Lead(H)er: Dorit Levy-Zilbershot, VP of Product Management and R&D at Attivio
Dorit Levy-Zilbershot leads with ideas. It’s not the title, she said, that allows a person to gather great teams and accomplish their goals. Rather, it’s the ideas they bring to the table and their ability to rally people around them.
“How do you motivate the whole organization to rally around your ideas?” Levy-Zilbershot said. “That’s one aspect of leadership I'm very much intrigued with.”
Born in Israel, Levy-Zilbershot joined the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) after graduating from university (Technion) with a degree in computer science and immediately asked to lead a team. The request was granted, and she moved up the ranks to lead bigger and bigger software development teams during her career there.
Levy-Zilbershot left IDF in 2011 to get her master’s degree in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School. The degree focused primarily on leadership skills, rather than hard business and finance topics, making it the perfect fit.
She intended to return to Israel after completing her degree, but the school changed her perspective. Levy-Zilbershot saw opportunities to do other significant and impactful work in the U.S. and thought a new career path as a software development manager for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
In 2014, Levy-Zilbershot made the leap into the startup world and joined Attivio, an enterprise search platform company serving Fortune 500 clients, as a project manager. Her unique combination of tech and leadership skills lead her to a promotion to Director less than a year after she started and to a second one as the VP of Product Management and Engineering since 2016.
“In my work, I don’t just focus on doing what I’m asked to do. I always try to find ways how as a company we can better achieve our goals,” she said. “This is the mindset I bring with me to Attivio.”
In addition to playing a key role in the company’s overall strategy and growing the R&D teams, Levy-Zilbershot continues to focus on leadership and developing strong teams by creating an ideal work environment.
“You want to create a place where people are empowered to propose new ideas and are motivated to excel from within,” she said. “This is not an exact science, and everyone is different. The key is to listen and communicate often to create a path that aligns one’s respective goals with those of the company. A successful employment journey is one that presents the opportunity to develop new skills and gain new experiences at the same time. Seeing someone grow year over year is definitely my biggest satisfaction as a leader.”
Attivio’s startup environment not only provides Levy-Zilbershot with the space she needs to experiment and bring her team all the resources she can, it also ensures that each day offers something new.
“You never stay put,” she said. “Between the day I started and today, it’s completely different here, and I love it.”
With her love of leadership and affinity for startups, Levy-Zilbershot said it’s only a matter of time before she creates a company of her own. “Taking something that is just an idea on paper -- an idea that has the potential to help society and make it a reality – is my next goal,” she said.
Rapid Fire Questions
What do you like to do in your free time?
I have three kids, so I love spending time with them riding bikes and playing board games. For me, as a kind of meditation, I sew. I make kids’ clothes. I haven't transitioned to making adults’ clothes, but I make dresses for my girls or pants and things like that. That's my quiet time, focused on one thing. It's my way to decompress.
How do you typically handle stress?
I'm very lucky to have a very supportive partner. Sometimes I'll call him after work on my drive back home and will vent about everything that happened. When I come home, that's it; I can really relax.
How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?
I start my day with a strong coffee. It's like the first boost of the day. And then two or three during the day. My morning routine is to get my coffee and sit for half an hour of quiet time, and then I'm ready to conquer the day.
What’s one of your favorite spots in the Boston area?
We live in Brookline, so the Barcelona bar is one of our favorite places to go. It's a great atmosphere, very casual, so that's always great. We do bike rides as a family along the Charles River on Saturday mornings. It's always fun to watch the leaves changing or flowers blooming. It's just beautiful. I'm always amazed at nature’s life cycle - how it comes to life again after looking so dead in the winter.
What do you consider one of your greatest accomplishments?
I would say there isn't one accomplishment. I think just being able to touch other people's lives and be a mentor and know that I impacted someone's professional growth or personal growth and was able to make a difference.
Is this where you saw yourself 10 years ago?
No, not at all. I was on a very specific track in the Israeli Defense Force, was not planning to move to the U.S., let alone be a VP at Attivio. I never really tried to plan my career. I'm always trying to be open for new opportunities and grab them as I go instead of dwelling too much on whether they’re good or bad because I feel like everything that comes your way is probably for the best. Being open-minded and flexible in your thought about taking the opportunity -- there's only good that can happen out of that. So no, I wasn't planning it nor was I thinking I would be here.
What’s your advice for recent college graduates?
Be open-minded. Don't try to plan too much ahead. Even if things don't go the way you think they will, you never know the people you're going to meet, or the experience that you're going to have and how that will affect the next thing. So be open to everything that comes towards you, and be more flexible in your thinking.