An interview with Courtney VanLonkhuyzen Welton, Lenovo MBG Global General Counsel
Courtney Welton’s path to the tech world actually began in law. As soon as she started practicing at a law firm, she realized how much she missed being part of a business – one that makes real things. She missed her days running a healthcare facility and solving problems. That realization led her to Motorola, which quickly rose to the top of her list of innovative Chicago companies that contribute locally and globally.
As Global General Counsel of the Lenovo Mobile Business Group (including Motorola Mobility), Courtney’s day-to-day involves creating solutions that allow the company to move forward on various strategies, product launches and more – weighing the risks and seizing the opportunities while wearing both a business and legal hat. She also played an important role in helping the company reintroduce its global charitable giving arm in 2014.
We sat down with Courtney to get her thoughts on the field of technology, her work with the company’s Foundation and how to ensure the next generation of leaders is exposed to opportunities in the technology sector.
Q: What’s kept you in the tech industry?
A: The tech industry is fast-moving, ever-changing and constantly competitive. Every day is different, and with each project comes a new challenge to solve. That keeps things interesting, and keeps me interested. It’s even more compelling now as tech is disrupting and changing other more traditional industries, like auto, food and hospitality.
Q: How do you think we as a society can get more women involved in tech careers?
A: There’s not a quick fix to the gender gap in technology. Getting more women exposed to the possibility of a career in tech starts in part with self awareness inside our companies. As an industry, we need to face the unconscious bias that impacts how we interact with and ultimately judge women in the workplace. We need to work to cultivate environments where women will not only enter a profession and the tech industry, but stay and move into leadership roles. At the same time, we also need to be a part of the solution outside our walls by reaching out to youth and making sure they see tech as part of their future – even if they do not have role models in the industry that look like them.
Q: From a generational perspective, how is Motorola working on getting more youth involved in tech?
A: One of the ways that we can help expose youth to the prospect of a career in tech is by emphasizing the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), especially through employee volunteerism and giving back to communities through our Foundation. The current talent pipeline for technology doesn’t yet reflect the diverse perspectives we need for long-term success and growth that meets the needs of all consumers. Our workforce should be a reflection of our customers so we can best solve problems that matter to them.
Q: How did you get started in philanthropic work?
A: When I started my career, I quickly realized that I needed to feel engaged in the community outside of my “day job.” Since women’s issues have always been something I care very much about, it made sense to start with a women-focused nonprofit, which is what led me to the Eleanor Foundation (now part of the Chicago Foundation for Women, or CFW where I serve on the board of directors). At CFW, we put time, talent, and money to work for women and girls who lack economic security and opportunity, freedom from violence, and equitable access to health care and services.
Q: From there, you helped re-launch the Motorola Mobility Foundation. Why did you want to be a part of that?
A: I had already learned through my work with the Eleanor Foundation that community service is extremely rewarding. I’ve also always loved leading teams, driving impact and working with talented Motorolans in different functions. All of this seemed like a perfect storm to find a way to connect employees more closely to our community and each other.
Q: Recently, you participated in an inaugural event called “Women at the Mart: Everyday Negotiating to Get What You Want.” What was that like?
A: I loved this event. We provided approximately 300 women the opportunity to network and think strategically about the way they negotiate in their professional and personal lives. There were so many talented women from different companies represented. It was great for Motorola to be able to take a lead role in bringing everyone together – it’s always been one of our goals when we returned to the city to serve as an anchor in the Chicago tech community.
Q: Why is it important for companies to give back?
A: I think any kind of community service work helps employees feel tied together. It’s a way for us to realize that there are many people and causes that are far more in need than we are, so it helps provide perspective and purpose. Giving back is about more than writing checks – it has all kinds of benefits for both the people involved and those receiving the help.
Employees are incredible assets, not only in achieving business goals, but also in taking their diverse skills and giving back to their communities. And, as a company, we depend in part on our brand for our success so it is important that our employees are brand ambassadors in all that we are and what we do. I’ve always felt companies have an obligation to give back to their communities, but when you can make it more than just an obligation with giving back as a core aspect of your company culture, you create a team that’s doing good and not just creating money.
Q: What are some of the Motorola innovations that you’re most proud of?
A: Our innovations around Moto ShatterShield, Moto Mods, battery life and TurboPower charging have been most impactful recently, as they solve real consumer problems. And while I own various Motorola products, my favorite is the recently launched Moto Z² family because they represent the best of our past with the freshness of our future.
Hear from more tech leaders in this product design-focused Q&A with Two Red Dot Design Award Veterans – David Hill, Lenovo, and Ruben Castano, Executive Director, CXD Americas, Motorola.