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MBA Alum Spotlight: Wharton Alum and Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat

Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat

In March 2015, the New York Times called Ruth Porat one of the most powerful women on Wall Street, and claimed she was poised to “immediately become one of the most powerful women in Silicon Valley” as CFO of Google’s corporate umbrella, Alphabet.

In the two years since, Porat has fulfilled the NYT prophecy in many ways, restructuring Alphabet into a “Berkshire Hathaway-like holding company,” according to Fortune. Even considering Alphabet’s multi-year success, the company’s stock has improved a reported 30 percent since Porat joined the company. No doubt: Ruth’s the Truth. But where did she come from?

Porat’s Early Life and Education

Porat was born in Sale, England to Frieda, her psychologist mother, and Dan Porat, her physicist-come-Holocaust survivor father, who moved the family to Palo Alto when Ruth was 5-years old. After moving to the U.S., Dan Porat began working at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.

In a previous interview with Business Insider, Porat described her father as “gender blind” when it came to math and science, while her mother inspired her to have a healthy work-life mix—which Porat has prioritized ever since. She argued that the proper kind of work-life balance “lets you shift priorities depending on needs of each, without ever having isolation between the two.”

Porat enrolled as in Stanford University as an undergrad, where she was reportedly one of only a handful of women in the ’70s who majored in economics at the school. She went on to earn and MBA from The Wharton School and a master of science degree in industrial relations from the London School of Economics. She earned a coveted position with Morgan Stanley in 1987.

At Morgan Stanley

With the exception of a three-year stint at Smith Barney between 1993 and ’96, Porat was a linchpin at Morgan Stanley in the ’90s and ’00s, where she was the co-head of the technology investment banking group.

She started as mergers-and-acquisitions wizard then moved up the ranks, according to a Wharton Alumni Magazine profile, by helping “bring to IPO such firms as Broadcast.com, Priceline, Ask Jeeves, and VeriSign, Inc.”

In 2001, Porat became stricken with breast cancer, which went into temporary remission only to return one final time in ’03 before the disease was finally beaten. Her desire to work through treatment has become the stuff of legend. She spoke candidly about her disease in a Business Insider profile, saying, “For me, going to work meant that I was in control of my life. The disease did not define me. And so in many respects work was a really important part of me being healthy.”

Porat wasted no time making up for any lost momentum, which according to the  Wharton Alumni Magazine profile, included “working with General Electric to make Genworth Financial’s 2004 stock offering the most successful IPO in two years, and advising the Mexican steel company Hylsamex as it was taken over by the Argentine firm Grupo Techint.”

Porat’s hard-won role as advisor to the U.S. Department of the Treasury on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as the New York Federal Reserve Bank on AIG, secured her position as CFO with Alphabet in 2010. As CFO, she and Chief Executive James Gorman retooled the “blue chip bank’s business mix into a more stable, post-crisis franchise that is in many ways now the envy of Wall Street,” according to Business Insider.

Joining Alphabet

Despite her Wall Street cred, Alphabet is in many ways a homecoming for Porat, who in addition to her Silicon Valley roots, “invested in the company prior to its initial public offering via an angel fund, and helped lead the company’s IPO in 2004 while at Morgan Stanley,” according to Fortune. The feeling was certainly mutual: the company agreed to a $650,000 salary, along with a $5 million signing bonus, a $25 million new hire grant, and a $40 million biennial grant.

In March 2015, the New York Times explained, “Ms. Porat will be the first woman in Google’s senior ranks, and the fourth in the company’s Google’s 20-member senior leadership team, which includes Susan Wojcicki, Chief Executive of YouTube, Lorraine Twohill, Google’s Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, and Rachel Whetstone, Senior Vice President for Policy and Communications.”

Under her leadership, Fortune explains that Porat’s Alphabet reshuffle “essentially separated Google’s core moneymaking operations from its research-oriented and experimental ‘moonshot’ divisions, which are under pressure to be more financially self-sufficient.” These include anti-aging research and bringing internet connectivity to rural areas.

In a CNBC profile, Porat explains one of the keys to her success:

“I think what Sheryl Sandberg said about the importance of ‘leaning in’ is very true but it’s not sufficient because if you are leaning into a door that is nailed shut, you are just going to get bloodied and tired of trying to push that door open. So you have got to have the next level, which is, ‘how do you open up those doors to the ever-bigger roles?'”

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About the Author

Jonathan Pfeffer
Jonathan Pfeffer

Jonathan Pfeffer joined the Clear Admit and MetroMBA teams in 2015 after spending several years as an arts/culture writer, editor, and radio producer. In addition to his role as contributing writer at MetroMBA and contributing editor at Clear Admit, he is co-founder and lead producer of the Clear Admit MBA Admissions Podcast. He holds a BA in Film/Video, Ethnomusicology, and Media Studies from Oberlin College.

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