Name: Olga V. Mack
Job / Title: General Counsel
Company: ClearSlide, Inc.
Industry: Enterprise Software, Saas
Q: What have been the hallmarks of your success?
Olga: I often joke that I chose a legal career over a career as a prima ballerina (the Russian equivalent of a top model) because it is a profession where one has more opportunities and becomes more valuable as she ages. Throughout my entire career, both as a business owner and a lawyer, I have been puzzled that the world still correlates intelligence, achievement, perseverance, capability, and other virtues with grey hairs.
It is true that one has an opportunity to get more experience over a longer period of time and over a variety of circumstances. The real question is whether one actually takes these opportunities to live different experiences, or if one relives the same year and experiences multiple times in a lifetime. For many people the latter is true – they relive the same life and maintain the status quo year after year.
This, of course, begs the question – why do we still correlate intelligence, achievement, perseverance, capability, and other virtues with grey hairs? More importantly, why do we expect so little from our young? It’s important to note that in many professions, such as law or finance, being in one’s forties is often considered “young.” In private and public board service, even for young consumer-facing companies, being in one’s fifties is often considered “young.” Youth is relative, which makes it even more clear that intelligence and similar virtues cannot be correlated with age.
While I consider this relative fountain of youth a perk of the legal profession, I also think we should empower and expect more from our young. And certainly, factors like age – too young or too old – should never hold anyone back. After all, we are all adolescents in today’s life expectancy of nearly one hundred!
Q: If you can share one piece of advice that you know now about navigating your career, what would that be?
Olga: Any successful professional, including lawyers, in-house or otherwise, perfects the art and science of empathizing — the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other person’s frame of reference or the capacity to place oneself in the shoes of another — with a client or advice recipient. This ability to understand the needs of the recipient should guide all communications and actions. For example, it should help to determine what to advice to give, how quickly, in which format, at what level of detail, and other factors.
Also, most successful professionals learn that conflicts are a necessary part of life — personal and professional — that often compel progress, change, and evolution. In fact, it is my job as an attorney to deal with conflicts all day, every day. After about a decade of practicing law, I firmly believe that most conflicts should be embraced, managed, and defused, often quickly.
Q: What does leadership mean to you?
Olga: Leadership is a place of equilibrium where I am able to get to a win-win-win solution. For example, as a columnist for the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), an international organization of over 30,000 in-house counsel, I love sharing the stories of other achieved attorneys, often women. In so doing, I help other in-house attorneys to learn from the stories of other highly achieved attorneys and the local attorneys that are profiled receive international recognition. In the process I get to know, be inspired, and learn from the best in class professionals. That’s is a win-win-win solution.
Q: Tell us something about yourself that is a fun fact.
Olga: A few years back, when I was a very pregnant junior attorney, a male judge asked me during my trial, “Ms. Mack, how does being pregnant affect your ability to try this case?” Without missing a beat I told him, “Your Honor, as my stomach grows, my brain stays the same.” After a three second pause, I continued with a slight smile, “I wish it were the other way around.” Stopping the awkward inquiry and speaking up for myself was empowering. I went on to give the best closing argument of my career and win my trial. A day after my win I gave birth to my first daughter. When I met her for the first time I promised to teach her to stand up for herself, if only so she can be empowered to win. Almost two years later I made a similar promise after giving birth to my second daughter. These promises inspire me to aim high.
Q: In what areas can you give advice to other CLUB members as part of the CLUB mentoring program?
Olga: Always aim high, higher than you think is doable or even sensible. After all, in retrospect, which is how all achievements are judged by definition, they always look doable and sensible.
Olga Mack was selected for the 2016 CLUB Incubator program based on her early successes, graceful ambition and refreshing philosophy on being a startup lawyer who isn’t afraid to embrace calculated risks. You can learn more about Olga’s professional background, awards and interests – including her work to ensure more female representation on corporate boards – at www.olgamack.com.