Finding a Fit Without Flipping the Script

Aine Cryts Issue 14 - Nov/Dec 2014, Legal Leave a Comment

Flipboard GC Cecily Mak discusses trusting her inner compass and how its led her to working in-house in digital media.

That Monday morning a decade ago, Cecily Mak felt more like herself than she had in years—and she wasn’t the only one who noticed. That same week, she was leaving her apartment and a neighbor said she looked different and asked her, “What happened?” Mak had changed jobs, and she no longer felt that she had to “put on a uniform to go to work.”

“I didn’t have to change my way of communicating or my demeanor to arrive at my role,” said Mak, who, at that time, had just started as an Attorney with the team behind the Rhapsody music service, recently acquired by RealNetworks Inc.

“I was working among people who were like me. And, as such, I was much more of a partner to them and much more influential in my role than I had been in any of my previous roles,” Mak said.

She serves today as General Counsel (GC) at Flipboard, a top-tier Silicon Valley startup focused on transforming how people discover, view and share content by combining the beauty and ease of print with the power of social media.


Trusting Your Inner Compass

Finding her way to digital media was a meandering path for Mak, who focused on bioethics during her law school years. While she was passionate about the topics covered in those classes at University of California Hastings College of Law, she gleaned from a brief experience with a New York think tank that bioethics wasn’t the right career for her, and it was largely because of the work environment not being a fit.

As she advises her students and others she mentors today, Mak notes that she took the time to think about the type of environment where she wanted to spend her daily work life. Trusting her inner compass, she naturally found herself attracted to working with those in creative roles, such as artists, musicians, filmmakers, fashion designers, restaurateurs and wine makers—all of whom she met in her social circles. Soon she served as an Attorney at Shartsis Friese LLP, a law firm headquartered in San Francisco.

It was during her third year at the firm that she was approached about working for the team behind Rhapsody at RealNetworks. Mak had been happy at the law firm and saw a future for herself there, but the more she learned about the environment, the products and the people at RealNetworks, she knew it was the right move for her.


Pushing Out

While she observes that everyone is different, Mak embraces opportunities to challenge herself and step outside of her comfort zone at work. She certainly has the opportunity to do so in her capacity as GC at Flipboard. Less than six months into her tenure, Mak’s Chief Executive Officer asked her to oversee the company’s new Team Development Division.

“I had never worked on anything in human resources in any previous role,” she said. “It was a remarkable challenge and incredibly fulfilling.  It gave me an opportunity to get to know the organization, the leadership and the junior team in a new way. I was really able to invest in looking both inside and outside the company to find good skills, tools and resources to help me be the
most supportive, the most constructive that I could be in that role.”

At Flipboard, Mak’s days are packed with conversations across multiple teams, including engineers and product leads who are always coming up with ideas for improving the product. In her advisory role as GC, Mak needs to remain thoughtful about the impact of product enhancements on publisher and advertising partners and the impact on user experience and data privacy, just to cite a few examples.

“There are typically at least a dozen questions that a legal counselor needs to consider in helping to support the team in innovating a product in a way that’s going to be both legal but also more powerful for the user,” said Mak, who finds the entire process fulfilling on both an intellectual and a creative level.



Aine Cryts is a freelance writer based in Boston, Massachusetts.


Favorite quote… “If you put fences around people, you get sheep.” – William McKnight, Former Chief Executive Officer, 3M

Books I recommend… Every young woman should read “Creating A Life” by Sylvia Ann Hewlett. It was pivotal for me in shaping my personal and career priorities in my twenties. I recommend it to my students every year.

Things I carry with me… Not much. I am a minimalist of sorts and have gone years without carrying a purse. If it doesn’t fit in a pocket, it doesn’t come with me.

Apps on my phone I can’t do without… Waze

I can’t start my day unless… I have at least 10 minutes to myself to set intentions and priorities.

I start my day by… Driving the beautiful span between my home in Mill Valley and our office in Palo Alto, usually with a strong cup of good coffee and my favorite music or a work call.

Favorite leader… I don’t have a favorite. I find inspiring leadership in celebrities and peers alike. I admire the gravitas, humility, grace, generosity and clarity of vision among many people I am fortunate to interact with daily.

My definition of retirement… I wouldn’t call it retirement. I am an investor in people and their creative passions. I am still teaching. I participate in a handful of high-integrity, high-impact boards. I am a mentor. My husband and I are mobile, visiting a number of different countries a year. There are no lines between work and play, as I love what I do and feel privileged to interact with and support a broad spectrum of people and companies around the world.

One of the best lessons I’ve learned in my career is… Luck and connections can take you to doors, but you have to walk through them yourself. When you do, be authentic, work hard, communicate completely and effectively, and always recognize and strive to shore up your weaknesses. Help others along the way whenever you can. Defer praise to those who support you. You can’t mentor enough.

Aine Cryts

Writer at Forefront Magazine
Aine (“ONya”) Cryts is a freelance writer for Forefront Magazine. A political scientist by education, she’s a marketing consultant and freelance writer/editor by trade. Aine has served as a marketing director at a number of software companies in the Greater Boston area. A former volunteer tour guide and a current long-distance runner, she loves Boston and is an enduring fan of all of its sports teams.

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