Leadership Lessons: The Wojcicki Sisters

Leadership Lessons: The Wojcicki Sisters

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Earlier this year, for the first time two sets of siblings appeared on Forbes’ annual Self-Made Women list. They were the formidable Kardashians and two Silicon Valley powerhouses: Anne Wojcicki, co-founder and CEO of genetic testing company 23andMe, and her oldest sister Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube .

There is a third Wojcicki sister who may not be making the Billions but is in no way slacking. Janet Wojcicki, 48, is an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco, where she helps lead efforts to tackle everything from obesity to HIV. Anne attended Yale; Susan, Harvard, UC Santa Cruz and UCLA; and Janet holds degrees from Stanford, UCLA, Berkeley and UC Davis.

“All three of us really enjoy our work, and feel like we are contributing to the world.” – Anne Wojcicki

Susan is the eldest, and has been with Google since it’s inception. The search engine’s first office was actually her rented garage (everything started somewhere). She was their 16th employee and first marketing manager in 1999, a year after completing an MBA at UCLA. Her influence at Google has been fundamental. To call out some highlights, she was responsible for their advertising model which was accountable for around 95% of their revenue. She was also in charge of Google’s acquisitions of DoubleClick ($3.1billion) and YouTube. Where YouTube was concerned Susan developed and presented the financial model to Google’s board, which justified the $1.65 billion purchase, on just one days notice. Even the doodles on Google’s home page were developed by her.

She was also Google’s first employee to take maternity leave and now has 5 children! She advocates for being a working mother arguing, “your kids get something from your career and your career gets something from your kids”.

As a woman so high up in the male dominated world of tech, Susan believes the tech world has a reputational problem which needs addressing. “I think computer science has a reputation that is not completely accurate,” she says. “The reality is that this is a field that is very creative, there are lots of opportunity [and] you get to work in groups and teams… those are the things that should be attractive to women.”

Middle sister Janet has followed in their parent’s footsteps by working in a University environment. She is an anthropologist and epidemiologist (sure) specialising in with a in early life risk factors for the development of obesity. This includes researching early-life feeding decisions that can increase risk for obesity by age five. Not content with just one speciality, Janet is also an expert on sub-Saharan African populations, working on evaluating the relationship between nutritional factors and HIV. She is a collaborator on a long-term cohort study in Lusaka, Zambia.

Janet explains that her parents taught them all to be independent thinkers. “I remember [our parents] ;telling me, ‘Don’t be afraid if someone disagrees with you.'”

And onto the youngest and most well known of the three, Anne. She is the CEO and founder of Silicon Valley based 23andMe, which is valued as high as $2.5bn. She received media attention from her marriage to Google co-founder Sergey Brin; a partnership which lasted eight years and saw the birth of two children, the Brin Wojcicki Foundation and the Breakthrough Prize, a $3 million prize awarded annually to support physics and life sciences research.

“The morning shortcut I swear by is my kids sleep in their clothes for the next day. So that then they don’t have to get dressed in the morning.” – Anne Wojcicki

Named after the number of chromosomes in a normal human cell, her company 23andMe allows members of the public to receive data about their ancestry, and gain information on their genetic health risks using home saliva testing kits. In addition to this company, she also invests in real estate as principal of the Passerelle Investment Company and owns ‘Bumble’. Not the dating app, but the child friendly cafe and restaurant in Los Altos.

“And one thing I advise to entrepreneurs is you have to stick with it. Success comes from actually, like really sticking with it.” – Anne Wojcicki

An avid exerciser, Anne cycles to work every day (weather permitting) as well as working out 3-4 times a week, in the mornings.

“You can’t do it all, and for me part of it is that acceptance that there’s just choices you have to make. And I think it’s also really good for my kids to see that, you know, the family is core. But what you do and your impact on society is really important.” – Anne Wojcicki

It’s common to see success within families but to have raised three such powerful women, what were their parents feeding them?

Stanley and Esther Wojcicki met at Berkeley University and raised the children on the campus of Stanford University, where Stanley worked as a physicist.

On her parenting approach, Esther explains: “I used them as an educational experiment, and my goal was to see how early I could teach them anything”.

When her daughters started reading, Esther took them to the local library every week with a laundry basket to fill with books. Of the girls as individuals Esther says Susan was a “nice kid from day one,” the one who was always calm, sensitive and helpful. “If there’s a difficult decision to make, talk to Susan. She thinks really clearly in all situations”. Janet was inquisitive and the “most energetic” of the three. Anne was “miss social butterfly and, ‘Oh, I am so cute from day one,” Esther says, as well as very smart. “She could charm the pants off of anybody. Number one charmer.”

By the time she was in seventh grade she was determined that excelling academically was key to escaping her family’s financial reality. All three sisters were therefore raised with the ambition to change things, not complain about them.

And change things they have.

“If you come into [a] company and see something is not working, fix it.” – Susan Wojcicki


Lexy is a writer, DJ and marketing professional living in London. She is a gemini and a feminist who loves coffee and leather trousers.


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