On a beautiful, sunny afternoon, TaskRabbit CEO Stacy Brown-Philpot addressed members of the Tuck Class of 2017, underscoring the importance of being authentic and mission-driven.
Who are you? What do you do? Why does it matter?
Those three questions served as a refrain for the main address at the 2017 Tuck Investiture ceremony June 10. Speaker Stacy Brown-Philpot, CEO of TaskRabbit, an online and mobile marketplace for short-term freelance labor, compelled her listeners to ask themselves these questions on their journey beyond Tuck, as a guide to being true to themselves.
Brown-Philpot, who served as head of online sales and operations at Google before moving to TaskRabbit in 2013, shared stories from her personal and professional history to exemplify how these “simple” questions contributed to her own journey. Growing up in Detroit, Brown-Philpot was raised by a single, loving mother, but life wasn’t easy. In middle school, she came home crying one day because kids were chasing her. Her grandmother locked her out of the house, telling her to stand up for herself. “I lost that fight,” Brown-Philpot said, but she learned that she could take care of herself. “Part of who I am is not a victim, and I know that matters.”
In college at the University of Pennsylvania—“I didn’t even know what an Ivy League school was at that time”—Brown-Philpot shifted from a student body that was 98 percent black, to one with a six percent black population. “True culture shock,” she said, “but I found community and I found identity in a whole different world. So I learned that I can adapt, even in the most uncomfortable situations.” That lesson served her well, she added, when she went on to run Google’s office in Hyderabad, India, another “shocking experience.”
In her Investiture address Brown-Philpot reminded her listeners that remaining authentic is a continuous search.
After receiving her BS in economics from the Wharton School of Business, Brown-Philpot earned an MBA from Stanford before launching her career at Google. There, she progressed through a series of leadership roles that culminated in a notable first—as the only women of color to hold the top position of a Silicon Valley firm. After nine years, however, she realized she was ready for a new challenge. This wasn’t “the finale,” she told her attentive audience in Tuck Circle. The status and recognition at Google, although appreciated, wasn’t what mattered to her.
I’m a mission-minded person, and I fell in love with the mission of revolutionizing everyday work.
“I’m a mission-minded person, and I fell in love with the mission of revolutionizing everyday work.” At TaskRabbit, she said, “Something really clicked for me. I felt closer to myself than I ever had.” Since taking the CEO position, Brown-Philpot has launched an initiative with the Congressional Black Caucus to improve the company’s diversity recruitment and retention efforts. Outside of TaskRabbit, she was appointed to the board of directors at HP Inc., and named one of Fortune’s 40 Under 40 in 2015.
Returning to the questions—Who are you? What do you do? Why does it matter?—Brown-Philpot explained that these are not just one-time reflections. Things come up, she said, like a time recently when she was asked to make a “good” business decision that wasn’t illegal or immoral, but “walked the line” of her own values. During her struggle to decide what to do, she just happened to receive a congratulatory letter from her pastor for her successes in business. “Boy, was that a smack in the face,” she said. “I learned that I could never take my values for granted. Part of who I am now knows that values are precious, and that we have to take care of them.” She cited another lesson about values that came after the July 2016 shootings of two black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, by police officers. In the aftermath, she recalled, “I realized that part of who I am is a black CEO.” That week at her company’s staff meeting—normally a time to highlight accomplishments—she talked about what it is like to be black in America. Since then, she sees her role at work and beyond “to be a part of the effort to humanize diversity.”
At the beginning of her talk, Brown-Philpot told the Tuck Class of 2017 that those with the privilege of a higher education have a responsibility to be the best they can be; to do something real that helps make the world a better place. “This isn’t a burden,” she added, “but it does require being true to ourselves.” In closing, Brown-Philpot returned to this point, reminding her listeners that remaining authentic is a continuous search. “There really isn’t a beginning or end,” Brown-Philpot acknowledged. “It’s a constant appreciation of the puzzle pieces that become evident as you go on to create, reinvent, earn, and appreciate the mosaic of life.”
Following Brown-Philpot’s address, Board of Overseers Chair Chris Williams T’84 presented Tuck Ambassador Andy Steele T’79 with the 2017 Tuck Overseers Medal for cultivating, supporting, and engaging the Tuck alumni community.
“I’ve always wondered about the secret sauce behind Tuck’s success,” said Vijay Govindarajan, the Coxe Distinguished Professor. “One thing is clear. Andy Steele is an integral part of it.” Read the full citation.
Enjoy the Investiture slideshow below. (Photos by Rob Strong.)