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June 19, 2012

I Started at the Bottom… Now I'm the Boss!

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Julie Greenwald
Chairman and Chief Operating Officer, Atlantic Records

STARTED AS: Personal assistant

Law-school-bound Greenwald took a summer job as aide (and chief coffee fetcher) for Lyor Cohen, head of the then fledgling hip-hop label Def Jam Records. The 42-year-old mother of two worked her way up to president of what later became known as Island Def Jam Records before jumping with Cohen to Atlantic Records in 2004.

TIP #1: ASK A TON OF "DUMB" QUESTIONS. "I was 22 when I started with Lyor, and my desk was literally on the edge of his couch. It was very intimidating. But ignorance is bliss. I went in, asked a lot of questions, and threw out a lot of dumb ideas. I had nothing to lose. For every idea that made them say, 'Wow, that's really good,' they made fun of me for the 50 others that weren't. But I wouldn't let it bother me."

TIP #2: DON'T WHINE—FIX THE PROBLEM. "All the male executives used to go out on golf outings, and I didn't know how to play. I felt left out and out of the loop. It was like, no matter how much I was respected inside these hallways, if I couldn't do those extra social bonding experiences that make executives tighter, I was at a disadvantage. I had to speak up. So I suggested we go to basketball games or skiing instead, which I knew Lyor loved to do—and I did, too. And Lyor agreed. That's how I fixed that problem. I just had to speak up."

TIP #3: EVEN THE GREATEST JOBS DEMAND SACRIFICES. "I live a crazy life—every night I see a live show and get home at midnight. My children [Lulu, 12, and Eli, 7] used to get very mad at me because I never picked them up from school. I was the only mother who didn't, but I just couldn't leave the office at 3 p.m. Of course, now my daughter gets to go to concerts and she appreciates what I do. But there was a long time when she'd say, 'Why does Dad always pick me up?' I think it's really comforting when super-successful women acknowledge the fact that it's really hard."

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