THE BLOG

Women in Business: Carey Kolaja, Vice President of Global Consumer Products, PayPal

04/28/2015 05:34 am ET | Updated Jun 28, 2015

As Vice President of Global Consumer Products at PayPal, Carey Kolaja is responsible for upholding PayPal's global product vision in service to hundreds of millions of consumers around the world. Carey leads an international team charged with designing, deploying and operating global products and commercial strategies for all of PayPal's products to effectively serve the local needs and interests of customers in each of the 203 markets that PayPal serves.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My parents lived a life serving others. My father as a doctor and my mother an educator. Bettering the lives of those around them was evident in their life choices, behaviors, and relationships; it was omnipresent growing up. One can only improve the lives of others, when you have a deep understanding of yourself. It's a journey that never ends, but motivated me to be constantly curious about the world around me and to remain humble no matter any successes. I have vivid memories of my mom engaging in intellectual conversations with individuals who others never would have noticed, always taking away something meaningful. Title, role, job, accomplishments, and wealth didn't matter, there was something to learn from them.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at PayPal?
Diversity of experiences - from developer to consultant, from sales to design, from technology to finance, from customer to provider - taught me the importance to nurture one's capacity to be empathetic for my partners, functions, customers, etc. Organization boundaries, people boundaries, cultural boundaries are all artificial, the only boundaries that exist are the ones in your own mind, and therefore, I believe individual's creativity is endless. This experience has given me a deep understanding of how to drive innovation in the payments industry. I've also learned the value of powering potential by embracing and celebrating diversity in the workplace, which helps transform organizations for the better and empower talent to reach new potentials.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at PayPal?
Two factors have particularly affected my job in the last few years.

First was the focus within PayPal to bring more relevant and innovative products to market globally. The global product team was tasked with encouraging innovation across payments (mobile, online and in-stores) and shipped more products than ever before: 58 new products within an 18-month period (more than the last five years combined).

The second was the increasing global focus, which I championed. While PayPal had a broad international footprint, the company's previous policy was to build solutions for customers in the U.S. first and then the "rest of the world." I strategized and made recommendations that resulted in the introduction of 200+ new products and experiences for my regions in two years. The spectrum of products that resulted from my efforts range from PayPal's entrance into new markets [Russia], introduction of leading experiences such as Check-In in Brazil, Mexico, Germany, Japan and Australia and chip and PIN readers in the UK, to free return shipping in 22 markets, to developing new funding instruments around the world. In 2014, under my direction, we expanded to 15 new markets. Payments is very personal, it is local, it is wrapped in consumer behaviors that touch geo politics, economics, regulation and cultures to name a few. The global focus I had allowed me to travel for work to see where the similarity and the nuances were, enabling us to solve for market needs at scale.

The focus on innovation and global business have been positive for us. PayPal's international business generated $1.1 billion in revenue in Q4 2014, and international revenue grew at a rate of 17% YOY. I believe much of this was due to well-crafted, innovative, globally inspired product experiences my team launched.

What advice can you offer to women who want to work in your industry?
My advice to women is to never give up, be comfortable leading change and give yourself permission to go for what you want and voice it. If you embrace the need to be patient to pace your ambitions and create the white space for opportunities, the possibilities and opportunities will be endless. Being in Silicon Valley during the Dot.com boom was hard as I saw my generation seeing global success overnight and achieving their career aspirations in the blink of an eye. But being patient and knowing that building a career brick by brick creates a more solid foundation, and allowed me to pace myself. I encourage more and more women to join technology companies - it's a fascinating and lucrative time to be in this industry.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Based on the traditional definition of work/life balance, I don't, period.

However, I do believe we have embarked on a new balance: Virtual vs. Physical Existence. For the last six years, I have been working virtually. For me "work/life balance" is no longer about personal and professional. The balance we need to strike as women and men is about how we balance our virtual and physical existence. I believe if you are passionate about what you do, you leverage technology productively, and you create the space for your mind to wonder, why does there need to be an artificial line between work and life? I found a path that allows me to be where I need to be, work from anywhere and live the life I want. Technology has afforded me the opportunity to do just that. I was in an Uber the other day and the driver asked me, "When do you start work?" "I never stop," was my response. It isn't work that gets in the way with my family, it is when I live in the digital space with my loved ones in the same room. Once I accepted the importance of an integrated life, I learned to use it to my advantage to create a new balance between the Virtual and the Physical.

For me, a typical day begins when I wake up around 5:30 a.m. to start my day and read current events through Flipboard, while checking emails from my teams across the globe. But then I take some time for myself, for a solid twenty minutes with no distractions. This time helps me prepare for my day and think about what needs to get done.

Another stress reliever is working out. I work out for about an hour almost every day - typically a mix of boxing and running.

I also love spending time with my family, of course, and always make time for my sons.

I believe that while it's important to be the best executive you can be, you still need to remember to take time for yourself and do what makes you feel valued and happy.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Today's working women still face a number of challenges when advancing their career. However the one that I continually observe is women who wait for others to give them permission to speak out vs. giving themselves permission to speak. I used to be terrified to speak in public or in large group meetings. Years ago someone said to me, "When you speak, people listen, give yourself permission to speak in the first three minutes of every situation." That was the catalyst for me, to never keep my mouth closed, as my team continues to learn.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I haven't had many formal mentors in my career, although the ones I have had the privilege to work with were amazing. I have always believed in this statement, "Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence." It is in this statement, where I learned from my mentors to be comfortable making myself and my job obsolete.

Success has always been defined for me. I have had the privilege of having a handful of men and women leaders who believed in me far before I believed in myself. They gave me opportunities to explore areas where my resume didn't technically give me the right too. For this reason, I have committed to pay it forward, giving others an opportunity to test the waters in roles and areas where others may have not have allowed them to. For me, it is about the individual's potential to create connections that is a predictor of success.

But honestly, my biggest mentors are those that never knew. Members of my team and my professional community that opened my eyes, who gave me feedback, who took as much interest in me being a great leader as I did in them.

Encouraging more and more women to join the technology industry is an ongoing effort of mine. And it is also important to mentor up and coming female leaders as well.

To this end, I am an active member in mentoring young female entrepreneurs. I was President of eBay's Women in Technology Organization (eWIT) for three consecutive years, where I grew the Women in Technology organization from 50 North America members to 1800+ globally, built an enduring organization and foundation from which three other presidents presided and over 2000+ women are members of globally. Under my leadership, eWIT sponsored the first non-HR lead employee mentoring program, which remains intact today.

Such efforts have helped eBay Inc. to more than double the number of women in leadership roles, as well as increase the share of leadership positions held by women in the last three years.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
There are a number of inspiring female leaders that I admire, from Christine Lagarde and Arianna Huffington to Meg Whitman and Oprah Winfrey, and for all different reasons. But I don't find inspiration and admiration in one gender, but in individuals. So I could add to that list Leonardo da Vinci, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jackie Robinson, and my father.

However, in spirit of the question, the women I admire the most are my mother and grandmother. Two individuals who are the most unselfish people I know. Their unconditional love to their family and friends are only second to their commitment to living life to its fullest. At 68 and 89, they have more energy than my two sons. They have found the balance of being a matriarch, teachers, and friends. They have shown me the importance of adapting, accepting, and exploiting the challenges that are put in front of you. To deal with adversity head on, to embrace aging, and to not artificially limit yourself before life naturally does it for you. Growing up with these two women have made it clear that strength comes from adversity and the ability to handle the truth. If you couldn't take feedback [literally every day] in my family, you wouldn't survive.

What do you want PayPal to accomplish in the next year?
I believe that at PayPal, we have the power to really help people by transforming money. We want to democratize the movement and management of money. We're focused on developing new services and products that will help people solve every day pain points and give them a product they care about. My goal, is to make our vision a reality.