Lucy Liu of Swiftly: “Understand what diversifying really means”

Understand what diversifying really means. It is easy to focus on one thing, but that won’t get you to where you need to be in today’s world. Never stop learning. Finance and the world in general are always changing. Set goals and know what it will take to get there. Have a plan for your […]

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Understand what diversifying really means. It is easy to focus on one thing, but that won’t get you to where you need to be in today’s world. Never stop learning. Finance and the world in general are always changing. Set goals and know what it will take to get there. Have a plan for your money as you grow. As your knowledge grows, support organizations that help improve financial literacy and give back.


As a part of our series about “Women Leading The Finance Industry”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lucy Liu, CFO of Swiftly.

Lucy Liu is the Chief Financial Officer of Swiftly with 15 years of successful finance experience, including a six-year tenure as the CFO at Waze and a leader of finance teams at Microsoft and Google. With a passion for the impact of technology on people, Lucy’s experience navigating startups and major technology companies has informed her desire to help financial leaders understand challenges and make bold investment decisions. Lucy received her MBA from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the finance field?

It was a bit or a winding road to get to where I am today, but a journey that taught me so much and made me a better person and leader. In my first job after UC Berkeley, I joined a financial leadership program at Microsoft. To be clear, back then, I was not a techie: I just thought working at Microsoft would help me rise in my new career. But soon, I caught the bug, getting excited about how technology could better all of our lives. Inspired, I decided to focus on business and leadership within tech. After my MBA ay Kellogg, I joined Google’s advertising sales department, where I gained an important perspective on leadership. Everyone thought I was doing great in sales. I was performing well and exceeding quotas. But I wasn’t happy. I missed finance, but more than that, I missed thinking about the big picture: why are we building these products, and how does this shape our future? I knew what I loved and why I loved it, and thus began the next phase of my leadership journey at Waze and now the CFO of Swiftly.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occured to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

In 2015, I joined Waze as their first finance hire. My experience with senior leaders to that point was filled with the same stratified and masculine leadership I saw in China, the same one I always assumed I would have to mimic. And I could have. But I knew that matching force with force just wasn’t me. To be persuasive, to invoke trust, the solution was actually much easier than I ever imagined. I simply needed to accept who I (already) was. I firmly believe that the best companies are built upon great people, team players who held themselves and others accountable — those who help others succeed.

I found my role as an aligner of office interests and a team builder. I didn’t confront anyone with shouting; instead, I convinced with data, a problem-solving mindset and deep business know-how. As Waze rapidly grew, I came to see my role as an owner of the company: driving forward and making sure everyone was moving in the same direction. I focused on figuring out what drove employees, and I balanced their needs with our company’s. By understanding motivations, I drove clarity and alignment that led to win-win solutions. No matter what public personas they may have, leaders will always have human instincts, and need to be driven to help people as a way of being useful — and feeling good in the process.

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

My journey has just started at Swiftly! I see our team’s humility and dedication. I see the potential of Swiftly’s vision: to add real value by integrating digital experience with brick-and-mortar shopping, to the benefit of shoppers, retailers and brands alike. And I see the huge impact I can have as a finance leader in a startup about to scale.

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

Swiftly is uniquely positioned in the marketplace and have created a three-sided marketplace among retailers, consumers and advertisers. The Swiftly platform main components include: 1. Retail platform provides the tools retailers need to deliver a great mobile app and build digital relationships. 2. The advertising platform enables retailers to open new revenue streams by building their own retail media networks to sell targeted digital ad placements and capitalize on the retail media revolution. 3. The analytics platform connects to a store’s point of sale system, enabling closed loop reporting — the elusive holy grail for brick-and-mortar retailers and brands. The platform analyzes individual transactions, product prices, sales, and inventory across each store, enabling retailers to turn their data into a monetizable, high-margin asset. More importantly, our technology enables everyday grocery shoppers to save money, time, provide more flexibility and more options in their shopping journey. Our future is bright and I look forward to building the business and shaping our future.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?

Many strong female leaders bring a view to the finance world focused on people, team and sustainable business value. Women bring a different perspective to problem-solving. Diversity of thought and communication approach deploying new decision-making styles and ultimately the success within organizations. Gender norms aside, Finance is detailed with occasional chaos and impacts all aspects of every organization, startup or established, which is why discipline is so important as a finance leader.

Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?

Organizations need to start by embracing diversity in leadership styles. Women often feel a need to identify with the men leading their organizations and to distance themselves from other women instead of being themselves. They need to embrace authenticity.

Education is a must. I am not talking about a university degree, but education on gender diversity to address the mass of gender bias that exists. Understanding how this impacts career development and addressing it with programs that are actually supported will get more women into leadership roles.

Individuals in leadership roles (male or female) need to become advocates for high-potential female employees. This can be in the form of project work, stretch promotions and mentorship to name a few. This needs to be a continuous effort to help more women achieve the leadership roles they deserve.

Let’s now turn to a slightly new topic. According to this report in Fortune, nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic test of financial literacy. In your opinion or experience what is the cause of these unfortunate numbers? If you had the power to make a change, what 3 things would you recommend to improve these numbers?

We are a very judgmental society. Nobody knows it all and personal finance is really anchored in minimizing mistakes. Those who have the knowledge and means need to help those that need it most.

Simplify the financial world for everyone with a focus on financial wellness. That can mean different things to different people, but ultimately what everyone wants (and needs).

Education should always be a focus. There are massive opportunities to teach financial basics in our school systems. Similar to another language, it is much easier to learn early.

You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each.

Understand what diversifying really means. It is easy to focus on one thing, but that won’t get you to where you need to be in today’s world. Never stop learning. Finance and the world in general are always changing. Set goals and know what it will take to get there. Have a plan for your money as you grow. As your knowledge grows, support organizations that help improve financial literacy and give back.

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?

Business was always part of my world: back in China, my father is a bit of a local big shot, a real estate developer who accomplished a lot and thrived over the years. I admired him and emulated his career, but at a young age, all that glittered for me lingered on the surface: his success, a distinguished image, and the well-rounded respect of his peers. I have worked and will continue to work on it.

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

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean. If a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty” — Mahatma Ghandi. My experience with senior leaders when I started my career was filled with the same stratified and masculine leadership I saw in China, the same one I always assumed I would have to mimic. And I could have. But I knew that matching force with force just wasn’t me. To be persuasive, to invoke trust, the solution was actually much easier than I ever imagined. I simply needed to accept who I (already) was.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

You can be authentic; you can be soft spoken and still be effective. It’s all about building trust by breaking the mold, without losing yourself in the process. What you gain is a better knowledge of yourself, and the ability to augment your impact on the world.

Thank you for the time you spent on this interview. We wish you only continued success.

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