Ramsey Allington, Chief of Staff - Phones + Wearables and Libby Dabrowski, Chief of Staff - Nest BU share their insights on the role from their experience at tech giant Google.


While some tech companies are just discovering the value of a chief of staff, some of the big names in the business have been well ahead of the game. Libby Dabrowski was Chief of Staff, Media and Technology Solutions at Google eight years ago, a role she later took on at the smart home products company Nest from 2016 and returned to again at Google after leading the integration of Nest with Google Home. Ramsey Allington became a Chief of Staff of Phones + Wearables in February 2020 after nearly two decades working across Google’s products.

Reaching out across an organization and bringing expertise together is what a chief of staff does, and these two colleagues in conversation highlighted the many ways that building connections and sharing knowledge have been central to both of their careers.

Navigating the Jungle Gym

Libby Dabrowski defines her career with this quote from Sheryl Sandberg (herself formerly Chief of Staff to US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, before working at Google and Facebook): ‘Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.’ Always moving diagonally, clambering, perhaps even playing, connecting pipework and ropework, but also always striving for the other side, the top, the next step.

Libby graduated from Northwestern with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, and her first job was working at Chicago Tribune’s printing press facility where she was responsible for operations management. Experiencing success in this role, Libby jumped to the Interactive division, which at the time was a nascent start-up inside the company, where she was tasked with overseeing advertising operations. Libby acknowledges that her path to Google was a unique one; however, she is keen to point out that her diversity of experience and education has served her well because ‘breadth of knowledge is of utmost importance to the COS role.’

Ramsey Allington agrees that breadth of knowledge is essential. He grew up wanting to be a teacher because he enjoyed the process of helping people and watching them grow. He went to college for a ‘broad based degree that is common for those who wish to go into teaching’ and went on to pursue his Master’s in education. While in the middle of earning his Master’s, though, opportunity came knocking. At that point, Google was a company of only 300 employees that was shifting from just being a search engine to making money from their advertising business. They needed someone to help build out all those early people and business operations: ‘It was a chance to help, not just the company grow into something special, but the people who would come to work for it as well, and something I could not pass up.’ His work led him to leading teams in India and Ireland, where Google had some of their earliest base of operations outside of the United States.

Finding Your North Star

Ramsey’s description of his role as chief of staff involves looking up to the sky, ‘working with my leader to identify what the long-term vision is—North Star—and then mapping out a plan of how we can get there. It is then my job as the chief of staff to identify what people and organizational resources are necessary to execute on this, establish the near-term goals and path in getting to the long-term vision, mapping how we work to create a healthy and inclusive working environment—and help everyone within the team with their part and keep their sight on our North Star.’

Ramsey has made a career at Google guiding leaders through the process of achieving their vision, and then moving on to advise a new leader. What has fulfilled Ramsey most about his career is ‘helping visionary leaders during critical moments that matter to them both personally and professionally. It is rare to find a leader with both technical and operational excellence, so to be able to map out the necessary operations and structures to achieve their grand vision is truly rewarding.’

‘It is rare to find a visionary who possesses both technical and operational excellence.’ – Ramsey Allington

Ramsey’s experiences in mergers and acquisitions are where he honed his skills in consulting. Ramsey describes a deal ‘as being a single moment towards a bigger, strategic vision. The fun comes afterwards when helping the leaders, employees, their operations, and products thrive within Google. Integration involves identifying what aspects can Google bring to accelerate the acquired team and the strategic vision, what exceptions are needed to nurture this inorganic moment, and what about this team is unique and Google should learn from and invest in.

Anchoring Everything in the ‘Why’

Libby’s metaphors for how to orient a team towards the vision are about weight and flow. ‘It is important to ground the vision in why and then communicate the why to everybody involved so that the people making things happen understand what they are working towards and why it is important.’ Libby sees herself ‘as a conduit between the organizational leader and their team— to contextualize and operationalize the overarching strategy set by its leaders and enable the broader team to confidently and effectively execute against it.’

‘It is important to ground the vision in why, and then communicate the why to everybody’ – Libby Dabrowski

Communication and connection were essential to her success when Libby led the integration of Nest with the Google Home team. Nest was a company founded by ex-Apple employees and most of the team had also previously worked at Apple, which has a strong top-down culture.

Libby had previously switched between organizations and departments within Google to guide leaders and teams through times of great change, and she channelled that experience to drive alignment across the full spectrum of the business—from its mission, to operations, and culture. Libby considers her success in integrating the two organizations under one brand with one shared vision to be ‘the proudest moment of my career.’

In her role now, Libby’s work is highly cross-functional, collaborating across product areas to deliver differentiated Google experiences on first-party hardware. This requires actively building new ways of working and ‘back-channelling with other chiefs to get things done and marshal the necessary resources to achieve shared goals—while always anchoring what I am asking of people in the why.’


The flat organizational structure of Google and many other tech companies supports a culture of innovation where leaders are encouraged to ‘dream big’ and ‘go for it.’ With this structure emerged a need for chiefs of staff; intensely organized yet intensely creative problem solvers who can work with their leader to forge a path from dream to reality.

Libby Dabrowski and Ramsey Allington use different metaphors to describe their approach to their roles, but they agree on what their roles are for and what is needed for their teams to succeed. In a networked age, networked organizations challenge the chief of staff role to work not only vertically but horizontally—to connect leaders to their teams, but also to connect and merge teams together, working through formal and backchannel routes, reaching out to other chiefs of staff, and integrating cultures. Navigating the jungle gym of the organization has matched the route of their careers. Their roles have sometimes been called chief of staff, sometimes they have been called Director, Head or Senior Manager. But they have always brought guidance to their leaders and to their teams.

Ramsey Allington has been at Google since 2002 working across Corporate Development and Operations in Business and Engineering teams – currently chief of staff for Phones and Wearables business.

Libby Dabrowski joined Google in 2008 and has worked in six different divisions during her tenure. She is currently Chief of Staff for Nest, where she oversees the portfolio-level strategy for Google’s smart home products.


1. Sandberg, Sheryl, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (Ebury, 2013). Further Reading

Sadun, Raggaella, ‘Google’s Secret Formula for Management? Doing the Basics Well’, Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2017/08/googles-secret-formula-for-management-doing- the-basics-well (24 August 2017)