Fortune

SECOND TO NONE, BUT STILL NUMBER TWO

SOME OF TECH’S FASTEST-GROWING COMPANIES ARE HIRING TOP-PERFORMING WOMEN TO BE THEIR CHIEF OPERATING OFFICERS. BUT DO THESE SECOND-IN-COMMAND JOBS REPRESENT A PRELUDE TO A CEO ROLE—OR A NEW GLASS CEILING?
1. BELINDA JOHNSON, COO, AIRBNB

To say Lexi Reese is a get-things-done kind of person is an understatement. To navigate the demands of her leadership role at fast-growing startup Gusto, a cloud-based provider of payroll and human resources software for small businesses, she maintains her schedule with an elaborate spreadsheet called “¿Dónde está Lexi?” that meticulously categorizes exactly how she spends her time. The document is broken down into four overarching values and five quarterly priorities, ranging from “drive revenue” to “personal.” Each priority contains a set of actions and details of her plan for execution, including who’s involved, format, and “cadence,” from weekly meetings with her sales team leads to twice-a-month dates in the city with her husband. A separate tab lays out her actual schedule, down to 15-minute increments in color-coded glory.

A few years ago, when she was ready to leave Google after an eight-year stint, Reese applied the same meticulousness to her job search, identifying four criteria (including a $100 billion addressable market and a “stretch” role), and logging, in fine detail, every hour she spent talking with Gusto.

Reese’s habits show the organizational acumen, drive, and perfectionism that you’d expect from a CEO. But she isn’t Gusto’s chief executive (though, according to her notes, before getting the job she did spend 21 hours, including a three-hour hike, meeting with the guy who is). She joined the company in October 2015 as chief customer experience officer. And last year she was promoted to chief operating officer—a role that’s becoming almost as important as CEO at some of the tech world’s hottest companies.

There’s a famous saying: “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” You might just as easily say, “Give it to a COO.” Reese is part of a growing cohort of high-profile, high-performing chief operating officers who command increasing respect and attention in Silicon Valley. She’s also emblematic of another commonality among these stellar seconds-in-command: An unusually large percentage of them are women.

Consider the female COO appointments at buzzy tech companies in the past 12 months: Belinda Johnson at Airbnb, Jennifer Berrent at WeWork, Maëlle Gavet at real estate and technology firm Compass, and Sara Clemens at video-streaming platform (and Amazon subsidiary) Twitch, to name just a few. In late February alone, Savannah Sachs took on the role at beauty subscription service Birchbox, and Francoise Brougher, a former top exec at mobile-payment company Square, made headlines when Pinterest announced she would become its first-ever COO.

These women join a very long list of tech-industry COO incumbents: Marne Levine at Instagram, Amy Bohutinsky of online real estate giant Zillow, Etsy’s Linda Findley Kozlowski, Claire Hughes Johnson of Stripe, Pam Murphy at enterprise software firm Infor—there are too many to list them all here. And, of course, there

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