THE BLOG
07/03/2014 12:49 pm ET | Updated Sep 02, 2014

Women in Business: Kirsten Wolberg, VP of Technology Business Operations at PayPal

Kirsten Wolberg, Vice President of Technology Business Operations, joined PayPal in June 2012 to lead the Technology Business Operations organization. Her team is responsible for all of the business operations functions for Technology, including strategic planning and investment, as well as portfolio management and end-to-end program management for strategic enterprise initiatives. Kirsten serves on Advisory Boards for companies with cloud-based delivery models including Socialware, CollabNet and New Charter University.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I grew up in Anchorage, AK, where the state motto is "The Last Frontier"; so I grew up surrounded by pioneers - people who set out to be the first to do big things and who challenge the status quo because they know there is something bigger "out there." I think this is why I've always carried a pioneer spirit in my heart. I am quick to take on challenges that "can't be done," and I love to fix problems at scale. It's easy to fix something for a company with 100 people. But how do you make big changes happen in a company with 14,000 or 140,000 people? That's the space I like to lean into and lead from.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at PayPal?
My career has been a balance of strategy, operations, product and technology roles, while my degrees are in finance. Right out of Kellogg University, I worked for CSC Index, a leading management consulting firm. When I joined the firm, they were focused on strategy and process re-engineering. I loved this company and this job because it gave me fantastic experience fixing really big problems by re-engineering end-to-end process and then using technology to enable and automate them. I was able to work in cross functional teams that really delivered game changing solutions making a big difference for customers.

We've been doing this same kind of work at PayPal since I've been here, and it's been a lot of fun. My current role at PayPal is a great mix of strategy, operations, product and technology roles, so it's giving me an opportunity to bring all of my prior education and experience to bear against today's opportunities and challenges.

One of the big shifts we needed to make at PayPal was to become a more customer-focused company. I learned from Chuck Schwab during my time working at Charles Schwab & Co. that the only way to succeed is to focus on what is right for the customer. Always sit on the side of the customer, do not introduce trade-offs or conflicts between what is right for the company and what is right for the customer. I'm seeing that same value system and behaviors now at PayPal and I'm doing what I can to continue to model and lead from this place in all the work I do.

Tell us about PayPal's Transformation Initiative program and how it is making a difference in the payment industry.
The PayPal Transformation is at the core of unlocking innovation at PayPal. We've focused on four key pillars of change:

· Customer Driven Innovation (CDI) to ensure that we are developing products that meet the needs of our customers.
· A Product Model allowing us to be aligned by product lines and sub-product lines to ensure that our teams have end to end ownership and accountability for the customer experience.
· A key change has been a move from waterfall development to agile scrum development. We have over 400 global teams iterating in two week sprints and our velocity has increased significantly enabling PayPal to release products faster. In the past 18 months, we've released 58 products, which is more than the previous five years combined.
· Key Performance Indicators -- we are laser focused on measuring and delivering value to our customers.

Underlying this whole change has been a shift to embrace open source technologies like Open Stack and node.js. We recently hired Danese Cooper, an amazing leader in the open source community to lead our Open Source Office and continue to expand PayPal's contribution in the open source community. We've transformed our people, our processes, and our technology to ignite innovation. It's been the largest and fastest change of this kind I've seen.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at PayPal?
Some of the highlights, I've been able to experience since joining PayPal is celebrating the one year anniversary of our transformation. It was so fun to hear some of our biggest detractors (employees who said "it's not going to work that way at PayPal.") stand up and share stories about how much better, easier, and faster it is to work and innovate for our customers now! Seeing my team win the Austin Gives Award for the Small Business Challenge program in Austin. This program brings eBay Inc., employees together with non-profit organizations to help them create breakthrough solutions in operations and technology. We had such a great response in Austin that we've expanded the program to San Francisco and will be rolling out globally next year.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I started my career talking about work/life balance and quickly realized that I couldn't balance anything! I then realized it is all about work/life integration because I believed the answer was figuring out a way to integrate the two parts of my life together. In reality this just meant typing out emails from the sidelines of a soccer field and working into the wee hours after my girls had gone to bed.

Today, I have come to terms with the fact that it all comes down to choice. Every day I have to make difficult choices that will impact my career and my family. I look at each decision as an opportunity to make the right choice for that situation. Once I've made a decision, I hold on to the knowledge that it was the "right one" and don't allow myself to second guess or guilt myself into a different place.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think the biggest issue for women in the workplace is the unconscious bias against women that exists in the workplace. By definition, it's a bias that is not recognized, therefore, it's really tough to change it. I don't believe that most men are consciously trying to limit a woman's ability to succeed and excel in the workforce, but I do think that every day men (and women) make decisions that ultimately are contrary to building a diverse and balanced workforce.

Tell us about your involvement in the International Women's Forum and the Year Up Bay Area.

I am on the board of Year Up Bay Area. Year Up is an amazing organization that is helping to close the opportunity divide. Year Up helps at risk youth between the ages of 18-24 get technical and business training for six months, then a six month internship with companies like eBay, Inc., Salesforce and Wells Fargo Bank. I was the first board member when Year Up expanded to the Bay Area and I've been on the board for over five years. In that time we've grown from a learning community of 20 students to three learning communities with over 120 students. The outcomes are staggeringly good -- over 85% of our students have full time employment three months after graduation. I've never been part of such a well run non-profit.

I am also on the board of the International Women's Forum- Northern California. IWF is an organization of women, successful in their fields who come together to share ideas, learn and promote better leadership globally. The diversity of the women make this a unique organization with broader expertise and outlook to make a greater impact for our changing world. I'm committed to helping female leaders build and grow successful careers and IWF provides a great platform to help me achieve this goal.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I've been very fortunate to have some amazing mentors and sponsors in my life. Mentors have provided sage advice, have asked me the really tough questions, and have given me the benefit of learning from their mistakes (before I make them myself!).

Sponsors in my life have made the greatest impact on my career path. My sponsors helped ensure that my career grew alongside their careers. I changed jobs and companies to follow my sponsors and be part of their winning teams. Ultimately, my sponsors believed in me unconditionally, which gave me the confidence to believe in myself. As I trace back through my career, every single move was challenged, supported and celebrated by my sponsors. I can say without question that I would not be where I am today without their sponsorship.

Some of the most rewarding parts of my job now is mentoring and sponsoring the high potential women at PayPal. We've got such incredible female talent here. We have a formal and an informal mentorship program. I think both are needed.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire three female leaders and they are:

· Janet Yellen, Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve. Janet is a pioneer and is the first female to be Chairman of the Federal Reserve, and I think it's just awesome. Janet is a lifelong learner and she's committed her career to growing, learning, and contributing to the debate. I respect that, and look forward to watching her lead from this role.
· Grace Hopper, Rear Admiral US Navy. Grace was a true visionary and made significant contributions to software engineering through her work in the early English-Language programming languages. I am most inspired by how she committed herself to help motivate young people (especially women) to pursue careers in technology. I carry on this work today because we still have a huge gender gap in tech that we need to bridge.
· Sivan Borowich-Ya'ari, founder Innovation: Africa, a non-profit organization that brings Israeli clean technologies in solar energy and water to regions in need throughout Africa. Sivan embodies the marriage of vocation and avocation, as she lives by her mission of using Israeli innovation to change the world for the better. If every human on earth lived in a way to bring the very best innovations to change the world, we'd be living in a much better world.

What are your hopes for the future of PayPal?
PayPal is on a course to change the payments industry. I know we have the talent, the technology, and the drive to fundamentally change the way people pay and get paid. At the core of this company is a value set that aligns with our customers to help them succeed in connecting commerce globally. It's an exciting time in payments and my greatest hope is that PayPal continues to innovate and lead the industry by delivering products our customers love.