At The Table

Building & Maintaining a Cohesive Team

Gulzar Babaeva, VP, Deputy General Counsel at Shipt, lets us in on how strategic fluidity is key to supporting one another within legal and across the organization.

What led you to join Shipt?

As a customer, I had always admired how Shipt went the extra mile for its customers, but it wasn’t until the pandemic that I saw Shipt’s purpose come to life in a big way, and how truly people-centric the company is. Shipt is an industry leader in service and care—and its commitment to providing above-and-beyond service extends from its customers and retail partners to its network of trusted personal shoppers and drivers. So when the opportunity to join Shipt presented itself, I was excited to become a part of this fast-growing, innovative technology company. Also, the role itself was appealing because it was a chance to build programs and teams to position the company for continued growth and success.

Please tell us about your leadership style and who or what has influenced it?

Adjusting to life as an immigrant in the United States has played a crucial role in defining my leadership style. Navigating a different culture and language was incredibly challenging when I moved here as a teenager. As I worked hard to adapt to my new home, I felt like an outsider looking in. I’ve never forgotten what that feels like and, as a result, inclusion is at the epicenter of my leadership style. I strive to create an environment in which every person has a voice and a sense of belonging. My hyperfocus on inclusion has also produced an organizational environment of openness, candor and empowerment which are all necessary underpinnings for the cultivation and development of high-performing teams.

What qualities do you look for when hiring new people for your team?

One of the unique aspects of my current role is that I had to build my team from scratch when I joined Shipt. In doing so, I had the good fortune of meeting many talented lawyers and compliance professionals. Although I look for different qualities depending on the role they’ll play, I always look for people who are curious. The curiosity piece is critical; we want our team members to bring that to the job no matter the role they’re performing. We need team members to be continuously curious about our business, especially as we are in a constant state of evolution as a tech company. I also look for candidates who are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and, if needed, take on tasks that are outside their job description. Although all our team members have defined scopes and areas of focus, we don’t always have the luxury of staying in our designated lanes. We strive to practice strategic fluidity so that we can best support one another in the Legal Affairs team and across the company. I have also found that this model is helpful in broadening team members’ skill sets and knowledge of other areas, contributing to their career development.

How would you describe the culture of your organization?

Shipt has an inclusive culture that moves fast and has fun while doing it! One of my favorite aspects of the culture is an appreciation for the care of others. Our company’s core values—authenticity, care, positivity— speak to this culture. These values come to life in both structured ways, such as through our employee resource groups and volunteer initiatives, and informal, everyday ways, such as how cross-functional teams work together on a project or coworkers take an interest in each other’s families, hobbies and interests. And because things move fast in the tech world and no day is ever the same, there are many times we have to come together quickly to solve a new challenge. Our team members thrive in this environment of constant change, where a new innovation is always around the corner.

What is the most useful career advice you ever received?

I would say it is to embrace opportunities outside of your comfort zone. The periods in my career when I’ve grown the most are when I have stretched myself by making myself uncomfortable. For example, at Target I raised my hand to do litigation and was assigned general liability litigation. I had only done transactional work up to that point in my career and for the next six months I was drinking from the fire hose trying to learn litigation while handling a high volume of assigned cases. Reading each file seemed to take me forever and at times was reminiscent of learning a new language. But I grew tremendously because of it. I learned how to think and strategize like a litigator, adding a new depth to my ability to assess risk. Most importantly, even though I experienced serious growing pains, I learned that I had good litigator instincts and to trust those instincts, even if I didn’t yet have the full picture.

What changes would you like to see within the legal profession?

First and foremost, and this shouldn’t come as a surprise, we need to continue to move away from the billable hour. The law firms that adapt to alternative fee arrangements effectively will gain leverage when it comes to securing new work as well as retaining existing clients. Second, we need to re-evaluate how we are training junior lawyers to ensure that our practices stay relevant to clients’ evolving needs. As more places embrace fully remote or hybrid work, where organic opportunities for development may not be as abundantly available, we need to be more intentional than ever in how we invest in the next generation of lawyers.

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