more of an impact, probably, than of your fellow directors. But the takeaway I have from that... And it's no different than a three- person startup board or a five- person startup board in this regard. The best boards are the ones that function like high- performing teams.

Carolyn Everson: Correct. I think that's-

Matt Blumberg: And it sounds like Coca- Cola is that, and they've done a good job of cultivating that.

Carolyn Everson: Absolutely. And my other fellow board members do different things based on their availability and with their schedules, because some of them are full- time CEOs. But collectively, when we come together, there is a great chemistry, and being a new board member can sometimes be intimidating. And I have felt very welcomed in all three cases and welcomed to speak my mind, which has been great.

Matt Blumberg: Well, that is the sign of a healthy board culture for sure.

Carolyn Everson: Yes.

Matt Blumberg: I feel like I could talk to you for hours and hours and hours. I think we'll end here. Carolyn, thank you so much-

Carolyn Everson: Okay. Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Matt Blumberg: ... sharing your experience and just tremendous wisdom with our audience.

Carolyn Everson: Aw, thanks so much. Great to see you.


Today, Matt is diving deep with Carolyn Everson, a longtime media and sales executive. 

Carolyn shares her story, from her early career and business school, to her time at Facebook, to sitting on boards at companies like Disney and Coca-Cola. This episode is packed with learnings and insider perspectives from Carolyn’s career. Tune in to hear about:

⏳ Why it’s vital to take your time with a major career shift

👩‍🎓 When she believes an MBA is beneficial

🤝 How having a personal board of directors can help you scale individually

🔥 And more!

Today's Host

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Matt Blumberg

|Co-Founder & CEO, Bolster

Today's Guests

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Carolyn Everson

|Board Member & Angel Investor