Alvin Bowles, Facebook’s vice president of global publisher sales and operations, shared aspects of his life that have been crucial to his career, as well as recent controversies surrounding Facebook at talk Wednesday evening.
About 350 people attended the talk, which was part of the Yaffe Speaker Series led by Marketing lecturer Marcus Collins at the Ross School of Business. The series showcases individuals in business who are restructuring their fields.
At the event, Bowles discussed many of the factors that lead him to where he is today, such as a strong community. Growing up in Detroit, he relied heavily on his family’s community ties and cultivated his own. As a student at the University of Michigan, he said he found an intricate web of support from students and alums that he still uses today. After graduating, he went on to work for JP Morgan & Chase, Sony, Time Warner and eventually Facebook.
Bowles said a strong sense of community in Ann Arbor helped him get out of his comfort zone and achieve his goals. He said it was difficult relocating from Michigan to New York City, but he was able to stay in New York because of the connections he built with alumni who helped him feel confident in his own abilities.
“I learned a valuable lesson: Comfort zones don’t make your life safe, they make your life small,” Bowles said. “For me, New York was a foreign place… I didn’t have any friends and I didn’t know anybody but I leaned on my Michigan community, to be able to give me a sense of … family.”
LSA freshman Dilpreet Kaur told The Daily she was motivated by Bowles’ story because his path unfolded over time, rather than following a predetermined track.
“He started talking about how he didn't really know how he was going to start off (his career) or what his end goal was,” Kaur said. “… I feel that’s very inspirational and someone gives you hope that you’ll make it and it doesn’t necessarily have to be set out or there doesn’t need to be a blueprint or framework with regards to what you want to do.”
About four years ago, Bowles was hired at Facebook to lead their audience networking department. He described audience networking as technology that makes advertisements more viable for small business owners and directs them toward the proper audience. Bowles spoke in about his passion for his department and for the larger mission of Facebook.
“This is our mission: to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together,” Bowles said. “At its core, that’s what we’re about. We’re a platform that is focused on delivering on this mission. This is about the democratization of voices… and I believe in what we do. I believe in the people that we do it with.”
In addition to discussing Facebook’s mission, he talked about their recent trials in Washington, D.C., regarding their information privacy issues, which he had recently discussed with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.
“Four years ago, Facebook probably could do no wrong in the eyes of the press and public opinion,” Bowles said. “Not so much anymore… We serve 2.7 billion people a month, 2.1 billion daily utilizing our services. That’s an enormous responsibility, and you're not going to get it right all the time. The key is to be able to focus on how do you actually get the purity of intent, and what you’re trying to do, and ensuring that how we’re actually approaching how we talk about what we do, and ensuring that our mission actually means something.”
Bowles acknowledged Facebook’s role in protecting users and cited the company’s infancy as a challenge. Bowles said he is hopeful this experience will strengthen the company.
“I think that the challenges associated (with) what we’re dealing with will make us a better company in the future, but we have to take responsibility for the things that we’re doing,” Bowles said. “I don’t know that we've actually talked about this in the best possible way, we're getting better at it. But we also got to remember, our company is not that old.”
Business junior Coleman Heffner, who is part of the Yaffe Speaker Series planning team, told The Daily he enjoyed hearing about Bowles’ dedication to Facebook’s mission.
“What Facebook means to him (stood out to me) because with a giant company such as Facebook, some people would feel drowned out or just a small part of it,” Heffner said. “Obviously, he’s in a higher role with it but I still like the fact that he can take his work and through the company can say ‘this is exactly what this giant company means to me in this small role that I impact directly,’ because I feel like anyone wants to be in that spot when they get into a job eventually.”
Bowles left the audience with some advice for students seeking a career in business. He told them to work on being a proficient communicator and doing things that scare them.
“I think at the end of the day, it’s faith and fear and you have to treat both of these things the same; they are both imposters,” Bowles said. “At the end of the day, they’re both the same in that you have to go through both of them not having all the facts. You have to believe in something you can’t see.”