August 1, 2021
Latin for Agile, “Agilis” defines the everyday Executive pursuing extraordinary goals. This month, we have the honor of sharing the Extra(ordinary) journey of Myriam Lhermurier Boublil, current Head of International Communications at Paypal and Former Head of Communications at Google in Singapore. In meeting Myriam, we experienced a journey so profoundly impactful in defining success…beyond borders, roles, titles, and big brand organizations, we met a mother determined to lead an adventurous life while living up to the high responsibilities of her family and career. Using her vision to help the son who lost an eye to cancer at the tender age of two, Myriam shares with us her journey that spans three continents, where she was determined to experience travelling and show her sons the world through multiple lenses, while teaching them and her organizational teams how to build bridges...
“I was born and raised in Paris, France.” Myriam begins sharing. “I was very lucky to grow up in a loving and caring family. We were a simple French middle-class family, slightly different because of our mixed origins: my mother was born in Morocco to a Jewish family, and my father was born in Normandy to a Catholic family. My mother and my grandmother could speak Arabic and cooked delicious Moroccan dishes. My mom's mom would address me in Arabic for endearing words 'Laziza' (my darling). And I used to go to my father's parents' for the holidays in Normandy where they speak a different kind of French. So, when I was a little girl I could understand some Arabic and some 'Normand patois' without even knowing these were different languages! So, I grew up at the crossroads of the three monotheist religions and cultures they inspired, which I navigated in a very natural way. It wasn't even a topic. Just a fact. Now I understand that it prepared me for the multicultural approach I have to the world. It was involuntary, matter of fact, but it somehow shaped how I look at the world and how I want to live my life building bridges between people, cultures and perspectives.”
Myriam continues, “My entire family spoke only French and when I grew up, few people traveled abroad on vacation. But my father was hungry to discover the world, having served his national service in the navy, so then every summer my parents would take us to a different European country - we would drive to Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, or Portugal in our old 104 Peugeot and stayed wherever we found a room - we even slept on the beach once as all affordable hotels were full - all of these were wonderful formative experiences! Then, when I was fourteen, I had a big realization during a stop in Venice, Italy, as I was on Piazza San Marco, the famous plaza with the pigeons. I recall vividly thinking ‘This is all very good and very pretty, but it’s not how I want to travel’. I wanted to experience travel more deeply somehow, and more actively, not as a tourist, but I couldn’t really put my finger on it at that time. It started to make sense as the building blocks added up through choices I made along the way as if some thread was leading me in a direction: when I was 16, while in France, I was learning English, German, and Spanish. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do, but I was very interested in journalism, geopolitics, and sociology and I somehow knew I was going to live in different countries – not just as a visitor, but actually be part of the fabric, know the people, and understand different ways of life, making my life an adventure and exploring the world more deeply. I didn't know where, how nor exactly why, but I knew it would happen."
We enjoy our conversation with Myriam, which leads to an invigorating discussion on differing societal trends, cultures and mentalities; the catalyst for her success in international communications. "I was the first in my family to pursue higher education, a choice not all members of my family had or made - I studied International Business, and then got a Master’s in Communications. I studied and worked in Spain, the US (Vassar) and Israel for a few years. I came back to France for a few years where I had my 2 lovely Gremlins (I sometimes called my sons that because, like most kids, their metamorphosis from the loveliest creatures into little monsters could take a minute!). In 2011, Google sent me from Paris to Singapore to build their Communications in Southeast Asia and then develop their different brands across Asia, including China (where I started to learn Mandarin, which may take me another few decades given the complexity!). International Business and Communications allowed me to pull my interests together. What I love about Communications is that you need to understand society, trends, (geo)politics, mentalities, and there is something deep in understanding historical backgrounds and grasping opinions and influencing them. I love that!” Myriam continues, “ Quite naturally I chose my Master’s “memoire” to be on multicultural communications, and after visiting Israel a couple of times I figured it was a fascinating 'lab' for this topic. In the late 1990's, there were about six million people in Israel - 1.5 million were Arab Israelis; 1 million were from ex-USSR; and the rest were from all around the world. I asked myself what drives brands to communicate differently to certain parts of the population when they actually unify their communications to the other segments of the population as diverse as they may be? How do you create a communications campaign for such a varied audience? What I observed was that groups who do not feel they belong and don't identify with the central project (Israel and Zionism in this case), needed to be communicated to in a different way than the rest of the population, whatever their level in Hebrew and their origin. In such a small country, many people had moved to Israel after being born in Argentina, Japan, Yemen, South Africa or Algeria, and they were keen to read and listen to campaigns in Hebrew and join the Israeli mainstream media and culture. They didn’t have their own media and they were all eager to integrate into the society while the Orthodox Jews, the Russians and the Arab Israelis had different codes and media, each for their own reasons. It was so interesting that it didn't feel like work!”.
Myriam shares what led her back home to France, “The internet bubble was growing, and people were becoming entrepreneurs. I was thinking, ‘I want to participate in this.’ The context was interesting and I wanted to see how it changed the country. I joined a Public Relations agency that was supporting start-ups, many of which sadly exploded with the 'Internet bubble'. A year later, a friend sent me an ad: Google was looking for a Public Relations specialist. I had become a user about a year prior and loved it, so I went through the entire fifteen-interview process! They even sent me from Paris to their headquarters in Silicon Valley for the last five interviews! Nobody at that time of course had any idea what Google would become, but I could tell that it was a different kind of company. A month after I joined, we launched Gmail with 1GB of storage, which was huge then, and people thought it was a joke because it was launched on...April 1st! I feel very lucky to have joined that adventure.” She fondly recalls, and continues, “It was still a start-up. As it grew, its perception quickly evolved from the nice upcoming innovator to the big disrupter. I remember the first international issue we encountered actually started at my doorstep, in France. It was soon after we announced our plans to digitize books. Europe overall feared that a private American company would take over its culture. In France, people take the so-called ‘cultural exception’ very seriously, so do other European countries to a certain extent. ‘The idea is that books and culture should not be treated like any other good; it should be curated by people in the know to elevate the masses’. And they didn't like for a for-profit American company to replace the institutions that had been designed with that purpose. So, my role required me to play devil’s advocate on both sides: explain the French and European perspective to my colleagues in the US and explain the Google perspective (give universal access to books through technology) to my fellow Europeans. All that with the Iraq war as a background and France's refusal to join the US there. A good example of how geopolitics impacts communications issues".
Myriam’s enthusiasm in leading the communications team at Google is apparent as she reminisces about the projects she worked on. “Our backbone was to connect people across the world to useful information, and we could count on super smart and passionate people to develop amazing products that helped people in their everyday lives: Google maps, Street View, Translate, Chrome, etc.). I started officially in France, but in the typical start-up way, I very quickly supported launches across Southern Europe. I spent seven years in Paris and then moved to Singapore to build the Southeast region and then expanded to China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. It was rewarding to be a part of a company that sometimes felt like a ‘movement’. There is never a dull moment when you represent a brand everyone has interactions with and strong opinions about. And we were lucky to work on meaningful projects like launching Street View in Bangladesh, helping small businesses in Indonesia or making pictures of Cambodia's amazing Angkor Wat ruins available to the world. After growing up at the crossroads of different cultures and sets of values and beliefs, I really cherished this”.
Myriam was the first mother in Google’s French office when she joined. “It was very intense. I remember I would be in bed singing a lullaby to my eighteen month old son and typing on my Blackberry at that time. I guess, as a parent, you feel torn in those situations. It was also a good thing because you have to make good use of your time and have an anchor as well. When my second child recovered from cancer, I wanted to go back to travelling again. My motto is: the world is big and life is short! I wanted my children to see how interesting life can be when you live in different places because every day you are learning something new.” Myriam bravely details the painful journey she was to encounter with her youngest son. “When, my second son got cancer, we knew we had to stay put in Paris for a few years. In this case, I actually enjoyed what it was like to stay rooted a little longer, near family and friends, for the right reasons. I had always been very family-oriented, but suddenly, when you go through something like this, the support of close and not-so-close family; close and not-so-close friends; close and not-so-close colleague’s nurtures to an extent I had never imagined. Before this, when somebody I knew was experiencing a difficult plight, I would think that I should not bother them by calling them - how could I possibly help fix their problem? I would be wasting their precious time and be irrelevant, is what I had thought. Through this life challenge, I learned that every little text message, and every little act of kindness can go a long way. Every little gesture helped me through it, gave me and my family the strength to move forward and deal with the pain. This was a wonderful lesson in humanity.” Myriam recalls the memory of the phone call from the hospital, and how she literally collapsed in her kitchen, “for two years my son would receive general anesthesia every three months. It was traumatic for him each time as he was very little and didn't understand why we were all plotting to make him do things he didn't want to do (he hated going there). Finally, as he was recovering and could be followed at a regular eye clinic, we only needed to bring him back to the Curie Institute once a year. It was a liberation; it was like our wings were spreading again...and we did take off to another adventure, as a family and to Asia this time”.
Myriam continues sharing how her path led her to call Singapore home, “On December 30, 2010, we landed in Singapore and a new adventure started! It was not a difficult decision to make; even though it was taking us out of the comfort zone that we had created as a family. As per my motto, ‘life is short, world is big’, we wanted our kids to experience new things, discover other cultures and live big. Singapore ended up being a great place to raise kids. I was happy they were exposed to so many nationalities and looked at the world as their village, from different vantage points. There was a bit of risk too, going so far from family and friends after such a traumatic experience with my son, and leaving a great and safe position in France. But, I never regretted leaving that safety net to live life at its fullest. I moved to Singapore more for personal reasons. The professional benefits of course were huge - this Asian exposure after having a European experience helped my career take off further. This was more a collateral benefit. The main driver was the family adventure, extending our horizon to a new continent.
As much as I loved Google and its critical journey for me, I wasn’t going to stay with the same organization my entire career and didn't want to look at the world from just one organizational perspective.”
In 2017, PayPal had recently set up international headquarters in Singapore; different from other international organizations with regional headquarters. “I was offered the International Communications role in Singapore. It was an honor and a very exciting growth opportunity since it allowed me to evolve from a regional to an international role. Typically, for these roles, you need to be located in Europe or the United States. All of that considered, with timing and everything, I took a leap of faith and joined PayPal – it has been quite a ride across time zones! I work across the globe, so there's something happening 24/7. This was an adjustment from a regional to an international role with all the travels (I had to do DC, Sao Paulo and Milan in 1 week!), but it was a wonderful way to connect all my international dots. Travelling from Asia to Europe to Latin America and the US also has its limits. COVID-19 put an end to that crazy lifestyle, and for eighteen months 'the world is my village' became just that tiny red dot on the map that is Singapore. So, I found other ways to build bridges ( zoom, for example) like the rest of the world". Myriam shares how ‘building bridges’ became the theme of PayPal’s first International Communications Summit after she joined in 2018. She continues, “it created new dynamics where different countries were working more deeply together, dividing the workload and sharing ideas; it was more fun as well as more efficient. We grouped countries based on commonalities. When you are the only person leading communications in your country and you work with colleagues in other countries you feel less alone and you get better at what you do! PayPal has grown a lot and has reached a more sophisticated state in terms of Communications. Through COVID-19, the team's role internally and externally was huge, and we engaged the international team in a beautiful effort to support our employees, customers and communities face this huge challenge through collaboration and precise coordination. Our teams across the globe rolled up their sleeves and supported each other".
The role of 'Communications' in organizations holds significant impact, and the people leading teams to explore how to communicate with clients, consumers, partners, stakeholders, etc. across the globe hold a lot of value in their words...how they express their thoughts, and how they represent their organization's brand. Their voices are heard to make a difference, and to offer a balance in perspectives and strategies to remain purposeful, profitable, and successful.
No role is without its challenges...what we are humbled to discover as we meet with our Extra(ordinary) Executives is that the challenges that every day people face are usually the ones we need to begin communicating about...especially today, where Myriam's motto resonates: 'Life is Short'.
People are listening...
People want to offer support...
And, people want to be a part of your success, in whichever way success is defined for you, personally or professionally.
But it starts with communication.
Myriam’s passion for adventure through her travels and her optimistic mindset helped her through the most difficult plight that a parent could possibly encounter. Today, Myriam’s older son studies Aerospace engineering, and her younger son continues to bloom, excelling in school and sports; while getting ready to journey on his next adventure with his mom...
“He is a fighter, super resilient and caring, and has wonderful friendships. His difference is not an issue for him. It's just part of him and he makes the best of it. Each of us are special in our own way. That's his. You can be challenged or different and experience life to its fullest. And maybe even better because you know its price. Life is an adventure. I feel lucky I can travel through it; having the privilege to explore what it is to raise kids, as well as having a fulfilling career in which I never know where the next steps will lead me...but, I somehow follow my north star and my instincts, enjoying the ride and building bridges along the way”.
Myriam Lhermurier Boublil
How do you measure success?
-Written by Reena Khullar, Founder & CEO
How Do You Measure Success?
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