Erica Geil directs global operations at Groupon
She started in graphic design, but with a “passion for operational excellence, execution and collaboration,” she has evolved into a tech industry leader
'I have high expectations and I’m not afraid to tell people that,” says Erica Geil of Groupon. “My team always knows where I stand. I think this aligns well with Groupon’s collaborative, high-performance culture. You have to be a team player and a high performer as well.”
Groupon (Chicago, IL) is a web-based commerce system, offering deals at restaurants, spas, theaters, hotels and other merchants in hundreds of cities and towns around the world.
Geil has been director of global operations at Groupon since late 2012. In September, she assumed additional responsibilities as director of global IT, reporting to Sri Viswanath, the SVP of global engineering.
“Global IT owns all our global infrastructure, from server and storage maintenance and architecture, to wireless and hardwire networking for all our offices. It includes helpdesk and level one support, and unified communications including video conferencing. We refer to ourselves in IT as the backbone that our employees use every single day.
“Since I just moved into IT, I’m spending a little time getting up to speed on everything the IT organization does, seeing how IT interacts with the company day-to-day, and learning how we’re scheduling projects for the next six to twelve months.”
Geil explains that the project management organization (PMO) is responsible for communication and execution of cross-functional projects. “That could include anything from a data center buildout to code migration to merging technical platforms: any large-scale, high-profile initiative. The projects are typically rooted within engineering but interface with every other business group.” The PMO team currently consists of managers and individual contributors in Chicago, IL, Palo Alto, CA and Berlin, Germany. “I built this team from the ground up,” Geil says.
“The PMO is my bread and butter,” she continues. “I have a passion for operational excellence, execution and collaboration. We’re on the front lines with engineering, business units, executives, and anyone who needs to know about a project.”
Geil says there are many big things happening at Groupon right now, including the release of a new mobile app and new site design. “Groupon started as a single daily deal company and is evolving into a marketplace for consumers. We’re moving from a push model to a pull model, where you check Groupon first at groupon.com when you want to buy just about anything, anytime, anywhere. We want people to get into the habit of going to Groupon first.”
Evolution of a promising career
Geil is from Oak Park, IL. She attended the University of Cincinnati (OH), where she earned a BS in graphic design in 2004. During school, she interned at FRCH Design Worldwide (Cincinnati) and digital agency Designkitchen (Chicago, IL).
After graduating, she worked at KGB Advertising in Cincinnati followed by tenures as a senior project manager at Designkitchen and as director of client services at technology consulting firm Symphono (Chicago).
In 2009, she became a partner at her own agency in Chicago called Eight Bit Studios, specializing in mobile app development for native and web apps, viral web strategies, and enterprise web applications.
“I realized pretty soon after graduation that I wanted to make the transition from being creative to working on overall client management. I started working on software development projects, allowing me to work with engineers on custom websites and custom apps. Those first projects taught me about software and software development lifecycles including Agile and waterfall methodologies. My passion was learning about technology and translating code into what the consumer sees on the site. That fascination continues today,” she says.
“I realized that I didn’t have to be creative; I liked being around creative individuals and learning from them.”
Coming to Groupon
An engineer with whom Geil worked at Designkitchen had moved to Groupon before her, and encouraged her to come and see what was going on.
Geil joined Groupon in 2010. “I was a contractor managing a third-party hosting provider at the time. The company was growing exponentially and everything we were doing with customers and merchants was super high profile. The engineers needed someone to manage the vendors and facilitate communication between them and internal stakeholders about any sort of large-scale site events like big sports game commercials, large promotional deals, and so forth.”
Six months later, she was hired full time as operations manager for engineering. In addition to her previous responsibilities, Geil began hiring and developing the project management team within engineering.
Geil is also co-chair of Women at Groupon. Started in 2012, the group focuses on developing, engaging and recruiting some of its top female talent. “We’ve launched a couple of programs including Groupon’s first-ever mentoring program with thirty-five senior women paired with entry-level women for three months. It was incredibly successful and has been duplicated in many of our offices.” She adds that last October, fifty-five women from Groupon attended the Grace Hopper Celebration conference for the first time.
“Groupon is unique because I have freedom, and the support of people above me and also from those who report to me,” Geil says enthusiastically. “The creative and collaborative environment really spurs that sort of employee initiative.”
As a woman leader in technology, Geil cites two key females who serve as role models. “There is Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, and Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook. I’ve heard Sandberg speak and, to me, she is the ideal role model because she has a similar background to mine. She doesn’t have a technical background, but she’s in a key position in a technical company where she can utilize her position to positively impact Facebook as a company and use her visibility to help empower other females around the world in technology positions.”
For the future
“I want to build on my passion for technology and project management, moving forward and helping others along the way,” Geil says. “I have a team of about 115 people. My goal is to advance my own career, help my team be their best, and help Groupon be its best.”
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