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How She Got There: Laura Zax, Social Impact Manager at Harry’s

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Name: Laura Zax
Age: 26
Job Title and Description: Social Impact Manager at Harry’s
College/Major: Yale/English
Website: thenighttimeadventuresociety.tumblr.com
Twitter Handle: @laurazax

 
What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?

Laura Zax: My role is to help optimize the positive impact Harry’s has on the world, representing and advocating for our mission, values and potential for positive impact across the business. 

In terms of our mission, we’re committed to helping people get ready, whether through our product – which helps our customers get ready every day – or through our community engagement program, Harry’s 1+1, and our college program, H’university.

Harry’s 1+1 is our pledge to give one percent of our sales and one percent of our time in skills-based volunteering to organizations that help people from all walks of life get ready for the next step—whether that be college, a first job, or a new career. While giving one percent of our sales is a pretty straightforward process, giving one percent of our time requires quite a lot of coordination and project management. I spend much of my time coordinating our 1% Time program, through which we’ve built pitch decks, dashboards, marketing strategies and more with our nonprofit partners, leveraging our team’s skills to accelerate our partners’ important work.  

I also help run H’university, a program we created to help college students get ready for the real world by teaching them valuable skills they can’t learn in class while connecting them to interviews at like-minded companies that value those skills.

What is the best part of your job?

LZ: The best part of the job is that moment during a 1% Time engagement when we realize, “Wow, we can actually build something incredibly valuable for this organization that it wouldn’t have had the resources to build otherwise. And we can do it in the span of a few hours.” It’s so fulfilling to be able to accelerate the work of awesome nonprofit partners while also creating the opportunity for Harry’s employees to use their skills in a totally different context. I’m excited to tell the story and encourage other businesses to adopt a similar model.

What was your first entry-level job in your field and how did you get it?

LZ: My first job out of college was in my hometown, Washington, D.C. at the international organization Ashoka, which has been identifying and investing in the world’s best social entrepreneurs for over thirty years. I started at Ashoka as an intern right after college.

I never intended for the internship to become a job, let alone a career. I had already signed a lease in Los Angeles, where I planned to move after my internship to focus on music. One thing led to another, and I got the best of both worlds: a part-time role at Ashoka that I could do remotely from L.A. while I worked on my first album. Over the course of the next couple of years, I realized I found social entrepreneurship more challenging, exciting, interesting and fulfilling than making music professionally, and now here I am.

What is one thing you wish you knew about your industry when you first started out that you know now?

LZ: In my role, I straddle a number of different industries –entrepreneurship, corporate philanthropy, consumer products/e-commerce and sustainability. I knew practically nothing about any of them when I graduated from college. After all, I thought I was going to be a musician.

More broadly, what I wish I’d known about the working world is that just because I wasn’t always the most experienced person at the table didn’t mean my voice, opinions and ideas weren’t valuable. I wish I had been more confident to be an active contributor – and even, at times, a dissenting contributor – despite my age and relative (in)experience.

Harry’s launched something really cool called H’university for college students last year! Can you talk more about it?

LZ: H’university is a natural extension of our mission I mentioned earlier – Harry’s commitment to helping people get ready. The program is designed to teach college-aged students things they won’t learn in class, inspiring them to define their own paths and connecting them to job opportunities at our hiring partner companies like Gin Lane, Four Square and Pencils of Promise.

The five-week curriculum consists of skills-focused webinars taught by dynamic and unconventional professionals (like Neil Blumenthal from Warby Parker, David Chang of Momofuku and Eva Chen, the editor-in-chief of Lucky magazine) as well as an optional challenge designed to allow students to demonstrate the skills they’re learning.

The application is currently open, so if it sounds up your alley, apply online!

Who is one person who changed your professional life for the better?

LZ: My unofficial mentor Katie, who manages Values and Impact at Etsy, has been such a great person to have in my professional life. Since our role isn’t as well defined as more traditional roles (like digital marketer or UX designer), it has been so important to have someone with whom to compare notes, share resources, bemoan frustrations and celebrate successes.

It’s also nice to step outside of the world of Harry’s and learn about how other businesses are thinking about leveraging their unique strengths for maximum impact. She’s an inspiration and above all a friend, and I’m lucky to know her.

What words of wisdom do you find most valuable?

LZ: I’m not getting the quote exactly right, but it’s something along the lines of, “Don’t worry about getting ahead or falling behind—neither matters if you’re not even on the right track.” It’s a warning against achieving for achievement’s sake and a call to really figure out who you are before questing after success. It comes from the book Excellent Sheep, which was written by my favorite professor from college and compiles ideas he’s been thinking, writing and speaking about since we first met.

What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?

LZ: I get excited by ideas and have been known from time to time to hit the ground running on things without consulting with my broader team. I’m learning to loop others into my ideas sooner rather than later. The earlier others get in on your ideas and plans, the more ownership they’ll feel, and the more support you’ll have to push those ideas forward.

What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?
LZ: I spoke on a panel at a conference where two of the keynote speakers were Jessica Alba and Jared Leto. On the conference’s website, my headshot was just below Jessica Alba’s. That was certainly not something I ever expected to happen in my career.

What do you look for when considering hiring someone?

LZ: Intuition – a sense of what needs to be done (and how to do it) without needing to be given step-by-step instructions. It’s tough to interview for (I’m still figuring that one out) but perhaps the most important quality, especially in a startup environment. 

What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?

LZ: Because this role – championing impact within a for-profit company – is a pretty new and evolving one, the best bet is to get into a socially-minded company early enough that you can really craft your own role, but make sure that you and leadership see eye to eye about what that role could be.

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