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

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.


- Abortion debate. Mississippi asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday to overturn Roe v. Wade in a case the justices will hear this fall. Both sides of the abortion debate see the Supreme Court case as an important test of whether and how the six conservative justices might rein in abortion rights. Washington Post

- Senate bid. Former Iowa Democratic Rep. Abby Finkenauer on Thursday launched a Senate bid for the seat held by Republican Chuck Grassley, who has not said yet if he's running for reelection. Finkenauer flipped Iowa's 1st District in 2018, but lost reelection to Republican Ashley Hinson. Her launch video highlighted the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and cast her campaign as a defense of democracy. Roll Call

- Safer streets. The British government on Wednesday introduced proposals to curb street harassment of women following the rape and murder of Sarah Everard, who was abducted while walking home this year. Testimonials from 180,000 abuse survivors and members of the public shaped the plan, which will include funding for a safety app and programs to protect women at bars and nightclubs. New York Times

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: JPMorgan Chase has named Carla Hassan, Citi CMO, as its new chief marketing officer. 


- Midas touch. Even before Reese Witherspoon announced Laura Dave's The Last Thing He Told Me for her bookclub pick in May, her media company Hello Sunshine had already optioned it for an Apple TV+ limited series, exhibiting the company's "360-degree" play for page-to-screen hits. Wall Street Journal 

- Comeback queens. Softball is back in the Olympics after a 12-year hiatus, and so are 10 athletes who played in the last Olympic tournament in 2008. One player to watch is Cat Osterman. After being the pitcher of record in the U.S.'s 2008 gold medal game loss, the 38-year-old exited retirement to compete in Tokyo and now has a chance to rewrite her final chapter

- Bullseye. Now this is a dynasty: South Korea's female archers hold all Olympic records and have won every team Olympic gold since the first in 1988. If they win the team event again in Tokyo, they will tie the longest gold medal streak in all Olympic sports. Reuters


Two Black girl debaters make history at Harvard University's summer competition The Root

Skirts. Bikini bottoms. Leotards. Ahead of Olympics, athletes call out sexist uniform practices. The 19th

Vicky Krieps is on her own time The Cut


“I understood from when I was young that sport is a luxury. To be able to pursue your dream is a luxury. And therefore, if you can, then you must.”

- Joan Poh, an Olympic rower for Singapore, who trained in between her shifts as a nurse.

Subscribe to Fortune Daily to get essential business stories straight to your inbox each morning.

Read More

CEO DailyCFO DailyBroadsheetData SheetTerm Sheet