From White House Dreams to Startup Steady Hand: The Winding Road of Liz Simon, COO of Industrious

February 14, 2024

As a self-described “super nerdy” teen, Liz Simon had her trajectory all mapped out – she would leverage her obsession with politics and civil rights to change the world through legislative impact. She set her sights on Washington D.C. early, charging through an undergraduate degree in government at Cornell and heading straight to University of Michigan Law School. A stint on the Obama campaign only further cemented her policy wonk credentials.

But when she landed a role as Counsel to the Director at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency, the stark reality of the bureaucracy was demoralizing. The “soul-crushingly slow” pace of any minor decision left her questioning whether meaningful change could happen from within. At the same time, Simon found herself increasingly inspired by the entrepreneurs and innovators she interacted with on visa and immigration issues – the creative optimism of startups stood in stark contrast to the government slog.

An opportune referral from a General Assembly co-founder offered Simon a lifeline. She took a role as Associate General Counsel at the nascent coding bootcamp startup, leaping at the chance to get in early with the 40-person team. Once there, she helped legitimize their regulatory standing and licensing across multiple states, establishing General Assembly as a viable enterprise. But after several years, watching her legal department hum along without daily oversight, Simon again saw a fork in her career path emerge. As she describes it, “I worked myself out of a job.”

Rather than retreat back to purely legal oversight, Simon opted to expand her responsibilities, migrating into broader executive leadership. First as General Manager of Campus Operations, then Chief Operating Officer, and eventually rising to CEO during a period of rapid growth and acquisition. She helping scale the organization from 400 to 1500 employees before its sale.

When the pandemic hit, Simon used her time on parental leave to reflect and realign. How could she drive impact while playing to her passions? The seismic shifts in how and where people worked sparked her interest in the broader realm of the future of work. It was then that an old connection came calling – Jamie Hodari, the founder of premium flexible office provider Industrious, enlisted Simon’s operational steadiness to provide leadership stability after COVID-induced executive turnover.

It was hardly a straight line to her current post. But Simon believes the winding path provided pivotal learning. For one, migrating from functional leadership in areas where she excelled to general oversight requiring trust in experts expanded Simon’s approach. “How do I become a leader who can command a team where I’m not the expert?” she asks. She also credits her tenure at General Assembly with offering a masterclass in organizational development and culture nurturing.

Now feeling the Industrious culture is “in one of the strongest places” after rallying during contraction, the self-proclaimed non-online person offers simple advice to keep perspective: “Most of the stuff is just not that important.” Perhaps that wisdom comes from the only other pursuit she says brings her equal meaning in life – being a mom.

As Industrious continues to bounce back under Simon’s steady leadership, she’ll surely continue applying those hard-won lessons around priorities, work-life integration, and leading with compassion. While national politics may have careened off her career map, Simon seems to have found her true north in guiding organizations with purpose while making space for what matters.

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