In the Spotlight with Robbie Brown, Google strategy executive

Charles Aris Vice President Steven Stewart talked with Robbie Brown about his work as a Strategy & Operations Lead at Google. Robbie is based in New York as part of a Google team focused on partnerships with the News & Publishing industry. Prior to Google, he worked as a journalist at The New York Times, a management consultant at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and a General Manager and the Chief of Staff to the CEO at Bloomberg Media. He attended Emory University and has an MBA degree from Columbia Business School.

Robbie BrownWhat are the top three responsibilities that occupy your time in your role today?    

The first is supporting Google’s partnerships with the news industry. Because I worked at The New York Times and Bloomberg, I enjoy being back working with the news industry.

Second is helping support the strategy and operations of the Google News Initiative. In 2018, Google announced this $300M initiative to help journalism thrive in a digital era. It has three main objectives: elevating quality journalism; evolving the business models of the news industry to drive sustainable growth; empowering news organizations through technological innovation.

Building relationships across Google would be the third. Google is an extremely warm and welcoming company and cares a lot about personal relationships. Because I started during COVID-19, I haven’t worked in person with my colleagues. I’ve had to be more deliberate about making time to virtually meet new people and teams across Google.

When hiring people onto your team, what are the two or three competencies you look for?

The top three competencies I’d say are most important for potential team members to have: logical, structured thinking; simple, effective communication; and curiosity and enthusiasm for learning.

What’s the best career development advice that you’ve ever received?      

Stay curious. I’ve changed careers a couple of times. I started as a journalist, then went to business school, went into consulting, then worked as a chief of staff and general manager. I now work in technology. Each step was motivated by curiosity and a desire to learn something new.

What has been the most impactful event in your life that has driven success in your career?      

The New York Times took a massive chance on hiring me as a journalist when I was 23 years old. It was the luckiest break of my life. I studied journalism in college and it had always been my dream to work at the Times. In 2008, I managed to get hired into an entry-level position at the Times as a researcher and reporter in a bureau. I spent five incredibly fun years there, and even though I left reporting, that experience shaped everything I’ve done since leaving.

People think journalism and consulting don’t have much in common, but I would disagree. They are both jobs where you’re dropped into a new, unfamiliar environment, asked to analyze a situation and interview stakeholders, and then summarize your findings under deadline pressure. The stories you tell in consulting take a different form, but the process felt familiar from my time as a journalist.

What do you miss the most from your time in consulting?      

Boston Consulting Group (BCG) was a wonderful experience. It was my first real “business” job. Since I was a journalist before business school, I had a ton to learn. Consulting firms are great at taking people from all types of backgrounds and teaching them a broad set of business skills. BCG made sense of a lot of things I learned at business school but never used in the real world.

I also met my wife while we were both working at BCG, so I have a lot to thank the company for!

What’s the one app you can’t live without?      

Podcasts are my favorite form of storytelling. I would have a hard time getting by without my podcasts app.

Here are several podcasts I enjoy:
The Daily from The New York Times
Reply All
The Slate Culture Gabfest
Revisionist History from Malcolm Gladwell

Most interesting place a project has taken you?

Saudi Arabia. Bloomberg does a lot of work in the Middle East. I had a couple fascinating trips to Saudi when the company was exploring ways to expand its presence in the region. It’s probably not a place I would have traveled on my own, but really enjoyed the opportunity to get a peek inside a very different culture.