Andrew Tsao sets the vision and strategic priorities for several teams at Audible, including product, analytics, research, economics, data, and data science teams. He joined Audible in 2018 as Senior Vice President of Data Science and became EVP, Data Science and Insights in 2021 and Head of Product, Data Science and Analytics in 2022. His passion for research drives him to keep seeking solutions on behalf of Audible’s customers and business, and his optimism keeps him positive when the answers aren’t immediately clear. He says it helps to have a company mission he believes in and a strong team he can trust. And of course, it’s necessary to take great vacations with his family whenever he can.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in their career now, given the current trends in business and technology?
Be an optimist. Having a positive approach is incredibly powerful. My career started out in science and I spent some time in a research lab. Research is about believing you can figure out something that no one else has solved, doing something novel—which requires optimism. You have to believe you’re getting closer, that the next experiment will give you the clues you need to solve the problem. That lesson and approach turned out to help me throughout my entire career.
The problems we are working on, whether in science, tech, or business, are many times uncharted, with no manual or textbook to tell you what to do. As you attempt to solve big problems you are inevitably going to experience failure. Optimism provides the foundation to push forward, to drive for improvement, to challenge one’s self to grow, and in many cases, to reach your goals. It allows for success even when you fall short of your target, because you see the silver lining—and there is satisfaction in the attempt and learning from the experience. It’s part of being a good teammate, drawing people to work with you. Optimism helps you see how things could be done better, helps you take risks and deal with adversity.
What do you like best about your work?
Firstly, the people. I have the pleasure to work with a group of incredibly smart, humble, and kind people. Secondly, the problems we are trying to solve, they are challenging, rewarding, and diverse. And finally, Audible’s purpose: our obsession with creating a wonderful experience for our customers; our social mission to have positive impacts in the cities and countries in which we operate; our responsibility as a group to imagine and invent—dreaming into the future on behalf of our customers and customers to come.
What have you found most helpful for balancing a leadership role with your personal/family life?
It’s more about creating harmony with my family life than balancing—being happy at home is part of being able to sustain success at work, and being successful as a leader gives me space to be my best at home.
An area I’ve found particularly helpful in maintaining harmony is focusing on ways to scale yourself as a leader. Make hiring a top priority, hire a great team, and trust them—they are better qualified than you in their areas of expertise. Dive deep where you need to and don’t be a bottleneck where you’re not needed. Communicate efficiently; I prefer meetings and conversations over emails. Provide context and mental models so your team can lead the group forward without you. Scaling yourself gives you space to both be customer-obsessed and family-focused.
In addition, having worked for an airline and travel companies in the past, I’m definitely a believer in taking great vacations and exploring new experiences. Prioritize special time with your family. I always feel a different level of energy when I come back from a great vacation.
Coffee or tea: Definitely coffee! I grew up in the home of Starbucks (Seattle) and graduated from high school the same year they went public—it was never a choice.
Morning person or night owl: Night owl.
Where are you working from currently: I’m working both from my newly renovated home office (aka attic) and our great headquarters in Newark, NJ. Enjoying the best of both in our hybrid work environment.
How long have you been with Audible: Four years.
Favorite weekend activity: I love to travel, so my favorite weekends are always when I visit somewhere new. If I’m at home, then cheering on my two kids as they compete in sports is top of the list.
What’s a favorite listen: I listen to a bit of everything: sci-fi, autobiography, business, you name it! However an all-time favorite listen has been the Audible Original Bobiverse series. Start with We Are Legion (We Are Bob).