Growing up, Meredith Speece was always on the move. She lived in eight states and two continents during her childhood, so she had to escape the “new kid” label each time she changed schools. Given that, it’s no surprise she figured out how to build relationships on the fly.
“I think you have to know yourself,” Speece says. “Early on, I found what I was good at, what I excelled at, and that was building relationships. I learned very quickly how to connect with people. I learned really quickly how to listen to people and learn what was important to them so that I could start building a relationship with them. And I think not everybody’s open to that. So, being able to accept rejection . . . that’s how I got through it.”
Speece channeled her inner Socrates in more ways than one: she studied philosophy and political science at St. Ambrose University, graduating summa cum laude and going on to earn her JD at Western Michigan University’s Thomas M. Cooley Law School.
Speece started as an associate attorney at law firm Pierce & Associates in 2002. She advised over fifty lenders and argued on their behalf in court cases. But in 2007, when bored by the predictability of her law firm work, she made the leap in-house to ZapLabs, FKA ZipRealtly Inc., where she served as assistant general counsel for seven years. From 2015 to 2016, Speece was chief legal counsel at Manage.com, and the data protection officer at Mixpanel from 2016 to 2018.
Oh, and by 2019? Meredith Speece had joined BetterUp, a coaching and mental health start-up, as the head of legal and privacy. “I’ve seen great legal teams and bad legal teams, so being offered this opportunity to build a privacy program from scratch was great, because it allows for so much innovation and so much creativity,” Speece says.
Make no mistake—Meredith Speece arrived at the company during a critical time in data privacy history. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) had come into effect, and the start-up relied on her to ensure its employees and platform complied with GDPR requirements. She developed a privacy program and wore the hat of a teacher in the process.
“A company at that stage is totally different,” Speece says. “You definitely need the policies and procedures, but you have to do that in a way that supports the company growth and makes sense for where the company is. So, I stepped in, and I was really just trying to educate the team, to make sure they understood the ‘why’ behind the changes.”
Of course, as BetterUp entered a period of rampant growth, Speece stepped up as a leader. She built her legal team by hiring lawyers with business savvy, integrity, and subject matter expertise. Plus, she empowered her team to think outside the box while bolstering the company with structure.
“I’m pretty hands off, and I allow them the flexibility to do what I hired them to do,” Speece says of her team. “I allow them the flexibility to go out on a limb and try something new and not be afraid to try new things. I’m always there to support them, but I really want to see what they can do.”
Whether Meredith Speece and her team negotiate revenue deals or partner with engineering and product teams on product launches, they deliver results across the company. She gives credit to her team for leaning into the chaos involved in helping to turn the start-up into a $4.7 billion juggernaut.
“It’s really easy for legal teams to be put in a box,” Speece says. “You hear all the time that nobody wants to work with legal. And that’s not the team that I have. I am part of a team where everybody trusts us and allows us to get creative and test new ways of working, and I love that about them. I love giving them the opportunity to do that, because it’s not every day that a lawyer gets to be creative.”
Speece offers an invaluable blueprint for investing in like-minded talent. Even if her team brings different skills to the table, they embrace her ethos of resiliency, and they earn enough respect to lend their opinions on matters beyond their expertise.
Leave it to Speece to credit her comfort with change as the other key to her success.
“That ability to handle change and uncertainty, I think, has had the most profound impact on my career,” Meredith Speece says. “I am not one that gets rattled by reorganizations, acquisitions, or economic turmoil. I learned how to process that and deal with it.”