For founders and leaders wanting to scale their startup, there are some hard truths that must be faced: people will leave, initiatives will fail, change will be constant. The times when you can rest on your laurels and coast will be few and far between. You will not get comfortable – and if you are, you should be nervous. In the middle of constant change, you will face a challenge that pushes against the grain of the relentless change: how to build and maintain a culture that upholds clear, consistent values. Doing this is no mean feat, and although there is no blueprint, there are invaluable lessons we can learn from those who have gone before us.
Having spoken to hundreds of founders and CEOs in the last couple of years about how they built and maintained their culture, my conversation with Anneka Gupta, President at LiveRamp, stands out in my mind as one for all leaders to pay attention to. Anneka has helped build the company from 25 people to over 1,000 in under a decade and during this time the company has weathered enormous change over the years yet has managed to maintain a strong, uncompromised culture.
In this refreshingly candid interview, Anneka and I discuss:
- The turbulent nature of near perpetual change in an organization.
- Why fighting to keep Gmail was key to the company preserving its culture in an acquisition
- Why Anneka has zero tolerance for people who blame leaders or the culture
- “You can’t have a thousand people running free to achieve their goals”: The critical importance of process and boundaries when scaling
- What you need to consider to protect the culture when being acquired and growing from 25 to 1,000 people
- Who is responsible for solving issues around diversity and inclusion?
- Why everyone should be a bastion of the culture
- Next level culture-driven recruitment principles: “We were determined to get back to all applicants within 24 hours.”
- How change can provoke fear and anxiety – and Anneka’s down-to-earth approach to resolving them.
Brett Putter: Thanks for making the time to meet Anneka, could you take me through your background and how you came to be so focused on company culture development at LiveRamp.
Anneka Gupta: We were 25 people when I started at LiveRamp as a software engineer after graduating from college. I wanted to work at a startup because I was really interested in the inner workings of a company: How decisions get made? How does a company operate? What do different people do in different roles? I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t necessarily think it was software engineering, even though I initially started in that role.
When I joined, back in 2010, LiveRamp was in the early stages and didn’t yet have product or market fit. The concept of company culture amongst business leaders was still nascent back then; it certainly wasn’t as hyped up as it is now. We were fortunate in that we had a forward-thinking founder and CEO who sensed that culture was really important, which manifested itself in how I was offered a role at the company; the offer letter contained a list of the company’s values, and when I was given the offer, the CEO sat down with me and walked through what each of the values meant. The message was clear – by signing the contract, this was what I was signing up for. I thought that was great. Of course, that doesn’t scale when you’re a thousand people, but when you’re small and are building a team, you want everybody on the same page and acting in the same way – that kind of clarity is needed in order to figure out your product and market and how you’re going to scale. That emphasis on culture from day one made it very clear to people what the company was about and how people were expected to act.
Putter: Very forward-thinking for that time!
Gupta: Yes, it certainly was. Our CEO was inspired by Reed Hastings and then some of the stuff Google had done. At the time, those companies were on the cutting edge of thinking about culture. I knew from the moment I joined that part of my role, even as an individual contributor on the team, was to make sure that everyone was upholding the culture by holding people accountable to it. That being said, my impact on the culture was probably very small to begin with, given that I was new to the team and to the world of work in general.
Over the year and a half that I was on the engineering team we went through many ups and downs, but we also started to come up with a product that we saw getting traction in the market. At that point in time, our Head of Engineering said that since I had expressed, during my interview, that I was interested in product management as well as engineering, I could start doing some since by that point, there was a genuine need for product management. We had customers and now needed to figure out what we should be building to retain them, which would involve doing a lot of rapid prototyping. I wasn’t all that interested in doing product management at first, but about six months after that conversation, in early 2012, I changed my mind. I realized that I was interested based on what I’d seen from different Heads of Product in the company, and it became a really a pivotal moment in my career.
By May of that year, our leadership made the decision to pivot the whole company. We changed the company name and focused on the one product that we saw really getting traction. That created a lot of turbulence within the company, and even though we were starting to do well, it was a really big change for a lot of people, especially those who didn’t understand what product we were building because they had focused until then on other products. It transpired that a change in the culture was required. Some of the developers on the team who had been excited by rapid prototyping weren’t all that interested in the new phase we were entering, which required us to change the market and build to our customers instead of just building what we liked. A lot of people left. I think those who ended up staying were more committed to what we were building, which only served to make the company stronger and it became very clear during that transition that everyone who was staying had to be part of creating the culture going forward.
I was in Product Management for about a year and in that time, I did all sorts of things. In my role as a product manager, I spent a lot of time educating the wider team about the product. I tried to make it engaging and fun. People were concerned about what the change in focus meant for them, what they were going to be working on, whether their skills were transferable and whether this was the kind of environment they wanted to be working in now. There was no product management team when I started, and no one told me what it meant, so I was left to define it for myself in a sense. I did everything from customer support, to working with engineering (sometimes even doing a little bit of engineering myself!), to interfacing with customers and marketing. I wore a lot of different hats, and I really enjoyed it.
At the end of that year, the person who was leading marketing decided to leave the company. I had been helping on a bunch of different marketing projects prior to her departure, and our CEO approached me to see if I wanted to take over and run marketing. I thought it would be a great experience, particularly because of the knowledge and experience I had gained as product manager. I didn’t really know how customers and partners looked at us, or how we were positioning ourselves externally, so I thought it would be opportunity to learn something new. I jumped into the role, which I expected would be for a couple of months but ended up being a year. A couple of months later our CEO came to me and asked if I could run recruiting as well. He framed it as being like marketing, saying that instead of marketing to customers you’re marketing to potential employees. I said yes and ended up running both of those functions. It was a little chaotic, but I learned a lot.
Putter: What were your key learnings from moving to marketing and recruitment?
Gupta: From marketing, I got a great perspective on how people viewed us externally. The first project I worked on in that role was to put on our first customer event, which ended up being a huge success. That was an amazing experience. On the recruiting side I learned that recruitment is the heart of company culture because it’s all about the people that you bring in and how you get them excited about the company.
Putter: When did you start to shift into becoming more central to thinking about company culture?
Gupta: By 2013, because of all the changes that we’d gone through, I was starting to become one of the more tenured employees. When you’re a more tenured employee at a startup people look to you to set the culture because you know what the company has been like and how it’s operated before. Leaders and other people on the team see you as a role model for what the culture should be and as a repository of information of what has happened in the past and what the culture has been.
Around 2015 there was a general move in the business world towards testing for culture fit during interviews. Being able to articulate what our culture was and how we lived by the values started to become a much more prominent part of my role. We wanted to go beyond just having a written set of values that you see once before they get tucked away forever.
After my time in marketing and recruiting, I was given a choice about what role I wanted next: running HR and recruiting, running our customer implementation team, or running product. I wanted to go back into product because that was the area I was most excited about and I wanted to be at the center of what we were building as a company.
I went back to run the product team, which by then was three or four people. Right after I moved into the product role we got acquired by Acxiom. We operated as a separate unit and I think the CEO of Acxiom was very prescient in that he recognized the value of LiveRamp: we built this amazing product but also had a great team and culture. He didn’t want that culture to get subsumed under the bureaucracy of a 3000-person company when we were a 50-person company, so we operated separately and had a lot of autonomy to continue to do things the way we wanted to. I think it’s a great testament to our culture that we were able to retain the key elements of our culture with very low attrition for many years after the acquisition.
Putter: Sometimes in acquisitions there is deliberate cultural interference, where the leadership decides to merge the two cultures. Other times, cultural interference just happens. I’m curious how you navigated that and what your key learnings were from the acquisition.
Gupta: One of the key lessons from that time was how important it was for the leadership team to ensure that the culture was protected at LiveRamp. Throughout our time as part of Acxiom, I felt it was my role to be an intermediary to the rest of the company and to ensure that I was the one who was taking the brunt of whatever overhead or coordination was required with other divisions or other departments within the larger company, in order to protect our culture.
It was a very active effort to protect and safeguard our culture. I focused on the big things and the small things. We didn’t want the sales force of our parent company to come in and essentially take over. Yes, we wanted them to help sell our product, but we didn’t want them distracting our sales team. We also didn’t want Acxiom’s product managers coming in ad hoc and talking to our people about what they wanted. To prevent this, we appointed people from our leadership team to be the interface point so that there weren’t random people reaching out – or, if they did, to make sure our leaders would be informed so they could handle it, which freed our product managers to not have to worry about it. Essentially, the leadership shielded people in their day to do their jobs, so they weren’t getting distracted by other things.
At the beginning, this was easy because we were still operating in the same way that we had been. One of the first projects that I worked on involved migrating all the customers off Acxiom’s digital product over to our product. That was a deep dive for me into how a large company operates, which I was unfamiliar with – the only company I’d worked at since graduating was LiveRamp – and it was so interesting learning about how things work, how decisions get made or don’t get made, why that happens, and all the formal and informal avenues that facilitate or block things from happening within a large company. I spent a long time learning about that because I was working on this project that touched so many parts of the business. Some days were incredibly draining and frustrating, and on others, we would make a lot of progress.
During that time, I really learned about the importance of building personal relationships with the people you work closely with. It hadn’t really registered until we were part of a much larger company where people were not beholden to me, where they had their own things that they were working on, their own anxieties and worries, and their own bosses who were telling them something different than what I was told to do. I gained a lot of insight into what I wanted to protect at LiveRamp and what needed to change. One of the critical things I had to teach the rest of the team was the importance of building personal relationships because our people wanted to do everything over email, and I quickly learned the value of picking up the phone or going to meet someone in person. It took a while for the people on our team, who were used to working that way, to really understand why building relationships was important. I had to repeatedly highlight that while email was great for solving micro issues, when it came to the big issues, there wouldn’t be a foundation of trust or a relationship in place where you could collaborate and get stuff done.
There were instances where we did have to usher in change, but we were also able to make deliberate decisions about that based on what we thought we needed to do to scale the business. There were also times when people would come in and try to change things, sometimes without a great explanation of why. We were hypervigilant as a leadership team. We had to say no to lots of proposed changes. For example, there was quite a vehement desire within parts of our parent company to move us across to Microsoft Office, when literally everyone at the company used Gmail, Google Docs, Google Apps and so on. After looking into it, I had to assert that we couldn’t move across because we thought it would hurt the company by causing a lot of disruption with insufficient benefit to be worthwhile.
It ended up being exhausting sometimes because I repeatedly had to get involved in these minor issues, escalating and fighting for them, but at the end of the day I knew that I was fighting for the culture of the company. My job was to enable our people to be as productive and as engaged as possible. If something wasn’t right for our people, it wasn’t right for our company. Our parent company had made a major bet on us, paying 30% of their market cap for us. If we weren’t successful, that was a failing of the entire company, not just me or the people on my team, so there was an incentive for them to support us to thrive. Luckily, the CEO of our parent company was very supportive of us. He really valued what we brought to the table and understood why we cared about the things we were fighting for. When we needed him, he was able to step in, make decisions and damp down the internal battles.
Putter: You’ve gone on a serious growth curve since the acquisition, haven’t you?
Gupta: Yes. We were acquired about five years ago and we were between 50 and 60 people at that time, doing about $30 million in revenue run rate. Now, five years later, we’re close to $300 million in run rate, and we have about a thousand people. We’ve also undergone a major transformation. 2018 was a really big year for us because we consolidated all the technology within LiveRamp, splitting the company into two divisions and selling the Acxiom legacy division, so as of October we’re now a standalone public company. Our founder and CEO had left about a year after the acquisition, and the CEO after that left about a year ago. I then started running the division with our sales lead, so we’re co-presidents for our division.
Putter: How did that split impact the culture?
Gupta: The people in LiveRamp were excited when we announced that this was the path we were on. At that point we were five years into the acquisition and although we had sheltered the company quite a bit, there were nevertheless areas that were a constant frustration where we couldn’t achieve all that we wanted to because we were tied to a legacy business. That manifested in many ways. To the credit of the Acxiom leadership team, everyone saw that and acknowledged the potential of LiveRamp, which is why we decided to split. I think internally people were excited about the fact that we would get to stand on our own, untethered from Acxiom and in charge of our own destiny.
We were aware that anything could happen during the sales process of the legacy division and that uncertainty was hard for people. A lot of news articles were being written about LiveRamp and there was a lot of speculation about what would happen after the split. Our people were reading these articles every day and were concerned so we would get many questions about what was happening. It was hard, partly because we knew what we wanted to happen, but didn’t actually know what would happen. We kept articulating the game plan over and over, telling people transparently what we were focusing on achieving.
When the split happened, in order to run LiveRamp as a standalone company we had to establish a lot of functions that we didn’t have internally. We brought over certain leaders from Acxiom, including the CEO and the CFO, to help us run the company, because none of us had ever run a public company before. In that process there were and still are (because it’s still relatively recent) quite a lot of fears about how these leaders might change the culture. On top of that, because we’ve had to do so much transformation, we’ve had to quickly step up as a business because we’re a public company now, not just one small division of a much larger company. We have had to make changes, and we have tried to communicate what we need to do in order to succeed and why. I imagine that some people still attribute those changes to the new leadership and will think that they are trying to change the culture. We still get questions and thoughts about that every time we do Q&A or a Town Hall.
Putter: How do you deal with those questions?
Gupta: I tell people that we’ve scaled from zero to where we are today and that over the course of time, the core of our culture hasn’t changed but that there are things around the way that we operate that have changed and need to keep changing. I reiterate those changes, I tell people that it’s going to change again, and I emphasize what isn’t going to change – that we want this to be a company where people are engaged, where they feel like they can get things done, where they feel like they can grow, where they feel like they can make an impact. I remind people that we make a lot of the changes around how we do things in order to protect the culture. If we don’t change the way we do things then collaboration becomes hard, we don’t add process and, in the end, it takes longer for someone to get something done. Trying to explain the changes we’re making, framing it within the culture and continually repeating that message helps people understand that change is good. Change doesn’t have to mean that the core tenets of a culture gets lost, but it does mean that some of the ways you operate must change.
Putter: It’s a fascinating trajectory that both you as an individual and the company have been on. Let’s get onto the details in terms of the culture. When you were 25 or 50 people, I’m assuming you had a mission, vision, values, and ways of recognizing and rewarding those values? How has that changed as you’ve grown to close to 1,000 people?
Gupta: We still have a clear mission and values and of course we still try to recognize people who are living and using our values. As we’ve grown, we’ve had to address how to operationalize the values. When we were 25 people, we would set aggressive goals and tell people to run free and figure out how to achieve their targets. However, you can’t have a thousand people running free to achieve a bunch of goals! You must put boundaries in place and get people to be more specialized. At this size, you need to leverage the resources that exist and make sure that what you’re doing isn’t derailing someone elsewhere in the business. It’s a much more complex organism, so people can’t be left to just do their own thing; it becomes much more important to have process in place in order for the machine to keep operating, otherwise it becomes chaos and no one can get anything done because people are constantly hamstrung by others’ actions. The changes that we’ve made as we’ve grown have really been around how to put our values into practice in terms of the people process and organizational structure that we have built.
Putter: Talk me through the values.
Gupta: We have five values. The core of what we’re trying to do hasn’t changed, but we have had to change our mission and vision over time, and the wording of our values has changed slightly, but the values themselves are still essentially our founding values. We changed them a year or so into forming them but they have remained stable since then. We were part of a values process at Acxiom when they wanted to re-do their values, wherein I advocated strongly for making sure that the LiveRamp founding values mapped well into whatever Acxiom’s new values were. They did, which was great.
Putter: The LiveRamp values statement:
We believe in our own exceptionalism. We don’t aspire to be mediocre, good, or even great–we work to be the absolute best in everything we do. We hire exceptional people, challenge them to do exceptional things, and achieve exceptional results for our clients. We do this through five guiding principles:
Above all, we do what’s right.
We each have lofty career ambitions. But above all, we agree that our work is about helping our team and clients win, within the confines of what is legally and morally right. With this come some simple maxims: We always view the world through the lens of our customers and do what’s best for them. We always prioritize what creates longterm value over our own personal ambitions. And we always operate within appropriate legal and moral guidelines.
We say what we mean, and do what we say.
We always say what we mean, prioritizing the harder facts and delivering them with respect. “Bad news should travel faster than good news.” Even when well-intentioned, we don’t try to create outcomes by skewing the truth with each other or our clients. Conflicts naturally arise; we surface them explicitly and resolve quickly.
All the while, each of us is fundamentally different–with various backgrounds, experiences, and passions. Recognizing that some conflicts are simple matters of style, we seek to understand one another and come to shared understandings.
As importantly, we always do what we say. We hold ourselves accountable for setting and achieving high goals. When we fall short, we take full responsibility, learn, and do better next time. Each of us is our own most vocal critic, yet one another’s most enthusiastic advocate–always reflecting on the thumb before pointing the finger.
We empower people.
We believe that people perform best when given the power and freedom to do their jobs. The role of leadership is to set common goals and encourage people to work together to achieve them, not to micromanage. We respect the judgment of those closest to the work. We trust our people to do the right thing and avoid unnecessary rules and bureaucracy.
We respect people, and respect time.
We believe we have exceptional people—people that possess high character in addition to high intellect. We therefore have no tolerance for selfish, mean, or boorish behavior. Respecting people also means taking care of ourselves. We take time away from work to maintain our health and creativity.
We avoid “term-paper behavior” and last-minute sprints by being proactive, especially when we ask for other people’s time. We strive for a 12-hour response time on all communications. Wherever possible, we cut unnecessary bureaucracy, decision loops, and inefficient process.
We get stuff done.
We work in a dynamic industry and commit to getting things done. Quickly. We prioritize progress over perfection: Perfect is good, done is better. We will make mistakes along the way and commit to addressing them.
We also recognize that each of us brings a unique perspective, and believe that moving quickly can’t come at the expense of stifling diverse viewpoints. Yet once a decision is made, we agree to move forward without renegotiating the outcome. In short, we can disagree but must wholeheartedly commit.
Putter: What’s the company’s approach to recruiting? What do you do to ensure that the people you’re bringing in match the values and are the right type of people?
Gupta: We’ve done different things over the years. Up until we were maybe 300 people, our CEO interviewed every single person that a Hiring Manager wanted to bring into the company. He interviewed to see if people were meeting the mark and sometimes, he said no. A Hiring Manager could overrule him but it was still an important data point. After a while that no longer worked, so we started with what we call our Talent Ambassador Program, where we would bring people from the company into the interviewing process who we felt would be able to interview and help determine whether someone was a good fit for the culture. We’ve since changed that too!
At every stage of the interview process, we are thinking about how to create a great experience for our candidates, because that’s their first point of contact with us. We want the whole recruitment journey to reflect our values; if we’re not reflecting our values in our recruiting process, then why would the candidate believe that any of the values that we say are true for the company are true? We want to live by them in every area, and that means being respectful of people’s time. When talking to friends about their experience of recruitment processes, I was horrified to hear that some companies wait three weeks to get back to people, or never get back to people at all! Having only worked at LiveRamp, I haven’t experienced any of that. We were determined to get back to all applicants within 24 hours of application, so when someone applies, we either tell them immediately that we don’t have a role for them, or we put them through to the next stage of the interview process straightaway.
Then of course there’s the actual interview. We have thought carefully about how to help our interviewers assess for the things that we think are important for the culture and have implemented various things over the years: we have question banks and structured interviewing now, where different people are looking for specific attributes. I think that when you have a strong culture in place which people are able to articulate, in some ways what happens is that you organically get a self-perpetuating process. I don’t have to personally worry about whether we are recruiting the right people because what we’ve created in our recruiting engine is alignment: what our recruiters and interviewers really care about is all in line with bringing in people that are great for the culture.
What I see time and again is that even though I’m removed from most of the interviewing that has happened, the people we bring in continue to be exceptional individuals who bring a lot to the table. I think that comes from everyone in the company recognizing what is important about the culture. We’ve done interviewer training and have optimized the recruiting process around the candidate rather than around ourselves, and we continually work to improve things if they break down or aren’t working as well as we would like them to, such as taking a long time to schedule interviews because people’s schedules are really busy. I don’t necessarily need to get involved in that because I know we’re doing a good job.
Putter: After interviewing, how do you approach onboarding?
Gupta: When we’re onboarding people, we really want to get them working as soon as possible. Our goal is for every person who joins to have a project that they can get done in the first week that’s under the umbrella of what they’re going to be responsible for. We therefore try and get most of the orientations done within the first two days and then really try and make sure people can hit the ground running with their teams. Each team also does their own orientations as well; the onboarding team reminds managers whenever a new joiner is coming up and sending guidelines to help them prepare. Then it’s up to the manager to do those things.
In the orientation sessions, we introduce people to the culture early by going over our values with every new joiner. We can’t and don’t do it in the way we did back when we were 25 people where the CEO would sit down with everyone and go through the values one-on-one, but we do cover them in the group induction session. There’s also logistical induction for IT and HR, and we give people an overview of the business and how we operate. We weave our values into the induction process, always explaining why we have things set up a certain way or what are we trying to do that’s better. Explaining the why has always been at the core of how we operate. We want people to feel like they understand and to know that they can ask questions if they don’t.
Putter: How do you do reward and recognition now against values? Is that something that is done on a localized team basis?
Gupta: I know some companies do award ceremonies and so on based on their values where they reward employees who embody the company values. We’ve never really done that. Instead, we’ve always made the values part of performance reviews and the way we talk about how to be successful within the team. I will say that we are seeking to emphasize where we’re at and ritualize that a little bit more as we set more standards. Mostly it’s been team-specific of how people want to do things, but we are looking for ways to embed the values more explicitly in some of the processes we have around performance management and rewards.
Putter: You’ve been doing this for nine, almost ten years, and you’ve been consistently working on the culture through most of that period. Is it fair to say that one of the advantages of your culture at scale is that a lot of the culture development happens automatically inside the company?
Gupta: Exactly. Everyone thinks about the culture here and everyone is concerned about it, so we create lots of good ideas to help develop and embed it. I think it’s much harder when you’re transforming a broken culture into a culture that is operating again – I see this a lot with startups and with big companies. That process is a more difficult because part of the challenge is that often you’ve lost people’s trust. It means people find it hard to trust that the changes you’re implementing are in their or the company’s best interests.
We’ve had ups and downs and times where morale has been low and where people think the culture is changing too much or too fast. I am quite pragmatic about it; I think there are always going to be those times. But I also see that people use culture as an excuse for a lot of other things and I have zero tolerance for when people block change by blaming it on the culture. Anytime anyone says, “We can’t change that or do it that way because it’s not part of our culture,” I’ll challenge them and will ask what is really going on. I think there always must be willingness to change. Other times, people will say, “Well the culture is just so different now,” and there is truth to some of that. Usually when morale is low, people feel like it’s hard to get stuff done and aren’t being held accountable.
There could be so many reasons why people make comments about the culture and I think that as a senior leader, you’ve got to solve the underlying problems where they exist. Not all those problems can be solved in a day; sometimes it takes months. But I’ve been through these cycles many times now where people have high morale, then low morale, then really high morale again, and you’ve got to trust in the process. Fix the problems and people stop pointing fingers at the culture.
I also think you’ve got to always be out there with a strong, positive message about the things that are working well so that people don’t lose sight of what makes the company great. We’ve had people get frustrated and leave the company only to come back six months later because they realize that even though it isn’t perfect, it is culturally great here – and that we are determined to fix what isn’t working. I love seeing that because sometimes it’s easy for me to focus on the challenges we are facing. It reminds me that we’ve created something great, that we keep being able to recruit amazing people and that people who have left are often interested in coming back.
Putter: What is your approach at the company to learning and development? Is that something quite deliberate or is it up to the individual?
Gupta: It’s both. We started the L&D team about a year and a half ago and it’s been helpful. For two years now, we have run a manager training program which we continue to evolve and improve after each cohort. I think manager training is really important; when a company gets to a big enough size, it’s not tenable for the only people to be pushing the culture to be the top-level leadership. You need to get your middle management to also be spreading the same message and to understand what it means to help their teams be successful and push those values down to their teams. It’s been valuable in helping us get managers on the same page. We’re also about to start a quarterly meeting with all middle managers, which we haven’t done historically. We want to make sure that the people who are make stuff happen are on the same page, that they understand what we’re doing, what their role needs to be and how this might change over time. We also want to ensure that they feel confident that they have the tools they need to be successful so they can help their teams be successful.
We also support a lot of other forms of learning. For example, we’ve worked with some executive coaches for several years, and they’ll do individual coaching and group sessions with different teams. People often attend conferences and we do try to set aside a fair amount of budget so that people can learn and develop in different ways. We’ve invested in learning and I think it’s super important to continue investing in it.
Putter: How do you look at diversity and inclusion? Are you doing anything there specifically from a strategic point of view?
Gupta: The first thing I’ll say is that I think there’s always more that we could be doing. I’m never satisfied (although that’s my general MO!). Our recruiting team really believe in the value of diversity and inclusion, so when they’re out recruiting and partnering with different leaders within the organization, they’re always pushing D&I. My hope is that the Hiring Managers are as well. We make it everyone’s responsibility to focus on diversity and inclusion and we call it out when we hear feedback from teams that not everyone feels like they’re being included. For example, we had that happen last year and I was so happy with the way that the leader responded to it. When we brought him the feedback, he went all in and really worked with the People and Culture team and the people on his team who felt that they weren’t being included to figure out what he could change. I’m happy to say that we now have a bunch of women in leadership positions on his team which were not in those positions a year ago, and that the whole outlook of that team and the way they behave has changed.
From a recruiting perspective, we do the same thing. We reflect on the places where our numbers are poor or where we don’t have a diverse enough workforce. That might be in terms of gender, ethnicity or age, which I think is a big one because we have a young company and getting people with experience is really important in order for us to grow and scale. When I or anybody sees teams lacking in diversity, we call it out and say, “We don’t have enough perspectives here.” We then talk to those leaders about how we can change it. You can have programs and scorecards, but I think the only way to solve it is to make it everyone’s responsibility to call out when something isn’t working.
Putter: Do you consider yourself to be the guardian of the culture?
Gupta: Our head of People and Culture, which is what we call our HR organization, is certainly the primary person responsible for the culture. For several years after we were acquired, we didn’t have an official head of HR for LiveRamp. That was really tough because it essentially meant that I and other leaders were dealing with tons of HR issues all the time – like someone who is leaving, someone being unhappy, someone who is underperforming, and so on. Because of that, a few of us who had been here for a while had to take up the mantle of people and culture because we didn’t have anyone in that function. Our Head of People and Culture has been in the role for a year and a half and has built a much bigger team which means we have dedicated support.
Aside from him, I’d say that many people here are bastions of the culture. We have our HR Business Partners, and for my part of the organization I look to her to help me make sure that the culture and our values are instilled throughout the company and that we’re continuing to get better and better every day.
I do recognize though that I play an important role. I am one of the longest tenured people here; there are probably only three people who have been here longer than I have, so I have a responsibility to ensure that we are always thinking about culture – not in a regressive way but in a progressive way. I don’t want us to look back and glorify all the stuff that we’ve done in the past. We’ve done great things in the past, but we have to keep looking forward. An important role that I play, therefore, is helping people through times of change. I can authentically go up in front of the company and say, “I’ve been here for nine years and I think the core of the culture has stayed the same.” I think it gives people a lot of confidence that they I can get on board and trust that I will not let the things that are important to the company fall through.
Putter: Finally, is there anything culture-wise that’s keeping you up at night?
Gupta: If I look at what needs to happen next, we are a public company now and have a great trajectory ahead of us, and we really need to transform the way we operate in order to mature as a business. We have been doing a lot of transformation over the last couple of months but there’s a lot more to do.
The pace of change is not slowing down. We’ve had a lot of change historically, but the rate is accelerating, and I think not everyone is on board. I’m comfortable with that; people can decide that this is not the right fit for them and that they want to go to a smaller company or somewhere that isn’t growing as quickly. They can also decide that they’re not going to be actively helping with the change, they’re not detracting from the change, they just want to ride the wave. I’m okay with that too for some roles – although not for leadership roles. That’s the thing that I’m grappling with right now within the organization, because we have undergone so much transformation. Like I said, I am perpetually dissatisfied! I always want to make things better.