Lea Tarnowski: “Responsibility is taken, not given; Focus on hiring people who take ownership and responsibility yet are humble.”

Trust your team, observe how everyone delivers and adjust. One of the best advice I have gotten is that responsibility is taken, not given. Focus on hiring people who take ownership and responsibility yet are humble. I had the pleasure of interviewing Lea Tarnowski, the COO, president and co-founder of Averon. Lea has deep cross-domain […]

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Trust your team, observe how everyone delivers and adjust. One of the best advice I have gotten is that responsibility is taken, not given. Focus on hiring people who take ownership and responsibility yet are humble.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Lea Tarnowski, the COO, president and co-founder of Averon. Lea has deep cross-domain experience as an accomplished investor in mobile, FinTech and consumer internet. She is a Harvard Business School graduate and holds MSc degrees from Stockholm School of Economics and HEC Paris. Lea has bridged financial services experience with technology leadership and is recognized for her distinguished leadership and inspiring work in making a positive impact in the financial services industry. She was recently named a finalist in the Banking Technology Awards’ Woman in Technology Leadership category as one of two ‘Highly Commended’ nominees among a field of thirteen extraordinary global executives. Lea’s career began with investment banking and private equity at Morgan Stanley, where she worked as chief of staff to the president and worked as an associate at McKinsey & Company. She has spent much of the last decade investing in technology companies at one of Europe’s leading venture capital funds, Northzone. While an investment director at Northzone, Lea focused on the FinTech, mobile and marketplace sectors, and led investments in companies such as Artfinder, Trust Pilot, and iZettle (acquired by Paypal for $2.2B). Lea enjoys participating in the World Economic Forum (WEF) community and often represents Averon at WEF gatherings at the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and beyond, speaking on topics related to product design, cybersecurity and creating a safer, happier digital world. She has served on a variety of corporate boards as well as the Board of SVCA, the Swedish Private Equity & Venture Capital Association. She is a Kauffman Fellow, an active mentor at various accelerators, and a Hybrid Reality Fellow. Lea has also enjoyed serving as a board member, advisor and angel investor, with a portfolio including Zetsy, Boosterfuels, and Qapital among others. Passionate about building mission-driven communities, including fostering trust in the digital world and mentoring women in technology, Lea is also a lifelong health enthusiast and continually exploring new paths in nutrition, fitness and performance hacking. Lea was born in Croatia, where she enjoyed most of her childhood, and later moved to Sweden, the UK and USA. Today, she happily resides with her family in San Francisco, where her rambunctious young daughter keeps her smiling bright every day.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I first became interested in technology while taking some time off during a sabbatical. During that period, I had no obligations or work to do, and I began to read up on what was happening in the tech industry and how it impacts our daily lives; basically, the human-technology interaction. I realized that this topic interested me ahead of any other, and it was the content I wanted to get deeper and deeper into.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

A lovely story that comes to mind is my journey having my first child since joining Averon. During the time my beautiful daughter was born, Averon was in the midst of fundraising and a number of investors asked to meet me. Since I couldn’t leave home easily just after her arrival, I told all of them: “I would love to meet with all, but my daughter was just born so you would need to come to my home.” Without hesitation, they did! It was a wonderful experience since in the past it was common for new parents to be penalized in situations like that.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that? (related to start of career)

I was working for the President of Morgan Stanley and a big board meeting was happening. I arrived just as everyone sat down. My chair was not well adjusted and had an awkward leaning forward angle. However, every time I tried to fix it, it made a terrible noise. So, not wanting to interfere with the flow of the conversation I sat there, awkwardly, until the first break. Lesson learned is to always arrive to meetings early, make sure everything is perfect and ideally even allow time for bonding with other attendees.

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

Security should be invisible; it should just work. What makes Averon shine is the fact it delivers both better security and user experience. Traditionally, you had to pick between either security or user experience — Averon fundamentally delivers stronger security and user experience by removing identification vulnerabilities at its core.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Averon is continually developing new products and technologies as we work to make the online world a safer place and provide better user experiences. We are expanding the reach of our Direct Autonomous Authentication (DAA) solution globally, so consumers never have to bother downloading security apps or hassling with SMS confirmation codes in the future.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Trust your team, observe how everyone delivers and adjust. One of the best advice I have gotten is that responsibility is taken, not given. Focus on hiring people who take ownership and responsibility yet are humble.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Be authentic in your style of leadership. As Oscar Wilde said, “be yourself, everyone else is taken”. Only you know what will work for you.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’ve had many mentors along the way starting from school and my very first internship, to where I am now. These are people who have been with me since day one. One of my most memorable pieces of advice I’ve ever been given by a mentor is that when people get upset in high stress situations, you should let the noise go in one ear and out the other. Ignore nasty comments, don’t take anything personally, do your job and move on. Those outbursts have more to do with them than with you. So, observe and see what you can learn about the other individual from it.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I am involved in the “Founders Pledge,” a commitment to donate a percent of proceeds to charity. Additionally, every company I’m involved with must have a project that positively impacts the world. Where you spend your time and money reflects the type of future you want to experience, support and build.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned from My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1) Be authentic in your leadership and trust your team

2) Listen more than you talk. (There is a reason you have two ears and one mouth.) Lead with love and compassion.

3) Give praise to others and take responsibility for yourself.

4) Stay positive in all situations. Embrace failures and manage setbacks.

5) Have a sense of humor. (Keep life in perspective)

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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.

I would like to encourage everyone to think long-term about creating a net positive outcome for the world before investing their time and money into something.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“In life you regret the things you didn’t do, not the things you did.”

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

That would be Oprah Winfrey or JK Rowling.

Thank you for joining us!

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