By Jennifer Barton
Criteo’s first female CEO, Megan Clarken, has had an illustrious career in business so far. For the past 15 years, the native New Zealander has been a champion of diversity and inclusion at Nielsen Global Media where she’s held varied roles, including CCO, president of Watch, Nielsen’s media measurement services and president of product leadership, prior to joining Criteo last November.
Her path to the top echelons of the business world is in no way conventional: a former Olympic class athlete in track and field, Clarken was due to compete in the long jump in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, before she was sidetracked by an injury. Aged 19, her first career was over - and she decided she didn’t need to go to university to pursue her next one.
“I carried the learnings from my athletics career right the way through to today. In fact I say I started my career when I was 10, as an athlete. It’s exactly the same sorts of skill sets then as I use now,” she said in an interview for Yahoo Finance UK’s Global Change Agents with Lianna Brinded show, a series interviewing female leaders across the globe.
She told Brinded that the “ability to pick yourself up and keep going is what makes you successful in the long run,” and it’s a quality she looks for in future hires.
“When I look at a CV, I look for tenure, number one: is it a person who sticks around?... and the last thing I look for is formal education. That’s served me well in terms of selecting great candidates… If we look for talent that has this more intuitive drive, quick, street-smarts way of working, I think that’s what I would rather have in the organisation,” she told Brinded.
A proud member of the LGBTQI+ community, Clarken is a vocal champion of underrepresented groups, and has led numerous awareness initiatives at Criteo. She was instrumental in ensuring Nielsen’s ratings system would count same-sex spouse and partner audiences, an initiative that took three years to implement, and her commitment to diversity and inclusion informs how Criteo runs as an organisation.
According to Clarken, the Criteo motto is very much “think globally and act locally” - awareness and inclusion being the starting points for acting locally.
“An awareness around inclusion is a place to start… I think an environment where that is the practice, that is the norm, that the company is renowned for the fact that it is inclusive starts to drive a more diverse culture,” she said in the interview.
Clarken sees her role, and that of the company’s, as helping to solve clients’ problems - and to gently guide them in the right direction when it comes to trying something new that will boost their business.
“Technology is not there for technology’s sake, it’s there to respond to a client need... So our business is to stay ahead of the curve, to look for technology that closes a gap, that makes our clients more successful tomorrow than they were yesterday.”
While listening to clients is crucial, Clarken values listening to her employees just as much, something she thinks is ever-more-essential in these uncertain times.
She schedules virtual “coffee breaks” a couple of times a week, with around 15 employees each time, randomly chosen from Criteo’s 29 offices around the world, where she chats and listens to what they have to say, an exercise she describes as one of the “highlights” of her week.
Clarken would advise others in her position to follow suit.
“I think for any exec, don’t underestimate the importance of just listening to your people at this point in time and the need to keep people steady and learn from them about what’s going on for them… They need the stability of the company, they need to know what’s going on, they need to know that you care,” she told Brinded.
Clarken also stresses the importance of keeping focused in these chaotic times - and it’s up to business leaders to set the tone for their employees and their clients.
“Now’s your time to put the captain’s hat on and roll your sleeves up. It’s a very tactical leadership world as opposed to stepping away from the area. You do have to lean in, keep it simple, keep it clear, and just stay very focused and in touch with your people,” she said.
Watch the full Megan Clarken Global Change Agents interview for:
● The piece of advice Clarken would give her younger self
● Why Clarken decided university wasn’t for her
● Clarken on feeling “ashamed” about her lack of a university degree
● Clarken on the “groundbreaking” initiative to get Nielsen to count LGBTQI+ couples in their data
● Clarken on the importance of LGBTQI+ representation in the media
● Clarken on how businesses like to take their time rather than diving into something new
● Clarken on her career high and her hopes for the future, especially when it comes to raising up the next generation of female leaders
Global Change Agents with Lianna Brinded explores the stories of some of the most inspirational women across business, tech, and academia. Catch up on all the latest episodes here.