News Stories · Leadership - Digital

When searching to lead means leading search

How IMD alumnus Jonas Jafari got the career results he wanted at Google – and an unexpected bonus
July 2022

 - IMD Business School

In dreams begins responsibility

That saying, first published as an epigram by Irish poet W.B. Yeats in 1916, seems particularly apt for Jonas Jafari, MBA 2017, these days.

The Norwegian tech entrepreneur who, as a teen, fantasized about working for one of the most influential digital companies in the world, began 2022 as Google’s Global Manager of Trust & Safety for Search, tasked with helping protect the integrity of the company’s core product.

The promotion comes at a time Google is frequently in the hot seat. The search and advertising giant faces increased scrutiny in the European Union, anti-trust legislation and multiple lawsuits alleging anti-competitive practices in the US, and it is frequently attacked over the results it displays – or doesn’t display – and related free speech issues.

Despite those realities, Jafari could not be happier.

“My dream job,” is how he describes it. “The easiest way to explain what I do is that I’m part of a team, and I lead a team that is responsible for trust and safety on most of what you see on Google Search.”

Contemporary Google search results pages display more than just links. A search for a famous person will return a “Knowledge panel” at the side of a page. A search query such as “how do I heat a frozen pizza” will bring up a “featured snippets” box with instructions and additional related questions.

“The main overall responsibility is making sure that there is nothing bad happening on the surfaces on Google search. There are a lot of escalations that involve the legal department and policy specialists. I’m just one person in a huge team ensuring that there is no bias in all the decisions.”

His favorite part of the job is guiding his team of analysts on “proactive work to figure out how we make Google search a more fair and trusted space. Without getting too detailed, there’s a lot of machine learning, a lot of technical work” all directed at “making Google search better for our users.”

A launch pad for an international career

When it came to searching for a job in search, Jafari’s decision to enroll at IMD was critical. Jafari was an accomplished tech entrepreneur by the time he was 27 years old. He had Master’s Degree in Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Technology Management under his belt. And in 2016, he sold his startup Kydderia (which translates as “Spiceria,” as in “pizzeria”) Norway’s leading online shopping destination for imported exotic spices, sauces and snacks. But when he asked mentors what they thought his next step should be, “get international experience” was the common refrain.

IMD provided a launch pad for that. In Lausanne, he joined a “tech cluster” for students interested in working for digital companies. Together they shared job-hunting intelligence and strategies. Jafari felt empowered. His long-dormant dream about working for Google – one he never treated seriously because the search giant had no physical presence in Norway – now seemed theoretically possible.

He searched Google’s jobs and found a listing “that seemed ideal for me, working in Dublin, Google’s headquarters in Europe, but focused on the Norwegian retail ad market. It was too good to be true.”

Jafari used the IMD alumni network and found a current Google employee who proved invaluable, writing a recommendation and coaching him. That, combined with the dozen mock interviews he endured at IMD, gave him a boost. “Without that, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to express myself.”

He landed that first Google gig, moving to Dublin with his fiancé Valeria Cuevas – an IMD alumna working at Facebook’s Ireland office – to work in ad sales. Within two years, he managed all large customer sales for Norway and Belgium. While he enjoyed optimizing sales for premium campaigns on Google, he wanted something that bridged tech and the real world. In his spare time, he led some smaller technical projects to showcase his skills, and he focused on strategic networking, making contact with the stateside office.

Norway’s top leadership talent

While Jafari was researching the Search job in Google’s LA office, an organization in Norway was researching him. Unbeknown to Jafari, one of his colleagues had nominated him for Norway’s Top Leadership Talent under 35 award, overseen by e24, Norway’s largest online business news site. After interviewing six colleagues – and Jafari himself – e24 awarded Jafari the top honors in the Sales category and the general leadership award.

The honor is already paying dividends. Jafari was recruited to be the Keynote Speaker at Norway’s prestigious ONS Conference devoted to energy, technology and innovation, appearing on the same stage as Tesla CEO Elon Musk and other business leaders.

“I plan to talk about trust and leadership,” Jafari says, adding that IMD has helped shape his growth and knowledge in this area. “I gained a lot of practical experience with leadership there, because the assignments put you into positions where you’ve got to lead. The other thing about IMD is that you are absorbing so much information that you don’t understand how much you’ve learned.”

In other words, the results aren’t instantaneous?

“It’s still sinking in.”