Operator Spotlight
Finance & Legal

Meet OpenAI VP of Finance Janine Korovesis

Caroline Caswell

“How did they do that? How did they get there?” Companies succeed because of the people who build them - operating leaders who grow businesses to new heights and make decisions every day that can impact entire industries. Each month, our Operator Spotlight gives you the inside track from one of our incredible Operator LPs (Limited Partners) who are changing the game – building and scaling some of the world’s most successful companies. Read on for lessons learned and mistakes made, perspectives from the top, practical advice, and ideas on what’s next. 

Janine Korovesis is the VP of Finance at OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT. Janine has extensive experience leading early- and growth-stage tech companies through transformation; she joined OpenAI in 2018 as the founding member of the controllership and has grown the finance team to match the unparalleled pace and evolution of the company. Prior to joining OpenAI, Janine was a Project Controller at Google X, Alphabet's R&D lab, where she helped build the controllership for Waymo, Wing, Chronicle, Loon, Chronicle, and more. She's devoted her career to cultivating finance teams that exemplify operational excellence and are true partners to the business.

You’ve built your career at places that are taking big swings - tell us a bit about your motivations and what drew you to Google X and then to OpenAI? 

Throughout my career, I’ve been drawn towards hard problems in fast-paced environments. I experimented with a few different industries before finding my calling in early-stage technology companies. At Google X, a huge part of what motivated me to join was that they were trying to solve very complex and unique tech problems such as self-driving cars, wind energy, drone delivery, agriculture tech, or internet access in remote areas. Success in any of these industries had the potential to deliver an outsized impact, and that was incredibly exciting to me.

At OpenAI we are focused on one mission: to ensure Artificial General Intelligence benefits all of humanity. This is a multifaceted mission that, if achieved, has the potential to influence the world. I have a huge respect for how our researchers, engineers, and scientists are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. While I can’t contribute technical skills, I can have an impact by building the financial infrastructure to support the company. This is a huge privilege, and something that I don’t take for granted.

You’ve been at OpenAI for almost six years now - what are some practical tips for working at a company with such a huge spotlight on it? 

Be aware of both the privilege and responsibility that comes with working for a company like OpenAI.

The privilege side is the fun part. There is a quote that I love from “The Office” that sums up my mentality: “I wish there was a way to know you were in the good old days before you actually left them.” I work alongside the world’s most talented people every single day - how many people can say they get to do that? My practical advice here is to enjoy it.  

A quote to sum up how I think about the responsibility aspect is: “handle with care.” You reap the impact of the choices you make early on. If those decisions were made thoughtfully, it’s much easier to navigate the scrutiny that comes with being in the limelight.

OpenAI has a unique structure - in what ways is your job different than it might be at a typical for-profit company? 

There is no playbook for what we’re doing at OpenAI. In Silicon Valley you tend to see a lot of companies on similar paths, tackling comparable challenges, using proven solutions. While there are traditional guidelines that we leverage and the same rules that we must abide by, there are no benchmarks for the work we are doing. It demands a unique blend of innovation, critical thinking, and a willingness to explore uncharted territories to develop solutions that are effective, pioneering, and tailored to our unique objectives.

You mentioned recently that you have faced imposter syndrome - tell us a bit more about how you’ve overcome it, and what’s your advice to those who might struggle with confidence? 

The only way out of impostor syndrome is through it! One practical thing that helped me overcome it was to ask questions about things that perplexed me. I started doing this initially with a trusted group of friends and asked them to simply explain their work to me. I learned so much by doing that; it encouraged me to extend the question to my colleagues, which enabled me to become more knowledgeable about the way the company operates. I leveraged this information to become a better business partner and deliver results that had more widespread impact. My inquisitiveness paid off over time; I’d encourage anyone experiencing impostor syndrome to try this out for themselves and see how quickly it helps them gain confidence, develop a deeper understanding of their field, and dismantle their doubts about their own capabilities.

What’s something that people often get wrong about finance orgs? 

That finance is a back office function. Our COO, Brad Lightcap, and I intentionally built a finance team that emphasizes cross functional collaboration in order to drive business value. Our teams sit down next to our engineers and go deep into the problems they are facing; we look for ways to accelerate their work through in-house and external solutions, and we help them secure the resources they need. We take these relationships seriously, and because we continually invest in keeping open lines of communication we are one of the first teams they call when they have a problem. A well run finance org should never find out about things after the fact - they should be deeply embedded within the business and viewed as a critical input to finding the best solutions.

What AI tools do you use, either professionally or personally (or both!)? What makes that tool particularly valuable to you?

ChatGPT forever! I use it constantly and find it is such a valuable tool for so many applications in my daily life. It helps me interpret documents, edit copy, analyze data sets, and more; it even helped me hone my responses to this interview! It’s one of the primary reasons I’ve been able to keep up with the pace of our growth in the last year.

What’s a piece of advice you would give to yourself 10 years ago, if you had the opportunity?

Speak up. It took me a long time to get comfortable asking questions that I thought might have obvious answers. Now I realize that doubt is unfounded and asking these questions leads to greater clarity for all involved. Asking these questions drives alignment on the topic, allows us to make the best decision possible, and avoid unintended consequences along the way. 

What’s your secret super power?

My ability to demystify work. I can break a complex and ambiguous problem down into simple parts that each team can digest and use to move forward. When something seems insurmountable, the key is to look for the first step – the problem’s domino – that you can take to overcome the problem’s inertia. Personally, I love using a whiteboard to get out all of the issues…there is something very satisfying about being able to visualize problems and tick them off once you’ve thought of a solution.

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