The chance to come to Foursquare was an exciting opportunity for Elizabeth Hein, an attorney with a passion for privacy and an incredible résumé of experience. She spent nine years at Alston & Bird, where she served as an international trade partner, then six years at HP Inc. as the senior compliance counsel responsible for global privacy and trade. Throughout her entire legal career, Hein has been advising clients on building compliance programs.
But Foursquare presented an opportunity of a different kind: a place where a culture of compliance was already embedded into the DNA of the organization and where she would have the chance to lead the organization into the future of privacy.
“It was a chance for me to truly build my vision for an effective privacy program,” explains Hein, who is Foursquare’s associate general counsel for privacy, product, and compliance. “In my previous experiences, I was just the lawyer supporting privacy and compliance. This was my chance to drive the whole program end-to-end.”
It’s been just over a year, but Hein has already made incredible gains. She’s spent time getting to know the business, understanding the processes of Foursquare’s engineers and product managers, and learning how privacy and compliance can be a partner in innovation when they’re working together from the onset of product development.
Hein says that when she came into the role, she spent significant time assessing the landscape and ultimately designed an approached that homed in on just a few key areas of focus to address immediately. “You can’t boil the ocean,” she explains. “It can be tempting from a compliance perspective, but you have to start by focusing on the most critical areas.”
No compliance effort will be successful if it’s not supporting the business, Hein notes. Assessing risk has to be balanced with the broader strategy of the organization. The key to a successful compliance organization is understanding where one’s priorities lie and executing with the business in mind.
To build out her team, Hein was able to bring in some privacy and compliance experts with whom she had previously worked and who would complement the expertise of the existing team. But as someone who spent much of her career as an individual contributor, Hein says she’s focused on improving her ability to delegate and sharpen her management skills. In some cases, that means simply staying out of the way of her high-performing team so she is better able to focus on more strategic goals.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve really focused on giving my team the opportunity and space to grow, learn, and lead in order to advance Foursquare’s mission without me getting in their way,” Hein explains. “I’m very clear about my goals and expectations, and I think the relationships we’ve built within the team makes execution easier.”
Another huge differentiator for Hein lies in Foursquare’s journey as a company. The company is at a unique inflection point, and Hein is leveraging transformation throughout the organization and taking privacy to the teams that drive innovation to ensure that privacy is at the core of all Foursquare does. This way, everyone plays a role in protecting privacy.
Hein says working to build out a program that is met with enthusiasm by the wider organization comes down to fitting with existing processes at the company and building relationships, especially with engineers and product teams. The privacy team worked with data privacy platform company TerraTrue to take privacy to the product and engineering organizations by embedding automated privacy reviews into the tools and processes that already exist.
No calls to legal or privacy necessary. No proactive reach outs required. The privacy team is already there working with Foursquare innovators and builders.
“This has allowed the privacy team to work with the engineering and product organizations to align with their processes and schedule,” Hein explains. “We can be part of the process during the planning phase and support them as they work through their building cycles. Legal and compliance don’t usually work in two-week sprints, but we do now.”
That willingness to adapt is part of a broader strategy Hein and her team have employed to remove the onus of having to seek out privacy support. Instead, she’s bringing privacy to the engineering and product teams so that they are working in lockstep. If the team’s goal is to support the broader business, it can’t be seen as imposing tools or processes that become roadblocks to innovation.
Hein says that because Foursquare has long been a leader in privacy, the organization is always hungry for more involvement from the privacy team. With increased involvement comes increased demand.
“People here are taking our new approach to privacy so well that it’s kind of exploded,” Hein admits. “I’m thinking about future growth and how we can work to scale this. We’ve got the core tools, processes and team in place. Who else throughout the organization can take even more leadership when it comes to providing privacy guidance? It’s really about evangelizing privacy throughout the entire organization.”
It speaks again to the value of relationship-building that Hein says is essential for her team to be successful. She says that while her team is focused on a grassroots approach towards embedding new privacy processes, the kind of success she’s had over the last year wouldn’t have been made possible without fierce support from the top.
“We have strong support and clear direction from our CEO and executive team to continue to lean in on privacy,” Hein says. “It is a really exciting time and place to be advancing privacy initiatives.”