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Be The CEO of your own life, your career, your choices and family: Leadership advice from Google Canada’s Sabrina Geremia

Sabrina Geremia, Integrated Solutions Sales Leader at Google Canada, shares how international experience and becoming a mom has changed her perspective.

By: Sheena Lyonnais | Photography by: Maxime Bocken

Sabrina Geremia is a woman who knows what she wants – and achieves it – no matter where she is. Geremia’s boundless spirit brought her to Italy to finish university, the UK to work in marketing and, later, the frontier of the Internet, all before returning to her homeland as the Integrated Solutions Sales Leader at Google Canada. Her international experience gives Geremia a unique perspective of the world and allows her to see business from an elevated point of view. But it is her humble personality and passion for the cutting-edge that makes her a grounded leader.

“Studying abroad in Italy opened up the whole idea of global business, and the aspects of the wider community of business and globalization. That’s what kick started my international career,” says Geremia. Her first taste of entrepreneurship and business came as a little girl when she ran a lemonade stand with her best friend at a busy corner in her hometown of Guelph, Ontario. It prompted a lifelong love of creative business. She studied at Laurier University in Waterloo and transferred to Italy’s University of Pavia on a scholarship in her last year.

After landing a coveted internship at Proctor and Gamble in Italy which translated to a full time role, she was offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity five years later to move to Geneva and work on the company’s global cosmetics teams.

She turned it down.

Geremia had a gut feeling about the Internet and that’s where she wanted to be. It would be the first of many tough decisions she would make throughout her worldwide web tour de force. She took a year off to visit family and friends. She did non-profit work in the Philippines. She attended a conference in Malaysia on ‘Bridging the Digital Divide’ and how the Internet could help eliminate global poverty. She moved to London and worked in several high-level digital positions. She was eventually headhunted by Google in the UKdue to her forward-thinking and globally-driven approach to business.

“International experience gives you perspective; you see the world differently.” 

“When I look at the world or even a business challenge in Canada the first thing I do is I think wide about it. You start asking questions that help you contextualize the problem. As a leader, it gives you a different view of how people lead because cultural nuances do affect [it].”

Her method of success is practical but adaptable: decide what you want, create the frameworks and get there. Some of her decisions have been risky, but her resilience to stand by them no matter the consequences has helped her become the leader she is today. She’s not afraid to fail or let people on her team fail. “It’s important to figure it out on your own,” she says. Geremia brings that spirit and those lessons to her team in Toronto every day and encourages others to do the same.

“In any role, I like to think you are the CEO of what you’re doing,” she continues. “You are the CEO of this customer. You are the CEO of this project. We really want people to think like that. Be the CEO of your own life, your career, your choices and family.”

Like any good CEO, Geremia has a personal board of directors she consults when she’s making a major career move. These are people she’s worked with from around the world who know her both personally and professionally and are able to provide informed guidance.

“One of my friends is a global VP of marketing for Mars in the UK. She is an amazing leader. She’s fantastic at her work. She’s fantastic at being a mom. She’s proactive and she’s positive. She’s very clear and gives great advice, gets to the point and sees the opportunity. Plus she’s been there. She’s a couple years ahead [of me] in her career and in having a family, so she actually knows what it’s like and can provide guidance in those areas.”

When Geremia herself became a mom, things had to change. She started outsourcing some of her workload to colleagues who could use it as an opportunity for development – and she began proactively looking for low value tasks or meetings to eliminate to free up time to focus on the big things. She talked to women in her network and her female Google colleagues around the worldand asked them how they did it. The idea that women in leadership can only be one or the other is something she finds disheartening.

“I don’t like to focus on what I can and can’t have. For people who want to have a career and children, the focus should be on the how not the if. We should be looking at sharing stories on how we do it. What are the tricks or tips that you should know to make yourself better, smarter and faster to be more efficient at work? Then, what sort of things can you take from work to be more efficient as a mom and enjoy being a mom even more.”

For Geremia, planning is key. “I try not to let my calendar manage me,” she says. She has dedicated hours for specific tasks and every night without fail she spends at leasttwo hours with her toddlertwins – no Internet, emails or television. Becoming a mom has shaped the way she approaches things and has given her a new insight into her role in sales. She views motherhood as a positive in the diverse perspectives she can bring to the table. “It makes for better business results.

Different points of view – whether it’s a gender based view or people with different cultural backgrounds – are always going to get you to a better outcome than having a whole bunch of people that think that same,” she says.

To further herself, Geremia participates in what Google calls ‘20 percent projects.’ These involve testing the waters of a new area by taking on a small project while still in your core role. It builds new skills and reputation while allowing you to think outside the box. One of Geremia’s proudest 20% projects was starting [email protected] in Canada and getting [email protected] globally involved in the G(irls) 20 Summit (girls20summit.com). This year Google launched the G(irls)20Ambassador fund. Google will sponsor select projects led by G(irls)20 delegates and over 60 Googlers worldwide will help mentor the next generation of female leaders.

“Those are the things that keep me fresh, keep me passionate, and they’re also potential springboards for me in the next phase of my career,” she says. “Anything is possible. You don’t need to go in a straight line. You can follow your passions and zigzag between different things. If you’re starting out in a traditional business like I did with marketing and suddenly you’re fascinated by going into Internet just do it. Just figure it out.”