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Wendy Tan White was a CEO at 29. Here’s what that taught her about becoming a CEO again 20 years later

July 23, 2021, 12:42 PM UTC
Wendy Tan White, CEO of Alphabet robotics company Intrinsic.
Courtesy of Intrinsic

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Roe faces a new challenge, softball is back—and so are some of its biggest stars—and a new CEO in the Alphabet universe shares leadership lessons from her first CEO gig two decades ago. Have a relaxing weekend!

– A-B-Cs of CEOs. Fortune has the exclusive this morning on a new CEO within Alphabet: Wendy Tan White, a longtime tech founder, investor, and executive, will become chief executive for industrial robotics business Intrinsic, the latest project to “graduate” from the tech giant’s secretive research and development lab X to become its own company.

Tan White’s new job is notable for a few reasons. She joined X, formerly known as Google X, two-and-a-half years ago after a long career in startups and technology in the U.K.; she even has an MBE from Queen Elizabeth II for her services to technology and business. Her new role makes her a rare woman of color to run an Alphabet business; the other is Waymo co-CEO Tekedra Mawakana. (There are about a dozen such roles within Alphabet).

Every project that comes out of X is a “moonshot,” or an effort to solve a big-picture problem; Intrinsic’s is transforming industrial robotics. You can read more about what’s next for Intrinsic here.

Courtesy of Intrinsic

But something that stands out about Tan White’s journey to running an Alphabet company is that she’s been in the corner office before. Now 50, Tan White first served as a CEO at 29 when she cofounded Moonfruit, a U.K. business that was the first in the late 1990s to offer a way to build a website without coding expertise. (The companies are even similar: while Moonfruit sought to make website development more accessible to those without specialized knowledge, Intrinsic aims to do the same for robotics.)

So what’s different about stepping into the role again, two decades later?

“When you do it the first time, everything is very much tied to your own identity. You think that whether [the business] succeeds or fails, it’s you succeeding or failing,” Tan White reflects. “Over the years, you learn it’s not about you—it’s about the mission you’re going for. It’s about the team you have. My leadership style now is much more about mentoring an incredible team of leaders to achieve the mission, not for me to do it. That’s a fundamental shift.”

To Intrinsic and to Alphabet, Tan White is now bringing the perspective she’s learned as a chief executive—20 years apart. And both jobs helped her realize that although she’s part of the early Internet generation and could be seen as a “mentor or grand dame” in the field, she “wasn’t done yet.” “I felt like I could actually get on the field again,” she says.

Emma Hinchliffe
emma.hinchliffe@fortune.com
@_emmahinchliffe

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Claire Zillman.

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