Keren Italiano.

“If you are not scared of your next role then you are probably overqualified for the position”

Keren Italiano, former Global Business Communities Director at Playtika, grappled with not being top of her class for a long time, but it was through realizing her fear and beating it that she has been able to conquer every hardship throughout her career with grace

Keren Italiano, former Global Business Communities Director at Playtika, entered the field of gaming late in her career. She was handed the responsibility of being the Monetization Director for the game “Pirate Kings” which at the time was not doing well. “I was managing 25 people over three different sites. It was my first time managing remotely. Everything was new to me at the time and it was very scary.”
At Playtika, Italiano felt that, for the first time in a long time, she was not the smartest person in the room. “It reminded me of my childhood and I wanted to fix that feeling. I thought to myself how I can take the emotions I felt as a child and take the employer I have and grow into my new position. That is where I found out how resilient I am. I do well under stress and I am a good manager. It was not easy at all, I had a rough time and I was with a game that was not super successful as opposed to the company that was doing very well. It was not easy and it gave me the motivation to recruit all my strengths.”
1 View gallery
Keren Italiano
Keren Italiano
Keren Italiano.
Italiano had three different managers in two years which contributed to her resilience. Every manager was different, and they all had different demands and visions. “All together it made me decide to step out of my title. I realized how titles are not important, what is important is your skills. Also, I wanted to make my strengths shine, not work on my weaknesses. At one point, my game was moved to maintenance mode and a lot of us got dismissed.”
When asked if she felt it was a personal failure, Italiano refreshingly replied: “Yes, you can't run from it. It was not only me however, I was part of the managing team so I took responsibility. It was hard, I questioned myself a lot. Did I choose the right path? Do the right thing? That is where I realized I want to bring only my strengths to the forefront. I want to grow and work with smart, empowering people."
After a talk with her manager, she was offered the position of communities director at Playtika, it was a whole new concept and a whole new role. “I promised to research the field and so I deep dived and found it to be amazing. Networking and sharing knowledge increases productivity and retention. I wanted to cultivate a sense of belonging at Playtika.”
Italiano was excited about the pivot and brought her can-do approach and made it happen. Fast forward a year-and-a-half later, and she was able to present real value. “I remember I was frightened to start. I was on vacation and I was panicking asking myself if I can succeed, how will I do it alone without a team. I was not sure I could take another failure and what does that say about me? Will I, once again, not be the best in class?”
Italiano made the decision to take it step by step. She decided on an end goal and a vision and executed it week after week, month after month, one community at a time. “When I left we had four communities and big plans for 2023 however, that didn't happen."
CTech's She-Inspires series follows the stories of various female leaders in the tech industry in Israel. The interviewees hail from various sectors: some work at high level positions in large organizations, some are founders, and some are key players in industries aimed at changing the world for the better. The goal is to learn where they came from, where they are going and how they are bringing inspiration to an entire sector making its way towards a glass ceiling just waiting to burst.
Italiano was born in Haifa, she has an older brother and a younger sister. “I'm a classic middle child. If I look at my childhood I was never the best at anything, I had to work very hard to get anything in life. I was not the best in class, or the best athlete or friend. I had to work hard to find my way and my strengths. This is what brought me to where I am today.”
Italiano’s father is a business owner and her mother is a homemaker. “They didn't have it easy. I was lucky to always have a hot meal as my mother was always home. Looking at my mother I knew how good and smart she is and I saw she was not fulfilling herself. That is how I knew it was not what I wanted for myself. So sometimes, when my kids come home and there is no one there to make them a hot meal I keep reminding myself that I am the role model I want them to see. I paid a price but it was worth it.”
During her upbringing and army service Italiano kept looking for opportunities to get away from home. “I liked the independence, I was trying to find my way. My brother was successful in basketball and got a lot of attention and I had a younger baby sister so I think it was my way of finding my voice.”
After studying her BA and MBA in business in Tel Aviv University, Italiano found her first real position at Partner (Orange) where, incidentally, she met her future husband. She later moved to Estee Lauder Companies (ELC) as the marketing manager for MAC Cosmetics. “When I joined, the brand had only two stores. Everyone thought it was a brand of computers or trucks. It was a completely new concept back then to have a store only for makeup so I needed to educate my audience. It was amazing because it was the beginning of something that would later become huge. I was lucky to be on the team that brought the brand from two to 21 stores.”
Italiano learned a lot in her position and she recommends every marketing manager start off their career in large international conglomerates. “It is the best school you can ask for. It's more than any BA or MBA. You have the ability to learn from communities of other managers from other countries.”
It was at this time that Italiano became a mother to twins and later had an additional child. During her second maternity leave she wanted to leave the company as she felt that after five years she had met all her challenges. But she was then offered the position of launching the company's e-commerce channel. “I thought about it, researched it and said to myself ‘Yeah, I buy on Amazon’. This was back in 2012 and e-commerce was just starting out. In Israel, we only had Shufersal. Even Amazon still didn't deliver here. I admit I didn't know how big it would be. I launched e-commerce for MAC and then, once it got bigger, I did the same for all the large brands in the company."
Fast forward five years, four brand sites and e-retailer activities, Italiano left ELC with a well-established operation and high double-digit growth year over year. “I remember I spoke to one of our leaders in Israel and he said to me, “without you we would have never made it through covid.”
Italiano recalls trying to educate everyone around her that the sites were not a competitor to the brick and mortar business. “We all need to succeed together, I was just another branch of the brand and I was the future so I needed my colleagues to understand what I was doing. It was a journey. That is where I learned how to engage stakeholders. It took me a while to find my path, I made mistakes, of course, but I understood that without engagement you are all alone. You need to explain to others what is in it for them, then they will join you and go along for the ride.”

After 11 years, at the age of 40, Italiano decided to pivot. “When I got the offer from Playtika, I was not a gamer at all. And when I got there for the interview and waited for them to call me, I was amazed by the spirit of the people - cool, active, passionate, everyone was on the ‘doing’ side of things. I thought to myself, this is what I want.”
However, Italiano's time at Playtika came to an abrupt ending when she was a part of the wave of layoffs at the company this past December. “I was blindsided. I didn't see it coming. I had all the reasons to think it would be okay. I was successful, the feedback was amazing, people wanted the communities we built, management understood the mindset. However, I keep telling myself everything happens for a reason. I was offended, angry and I cried, I had all the feelings that people who are fired have. I felt it all. I kept expecting to wake up at night and have panic attacks and that hasn’t happened. I keep asking myself why? The answer lies in the difference between who I am today and who I was a few years ago - today I know my worth. I have self confidence in the value I bring with me to any organization. I actually sleep very well at night and I am not in a rush to take every offer. I want to find the exact thing that brings all my values to an organization. I want to work from a place of passion, bringing value, and doing good to the world.”
Italiano feels that “If you are not scared of your next role then you are probably overqualified for the position. I don't want to be the smartest person in the room anymore. I want to challenge myself and empower myself and others.”
When asked if being a woman has affected her Italiano doesn't skip a beat and replies: “Yes, in cosmetics most high level positions are held by men. In gaming, I felt it even more, it is a very male-dominated field. There were very few women at my level."
Why do you think that is?
“It is a super demanding environment and work/life balance is not on the agenda as much. I feel that companies need to be more sensitive to mothers. Let's be honest, maternity leave can be a real setback for your career. Even if you work really hard and are super efficient, you still have to leave early a lot. However, even in your absence work continues to happen between 4-7pm. Employees small talk, they go out for beers and issues get done. Be sensitive to this situation, there are moms that have a ‘second shift’ with their family, so be sure to fill them in on what they missed, don't leave them behind. It's a hard feeling when you are always fighting an uphill battle."
What tip would you offer women looking to make the move into high-tech?
“First of all, look at the job requirements and apply even if you meet only 50%. You bring many things to a position you may not even be aware of. Try to meet the hiring manager, people have more to offer than a resume.
“Then, look your deepest fear straight in the eye and beat it, otherwise, it will stay there forever. For me, it was not being best in class and now I know that is okay. There are no shortcuts in life. I tell that to my kids all the time as well. Do the work, both professionally and emotionally.
“Finally, don't try to hide your emotions, even at work. Balance it, obviously, however, women bring EQ and IQ to the table and that combination is priceless. You are a lot more than just a line in your resume."