30 Good Minutes & 5 Invaluable Career Lessons from Strava CFO Lily Yang

30 Good Minutes & 5 Invaluable Career Lessons from Strava CFO Lily Yang

Our Women in Accounting & Finance fireside chat series continues to bring the heat. 

Last week, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Lily Yang, the CFO of Strava. Lily has had some incredible experiences on her journey to finance leadership, including action-packed stops at Pinterest, Medivation, and Gilead Sciences. 

Like most leaders, Lily’s success didn’t come overnight. She treated our audience to an honest and unfiltered lesson in the power of reflection, perseverance, and community. 

Here are some particularly insightful takeaways from the talk. This session was an efficient 30-minutes! Check it out on-demand here.

Top 5 highlights from our fireside chat with Lily Yang of Strava

1. Embrace change and prioritize learning

Recapping her career path, Lily emphasized specific strategic shifts that spurred her growth, such as moving from biotech to tech and handling large scale IPOs. But she stressed the importance of taking roles that offered significant learning opportunities, even if the move was lateral.

“Along the way, I really made some strategic decisions to propel my career forward, but also took sideways lateral jobs. So when I decided to change industries from pharma/biotech, I really thought about what am I gaining [by going to] Pinterest that I wouldn't have gained even at a higher title in more of a stable kind of environment that I grew up in. And that was an IPO opportunity to take a late stage private company to a public company, and transition them successfully.”

2. Leadership requires adaptability

Transitioning into more significant leadership roles, Lily learned the necessity of pivoting from task-focused execution to embracing big-picture strategic thinking. She admits this was a major adjustment for her, and the shift from an operating CFO to a strategic one wasn’t an easy flip of the switch. 

"Suddenly I wasn't just about checking off tasks anymore. It was really about big picture strategy and seeing the forest from the trees. That shift was a real wake up call for me, and I still struggle with it today. I like to say I'm strategic, and obviously my job requires me to be strategic, but it's something that I'm still learning and something that I have to work really hard to sharpen every day. But I quickly realized that if I was going to succeed in these new roles, I had to embrace the discomfort and lean into those challenges.” 

3. Build a supportive network – and leverage it!

Throughout her career, Lily leaned heavily on a network of peers, mentors, and what she described as her personal "board of directors." This network has been instrumental in her journey, particularly in the tech industry, which she finds more open and collaborative than pharma/biotech. 

“I'll be honest, it really took some serious soul searching to find my footing. But, I leaned into my network. Like the work that you're doing here to help women, and not just women, everybody in the industry connect. Really staying curious and being willing to fail and share those stories. And I work with incredible women here at Strava. They're my peers but they're also mentors to me.” 

4. Authenticity in the workplace matters

Lily passionately advocated for authenticity and the courage to embrace your unique traits, especially in male-dominated industries. 

“I like to have fun at work. I like to laugh at meetings because it's really important for me to be comfortable in my own skin, showing up in my best self. I work for a fitness company and I don't try to pretend that I like sports and I don't tiptoe around other people's unconscious bias because it just shows up very unnaturally. I've excelled and feel the most confident when I'm really not wasting calories on overthinking and monitoring how others perceive me.”

5. Always keep learning and stay curious

Finally, Lily emphasized the importance of staying curious and continually learning. Whether managing new teams or adopting new technologies, she has maintained a growth mindset, constantly seeking to improve her approaches within the rapidly evolving tech landscape. 

"I learned pretty quickly that I don't have to have all the answers. So instead of trying to fake my way through it, I made a conscious effort to surround myself with people who knew their craft and trusted and empowered them to do their job because they could do it better than me.

Being curious is really important. And asking great questions - a lot of questions - and validating things is also very important. You can't just blindly trust. Sometimes the smartest thing I could do is admit when I'm out of my own depth and lean on others around me.”

This was a terrific conversation that sheds light on the dynamic role of a CFO in today’s fast-paced business environment and provides valuable lessons for emerging leaders in finance and beyond.

You can watch the full 30-minute fireside chat here