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Women Of The C-Suite: Dustyn Kim of Artsy On The Five Things You Need To Succeed As A Senior Executive

Advocate for yourself: I never would have ended up in my first General Manager role if I hadn’t advocated for what I wanted. I vividly remember my first discussion with a new boss when I was still working in Strategy at Lexis. He said he thought I had a bright future in strategy, and I said “I want you to know that my ultimate goal is to be a general manager. I want to have P&L responsibility and run a business.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, we had the pleasure of interviewing Dustyn Kim.

Dustyn Kim is the Chief Revenue Officer at Artsy, where she oversees the Marketplace Partners business which encompasses galleries, art fairs, auction houses and institutions. She is responsible for developing strategies to grow the marketplace, formulating operating plans and budgets, and leading teams across sales, partner relations, marketing, and operations. Prior to Artsy, Dustyn was a General Manager and P&L owner at LexisNexis’s second largest division, a $500M business serving law firms, corporations, and government agencies.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

My mother is an artist and my father is a technology executive, so I grew up with a balance of creative x analytical and culture x business forces in my life. As I forged my own path, I found myself in a continual search to preserve that balance. In college, I studied English Literature… and Economics. I loved acting and creative writing, but was also fascinated with business. After summers spent interning, I decided to focus my career on business. I assumed I’d ultimately want to work in the Media & Entertainment or Arts & Culture industry, but had yet to discover which aspect of business I was most drawn to.

I joined Deloitte Consulting after college on a mission to explore as many business functions as possible. Of all the client engagements I worked on, I was most excited by those that were focused on strategy or sales & marketing. I enjoyed working more closely with executive teams in developing and executing new strategies to grow revenue and I knew relatively quickly that I wanted to be a C-suite leader.

From there, I began to map out a path. I decided that an MBA would be important to round out my skill set. I threw myself into business-school applications and GMAT prep and ultimately ended up at Wharton. I graduated with an MBA in Strategy and a much higher degree of confidence in areas like finance. After Wharton, I focused on strategy roles with an aim of moving into general management, and from there to an executive position.

Over the next several years, I worked in various Strategy, Corporate Development and Operations roles at Deloitte, Fitch Group and LexisNexis. In each case, I was intrigued by the role and the experience it offered. When I joined Fitch, for example, I was the second person on the Strategy & Corporate Development team with a mandate to build out the function and execute a series of investments and acquisitions to expand the portfolio. When I joined Lexis, it was in a Corporate Strategy role with a clear path to General Management in one of the business units. That path played out as planned and I was able to move into a General Manager position leading the largest business unit at Lexis where I learned a tremendous amount about the differences between strategy and on-the-ground execution, and about how to lead a multi-functional and large organization.

I enjoyed the general manager role, but I found myself both ready for a new challenge and wanting a deeper connection with the industry I was working in. Then a serendipitous moment occurred; I had lunch with a dear friend of mine from Wharton to get some advice on how to improve our marketing results. She let me know that Artsy, where she worked, was looking for someone to run the gallery and fairs business and thought I would be a good fit. She introduced me to Artsy’s COO, and after an initial call, I was absolutely certain this was what I wanted to do next.

I’ve been at Artsy for over three years now and it’s been the best experience of my career. After leading the Galleries & Fairs team, I began to oversee all of Artsy’s partner teams, including Auctions & Institutions, before becoming Artsy’s CRO — where I now lead our partner businesses, B2B marketing, marketplace operations and a growing collector sales business.

I believe the 20 years of blood, sweat and tears that went into building my career was meant to bring me to Artsy. The balance I’ve always wanted between the creative and the analytical, culture and business, art and tech… I’m finally at a company that is the perfect blend. I can apply my business expertise that was so heavily influenced by my father to transform an industry and create a world where more artists like my mother can be commercially successful.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

This past year has been fascinating. The COVID pandemic accelerated the artworld’s move to online and it’s like we’ve been living that inevitable journey in fast-forward. Galleries that were reticent to adopt online sales moved to digital marketing and sales virtually overnight. We saw Art Fairs and Auctions move fully online in the absence of in-person events. We saw more new buyers entering the market (30% of buyers were new to Artsy last year) as people spent more time in their homes and gained a finer appreciation of the joy that art can bring. While this shift in buyer and seller behavior is ultimately a welcome change, online was never meant to supplant in-person gallery exhibitions, fairs and auctions and there were several worrisome moments where it looked like this pandemic was an existential threat to the artworld at large. I’ve been so impressed by how the industry came together and adapted — and I’ve been so proud of the role that Artsy has played in that.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’ll never forget my first trip to a client site as a Deloitte consultant. I had been working long hours in the days leading up to the trip and hadn’t slept well the night before. I told myself I’d sleep on the plane, so I’d be refreshed for the client meeting, but I ended up seated next to the Partner leading the client engagement. Obviously, I wasn’t going to nap in front of the Partner, so I pulled out some files and began to read. Next thing I knew I was awakened by a surprised grunt from the partner. I had accidentally fallen asleep and jerked in my sleep, throwing my pen over into his lap! He laughed it off but I was so embarrassed! To make matters worse, I had checked a bag and the wait at baggage claim made us late to our first client meeting.

Two key lessons learned here, one practical and one much more important. 1) avoid checking bags when traveling to a business meeting under a tight timeframe and 2) make sure you get enough sleep. My falling asleep was funny in this case, but I have learned over the years just how important sleep is to protect my overall well-being and success.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

A major factor in my decision to join LexisNexis was the woman I was going to be reporting to: Kumsal Bayazit. Over the years that we worked together, Kumsal shaped my personal and professional path as a boss, mentor and friend in ways that I will always be grateful for.

Professionally, she displayed a leadership style that resonated with me — one that balanced intelligence and approachability, confidence and humbleness. As I look back at it now, I think it was working for her that began to shift my leadership style into what it is today. Seeing her success, and guided by her coaching, I gained the confidence to be myself rather than trying to imitate the leadership style of the mostly male leaders around me. She also pushed me to consider opportunities that would advance my career at Lexis (“don’t make that classic female mistake where you think that because you tick 95% of the boxes but not that last 5% that you’re not qualified”) and was a great advisor as I made my way to general management.

Kumsal championed me professionally, but her greatest impact was more personal. Shortly after accepting the role on her team I learned that I was pregnant. I was terrified. How was I going to tell her that I would need to take maternity leave less than 9 months after joining? Additionally, it was a high-risk pregnancy — meaning more time away from the office at doctor’s appointments. I prepared my talking points and nervously shared the news with Kumsal. Her reaction was amazing. She congratulated me and assured me that she wasn’t even remotely bothered or phased by the timing of it all, noting “your career at Lexis is going to be long and I’m thrilled that you’re building your family along the way.” And as luck would have it, she was pregnant as well! She was one month ahead of me and pregnant with her second child. Over the next several months we would spend the first 5–10 minutes of every meeting checking in on things. She would ask me how the pregnancy was going and advise on what to expect next. She helped me navigate decisions like nanny vs. daycare. Six months later, my wonderful son was born. I truly believe that Kumsal’s support was a key reason why I was able to have a healthy pregnancy. She lowered my anxiety and gave me a new sense of confidence as a pregnant professional and ultimately a working mom.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

Being a busy leader, on top of being a mother, wife, daughter, friend, mentor and all of the many other roles we play, means constant chaos and stress.

One of the ways I’ve learned to cope is simply accepting the chaos. When I was younger, I felt like everything had to be in perfect order and that I had to be in control of it all. Embracing the fact that life is messy and that I should expect curveballs helps me be less stressed when those curveballs eventually came my way.

I also prioritize sleep. For far too many years, I worked late and pulled all-nighters only to find myself less effective and struggling with anxiety. Once I prioritized sleep, it forced me to set better boundaries around work.

I’m also a big fan of deep breathing. When I’m nervous and feel my heart racing, I’ll take a moment to take a few deep inhales followed by long exhales and it immediately slows me down and helps me focus. I use this regularly before big moments like board meetings.

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

A diverse executive team brings more experiences, perspectives and empathy to the table when evaluating and setting an organization’s strategy and operating plan. It also supports a high-functioning organization overall. People throughout the organization need to see an executive team they trust and respect. They need to feel comfortable sharing feedback, surfacing challenges and proposing solutions. A more diverse executive team, particularly one that values one another’s differences, drives a healthier connection with employees.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

It starts with understanding where you’re at. What does diversity, equity and inclusion currently look like in your organization? In your industry? I recommend gathering the information and sharing it openly and honestly. From there, it’s all about setting the path for improvement, rolling up your sleeves and doing the hard work.

I’m really proud of the work we’ve done at Artsy in this area. We measured our performance, released the data to the organization and made plans for change. We set goals for increasing diversity in our recruiting and hiring process and have increased the number of BIPOC new hires by 57% in the last six months. We also recognize the impact we could have on ending the systemic racism inherent in the art world and have taken several steps: We’ve made changes to the algorithms that recommend artists to our users to increase the diversity of artists presented, we’ve committed to raising $1M for social justice initiatives, and we launched a grant program for Black-owned galleries, and we have increased the diversity of our marketing and editorial coverage. I’m particularly excited about our efforts in support of Women’s History Month. Women are remarkably under-represented in the artworld and we are shining a much-needed spotlight on female-identifying artists through a series of curated group shows, exclusive “First Look” collections, a public campaign with OUTFRONT Media, editorial articles, social media spotlights and more.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

An executive is part of an executive team that is responsible for setting the company’s vision, mission, and strategy and then developing the associated company-wide goals and operating plans to achieve the company’s ambitions. It’s also responsible for setting the company’s values and culture.

Other leaders and managers are then taking those company-wide objectives and translating them into team-specific goals and plans. Leaders drive execution; ensuring that their teams understand the company-level and team-specific goals, motivating their teams and making sure that their teams are empowered to succeed in their roles through the right skills, tools, incentives, etc. Leaders also work with the executive team to refine company-wide strategy and plans, as needed, based on their team’s progress.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

Many think that you get to control everything once you’re in the C-suite, but in reality, it takes even more leading-through-influence at that level. It’s not about just saying “let’s do this” — it’s about sourcing ideas, building consensus and driving momentum across the entire company.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I see many of the same challenges that affect women at every stage of their career. I’ve seen colleagues that recently joined an executive team fall back into the classic cycle of not speaking up or not feeling as confident as they should. I continue to see a disparity between what is accepted in terms of communication and management styles for men vs. women.

The biggest challenge I see, however, is balancing family and work. It’s a challenge that prohibits more women from making it to thriving in an executive role. I’ve seen improvement over the course of my own career, but in general, women still carry a much heavier load in terms of family responsibilities — from raising children to caring for elderly parents, among others. It creates both an emotional and logistical pressure that I don’t see men struggle with in the same way. At the end of the day, being an executive is a 24–7 role and caring for your family is a 24–7 role. To be successful in each, women need an exceptional support system around them.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

Being an executive is more about defining the path forward and leading the successful execution of the entire company’s plans. I had assumed that an executive role would be more about a singular function — that a CRO, for example, would focus just on sales and marketing or the CFO would focus just on finance. In fact, we are all working together as a singular team running the company. Of course, we have our individual areas of responsibility, but we are constantly working together to make sure that our organizations are all aligned and working in lockstep. At Artsy, our CEO regularly reminds the executive team that “we all run this company.” That means constantly thinking about what’s best for Artsy overall.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

I don’t think anyone should avoid being an executive if it’s a dream of theirs, but I do think you need to know what you’re getting into. It’s a big responsibility and it requires a lot of energy and attention. You need to be the type of person that is motivated by a challenge and has a high level of resiliency under pressure. The best executives I’ve worked with have great business instincts but also have great empathy, which they use to build and motivate teams. I also think it’s key to be able to handle a lot of context-switching and to be highly adaptable.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

I’d say lean into your own leadership style. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. I’ve seen so many women, myself included, try to morph their approach to fit the image of another leader. A quieter analytical person trying to assume the classic boisterous sales manager style, for example. It ends up not working for you (it’s exhausting!) or your team (they see right through it). Instead, stay true to yourself and just focus on what needs to be done to empower your team. Share information with them regularly so they understand the purpose and the context behind their roles. Help them be successful by removing roadblocks, championing their ideas and coaching them along their journey.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I like to think that I’ve influenced many young women, showing them that it is possible to be a strong successful female leader and working mom. In my earlier leadership roles, I was in more male dominated industries so I would seek out young women to mentor. At Artsy, the team is over 50% female, so it’s been great to know that I’m influencing that many more future female leaders.

I’m also proud of the work that we are doing at Artsy to make the artworld a more inclusive industry and ultimately, a larger industry overall. I truly believe that art brings much-needed joy to people’s lives and that more artists should be able to make a living from their talents.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Advocate for yourself: I never would have ended up in my first General Manager role if I hadn’t advocated for what I wanted. I vividly remember my first discussion with a new boss when I was still working in Strategy at Lexis. He said he thought I had a bright future in strategy, and I said “I want you to know that my ultimate goal is to be a general manager. I want to have P&L responsibility and run a business.” I wasn’t usually that bold (at least not that early on), but I had learned over the years that you need to make your goals known to those who can help you achieve them. To my surprise and delight, a few months later he asked me to become the general manager of the largest business in his division.
  2. Things won’t go according to plan (and that’s ok!): Oftentimes, we decide on a career path and assume it will be a straight line from job A to job B to job C-suite. In my experience, it’s never that clear and it’s the unexpected curves along the way that end up being some of the most important inflection points in your career. My decision to join Lexis is a great example: I was leading Strategy & Corporate Development for Fitch at the time, so I struggled with whether or not I should move to a role where I wouldn’t be leading the team. It was a lateral move at best. I also knew, however, that it would ultimately provide the general management role I was looking for and I knew that Kumsal was someone I could learn a tremendous amount from.
  3. Pace yourself (careers are long): It’s important to remember that you don’t have to run at full speed all the time. I burnt myself out at a few different points before learning better coping skills and, frankly, gaining enough experience and perspective to shift my own expectations of myself. The best example is right after my daughter was born. I had recently taken on a new role and wanted to prove to the CEO that I hadn’t lost a beat and was ready for anything. I charged back into work, working long hours while also waking up multiple times throughout the night for feedings. I ended up having a panic attack at work one day and that was a big wake up call for me that I needed to slow down and re-prioritize.
  4. Be kind to yourself: Tied to the above; I under-estimated the importance of self-care and often see young women make the same mistake. To anyone reading this who is struggling to do it all, remember that you are your own best advocate. Listen to your body — it’ll give you countless clues along the way — and carve out time for yourself. Eat well, sleep well, exercise and remind yourself how great you are.
  5. It will all work out 🙂

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

A Dose of Empathy… I hate to see so much fear, hate and resentment in our world. I wish we could all step back from our differences, empathize with one another and see ourselves from a broader lens. I realize how complicated and nuanced the problem is, but we need to start somewhere. Perhaps if we start with small doses of empathy for one another it could slowly build into something bigger.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Stand out and speak up.” I often use this quote with my mentees. Be great at what you do. Then don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. Earlier in my career, I made the common mistake of assuming that being great at your job would naturally lead to success. It took me a while to realize that you have to be more proactive and advocate for yourself as well.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

This one is tough! I’m going to have to break the rules and respond with two female legends. I’d love to meet my favorite artist, Kiki Smith, and hear firsthand what motivates and inspires her. I’d also love to spend time with Kamala Harris and learn more about her own brand of leadership and how she navigated her career.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Women Of The C-Suite: Dustyn Kim of Artsy On The Five Things You Need To Succeed As A Senior… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.