This is the second article in Bears Doing Big Things, a weekly column celebrating the stories of notable M-A alumni. Read last week’s article here.
Ruth Porat is one of the most powerful women in the world: Chief Financial Officer at Google and its parent company, Alphabet. She graduated from M-A in 1975. During her M-A days, she made the twice daily trek from her house in Ladera to school on her bike, which she remembered was “great exercise, because I lived way up a steep hill.”
Porat’s favorite class in high school was math. She explained, “I viewed math then—and now—as a fun puzzle with logical patterns. If you like math, great. If you aren’t yet sure, or think you are sure that you don’t like math, I strongly encourage you to keep at it because you can’t escape it in your life or career. Data is the best way to make a point—anchor a discussion in data and you will have a much more productive decision-making process. I promise once you crack the code on patterns and frameworks, it becomes both fun and very useful for life. You want to be as fluent in math as you are in your native language.”
Porat was on the M-A dance team, gymnastics team, and swim team. She remembered, “Our coach, Ms. Nagai, told us, ‘remember who you are and what you represent.’ I think that’s a good lesson for life—to be grateful for the people and places that helped us get to where we are—and to represent them well.’” She was also into music and liked the fact that Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham had gone to M-A and that Buckingham had also been on the swim team. She said, “Rumor had it, Buckingham was told he wouldn’t amount to much as a swimmer, so he quit to pursue music. I have no idea if that’s true, but I thought the coach’s call was a gift to the rest of us. This may have inspired me to take on one of my best jobs: overnight DJ in college at KZSU,” an FM radio station broadcasted from the campus of Stanford University.
Porat has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and International Relations from Stanford, a Master’s degree in Industrial Relations from the London School of Economics, and an MBA with Distinction from Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She rose through the ranks of Morgan Stanley to become Chief Financial Officer in 2010, and joined Google as CFO in 2015. The book How Remarkable Women Lead by McKinsey & Company featured a study of her career.
Porat’s advice to current M-A students: “At one of my high school reunions, a friend told me that when we were in high school, a bunch of kids thought I was weird, but, at the same time, assumed I would achieve a lot. I had no idea I was weird then, but I know that people now have strong opinions about me—maybe they still think I’m weird. I think there’s a good message in there—be yourself, don’t hold back, never stop learning, work as hard as you can, and you can be whatever you want to be.”
In her free time, Porat enjoys “anything and everything with my family: travel, hiking, biking, and board games (currently Rummikub, Codenames, and Ticket to Ride). I can’t cook outside of breakfast for dinner, which we have way too often.”
On her favorite books, she said, “I have a book club with my three sons. It is a ton of fun to read anything they want me to read and then discuss it with them. My most recent favorites are The Price of Peace about the economist John Maynard Keynes, The Splendid and the Vile about Winston Churchill, and Why We Sleep, which I recommend to everyone, including stressed-out high schoolers. The boys kicked my husband out of the club because he was not taking it seriously.”
Disclaimer: Bears Doing Big Things is not meant to be a list ranking the most accomplished or famous M-A graduates on Earth. It is a collection of people with a wide range of expertise, opinions, and stages of life who were kindly willing to share their stories. All have wisdom, entertaining anecdotes, and book recommendations to share. There are 45,000+ additional accomplished M-A alums out there, so keep an eye out for them!