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Laura Malinasky on Becoming Planet’s Head of Legal and People


This is the first installment in the Stellar Minds series, where Planet employees are profiled and their accomplishments are highlighted. Keep checking the blog for upcoming features on remarkable people working in the aerospace industry today.

Laura Malinasky, Planet’s chief legal and people officer, has had quite a career—having spent more than 20 years working in software and technology law while juggling multiple roles in human resources. In this interview, Laura discusses what it’s like to be in charge of both the legal and people (HR) departments at Planet, what her most exciting challenges are, and what advice she has for women looking to pursue careers in similar fields.

How did you end up becoming the head of Legal and People at Planet? 

I started my career as an attorney, but multiple times in my career I’ve been asked to add responsibilities beyond a legal role. Although I have never joined a company in any capacity other than legal, I have added the HR function at three companies. I think that’s a testament to hard work and drive, because when you show the capacity to go beyond your original role, you end up being rewarded with more opportunities.

Legal roles can often overlap with People functions, because of the legal issues that govern employment matters. Because of the synergies, it is becoming more common to have General Counsel also lead the People team.

Did you always know you wanted to be a lawyer? 

No! I have no lawyers in my family. My mother is from Japan and my father had a global career so I had an international upbringing.  My family moved a lot and I spent much of my childhood overseas. In high school I lived in France as part of a foreign exchange program, living with a French family at a local public school. In college I spent a year abroad in Kyoto, Japan.

Because of my background, I thought I would be a diplomat working for the Foreign Service. So I went to Stanford University and studied International Relations, but because there weren’t many jobs in the Foreign Service when I graduated, I decided to go the legal route and got my law degree at UC Berkeley. The rest is history!

What do you enjoy most about your roles at Planet? 

I get to work with great leaders and thinkers across my team, from security to legal to human resources, etc. My role is to enable people to do their jobs and run their teams to the best of their abilities. As an executive leader, I work with our leadership to set Planet’s strategic direction and advise on operational impacts and our legal risks.

I enjoy the challenge of tackling the competitive hiring market. I like to brainstorm ways to ensure Planet’s culture is diverse, welcoming and open to a variety of candidates.

There are legal and regulatory challenges at Planet that most companies don’t have because of the nature of our business, which makes our role intellectually challenging. The industry is highly regulated and Planet is driving innovation in the space, so from a legal and regulatory perspective, it’s the most complex job I’ve ever had.

You’ve had a very successful career and held many powerful positions. Do you have any advice for women interested in taking a similar path? 

For me, what’s worked has been taking on challenges, demonstrating my ability to execute and developing trust among my colleagues. Dependability is key. When you become dependable, you get more responsibility.

Some people, especially those with families, may be afraid to take on more responsibility because they fear it will be too hard to find work-life balance. But that’s not always true! As you progress in your career and take on higher level positions, you may have the power to ask for or to create greater flexibility when it comes to managing personal life and work.

Having the self-confidence to share your opinion is also important. It can be difficult when you’re the only woman or person of color in the room, but finding allies at the company can help. Strong relationships and support can strengthen your resolve, which can make you feel more comfortable speaking your mind, and can help you gain respect.

Is there anything about working at Planet that is unique and surprising to you? 

What’s surprising to me is that this is the closest I’ll probably ever be to working in International Relations! Planet’s data impacts and influences international affairs on a regular basis. I thought I totally gave that up when I went into law instead of a career in the Foreign Service, but Planet’s work has an undeniable impact across the globe, and it’s exciting to be a part of that every day.

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