by Laura Frustaci
Gaude Lydia Paez AB '96 serves as Senior Vice President & Head of Global Corporate Affairs at Riot Games, the game developer and publisher behind blockbuster PC games including League of Legends and Valorant, and operator of the League of Legends World Championship, the most popular esports tournament in the world. In this role, she leads Riot’s global Communications, Corporate Social Responsibility and Government Affairs practices and serves as a member of the company’s executive management team.
Paez is an accomplished leader with experience in the global media and entertainment, technology, and advertising industries. Previously, she served as Senior Vice President & Head of Corporate Communications at streaming service Hulu, where she led the communications organization during a period of growth that saw the company more than triple its base of paid subscribers and integrate into The Walt Disney Company’s global streaming portfolio. Among their many successes, Paez and team architected the company’s multi-year communications strategy supporting Hulu’s entrance into the live TV streaming market and its rise to become the largest digital MVPD service in the U.S.
Prior to Hulu, Paez held leadership roles at Fox Broadcasting Company and Yahoo! Inc., and began her career in New York at global agency BSMG Worldwide (now Weber Shandwick). She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Harvard University, recently completed her Masters in Business Administration at Oxford’s Said Business School and sits on the Board of Women in Film Los Angeles.
Gaude Paez AB ‘96 has had a long and incredible career as an executive and Senior Vice President at companies like Hulu, Fox, and currently, Riot Games. We sat down with Gaude to talk about all things exec: her career journey from start to finish, along with some of her best pieces of advice for those interested in the biz.
The most pressing question, of course, was what exactly brought her to where she is today? “I’d love to say that I had some grand plan when I graduated from Harvard and that I’ve strategically engineered my career into what it is today, but that would be a huge lie!” Gaude laughs. “I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life after college – I just knew that I enjoyed writing – so I moved to New York and took the first assistant job I could land that might allow me to make a living using my writing skills. That job happened to be at a communications/PR agency… and I’ve been in that field ever since. So I feel very fortunate to have found a line of work that I was passionate about early on in my life.” You don’t hear that too often!
From there, Gaude worked her way up with one very keen ideology: put yourself out there. “The most important moments throughout my career journey so far have been the ones in which I just put myself out there, even if I wasn’t sure I would succeed,” she explains. “For example, as an assistant, there was one afternoon when I’d overheard one of our account managers talking about how he had way too much work to do for one of his new clients. I decided to just take a stab at a few of the things he might need… I figured, “What do I have to lose?” And it paid off – he liked my work and immediately made me a member of his core account team. That was my ‘graduation’ from administrative work.” Not many people would have been gutsy enough to do something like that– I hope readers are taking notes!
Now, a few years later, she’s pivoted over to the gaming industry, something she had little knowledge of before joining Riot Games. Gaude says, “Not only was the Corporate Affairs scope of the role broader than the oversight I’d had in the past, but it was at a video game company – an industry I didn’t know well at all… I worried, could I make an impact at a company even if I’m not a hard-core gamer? Two years in, I’m loving it and am really energized about the potential in this space. But if you’d asked me 20 years ago, I never would have predicted this is where I would be.”
Gaude joined Riot Games in the midst of the pandemic, and now, a little over two years later, there has definitely been a shift in industry trends and ideas. One thing Gaude hopes will continue on moving forward in the media space is the uptick in “really cool explorations with virtual entertainment and sporting events... Whether it’s concerts in Fortnite or a global premiere like the one we did for Arcane, there could emerge some pretty interesting ways of engaging fans really deeply on a global level that didn’t exist prior to the pandemic."
Snooping around Gaude’s LinkedIn profile, you’ll see that she astutely describes herself as a “strategic storyteller” -- I asked her what, exactly, that meant to her. “It’s the job of any communications pro to help tell a great story, whether that’s about a person, a company, a production, an industry, etc” she explains. “And if you work for a global company like I do, there are probably hundreds of really cool little stories you can tell about it… But for a story to have real impact and value to the company and brand, it must connect back to its core strategy. What is it trying to achieve? Who does it want to be to its customers? What, if anything, does it want to stand for? Those are the types of considerations I try to zone in on when crafting a narrative – so that each of the beats builds toward something much larger.”
The two mantras she brings with her to work every day that feed her success? Stay calm and be decisive. “As a communications practitioner, I am often dealing with PR crises or highly intense internal employee situations, and the best thing you can do to lead an executive team or a company through those instances is provide that sense of calm and steadiness amidst the chaos and have conviction in your recommended strategy.”
With such a history of great accomplishment, did Gaude feel like there’s ever been a time she made a mistake that taught her something valuable? “I don’t think there’s any one mistake I’d highlight, but in general, I think the times in my career when I’ve made the wrong call have been times when I’ve lost sight of the bigger picture… I’ve learned in those cases that it’s important to always take a few minutes to step back and try to objectively evaluate whether you’re actually addressing the goal.” On the flip side, something Gaude is proud of that she’s accomplished: “The moments in which I’ve been able to provide guidance or mentorship to younger professionals,” she reflects. “I was fortunate to have great mentors as I was coming up in my career, and I feel a sense of responsibility to pay that forward. Some of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had as a leader have been times when I’ve had the opportunity to counsel or coach team members or mentor folks outside of my team. I love meeting with younger colleagues and often learn a lot from those conversations myself.” Read on for more of Gaude’s advice below!
Jumping back to the very beginning of Gaude’s career, we asked how her time at Harvard may have had an impact. She had this to say in response: “Harvard was the place where I learned to think critically and understand through our coursework that there isn’t always a “correct” or “incorrect” answer to every problem. I also think that going through an experience like Harvard helped me dig deeper into figuring out who I am and what I’m good at. When you’re around so many brilliant people, you can no longer hang onto your old high school identity as ‘the smart one.’ You have to really get to know more about what you bring to the table and what your superpower is. And understanding that has really helped me make decisions about my career over the course of the past 20 years.”
Gaude had some excellent advice for young, aspiring executives: “Work hard. I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but I really do believe that working really hard to hone your craft is what can differentiate good from great. Bring a point of view. If you have been given a seat at the table, you’re there because someone believes you have a unique point of view. Don’t be afraid to share it! Ask questions: No matter how far along in your career you are, there are always going to be times when you feel lost or don’t understand something. Ask away! No one expects you to know everything just because you’re an exec. If you are excited about a job opportunity, just go for it: A lot of folks (especially us ladies) look at opportunities and focus on the experience and skills we DON’T have. If you believe you could be great at a role, throw your hat in the ring – even if you don’t check off every box in the job description. The worst thing that can happen is you won’t be chosen, and that’s okay.”
In her free time, Gaude enjoys hiking with her husband and two German shepherds (named Sammy and Luna), spending time with family, reading, and doing yoga. She also tells us she’s just finished the latest season of Fauda. “So, if anyone wants to share thoughts on the season finale, hit me up!” Gaude concludes.
Laura Frustaci ('21) is an NYC-based actor and writer. She recently completed a yearlong Harvard Postgraduate Traveling fellowship in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she wrote her first full-length play. While at Harvard, Laura studied English and performed with the Hasty Pudding Theatricals, the HRDC, On Thin Ice, and the American Repertory Theater.
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