High Tech at Hyperspeed
Yahoo chief marketing officer Elisa Lewandowski Steele '88 has mastered multitasking to stay on top of a dynamic industry

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Elisa Lewandowski Steele '88

Q: In your role at Yahoo, you're responsible for the marketing function of the company worldwide?

A: That's right. We have a presence in countries on almost every continent—everywhere from Brazil to India to Hong Kong to the United Kingdom. We of course have marketers on the ground in every location, which means I'm not responsible for the day-to-day work, but I do have to have a handle on what's going on.

Q: What's a typical day like?

A: What's most typical about my day is that there is no typical day. One day I might be working on the launch of a new product at Yahoo's Sunnyvale, Calif., headquarters, another I might be working on a program at one of our overseas locations, still another I might be giving a presentation to customers. Or I might be doing all of those things on a single day—traveling, checking my e-mail constantly, on the phone with someone on the other side of the world. There is no industry more dynamic than high tech. Change happens literally overnight, if not faster, and you just have to keep up with it, period.

Q: You have a husband and two young children. How do you balance your home life and your life as a high-powered executive?

A: The first thing I would say is that I don't buy into the idea of "balance." It's all about prioritization. I don't ever try to spend X number of hours a day being a Yahoo executive and then another X being a wife and mom. I'm a Yahoo executive all the time, and I'm a wife and mom all the time, too. That means if I get a call from school because my son has forgotten his lunch again, I drop whatever I'm doing and go get his lunch, because that's what's most important at that moment. That also means that if I'm at a family party on a Saturday and something comes up at work that needs my urgent attention, I leave the party and take care of that.

Q: But then you go back to the party as soon as you can.

A: Absolutely.

Q: What do your kids think about your job? Do they have a sense that it's something pretty cool?

A: Nikki and Eddie both love Yahoo. When I took the job, almost two years ago, Eddie was 7, and when I told him what I was going to be doing he wanted to know if that meant we could all get free e-mail. I told him oh, yeah—I could definitely hook him up with that. I just didn't mention the other three hundred million other people who already had it for free.

Q: This is your first trip back to campus since you graduated. What took so long?

A: It's kind of hard to believe, isn't it? I grew up in Andover, Mass., and always thought I'd wind up in Boston like most of my friends. My parents moved to San Francisco during my junior year at UNH, though, and after spending a year in San Diego I really fell in love with California. I went to grad school in San Francisco and then took my first job there and just never made it back to Durham again. Twenty-two years went by fast.

Q: Any surprises?

A: The Tin Palace is gone! That might be the biggest surprise for me. How can you have UNH without the Tin Palace? Also, I checked out my old dorm room in Devine Hall. My roommate and I stood outside and pointed up at the window: 'It was that one, right there!' I was amazed by how small it looked. When I was a student here, that room was the whole world to me. ~

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