Jet.com President Liza Landsman honed her math and analytical problem solving skills from an early age thanks to a grandfather who was a bookie and spent a lot of time with her at the horse track.
“When my mom went to work, my grandfather used to pick me up after school and I’d go to the track with him. That’s how I learned math because he taught me how to handicap the horses,” Philadelphia-native Landsman said as a keynote speaker at the Network of Executive Women breakfast Thursday.
The event was part of the LPGA Golf Tournament play which begins Friday at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers.
Her other grandfather was a scientist for NASA. Though he never finished college, he was a fascinating guy, she said.
Landsman spent decades working in finance before joining Jet in February 2015 less than 90 days ahead of Jet.com’s beta launch. She graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University with a bachelor’s degree in physics working in management positions for E*TRADE Financial, as well as BlackRock where she was responsible for the firm’s digital marketing strategy, social media, websites and mobile applications. Prior to that she worked at IBM.
“Marc (Lore), Jet founder, wanted to get the beta website up and running by April 2015 when I began at Jet in February. We had about 250 people working on it. When we launched it was not just a test site. We launched nationally with a million items. The biggest thing I had ever shipped prior was a credit card,” she said.
“Early on we figured out how use analytics to pull costs of out of the supply chain by looking at what items could easily ship together. I discovered I love supply chain but if you say that people look at you funny,” she added. “Most importantly we wanted our business to be relational, not just transactional.”
MARRIED WITH CHILDREN
Tracey Brown, chief experience officer at Sam’s Club, interviewed Landsman at the event. Brown also is a scientist by training with a chemical engineering degree from University of Delaware and later added on an master’s degree in business administration from Columbia University.
Brown and Landsman are married with children while also in demanding jobs. The work-life balance question evoked an interesting response from Landsman.
“It’s just an expression and people who think it’s possible, well I just want to stab them in throat because it’s a myth perpetuated … not sure it’s achievable. It’s important to try and have a rich and fulfilling work life and real life, but it requires us to make hard choices everyday,” Landsman said.
She said on her daughter’s 7th birthday, it was tradition to take cupcakes to the public school in New York. Landsman had returned home late from a work-related trip and was up at midnight trying to 38 bake cupcakes when her daughter got up.
“She said, ‘Mom I don’t care if you bake the cupcakes I just want you to be there,’” Landsman said. “Then it hit me that’s why Billy’s Cupcakes is located between my house and the school. Most parents feel like they are screwing it up most of the time.”
Brown asked Landsman about career advice that helped her succeed. It was wisdom Landsman said she learned from her mother.
“In a fiercely contested race to be my high school yearbook editor, my mom asked if I wanted the position because I wanted the yearbook to be great or just because I just wanted to be the editor. It taught me to know what you’re solving for before you chart your plan of attack. I also learned that we can accomplish just about anything we want in this world as long as we don’t care who gets the credit,” Landsman said.
Brown and Landsman each talked about the importance of diversity in the workplace for a company that wants to be have a future. Landsman said the median age at Jet.com is 28 which is closer to her children’s ages than her own.
“You don’t layer on diversity like frosting on the cake once it’s made. It has to be baked in the cake. I could hire upper east side Jewish women by the dozens, because I know a lot of them. But how would that stretch my thinking,” Landsman said.
Brown said it takes courage to drive change in an organization and there can be pain in the process but when it comes to diversity it’s important that people stick it out for the betterment of the organization in the long run. Landsman said everyone has some bias and it’s important for all management to know that and work actively to keep it from dictating policies in the workplace.
When asked about how Jet and parent-company Wal-Mart could become the best brand in the retail space, Landsman said, “We are going to kick their (Amazon’s) butt.”
She said last week Wal-Mart U.S. e-Commerce acquired Bonobos, through the news was overshadowed by another announcement – Amazon’s $13.7 billion bid for Whole Foods. She said Wal-Mart U.S. e-Commerce is hiring about 300 category specialists and all the brands within the Wal-Mart universe seek to improve and expand the shopper experience.
When asked about her take on joining the Wal-Mart family, she said like onions, when the top layers are peeled back the cultures of Jet and Wal-Mart were quite similar. Admittedly, the New Yorker said initially she was waiting for Wal-Mart to pull back a mask, but it has not happened.
“Everyone has been genuinely nice. I just wish we could curse more,” Landsman said to laughter.
NO JERKS ALLOWED
In taking questions from the audience one Millennial asked the two executive leaders for advice for someone early in a career.
Landsman said, “Know what you want and then ask for it. The asking for it comes harder for women than men I think. When I learned to ask for what I wanted it changed my career.” Brown said it’s important to “show up and be yourself, the best possible version of you.” Both agreed it’s important for women and men to love what they do and who they do it with.
“I don’t want to work with jerks,” Landsman said.
Although all the years “I worked in finance” that wasn’t always the case, she joked.
Both executives used science backgrounds to reach top leadership roles in retail and were asked to explain the connection. Brown said she became an engineer because she wanted to solve problems.
“Now it’s even cool be able to understand data and science as it relates to the world we live in. It has helped in every job I’ve had,” Brown added.
Landsman said she is amazed how physics can be applied in business. She said having the science background lets her examine retail challenges through an analytical lens.