As a leader in Product Management at Audible, Sue Shlapakovsky operates at the crossroads of customer needs, business strategy, and technology. Shlapakovsky and her team orchestrate a symphony of talent and resources across Audible, all to ensure listeners around the world have the most immersive and seamless experience possible. “It’s about diving into the detail and understanding how things could work better for our customers and then connecting the dots—figuring out the interconnectivity to make it happen,” she says. “My role is a collaborative one, in the truest sense of the word.”
In 2015, Shlapakovsky was completing a part-time MBA in Strategy and Marketing at NYU while living in D.C. During her four-hour bus commute to New York on Friday evenings for weekend classes, she fell in love with audiobooks. When she saw an opening for a product manager at Audible, she was eager to apply and join the team. “I loved that it let me go from identifying a problem all the way through to coming up with a solution and getting it in front of a customer.”
A collaborative culture like ours fosters productive conversations that enable Shlapakovsky’s team to deliver new ideas faster. “We talk about the Customer Obsession People Principle,” Shlapakovsky says, referring to the principles that define and guide Audible’s culture, “but they’re not just words on a wall, they’re genuinely part of the DNA of our company. We go into meetings and have healthy debates with diverse, and sometimes strong, opinions. But we always think about what's right for the customer.”
The pace and momentum of her work is something Shlapakovsky finds uniquely captivating, as well as trying to anticipate tomorrow’s customer needs and address them today. To do this, she says, experimentation is critical. “We have to move, fail, and innovate fast. It’s great to have the freedom to do that and approach problems from new, different angles.”
Shlapakovsky appreciates how Audible rewards innovation, being encouraged to Imagine and Invent Before They Ask, another of our People Principles. In early 2020, she was able to spearhead the creation of a more sophisticated search function for the app, giving users faster, more accurate results. “We did a deep dive into that space, figured out the problem and what the solution was, and who we needed to partner with to make it happen.” She says it was a great win for her team and a testament to the collaboration that is inherent across the business.
Like many of us, Shlapakovsky is currently balancing work and family life under one roof. To help manage that, she sets clear boundaries with her time, encouraging her team to implement Audible’s Meet Better guidelines, which include planning for 45-minute meetings instead of 60 to allow for little breaks, and making the most of Audible’s company-wide “meet-free” times. “It’s these little tweaks to how we manage our time online that make the real difference,” she says.
For Shlapakovsky, the community spirit doesn’t stop with work. She’s a part of the Auditons, a Peloton group where colleagues across Audible come together for a virtual ride and support each other’s exercise goals. She has also taken the lead on some of our many community engagement opportunities to give back locally. Last year, she reached out to colleagues to organize an event where the entire Product and UX function visited a school in Newark. “From painting murals to building furniture, we all pulled together to give back to the community as a team in a small, but meaningful way.”
Shlapakovsky’s favorite listen
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. Written and narrated by the Daily Show star himself, Noah’s memoir is a favorite of Shlapakovsky’s because she “really connected with the struggles that he went through — his perseverance in overcoming them is inspiring.” She particularly likes the way Noah manages to add humor, even to extreme moments. “I remember listening to this on my commute and bursting out laughing. It’s just fantastic.”