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Ancestry CEO advises leaders to avoid being “reactionary” in the downturn


Deb Liu, former Meta executive and current chief executive officer of Ancestry.com, addressed the gloomy economic climate on stage at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen conference on Tuesday.

Liu joined Ancestry, the largest for-profit genealogy company in the world, in 2021 as its new CEO just three months after investment management firm Blackstone bought the company and took it private for $4.7 billion. She was tasked with growing subscribers, a goal that required reaching out to more clients of color and expanding internationally.

Today, the fledgling CEO faces new stumbling blocks. The company must now confront an increasingly volatile market and an unremitting slowdown in the tech industry, an environment that Liu says is easier to navigate without the extra obligations that come with being public.

“I think in uncertain times, it’s actually better to be a private company because you can invest in the future and not worry quarter to quarter what you’re answering for,” Liu said on stage.

When it comes to layoffs across the tech industry, Liu believes companies that “prepare the best” will be the ones that “come out stronger on the other side.” She added that it’s important that leaders avoid being “reactionary” while also preparing for whatever is to come.

Prior to her role at Ancestry, Liu was a vice president at Meta — which just faced its own mass layoffs last week. She said it’s easy to criticize her former employer, but said Meta and its properties such as WhatsApp and Instagram are a “vital part of society.”

“There’s a lot happening in tech right now, there’s a lot of scrutiny,” Liu said. “And that’s something that’s just going to continue over a period of time.”
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