Former YouTube CEO Says Successful Companies Double Down on Core Competencies

Former YouTube CEO Says Successful Companies Double Down on Core Competencies


Susan Wojcicki (’98) receives the 2023 John E. Anderson Distinguished Alumni Award

MARCH 29, 2023

  • Susan Wojcicki (’98) is the recipient of the 2023 John E. Anderson Distinguished Alumni Award, which honors alumni whose personal lives, professional achievements and community service exemplify the objectives of their alma mater
  • One of Google’s original employees, Wojcicki recently stepped down from her role as CEO of YouTube
  • Wojcicki has endowed a UCLA Anderson faculty chair dedicated to the study of data science

By now, Susan Wojcicki (’98) is likely tired of the story. It happened a long time ago, and so many significant moments have taken place since. But it’s worth one more retelling, though it seems more like an urban legend by now. Here goes:

Google, one of the most significant and ubiquitous companies in the world, was founded in a nondescript rented garage in Menlo Park, California, by a pair of Stanford Ph.D. students named Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

It was Wojcicki’s garage they rented.

As for the significant moments that followed? There are too many for a comprehensive list, but the highlights are substantive.

Wojcicki joined Google as one of its original employees, working on viral marketing programs. She helped created the company’s logo and co-developed Google Image Search. She was the first product manager for AdSense, rising to senior vice president with responsibilities for such products as AdWords, AdSense and Google Analytics. She recommended the company buy YouTube, at the time a competitor of Google Video, and oversaw the purchase in 2006. In 2014, she became YouTube’s CEO. Her list of accolades is as daunting as her list of accomplishments. In 2013, AdWeek called her “the most important person in advertising.” In 2015, Time named her one of 2015’s most influential people, and in 2017 the same publication called her “the most powerful woman on the Internet.” In 2021, she received a Free Expression award from the Freedom Forum Institute for YouTube’s protection of free speech around the world.

Let’s add one more honor to the list.

On the occasion of her 25-year reunion, Wojcicki is the 2023 UCLA Anderson Distinguished Alumni Award recipient. The award honors alumni whose personal lives, professional achievements and community service exemplify the objectives of their alma mater. “I feel honored to be the recipient of this award,” she says. “I really enjoyed my time at UCLA and feel that it played a key role in my success and my education.”

Wojcicki recently stepped down as YouTube’s CEO and is now advising Google, YouTube and their parent company Alphabet. Before ending her day-to-day responsibilities at YouTube, she and the company negotiated a deal with the National Football League for the broadcast rights to the NFL’s Sunday Ticket subscription package. Sunday Ticket allows fans to watch out-of-market games, while offering a number of other features for the league’s millions of fans. Sunday Ticket had long been available only to DIRECTV subscribers, and YouTube competed for the rights not only with the satellite giant but also online competitors like Apple and Amazon. According to published reports, the games will be available for an additional fee to YouTube TV subscribers, or available for purchase through YouTube Primetime Channels.

“It sounds like a really basic lesson. But if you have core competencies in a marketplace, it’s important to continue to invest and double down. It’s possible to lose it if you don’t.”

“We understood the significance and the importance of the content that the NFL offers,” Wojcicki says. “YouTube has strengths in many areas. YouTube has a very large creator base unique to YouTube, and that’s one big area that we invest in. We have a lot of music that is unique and special, and that’s also a very large area of investment.

“But we also have the opportunity to make traditional media content available via YouTube,” she says. “We look forward to strengthening our partnership with the NFL and finding new ways for fans to engage with that content. Offering something digitally always has a lot of advantages in terms of the way that that content is delivered. We have seen that across our YouTube TV product, and we plan to continue to offer more benefits — whether additional content behind the scenes, like scores or player information, or other opportunities to see replays.”

YouTube’s acquisition of NFL rights may also be viewed as another milestone in how we consume content. To suggest that the days when most people simply watched traditional television networks are long gone is really beside the point now, as there are millions of consumers for whom network television is something their parents or even grandparents watched. As content consumers, we’re not just past the networks, we’re moving past cable and satellite providers as streaming content becomes the norm and television sets give way to computers, tablets and mobile devices. If it feels to you like it’s all in flux, you’re not alone.

So, what do streaming technology and consumption look like for the next five years from Wojcicki’s unique vantage point?

“We’ve certainly seen a lot more TV consumption going to over-the-top streaming services, whether they are bundled like YouTube TV or as different channels you buy a la carte,” Wojcicki says. “But regardless of whether the solutions are bundled or unbundled, the delivery mechanism, more and more, is going to be over-the-top via internet and less and less via cable or more traditional mechanisms.”

Wojcicki also envisions more user-generated content in the future, an area of strength for YouTube. “In just in the last couple of years, we saw short-form content become very popular. I believe that the types of video that people engage in, whether longer-form content that we’re used to seeing on TV or user-generated or short form, it’s going to continue to evolve to where users can participate in that process and be part of communities.” She also says there will likely be more consolidation in the industry.

Perhaps ironically, Wojcicki says she came to business school well-prepared — or so she thought. After all, she’d already earned an undergraduate degree from Harvard and a master’s degree in economics from UC Santa Cruz, and she already had significant business experience consulting for a number of companies. “When I came to business school, I mistakenly thought that I already knew a lot about business.” Wojcicki says. “And what I realized is, you don’t know what you don’t know. Business school opened my eyes to a lot of new areas and a lot of new fields of business to really round out my skills. I had no understanding about operations. My accounting background was weak and I found it very useful to have taken those courses. I took a lot of tax and real estate classes, and mergers and acquisitions,” she says.

“There wasn’t just one thing I took from business school, there were many skills that Anderson was able to help me build out and strengthen. One thing that has stuck with me is, when I was in marketing, we played with this computer simulation center. In that simulation, I learned that if you’re good at something as a company, you need to keep investing in it and you need to focus on it. Otherwise, you’ll lose your share of that market. It sounds like a really basic lesson. But it stuck with me throughout my career that if you have core competencies in a marketplace, it’s really important to continue to invest and double down. It’s possible to lose it if you don’t. Time and time again, I saw that play out across our industries, in many different types of business scenarios.”

In addition to her corporate work, Wojcicki sits on several boards, including the UCLA Anderson Board of Advisors. As a CEO in the tech industry, she offers ideas to inform Anderson’s curriculum, so that the school prepares current students for careers in tech.

“A lot of the core MBA work is very fundamental and important, whether it’s strategy or accounting or finance, and the principles of marketing are probably pretty similar in some ways to when I was at Anderson,” Wojcicki says. “But what has changed a lot since my time is the focus. I think that the way people market is completely different because of the online marketing components, which need to be taught as well. That is a rapidly changing skill set.” She says that students need an understanding of digital analytics to measure whether a product is successful in an online world. “As I came up through the ranks, I found that most CEOs of tech companies have a very strong product management role, and that is not something that is traditionally taught. It’s an area that I believe is probably one of the most important skills in technology development, but there isn’t a lot of good instruction for it.”

“When I came to business school, I mistakenly thought that I already knew a lot about business. And what I realized is, you don’t know what you don’t know.”

Wojcicki, who is married to Google’s director of product management, Dennis Troper, and with whom she has five children, has long been a staunch advocate for paid maternity and paternity leave and the value of individuals’ finding their own work-life balance. She has some advice for today’s Anderson students.

“It’s important to remember that it’s a marathon, but not a race. So you need to be in it for the long term. If you have a lifestyle that is not sustainable, that will ultimately lead you to quitting or taking time off,” she says. “Having the perspective that it’s a marathon causes you to develop habits that are more sustainable.

“There’s no correlation between the number of hours you work and how productive you are. If you work too many hours, at some point you are no longer productive. In fact, you might even be doing negative work,” Wojcicki says. “I believe that taking breaks, having the opportunity to reflect and renew, actually gives you more firepower when you’re in the office. In a field like technology that requires a lot of innovation, if you are burnt out, it’s hard to continue to innovate and have that inspiration.”

Another way Wojcicki is inspiring innovation is by giving back to UCLA Anderson. She recently endowed a faculty chair dedicated to the study of data science.

“I’m very thankful to UCLA Anderson for admitting me as a student,” she says. “It was actually the only business school that admitted me, and I’m very thankful, and I learned a lot at UCLA. And it’s my 25-year reunion. So, I wanted to give back. I decided on a chair in data science is because I believe data science is a fundamental skill set to make decisions in almost every field of business. It’s an area where a lot of schools need new faculty to join and study. It’s an area I’m passionate about.”

Past recipients of the John E. Anderson Distinguished Alumni Award:

2022: Francesco Aquilini (’94)
2021: Janice Chaffin (’81)
2020: Stewart Bainum (’70)
2019: Joel Fried (’86)
2018: Bernard Briskin (’49)
2017: Robert Murley (’74)
2016: Jim Moffatt (’87)
2015: Lonnie Ali (’86)
2014: John E. Parker (’50)
2013: Robert D. Beyer (’83)
2012: Marshall Goldsmith (Ph.D. ’77)
2010: Ambassador Lester B. Korn (’60)
2009: Richard C. Crowell (’80)
2008: Louise L. Francesconi (’78)
2007: Laurence D. Fink (B.A. ’74, ’76)
2006: Kip Hagopian (’66)
2005: Ric Kayne (’68)
2004: Jeff Henley (’67)
2003: Eugene Rosenfeld (’56)
2002: John E. Anderson (B.S. ’40)