Leading With Business Integrity at the Intersection of Legal and Technology
The Future of Legal With Elastic's Carolyn Herzog
Carolyn Herzog was supposed to be a concert violinist.
“To this day, my father is utterly confused by my career choice. In fact, I saw my parents last week and they started a sentence again with, ‘Aren’t you surprised…?,’” Carolyn shares, laughing.
Despite her parents' resistance, Carolyn realized that music was not where her heart lay. She instead forged a career path that would take her from international development work for Africa to Chief Legal Officer at various technology companies.
You could say that Carolyn trusts the process.
“Trust, in the end, is everything,” Carolyn mentions, referring to her leadership style. With trust as her cornerstone, Carolyn now leads a global legal team at Elastic, the platform for search-powered solutions, as their Chief Legal Officer.
Her work falls at the intersection of legal and technology, and she ensures Elastic follows its stated values (or its Source Code). This is no easy feat, and Carolyn recognizes that prioritizing business integrity is an intentional choice.
“Integrity requires constant care. It requires doing what we say we will do, acknowledging and correcting mistakes when we make them, treating everyone with respect and dignity, being fully accountable for our actions, and a healthy dose of humility,” Carolyn shares.
We caught up with Carolyn to hear how trust both led her to Elastic and now defines her work as a legal officer — including the importance of business integrity in the growing technology realm.
Arriving at the Intersection of Legal and Tech
“I am — and will forever be — from Madison, Wisconsin, otherwise known as the ‘Mad City’ or ‘77 square miles surrounded by reality’,” Carolyn starts, with a smile.
While she maintains close ties to the city, Carolyn has spent the majority of her life moving between cities. She grew up shuttling back and forth from Madison to New York City, where her parents are from, and later moved to Washington D.C. to build her career.
“I used my French to get a job in the Africa Department at The World Bank and thought that I might enter public service, possibly with an NGO eventually. Technology and law were not on my agenda at all,” Carolyn shares.
While law wasn’t on her radar, it was in her cards.
Carolyn recalls that two of her managers at The World Bank motivated her to enroll in law school. “Can you imagine having a boss who encourages you to leave your company?” Carolyn laughs. “They reminded me on a regular basis that I could do more, and I eventually decided they were right. I didn’t go to law school with the express intention of practicing law, but I wanted the time to explore public policy and the careers that could come with the degree.”
Carolyn’s law career took a step forward when she met a cybersecurity professional from a technology company in need of legal help. Carolyn remembers how the man jumped up and down in excitement when he described his job, insisting she come and work for the company.
She did, and within three years, she was promoted to their General Counsel.
Finding the Right Fit
This role led to an acquisition by Symantec, the world’s largest cybersecurity company which took Carolyn from D.C. to London and then back to the U.S. in San Jose, California. After what felt like a lifetime with Symantec, Carolyn moved into a new area of technology, taking on the General Counsel role for the world’s leading semiconductor IP company, British-headquartered Arm Limited, which had been recently acquired by the Japanese multinational conglomerate holding company, SoftBank Group. After five years at Arm, it was again time for a change.
“I considered taking some time off before starting a new position; however, an amazing recruiter, who knew me well, called me and said, ‘Elastic is the company for you,’” recalls Carolyn.
She did her research, read through Elastic’s careers page, and looked at each leader’s profile. Instead of finding the standard corporate headshots, she was looking at family photos and people enjoying the outdoors.
“I found myself smiling and feeling that familiar wave of curiosity. Solving important customer problems, a company with a heart and soul, and a Source Code centered on tenets such as ‘keep us honest as we go about our business’ — I knew it was absolutely the right fit for me,” Carolyn says.
At heart, she may be a midwesterner, but Carolyn’s story is laced with adventure and change. Perhaps it’s these different places, from college towns to capital cities, that taught her to be open to each opportunity along her career path — and trust each step of the process.
Leading With Business Integrity
“Joining Elastic was all about leading with business integrity for me. It was an intentional decision based on where I wanted to spend my time,” Carolyn shares.
She notes that she has a privileged vantage point at Elastic, with an inside view of the good — and the challenges — that the company is facing. And with that privilege comes responsibility.
“Companies need to have a mission, together, to address issues that are of concern to our customers, our employees, our shareholders, and to regulators,” Carolyn says.
To address concerns, Carolyn leans into honesty.
“While the ‘right’ thing can sometimes be subjective, being clear about a company’s values and objectives as well as how governance, compliance, and ethics align to the company’s objectives provides a forum where leaders can connect to our stakeholders and build confidence where there might otherwise be uncertainty,” shares Carolyn. “This confidence builds trust through transparency, reliability, and doing the right thing.”
Carolyn argues that another product of confidence is the creation of a diverse and inclusive company culture, where people are encouraged to share ideas and speak up when they observe behaviors that don’t align with the company’s values.
“Fostering an environment where innovation thrives requires a sense of safety and belonging,” Carolyn adds.
She understands not only that diversity and inclusion are good for employees, but that they’re also business drivers — particularly in a workplace where team members want to feel confident in what they’re delivering. With more confidence comes more investment from employees, and with more investment comes more customers willing to invest in the product.
“When we lead with business integrity, showing humility, we allow others to come forward with their ideas and to correct us when we are off course, so that we work together towards a stronger solution,” Carolyn says. Great leaders understand that their team is their greatest asset, and they should not be intimidated by the success of those around them.
Carolyn sums it up well with, “Compliance is often thought of as a cost center where we’re investing money to ensure we comply with laws. I view it differently. Compliance is what drives business.”
Technology for Good
Trust in a digital age adds another level of complexity to the ethics conversation.
As the leading platform for search-powered solutions, Elastic is no stranger to the ethics of technology — including how technology can innovate, expand, and grow with humanity’s best interests in mind.
“The human experience with technology is key,” says Carolyn. “Technology is and will continue to enhance human capability as a force for incredible good, provided we, as humans, continue to take responsibility for what we are innovating and how it is used. Setting high standards for behaviors that promote trust and ensure ethics are built into technology, in the same way that security and data privacy drive our engineering practices, will be critical to the future of this rapidly evolving technology.”
With each business decision, Carolyn considers how to address bias in the machine, data privacy, security, use rights, transparency, and explainability in how information is being used.
For Carolyn, there’s no other option. “If businesses don’t take a leadership role in driving business integrity, working in partnership with government and society, we will inevitably see a fragmentation of regulation that will slow down innovation and our ability to provide technology to the world that improves the human experience,” she says.
4 Tips for Leading With Business Integrity
If you sat down with Carolyn, she might tell you that she has the best job in the world.
“Working with a leadership team and board that consistently demonstrates honesty, kindness, transparency, and care for our customers and our employees motivates me to give my best every day,” she shares.
Business integrity has been a key player in Carolyn’s love for her work — as well as her success. She leaves us with four tips for how others can lead with business integrity, too.
- Prioritize diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging. “We must foster an environment at work where we encourage everyone to have a seat at the table and demonstrate through our actions that their voice matters. This not only fosters greater innovation, but it provides the assurance that any behavior not aligned with the company values will be addressed appropriately to avoid the perpetuation of undesirable behavior,” says Carolyn.
- Consider environmental impact. “Addressing climate change is everyone’s responsibility, and stakeholders expect companies to pay attention to their operational impact on the environment. Technology can have a negative impact on the environment or a positive impact — and it is only through intentional focus that we will be a force for good in this critical area,” says Carolyn.
- Center good governance. “This requires active review and implementation of regulation. Business leaders must take responsibility for their actions. When we lead with business integrity, we know that doing good will lead to trust and ultimately to stakeholder stickiness. Our employees will be more motivated to innovate and our customers will be more likely to partner with us and to stay with us,” says Carolyn.
- Embrace a healthy dose of humility. “This last point is too often not considered — and massively underrated. Having humility as a leader is not a sign of weakness or lack of knowledge. Quite the contrary. The importance of humility is that it can expose flaws and blind spots in one’s knowledge and leads to greater curiosity and vulnerability,” says Carolyn.