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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

September 1, 2020
Question

Q&A – Seth Weissman, Chief Legal Officer, Marqeta

answer
Julie Q. Brush

Seth Weissman is the Chief Legal Officer of Marqeta, a global modern card issuing platform for innovative companies to manage their payment programs. In his current role, Seth is a member of Marqeta’s Executive Team and leads the Company’s legal strategy and operations.

Seth earned his law degree cum laude from Boston University School of Law and began his legal career on the East Coast. He ventured West to the dotcom Promise Land in 1997 and joined the prestigious Wilson Sonsini as a corporate associate. After a strong run at Wilson, Seth transitioned in house to Coremetrics where he took the legal helm and also managed HR. SolarCity came calling and Seth joined the company as its EVP, General Counsel, Secretary and VP of HR. He was a member of the Executive Management Team and helped scale the company culminating in its IPO, which he led. Seth continued to play a key role in SolarCity’s success as a public company before leading the company’s sale to Tesla in 2017. After the sale, Seth took time to pursue his coaching and consulting interests (did you know that he is a Certified Executive Coach?) advising CEOs, GCs, law firm partners and other senior executives on a variety of matters to aid in their professional success. In 2019, Seth hopped back into the General Counsel ring with Marqeta.

Those who have worked with Seth praise him as a great manager and legal executive. As he has moved through his career, he has applied his high EQ to serve as a beloved mentor and business partner. Seth was kind enough to provide his amazing insights and advice on the current pandemic and the professional landscape. (Note: my interview with Seth pre-dated the death of George Floyd and does not include the important topics stemming from the event).

Thank you Seth!

You’ve been through other economic downturns, what is unique about this one?

Unpredictability, speed and depth.  The others were all preceded by an asset bubble of some kind that burst, rather than actively shutting down the economy to save lives.  What is shocking is the speed and the depth of this contraction, there is no historical precedent for losing this many jobs this fast, and the sectors and companies that were hit were, in some cases, some of the most successful companies around.  I think everyone knew that the prior recessions were on there way, and we certainly had a record run these past several years, and everyone thought it would be something else—trade war etc.  The final thought on this recession is that it has a condition precedent to full and lasting economic recovery:  herd immunity or vaccine  Prior recessions were purely economic contagions, this one has two very hard to predict vectors.

From an executive’s perspective, how can an employee increase his/her value to the organization during these challenging times?

Great question.  In some ways, it’s the same as always.  Work on yourself.  Invest in you.  Learn your craft, work on your EQ, learn to be a better leader, teammate and report.  While doing that, look for opportunities to contribute, to help, to reach out to others who might be struggling to lend them a hand or an ear.  Our greatest value to an organization is our ability to impact the lives of others.  What can you do to help?  Helping also has the great side effect of making you feel really good inside, which is something that might be in short supply right now.

                 Seth Weissman

What is your advice to other GC/CLOs and managers on how to keep their teams mentally healthy, motivated and positive?

Put on your oxygen mask before helping others.  There is a reason that airlines say that.  First, start with you because if you are not ok, you really won’t be able to help anyone else.  Are you mentally healthy?  Are you motivated?  Are you positive?  All three yes?  Great, move on to the team.  After all, that is your greatest responsibility, to be a servant leader to your time.  If you are not there, it’s time to work on yourself.  Been putting off dealing with the family issues, the extra weight, etc?  Why not now?  Why not today?  Therapists are still working, coaches are still working.  Books can still be read.   If you are working on you, and you can credibly muster the strength and emotional energy (or do an amazing job of putting on a brave face—not ideal…), then look to the team.   The most important part is showing up.  People can always tell when you care and when you don’t.  Start by sending them a card, or a care package.  Then call every single member of your team and their reports.  Don’t’ skip anyone.  Start with “how are you”?   And wait.  Don’t’ fill the space.  Let them talk.  Your job is to listen.  Don’t settle for “ok”.  Ask “what does OK look like these days”.   Ask  “how are you staying Ok?”  Start with, and stay with, inquiry.  Don’t’ solve their problems (you probably can’t) stay with them.  Do stay in empathy and in compassion.  Words like “that sounds hard” and “you really do have a lot on your plate”  are great places to go next.  Finally, at the end of the call, finish with “is there anything I can do to help” or “Is there anyone who needs my help”.  And mean it.  Loyalty is earned, and this may be the most important interaction you ever have with your team.   Finally, in a world of injustice and pain, recognize that you may not have any idea what someone else is going through (most of us don’t), so stay humble, curious and in a place of compassion.  Its ok to be nervous about asking about others, its not Ok to avoid it.

In times of crisis, there are always winners and losers. Who do you think the winners and losers will be this time?

I’m getting wise enough to know that unless it’s a binary outcome I’m usually wrong far more often about these things than I’m right.   At least if it’s a coin toss I have a 50/50 chance of getting it right.  With that said, my default answer is almost always the same about winners and losers:  pick the best leaders and the best teams.  Companies led by great leaders and great teams can overcome just about anything.  They may go through some awful pain, and in the end they come out stronger.  When you are going through hell, you have to keep going.  Great leaders know this, great teams can weather it and the pull together in a crisis.  A crisis unites a great company, it makes them shed the silos, politics and turf wars that might otherwise be in the way of their excellence.  Their common purpose, to survive the storm and take care of their customers, their employees and each other, makes them stronger.

You are a great coach and mentor. What advice do you give people out there who are anxious about their careers and the future?

Thanks for saying that.  I know that my legacy will be the people I have helped along the way. Mark Twain is credited with saying “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which have actually happened”.  I have no doubt that many people reading this right now might be in a really rough spot, or know a lot of people that are.  And, the other thoughts and worries in your head about what “might” happen or “could” happen are not “you”.   That is your mind, trying to protect you.  You have given your mind an impossible job to do:  to protect you from anything that might ever happen to you.  Worrying won’t protect you.  Learn about yourself and learn to let go of that part of you.   A great book on this is “The Untethered Soul” by Michael Singer.   I’ve read it 4 times, and I’m reading it again.  I’ve never mastered this skill, and nobody ever does.   At the end of the day, your greatest asset is you.  You did not get to where you are by accident.  You worked hard to graduate college and law school.  You invested in your career and you really do know what you are doing.  Learn to know that your safety net is actually you.  You will weather this storm, its not your first.

What are you doing to stay mentally and physically healthy while you are quarantined?

I’m so lucky to have an Australian Shepherd mix that requires a ton of exercise.  I’ve moved my calendar around so that I have 90 minutes every day in the middle of the day to hike with her on the beach or hills near my house.  As of last week, I also assembled some awful looking home pull up, dip and ab thing in my office so I can make up for all the lost time at the gym.  Mentally, it’s the same routine as always.  I am in therapy, I get coached and I try to keep investing in myself by reading the same books again and again in the hope that “this time” it will stick.  It’s a practice, we are never fully baked, so I’m on that journey.

Thanks for all you do for the legal community, Julie.  I really appreciate it.

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