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October 11, 2023

Rachel Bullock of Leap Event Technology Shares How To Get More Women On Your Leadership Team

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An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Don’t skimp on your high performers; be generous with your time. Don’t assume “they’re good.” Put your energy into developing your stars.

Rachel Bullock

Despite ongoing conversations about gender equality, a gap remains in the representation of women in board and executive leadership roles. It’s more than just numbers — it’s about the enriched perspective, creativity, and insight women bring to the table. What are some strategies, initiatives, and real-world practices that have successfully elevated women to board and executive positions? In this interview series, we are talking to C-suite executives who can share their experiences and insights about “How To Get More Women On Your Board and Executive Leadership Team”. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Bullock.

Rachel Bullock is an experienced C-Suite leader with a proven track record of driving growth and scaling operations in the technology and digital media industries.

As Chief Operating Officer of PE-backed Leap Event Technology, Rachel is responsible for global operations, including project management, implementation, client support, event operations, customer care, hardware, logistics, and real estate in the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia. Rachel integrated Leap’s 12 acquisitions into one international team. Prior to joining Leap Event Technology, Rachel was COO of the venture-backed Render Media, where she was responsible for the P&L and daily operations of the 2nd fastest growing digital media company in the US (Inc. 5000). Rachel has also held senior roles in hospitality (SBE) and publishing (McGraw-Hill and SAGE). She was named a Los Angeles Business Journal Women’s Leadership Awards 2023 Nominee, a Top 50 Women Leaders of Los Angeles for 2022 by Women We Admire, a 2022 Los Angeles Times Inspirational Women Forum and Leadership Awards Nominee, and has also been named to the CSQ NextGen 10 list. A graduate of Wake Forest University (B.A.) and Brandeis University (M.A.), Rachel recently earned her Corporate Governance certification from UCLA. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Women’s Leadership Council.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about succession, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I had a front row seat to the transformation of the publishing industry. I went to college with the help of a creative writing scholarship. After I earned my Master’s Degree, I started my dream job as an editor on Madison Avenue. Just as I acquired my first book, everything changed. Magazines went online. Editorial roles were drying up. So, I leveraged my skills in editorial, operations, leading teams, and project management to transform my career. I became a digital project manager, which led me to technology operations leadership.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

The pandemic was not kind to the live events industry. We had to make some tough choices. I’m eternally grateful to our leadership team at that time (Marc Jenkins, Michael Marty, Betsy Grider, Celeste Griffin-Churchill, Mike Clow, Jim Barzak, Doug Lyons) and our sponsor (Vector Capital) for working together to create a positive outcome for Leap. I’m proud of the Operations Leadership team for continuing to integrate the 10 companies we had acquired, to migrate to new tools, cross-train staff, and go through the organizational changes we had planned, even in the face of major uncertainty. We came out of it a stronger company–and a stronger team.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

With Leap’s technology, data, and services, we provide everything an organizer needs to put on a best-in-class event. From Disney to the NFL to Lollapalooza, we’ve worked with iconic brands to help create electrifying experiences around the globe. We have an incredible Event Operations team, led by Tara Friel. This team is responsible for our warehousing and logistics, hardware, and onsite training and support. They travel the world to deliver for our clients. This summer Tara successfully led our most challenging onsite deployment ever with meticulous planning, superb execution, and unyielding good humor.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Strategic Thinking: How is what I’m proposing going to impact the company in the short, near, and long term? For example, I just promoted Jessica Attwood to GM, APAC. That’s great. Everyone’s excited for her. But before I did so, I made sure the rest of the senior leadership team and the Operations leadership understood the challenges ahead for Jess–and I got their buy-in to support her.

Operational Excellence: If you’re going to do it, do it well. Maybe it’s the editor in me.

Leading with Kindness: Kindness isn’t “being nice.” It’s setting clear expectations, providing the right environment for success, celebrating wins, and holding people accountable. For example, we use OKRs to align everyone in the organization with our company goals.

Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader? I’m curious to understand how these challenges have shaped your leadership.

I went straight into a PhD program right out of undergrad. Brandeis offered me tuition remission and a stipend. I was getting paid to get a PhD! And yet I felt ready to start my career. So, instead, I earned a Master’s degree and left academia for the business world. It was a tough choice at the time, but I know it was the right one. Trust your instincts. That experience helped me to see I could change industries, too. That I could bring my expertise to new arenas.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. How do you view the importance of having more women on your board and executive leadership team? Can you describe the value they bring from your own experience?

At Leap, we have women in leadership roles that other companies might not. In addition to my role as Chief Operating Officer, our C-Suite includes Chief Strategy Officer Betsy Grider and Chief Product Officer Lauren Chan Lee. Melanie Dutkiewicz is our VP, Revenue Controller. Leslie Phaup Horn is our VP, Project Management. Saranya Subramanian is our Lead Test Engineer. I mentioned Tara Friel heading up the Event Operations team. Those are not traditional roles for women. We bring a different perspective. We are more likely to pull from life experiences. Our company, and our clients, are all the better for it.

Reflecting on the last few years, what positive changes have you noticed regarding women in board and executive roles? Conversely, are there areas where progress has been slower or more challenging?

I’m celebrating the fact that women filled 40% of new US board seats in 2022, according to the Board Monitor. Sometimes it can feel like two steps forward, one step back. But the fact that we’re all here talking about it means we’re on the right path.

What, in your view, might prevent women from seeking board positions?

I think some women are concerned that they don’t have enough experience. Ok, educate yourself. Get curious about how your own company’s board operates. Find outside resources. EY has some excellent programs; I appreciate Julie Locke for including me in their SoCal Women in the Boardroom events. I recently completed a Corporate Governance program at UCLA. And I’m a director on the board of the Women’s Leadership Council.

Here are three other ways to get started:

1. It’s unusual for your first board appointment to be with a publicly traded company, but think beyond non-profit boards. Private companies have outside directors, too. Even a small one can be an excellent way to build experience and confidence.

2. Boards need directors with operational experience as well as special skills. For example, the Audit Committee requires financial literacy. The SEC just set new rules regarding cybersecurity. If that’s your area of expertise, now’s the time to raise your hand.

3. Let people know. Tell colleagues, associates, and friends about your interest in board service.

While focusing on gender diversity, how do you also ensure a broader diversity of thought, background, and experience within leadership? How do these elements intertwine?

I’ve been working with global teams my entire career and at Leap I’ve had the amazing opportunity to integrate companies and teams from around the world. Make room on your roster for leaders outside of the US and you will see the benefit in terms of broader diversity of thought right away.

Headshot of Rachel Bullock

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things That Should Be Done To Get More Women On Your Board and Executive Leadership Team”?

1. Be explicit about professional development. Build it into your budget. Bring it up–often. For example, it’s my expectation that Leap project managers have their certification. But I’m happy to sponsor promising PMs without that PMP if they express the desire and make the time to continue their education.

2. Don’t skimp on your high performers; be generous with your time. Don’t assume “they’re good.” Put your energy into developing your stars.

3. Enlist your colleagues in helping your high performers succeed. Share your goals for your high potentials. Ask for feedback. Do 9 Box exercises in a group setting as a Senior Leadership team. Listen. Then ask them to trust and support your stars.

4. Actively recruit candidates outside of your industry to enhance the diversity of thought and perspective. Challenge your leaders to consider talent from different phases of their career and to pay attention to the balance of experience on their bench. For example, Leap’s DIY GM, Chrisse Dragon, has deep industry experience and leads that team to outperform, year after year. Our Head of Client Support, Jennifer Borelli, joined us two years ago with incredible client service and Salesforce experience in a completely different industry. Both women are top performers.

5. Support women before, during, and after maternity leave. Have a generous parental leave policy and mean it. At Leap, I’m proud to say we’ve promoted several women upon their return from maternity leave.

In your opinion, what role does corporate culture play in promoting gender equality? Can you explain?

Corporate culture is so critical in promoting gender equality. That’s one reason I am an executive sponsor of Leap Event Technology’s culture committee and the executive sponsor of Leap University, our peer-to-peer training program, led by Senior Director of Sales Megan Call. But like kindness, company culture and gender equality are not “nice” or “a favor.” Angela Gardner recently shared Heidrick & Struggles’ second survey of CEOs around the world which underscores the deep links leaders see between culture and financial performance.

With your commitment to achieving gender balance and fostering diversity, what are the thoughts or concerns that keep you awake at night? How do these reflections shape your approach as a leader?

In Julia Boorstin’s When Women Lead, she highlights a Korn Ferry study that showed the one area in which female CEOs scored higher than their male counterparts was humility. She writes: “The humility of a CEO causes her to believe that everyone can learn and grow, and to hire based on potential, not experience.” We owe it to each other to have the humility to believe that everyone can learn and grow, to encourage women to take on roles where they are underrepresented and that directly tie to the needs of corporate boards: C-Suite leadership; information technology; and finance.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Leading with Kindness.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can find me on LinkedIn and IRL in Los Angeles!

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.

This article was originally published October 4, 2023 via Medium.

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