Daniela Dwyer’s career trajectory hasn’t always moved her forward—and that was by her own design. After eight years at the software company VMware, where she was legal operations manager, she decided it was time for a change.
Dwyer had both a newborn and a one-year-old, and her husband’s career as a police officer was taking off. She wanted a job with more flexibility and an easier commute while her daughters were young, so she applied for an executive admin position at eBay. “When I went to interview, I said, ‘Here’s my résumé, and I know you’ll ask me why I’m even applying for this position,’” she says.
Her soon-to-be boss was surprised that she wanted the role, which was a step down from her previous responsibilities, but she was also happy to hire her. Dwyer made sure that even if it was an executive admin position, she would run all of the operations for her team. After a couple of years, a position opened at eBay that better fit her skill set—the head of legal operations—and that’s where she’s been for the last two years. “I took a step back for two and a half years, now I’m back pouring myself into my career,” she says.
Dwyer was born in Mexico City and grew up in San Jose, California. Her parents worked blue-collar jobs and didn’t graduate high school. “They instilled a strong work ethic in my sisters and me,” she said. “We all graduated with four-year degrees while working full-time.”
Her interest in law began in high school, when she worked as a receptionist at a small law firm. Over time, she took on some of the responsibilities of a paralegal, and when that law firm closed she moved on to others, getting her paralegal certificate along the way. After taking a paralegal job at VMware in 2007, she considered law school but ultimately decided to get a degree in business instead. “I had worked with many attorneys and knew what that life would entail,” she says. “I like to have work/life balance.”
“I always make a point to tell my direct reports that I’m very transparent—as long as you’re producing, I’m all for you taking time off, logging off completely. You need to always make time for yourself.”
It was at VMware that Dwyer made the transition from legal assistant to legal operations manager, a shift that she credits largely to her boss and mentor at the company, Leif Frykman. “He gave me projects that I thought I wasn’t capable of and said, ‘I trust you, I know you can do it,’” Dwyer says. There was no legal operations team at VMware at the time; and with Frykman’s guidance, Dwyer started one, including an e-billing system and mentoring program.
She also streamlined processes, managed a budget, handled communications, assisted with IT projects, and created a worldwide legal department newsletter. Frykman also encouraged her to make her first big presentation at an offsite legal meeting to share what she was doing in the legal operations space. “I said, ‘I can’t. It’s going to be directors, VPs.’ He said, ‘You can do it, we can review your slides,’” Dwyer remembers. “He would make me practice, give me constructive criticism. I just felt like I had someone who was always backing me up. It was true leadership.”
After moving to eBay, Dwyer found another mentor in Tekedra Mawakana, who was VP of global government relations. “She taught me that things will happen when it’s the right time,” Dwyer says. “I had put my career a little bit on hold and she always said, ‘You need to be patient. Be focused but positive.’ When I took on the head of legal operations, she was the first person to tell me, ‘See? It was the right timing.’”
“It has been said that managers focus on things, such as deadlines, budgets, and strategic plans. Leaders focus on people. A good leader is constantly mindful of both the things and the people.”
Now that she’s a boss herself, Dwyer tries to implement lessons she learned from Frykman and Mawakana. She knows that she needs to be nimble when creating practices that improve and drive efficiencies within her legal team at eBay. Currently, she is working with various key players in the company on the Outside Counsel Cost Savings Project, which would not only lower rates and outside counsel costs, but also set up a law firm list of preferred providers. She’s also been focused on implementing an e-billing system in 2020 that will offer a better reporting structure and clearer budgeting capabilities to the company’s senior leadership team.
Still, one of the most important components of each initiative for Dwyer is trusting that, as a manager, she has the faith of each member of her team. “It has been said that managers focus on things, such as deadlines, budgets, and strategic plans,” she says. “Leaders focus on people. A good leader is constantly mindful of both the things and the people.”
Work/life balance remains a priority for her and is something she tries to give her direct reports as well. “I need to be fulfilled in my career but I also need to be fulfilled at home,” she says. “Work is always going to be there, but my kids are not always going to be five years old or three years old. I always make a point to tell my direct reports that I’m very transparent—as long as you’re producing, I’m all for you taking time off, logging off completely. You need to always make time for yourself.”
Winning, Time After Time
In the last several years, working out has become a big part of the work/life balance that Dwyer strives for. She always wanted to play sports growing up, but her parents couldn’t afford it. Working full-time while going to school didn’t allow much time for exercise either. But when her younger daughter, Scarlett, was two years old, Dwyer ran her first full marathon. Then, she became a spin instructor at Gold’s Gym.
Now Dwyer competes every year in the Dri-Tri fitness competition at Orangetheory, which consists of rowing 2,000 meters, doing 300 body weight reps (like squats and push-ups), and running a 5K. For the last three years, she’s placed first in her age category.
“My daughters go and watch me, my husband helps them make motivational signs,” Dwyer says. “Avery is five, Scarlett is four. Having them come to my competitions and see that mommy finished a marathon—it’s a good example for them to see that if you work hard and prepare, you can pretty much do anything.”