Lyor's Letter: Susan Wojcicki, Sylvia Rhone, and Julie Greenwald – executives redefining leadership

Mar 30, 2021

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When I invited Susan Wojcicki (CEO of YouTube), Sylvia Rhone (Chairman and CEO of Epic Records), and Julie Greenwald (Chairman and COO of Atlantic Records) to have a conversation about leadership, I wasn’t sure how much they’d be willing to share. But wow did it get real.

I’m so grateful 3 of the most revolutionary women in our business were willing to share their thoughts on redefining male-dominated industries. Their wisdom can be an inspiration for all professionals but especially for women as we celebrate Women’s History Month. I hope you enjoy our conversation below.

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LYOR COHEN: Balancing the demands of personal and professional life can be extremely challenging. Susan, I know we’ve talked about how questions on balancing work with family are not asked to men. Can you share your thoughts on that?

SUSAN WOJCICKI: It’s not typical to ask male executives, “How do you do it all? How do you handle work and family?” But when you’re a woman executive, you are asked that a lot. With that question is an underlying assumption that you have key responsibilities for the home that you are not doing due to your job outside the home. It is changing now, and the assumptions on responsibilities are becoming more fluid, and that seems good for everyone.

That said, it is a challenge and it’s always a balancing act with a demanding job and family responsibilities. I think kids understand that you have other responsibilities in your life. And it’s good for them to learn that you have other things to tend to. You can’t be the perfect parent and the perfect person at work, but a lot of times doing the best you can is enough.

JULIE GREENWALD: I struggled as a young mom, climbing the career ladder with this beautiful newborn at home. It would’ve been nice for some woman mentor to warn me and say, “You’re going to miss some concerts to be a mom, and some soccer games because of your job.” Sometimes you don’t find the balance, so you do the best you can. Be present with your staff, be present at home. I just try to juggle. And I’ve learned how to forgive myself.


LYOR COHEN: Sylvia, you broke the ceiling for women and women of color in the most powerful roles in the music business. How do you bring along other women who might look to you as a trailblazer?

SYLVIA RHONE: When I started in this industry, I was initially hired as a secretary. As my role and responsibilities continued to evolve over time, I would take each new position and opportunity it afforded me very seriously. For young Black women who are networking and starting their careers in this field, it’s important for us to understand that every day is different and brings its own set of learning curves. For some, this can be daunting, but for me, it was my passion and I craved the chance to learn more. As I moved up the ladder, I encouraged each department to hire people who looked like me. Personally, I hired women for positions that were typically male-dominated. I would hire a woman as the lead for brand partnerships, or head of video production, or head of Business Affairs, or the Vice President of Sales. If you continue to offer these opportunities and commit to a diverse team, you will build a smart and talented brain trust of people of color and women for the future success of your company.


LYOR COHEN: Have all of you bumped into headwinds of chauvinism?


JULIE GREENWALD: Listen, the first part of my career I was at a hip-hop label in the ’90s. It was a male-driven sport. But I felt that this business was a lot about taking care of artists. I thought of myself as a caretaker. And I felt that I was much more nurturing than my male counterparts. I wasn’t afraid to be a woman, and I was able to move talent like no other. I used my femininity to my advantage. There were times I was discouraged by the industry being so male-dominated, but I just out-hustled everybody. Eventually, I was able to hire a lot of women and create my own girls’ club. I had a tribe, a sisterhood that I was so happy to be around.

SYLVIA RHONE: In the early days of my career, I would spend a fair amount of time out on the road with a car full of male music executives for promotional tours. I was typically the only woman in that space. We’d travel from Philly to Detroit to Chicago — all of which required an overnight stay and we’d share one hotel room. It’s important for me to confirm that I never felt threatened. Rather, I grew up in a den of lions who protected me. No one ever treated me with disrespect — or less than their male peers — because this group had my back and I had theirs. That gave me a tremendous amount of confidence in overcoming stereotypes.


LYOR COHEN: What is a closing thought or anecdote you would like to share?

SUSAN WOJCICKI: It’s important for people to understand what their passion is and to find something they’re committed to doing in the long term. I find a lot of meaning in my work. I see the way it impacts people all around the globe. There’ve been challenges over the past 20 years — a lot of them — but I’m committed to what I’m doing, and I feel like I’m working for a larger cause, which helps me power through the hard times. I was supported by a lot of women along the way, and now I’m grateful to be in a position to give back to women who are just getting started themselves.

JULIE GREENWALD: I think the most important thing, male or female, is to know your strength and play to it. When you know what you’re good at, go for it — and don’t be afraid to let everyone else know how good you are. Greatness matters. Everyone has some kind of superpower. You just have to figure out what yours is.


I hope you all found this conversation as inspiring as I did. Thank you so much for reading, and please stay safe.

With love and respect,

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Lyor Cohen

Global Head of YouTube Music