Michelle Eisenberg is vice president of Legal, deputy general counsel and head of Legal for the EMEA region at JDA. She has a rich upbringing, born in Israel, moving to the UK and then spending a few years in South Africa, just at the time Apartheid ended. There she witnessed the value of justice and the importance of education. She strives to be a role model for her two daughters, teaching them that life’s opportunities are meant to be embraced, even if they may not seem perfect, as you never know where the path may lead and there is always a lesson to be learned.
Can you tell us a bit about your childhood, where you live now, your interests and hobbies?
I was born in Israel. My father’s work in the field of education took us around the world. We moved to the UK when I was 12, which is also when I fell in love with the country. At the age of 16, we moved to South Africa. Moving across the world as a teenager was challenging but it has also benefited me hugely. Apartheid was just ending and being there at a pivotal time in history was quite the privilege. We lived in Johannesburg and my father was responsible for establishing the national technology network for teacher training. Through his work we met incredible people, including Nelson Mandela. I saw firsthand the impact teaching people practical skills can have on their lives. There is no doubt that the value of education and justice runs through my blood.
I always knew that I wanted to return to the UK to study law. Following my law degree, I moved to Israel to continue my legal training, which is where I met my husband to be who happened to be British! We now live in the UK with our two daughters Maya (13) and Leeya (10) along with two dogs Phoebe and Billy.
You could say animals, and in particular dogs, are my passion. I support a dog rescue in Romania which is where Billy came from. They rescue dogs in grave situations and bring them to the UK. One day I will have a farm with many rescue dogs (please just don’t tell my husband!)
When did you join JDA? Tell us about your role here.
I joined JDA about four and a half years ago. I was brought to JDA to build a strong EMEA legal team. The legal team and business in EMEA had gone through many changes. My goal was and is to ensure that we have a legal team that is stable, experienced and proactively supports the growth of the business and protects it. I am extremely lucky to work for a company and a leader in Martin Felli that encourage and allow me to think out of the box and get the job done. I am also grateful to the EMEA management team for always maintaining an open and transparent dialogue, which allows us to push the limits, think creatively and exceed our goals.
What did you do before joining JDA?
I’ve held similar roles to my role here at JDA in different capacities. I worked at Business Objects and then SAP through the acquisition and BMC Software. I also worked for Qlik and established their first legal team in EMEA and APAC.
I came to the realization a few years ago that my specialty and passion is to come into a company where there is a little bit of chaos, rapid growth and a lot of change and build a team that can fuel the growth and protect the business. I do this through good processes, efficiency and empowerment. I absolutely love my chosen path.
How did you get into law and why did you decide to work in a corporate environment versus at a law firm? Have you taken any risks in your career journey?
I’ve always loved the law. When I was 14, I attended a university course aimed for future lawyers and knew I wanted to become a lawyer one day. At the time, the world of law seemed exciting but speaking honestly, to a 14-year-old girl, lawyers just seemed so confident and sure of themselves. I was a shy girl and wanted to be that person one day.
My training contract was at the leading IP law firm in Israel, where I worked closely on the patent and trademark enforcement claims. It was fascinating. I was also introduced to the world of contracts and fell in love with drafting and negotiating.
I did however see another side to the profession and had a rude awakening experiencing the aggressive nature of work at an Israeli law firm. It was dragging my spirit down. I had to make a tough decision. I was brought up to never give up, stay committed and loyal so even considering leaving the firm seemed almost impossible at the time. It was exactly the right risk to take!
For the first time in my life, I took time off to travel. It gave me time to think and regain who I was. Coming back from my travels, I was offered a job at Walt Disney Israel. It was not in the legal space but taking that job was one of my life’s most important lessons. I got to experience for the first time the internal operations of a business and fell in love with it.
I tell my girls now all the time, when there is an opportunity, grab it. There is always something valuable to learn. Get your foot through the door and then work hard and prove yourself. You will then be able to pave your own career.
What’s one leadership lesson you’ve learned and really taken to heart?
Hire the best people for the job and then allow them to thrive and fly.
What is the best advice you have ever received? Who gave it to you?
My coach and mentor once told me: when faced with a difficult situation, ask yourself ‘what would a great leader do/say/act?’ Just by asking it of yourself, you are then forced to step out of yourself, your prejudices, and frustrations in that moment and react differently instead of automatically. We all have that great leader within us.
There isn’t a week I don’t use this advice.
What is your proudest achievement?
Being a strong independent female role model for my girls.
What do you wish you knew when you were starting out that you know now?
When presented with an issue, challenge or tricky situation that make you frustrated, remember that everyone has their own motives, their own backgrounds and context to the situation we do not know or understand. By truly remembering that, it is easier to determine the right solution, build trust and better relationships. In short, we all need to be less critical and more compassionate.
What is the one characteristic you believe every leader should possess?
Authenticity. When leaders try to mimic other leaders, they lose their own identity and spark. Authenticity also creates trust and results in creativity. Finally, leaders who remain true to who they are will have a strong core and therefore not shy away from making tough decisions when such decisions need to be made.
How do you encourage collaboration in your role and team?
My team lives and breathes collaboration. It’s in their DNA.
Collaboration is not that hard to achieve if you stick to some basic guiding rules. The most important one is to hire nice people. It may sound too simplistic but nice people naturally collaborate, keep a positive attitude, thrive on feedback and create a happy productive environment.
I would add that establishing an environment where team members are encouraged to take risks and get on with the job is also important. Every team member should feel enabled and empowered but with a direct and easy access to someone else in the team to bounce ideas off or escalate for approval.
Other ideas which work well in the EMEA Legal team is partnering on deals and projects and holding regular team meetings and training sessions.
Do you think there are any stereotypes when it comes to women in leadership roles? How do you combat that?
Yes, we all know that stereotypes still exist. I believe that women have an important role to play in combatting them. My way is setting any noise aside, owning who I am and working hard to get the job done. Perceptions are powerful and can be damaging, but you can combat them through results.
What do you think is the most significant barrier to women in leadership?
There are two – women’s style can often be misinterpreted and that can become a barrier. Secondly, there is also no doubt that women still have many competing priorities.
In my view, women can be their own barriers too. I see female leaders who when getting a well-earned seat at the table, don’t use it. They may not feel deserving of that seat or lose their confidence. Remember, the male leaders sitting next to you may be feeling exactly the same. Get through it and get to work.
What is the biggest challenge for the next generation of women in business?
I think the subtle and indirect biases can be a big challenge. There are pretty good and developed laws to protect women against obvious discrimination but there are scenarios and situations women face often where subtle biases exists. These can be ingrained and subconscious. Small subtle biases can become big if we ignore them. It is important to notice them when they occur, acknowledge and call them out when possible to effect change.
What are three key words you would use to describe yourself?
Driven, problem-solver, loyal.