Olga Narvskaia is a strong-willed woman.
She said she gets it from her grandmother, who was "made of steel," lived through World World II, and always carried with her a determination to succeed that never swayed. Those qualities were beloved by the family. Narvskaia takes plenty of pride in being compared to her, and she channels those qualities in her work every day.
"It's very important to do whatever you're doing with as much excellence as you can muster," she said. "I always try to take whatever it is I'm doing to the next level and really apply myself fully to that problem or issue at hand."
Narvskaia is serious. She's focused. And she has an expansive worldview and a lot of experience with business operations in other markets, which has helped her excel in her most recent position: head of online revenue operations at Dropbox.
Born in Russia, Narvskaia moved to the US for college and studied economics at San Francisco State University. After that, she earned an MBA from Cornell University and moved to New York City to work for the Boston Consulting Group, leading projects in telecommunications, banking, and non-profits. She stayed there for a while before getting the opportunity to move to back to Russia and work in Moscow for BCG. Narvskaia ended up staying there for several years, eventually becoming Chief Strategy Officer for MegaFon, a telecommunications operator that was a client of BCG.
"I think it's pretty amazing to see both the developed world and also the developing markets and how things work there," she said.
It was the perfect transition into her new role at Dropbox. About 70% of Dropbox users are international, according to Narvskaia, and the company is rapidly expanding. She originally started with Dropbox as part of the business operations team, which she got by applying online after moving back to San Francisco.
This role comes with many challenges. For example, there are many different languages for things as simple as instructions and guidelines for the products, and the company is constantly adding more. The varying cultures and languages make it difficult for Narvskaia to create company standards that are understood by everyone. But that challenge is fuel to perform better every day for Dropbox users.
"I can say for the first time in my life I actually love my job, and love is not a word that I use lightly. I liked my previous jobs and I'm super glad I had them...I love it here. Not only are we working on products that help millions of people everyday, [but also] the energy and the belief in this common goal is pretty phenomenal," she said.
The atmosphere at Dropbox is aligned with Narvskaia's goal to put all of herself into each project. Knowing that she is adding further value — whether that is to the company, to the world, or to the people around her, even in the simplest way — and propelling something forward is key.
But all this focus, determination, and planning comes with its hindrances, she added. The qualities are what she credits to her success in the tech industry so far, but planning isn't everything, and that is a piece of advice she wish she knew much earlier in her career.
"Just start and learn a lot by just doing. You cannot really substitute that learning by thinking about it ahead of time," she said. "Adapt your approach, and good things will come up."
Through all her roles in business and technology, Narvskaia has grown to become comfortable with combining that philosophy with her grandmother's determination and will. So now, when asked what's next, she doesn't have an answer, and she doesn't really want one yet.
"It's a question I never really have a good answer for. I have come to be okay with that," she said. "[I want] to do an awesome job with what it is that I'm doing. The strategy has worked well so far, so I'm going to stick with it."
In her own words...
What is one of the most exciting projects you've ever worked on?
"I think one of the more interesting ones was a project I did at BCG. In Moscow we were asked to look at the telecommunications space in Russia and give an opinion on where that could evolve. It was an amazingly interesting project to think about because it's a) complex, b) requires working with a lot of precedence — how the industry has evolved in other countries — and then take it home in this particular market to say this is where it can go. That is an example of innovation that's actually very important. Mobile is a big deal and it's very new."
What are your hobbies?
"I'm a pretty big introvert so for me taking time off and unplugging is spending time alone or with my husband or with a close friend. I've been known to cross stitch pretty pictures that go beyond the typical patterns you can buy at a regular store, and [I've] picked up playing the guitar. There's no major accomplishment I can point to there but I'm trying to really take it seriously."
What characteristics do you look for when hiring people?
"It's a very good place to be where you have a diverse team. Diverse in terms of opinions and approach and diverse in terms of what are folks' strong sides. It's great to see what each person has and it builds on each other and creates this dynamic."
Lyndsey Gilpin has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Lyndsey Gilpin is a former Staff Writer for TechRepublic, covering sustainability, leadership, and entrepreneurship. She's co-author of the book Follow the Geeks.