Judy Hoff Gilbert ’91, a Kenyon trustee-at-large, double-majored in economics and history at Kenyon, earned a master’s in business from Stanford University and works as the chief people officer at Zymergen, Inc., a biotech startup in Emeryville, California. Previously, she spent 12 years at Google, leading people operations for businesses, including YouTube and Google.
Q. Looking back, what’s one thing you wish you knew as a Kenyon senior/recent grad? And, as a Kenyon student, did you ever anticipate ending up where you are today?
—Brady Furlich ’19, an economics and history double-major from Cleveland
A. I wish I had appreciated that the opportunities to keep learning, experimenting and broadening my options — as I had been able to do at Kenyon — could continue as my career progressed. Early on, I had the idea that building a career would require narrowing down and focusing; since I didn’t know what I wanted to focus on, that worried me. Over time, I came to realize that the varied analytical tools I had picked up at Kenyon, as well as the inclination to see situations from multiple sides, gave me a powerful approach to solving complex problems. I didn’t need to narrow down after all; breadth has turned out to be a wonderful asset.
For the past 14 years, I’ve worked for companies that didn’t yet exist when I graduated from Kenyon. I’ve helped to build businesses based on truly cutting-edge technology, including self-driving cars, smart contact lenses, balloon-enabled internet and now, new biologically-derived materials. So in many ways, no, this is not how I imagined life after Kenyon.
At the same time, some of the things I loved about my Kenyon experience are things I’ve continued to seek out in my work. Paths of exploration that lead to unexpected places. A growth mindset that allows us to embrace failure as an investment in learning. Collaborative learning with colleagues who approach the same problem with different tools, and teach one another in the process of solving the problem.
Today, I work with scientists, technologists and business leaders who are constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible. My colleagues bring deep expertise in areas as diverse as molecular biology, artificial intelligence, and biophysics. I’m grateful to be part of this community, and to support the intellectual curiosity, intellectual humility and intellectual hospitality that make it work.
My career goal, when I graduated from Kenyon, was to get some experience to help me figure out the next step. As I think about it, that’s still what I’m doing, and it’s been a great journey so far.