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The Nancy Podcast: The Past, Present & Future of HR, Philanthropy & Mentorship

Nov 15, 2022 2:00:00 AM | By


Today we talk about the past, present, and future of HR — as well as the importance of philanthropy, mentorship, and work-life tradeoffs with Nancy Connery. Nancy began her career partnering with Marc Benioff to build two key divisions at Oracle Corporation, including the company’s first philanthropic venture. Marc later recruited Nancy as salesforce’s fifth employee. As founding VP of HR, Nancy helped fuel salesforce's remarkable growth by building its industry-leading HR infrastructure, personally recruiting more than 650 hires globally. In 2007, Nancy founded Connery Consulting, the premier human capital consultancy that partners with the fastest growing tech companies of all time. She also co-founded OpenComp, serves on multiple boards, and is an active philanthropist and mentor in the community.

Join us as we discuss:

  • The future of HR and it’s evolution in tech over the last few decades
  • Words of advice and wisdom for first-time startup founders
  • The importance of giving back through mentorship and philanthropy



CAITLIN ALLEN: Hi, everyone. Welcome. I'm Caitlin Allen, the VP of Marketing at open comm makers of the world's first compensation software platform that gives clarity at the point of every decision about pay. And we are in for a special treat today because Nancy has agreed to be our guest in addition to our co host, and to talk about the past, present, and future of HR, as well as the importance of philanthropy and mentorship and some work life trade offs that happen along the way. So quick, quick refresher on Nancy's backgrounds. She requires no introduction began her career partnering with Marc Benioff to build two key divisions at Oracle Corporation including the company's first philanthropic venture. And Mark later recruited Nancy as Salesforce. sales forces say that five times fast fifth employee and as founding VP of HR there, she helped fuel sales forces remarkable growth, building, it's industry leading HR infrastructure and personally recruiting more than 650 hires globally. And then after Salesforce, expanded globally and went public in 2007, Nancy founded Connery consulting, which is the premier human capital consultancy that partners with literally today's fastest growing tech companies of all time, and she also co founded OPA cop serves on multiple boards and is an active philanthropist and mentor in the community. So all that to say, we have a lot to talk about. And Nancy, welcome.

NANCY CONNERY: Thank you, Caitlin. That was a great summary of myself to hear.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Oh, it's easier to summarize someone else's amazing background. So let's start first things first, Nancy, usually we ask people what coworkers don't usually know about you, you told us in our trailer episode that Colorado is your favorite state and that you are a dog lover. So I'll skip that question and start right with the meat of it, which is how did you end up in HR?

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NANCY CONNERY: Yeah, it's it's an interesting path that I took, because I did not set out to, to have a career in HR. For personal reasons. I ended up in the South and Atlanta for a little bit and had up to that in Tennessee briefly. And when I was in Tennessee, I sat back and I said, Well, how on earth am I going to find a job thinking that it was a little bit of a short term job, I went into a staffing agency, and asked them if they could help place me. Next thing I knew I was actually being hired to work for them as an account executive, and place people and also sell new business. And I knew absolutely nothing about the field. But I got put through an incredible training. And it ultimately led to being a part of an HR consulting firm out here on the West Coast when I returned to my roots of California. I then met Marc Benioff, and I told him what I did. And he gave me two opportunities. He said, you can either start your own HR consulting practice, or you can come work with me as I start two new divisions. So obviously, as Caitlin, you talked about my career, I chose the path of joining mark, and built two divisions with him and the rest is history.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Just out of curiosity, Nancy, was that a hard decision? Like you ultimately went the path of HR consultancy so did you talk a little bit was he such a compelling person that you that there was a straight decision what it was that like?

NANCY CONNERY: Well, I was only 23 years old at the time. You might say that my my decision to join him was, you know, a mix of excitement and fear, you know, at the age of 23 being told that you could start your own consulting practice and not having any idea how to do that. I thought I was maybe choosing the easier route. But I don't know if it was the easier route. But I would say that I don't regret that route because it gave me a great mix of being inside before I was outside for the rest of my career.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Makes a lot of sense. So So you went, you were at Oracle than you were at Salesforce, then you founded Connery. And you've worked with amazing brands, how have you seen the importance of HR Nancy evolve over the last few decades, especially in the tech sector? Since that's where you've focused?

NANCY CONNERY: Yeah, it's interesting, you know, I really actually credit mark for, for really putting HR at the forefront of the tech sector. When he brought me into Salesforce as employee number five, some people looked around and said, Why on earth would you need HR at this point, and he said, This is going to be a people's company. And Salesforce really, really is a people company, it was back then. And it is now you know, decades later. And then many other companies tech companies followed suit and really realize that if you do it right, from the people aspect from the beginning, it's going to pay back in spades. And so you know, I've, I've seen that evolution, I've seen it with the VCs that we partner with as well, because they will fund a company. And then they will turn to Connery consulting and say, Okay, now that we've funded this company, we need you to go in and shape them and help them build the best company that they possibly can. So it's no longer really an afterthought, it's really thought is mission critical as entrepreneurs are building out their businesses. And that's really a huge shift over the last several decades. culture matters. It's done right. It's about recruitment, recruiting the right people retaining the right people as well.

CAITLIN ALLEN: I love it. I think I've mentioned this on a different podcast episode, but it bears repeating. So I'll repeat it again, there are two different studies that I've read, really in depth, one from Harvard Business School, and one from Stanford. And they both surveyed about 900 venture capitalists separately in two different years, and asked them like, you know, product market fit people like what's the most important thing that drives your investment decisions? And that drives company's success? And both of them concluded that it was it was the the talent on the team. So emphasizes that point, for sure.

NANCY CONNERY: I absolutely agree with that as well. I'll just add one point that, you know, and I say this to a lot of our clients and prospective clients as well, you can have a great product and build a great product. But if you don't have great people in your company to build, sell market, the company and the product, then you don't have at all so it really takes all those pieces of the pie. Yep.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Well said. So you've had a, like you said, a vantage point on startups from both sides of the fence. Right. So as an operator, and as a consultant, oftentimes, that involves working very closely with first time founders, including including Mark what what words of advice and wisdom would you have for first time founders today that are just setting out.

NANCY CONNERY: So it can be a little bit lonely being, you know, a founder, number one, and number two, a first time founder. So it's very important to surround yourself with the right ecosystem that will empower you, and yet also challenge you at the same time. So having kind of a a team of mentors and advisors, people who have been there and done that, and who can also offer you unbiased advice is going to be worth its weight in gold. You know, also, you know, as a founder, you've likely raised a substantial amount of capital. And so spend the money wisely, you know, raised responsibly and as you're raising, think about it from the long term are these people that you're raising from Are they people that you want to have by your side alongside the journey, don't just take the money to take the money and don't just spend the money because you have the money, build a good plan, build a good team, and execute well. Also, you'll make mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes, whether you're a seasoned entrepreneur, whether you're a first time entrepreneur, but learn from those mistakes and move forward. And also never become complacent. Always be thinking about what is the next stage of the business. I remember back in the very early Salesforce days when you know we hit our first customer milestone and you We celebrated we had fun. Mark had wonderful words to say. But after that, Okay, what's next? What are we going to achieve next? And so if you're always thinking, you know, 10 steps ahead or even more than that, it's going to really, really benefit you in growing out your business successfully.

CAITLIN ALLEN: So going back to what you said, Nancy, about you, surrounding yourself with wonderful people, as a as a founder. My general question is, how natural is that fit? In an ideal world? Like, dude, does the CEO or founders vibe with his executive team or his other hires? Is it should that be pretty natural from the get go? Or is that something that sometimes founders have to work at, especially if they're hiring folks that are strong, maybe in the areas where the founders themselves are not as strong? And so that's kind of the general question, but maybe more specifically to like, what was it like for you and mark in your relationship as it deepened over time, you know, at Oracle, and then at Salesforce, it was that a natural partnership? What did you learn along the way about how to work together? And then more generally, what what would that teach you about what to say to our listeners?

NANCY CONNERY: Yeah, so you know, the stronger your partnerships are, the better and the more complementary, the better. And so it's important, especially as a first time founder, or a leader, not even just first time, but to understand really what your strengths and weaknesses are, and how to build out that team around you to complete and fill in maybe the weaknesses and voids that you have a give you an example, you know, you know, Caitlin, you are marketing extraordinaire, I am not, I don't actually have a marketing bone in my body. And so it's not, you know, it's a very interesting area to me. But as you build out a company, you go to build out an incredible market here. And you're not threatened by what they bring to the table. In fact, you are embraced you embrace them and their experience and how they help complete the picture. You're only as good as the people around you. And so don't let yourself get threatened by that talent. But what I will say is, is as you bring on these seasoned executives onto your team, and round out your team, make sure it is a culture fit, make sure you share the same value set, I have seen it before, where you have, you know, a CEO, and a CEO, and they are not aligned from their values. And while they both bring incredible experience to the table, they cannot get on the same page in terms of how to lead the company. And so that is really, really important. Mark and I from the get go always had similar values and similar things that were very important to us in personal life, and professional life. And so bringing that all together it it formed a great partnership, we also knew when to push on each other, and when to congratulate each other. And you can make mistakes, but how do you have that person's back? And then how do you kind of come together and learn from what each person just did?

CAITLIN ALLEN: I love it. So before we leave HR, we've talked about trends in the past, we've talked some about the present day, let's talk a bit about the future. And you have a very unique vantage point to speak to this. This topic, Nancy, just given how many companies Connery consults with what and actually being the founder of an HR tech company. What does the future of HR look like, from your vantage point?

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NANCY CONNERY: Well, these are definitely very interesting times that we're in right now. You know, for the last decade or so, HR was so focused on hiring, spending the capital, that you have, you know, developing your employees. Now, there's been a very big shift to, you know, spending, but spending very, very wisely and carefully. And so the hiring has slowed down the importance, there's an even greater importance on developing the folks that you have already, and ensuring that they stay, because when you lose your employees, that is cost. And that is cost that your investors don't want to see you spending right now. And so, you know, I'd say the future is to kind of slow down a little bit, and make some really, really good decisions. And think about, you know, are these people that you want to have in the company in 510 years, and don't just think about today? And so I'd say that there's a much longer term shift. We're also you know, coming from a period where, sadly, you saw some entitlement creep into our industry. And now there's kind of This newfound appreciation and hard work ethic that I think is we're seeing to evolve in the cultures of companies that might not have existed before. And so that's kind of my, my silver lining for what we're seeing go on in today's industry. 

CAITLIN ALLEN: Those are some pretty substantial silver linings. I think. I love how you said it of slowing down being able to make really solid strategic, dare we say visionary or long term decisions that set us up to to, you know, be part of what we're building rather than being entitled to what we're building. Let's, let's shift gears a bit to mentoring. We were chatting before we actually pushed record on how you were in Boulder this weekend, watching a Callum and Boulder game where you went to college at Boulder. And you do some some mentoring of college athletes there. So let's, let's talk about the work that you're doing mentoring college students and graduates and, and any tips that you have both for kids at that age, and I just call them kids, for individuals, young adults at that age group. And any tips you might have for those looking to hire those individuals?

NANCY CONNERY: Yeah, so I do that is one of the most fulfilling things that I do is is mentor, mentor college students. I also, you know, give a lot of free advice to high school students as they're trying to kind of figure out, Oh, where do I want to go to college? What do I want to do? Do I do an internship. And so I think really just being there, for, as you said, those kids and the young adults, as they go through this exciting but scary time, in terms of their careers, I was approached a few years ago by Boulder, you know, they know by the football program, and they knew that my background was in HR. And then I was still a very big buff fan, which I still am today. And they said, you know, these, these college athletes, they come in, and they either know exactly what they want to do. And they want to be a doctor or a lawyer, they have their whole path charted out for them, or they identify solely as a student athlete. And when that piece is kind of over, or it's time to move on beyond that they have no idea, you know what to do and how to find their way. So can you help us? And so, you know, obviously I said yes, and it was an incredible and is an incredible part of what I do to just be there as that mentor and help them take those skills that they use on the field and an everyday life and translate that into what might be good for their careers. You know, we have an internship program at Connery consulting, very proud to say that we we have you know, somebody from Boulder, obviously, actually, we have now hired as an employee, we have an active boulder Student Two, we have a couple of folks from Cornell. And we also have one from USC, and just seeing them kind of, you know, early in their career and see how they can translate their education into practical experience is really, really valuable. And then to be there and mentor them takes it to the next level. You know, tips in terms of, you know, for the students, you know, it's a very interesting time. It's an exciting time when they graduate, but it's also scary. I remember thinking to myself, What on earth am I going to do when I graduated? You know, we all spend our life knowing kind of what that next step should be right? You know, we go from our, you know, grade school, to our middle school, to high school to college, some go on to graduate school, and then what do you do? You know, and so really thinking about it early on, it's okay, if you make changes, but dig deep and think about, you know, not just today, but where do you see yourself in a decade and what interests you, you know, my father used to always say, to me, it's not just a job, it's a career. And so think bigger picture. And also think about the things that you're passionate about. If you're, if you want to go into sales, it's a lot easier to sell something that you believe in and that you are passionate about. So those are some tips, you know, for for the college students. And then also going back to having that mentor or those trusted resources around you that are your advisors as you go through the journey. You know, and then on the hiring side of the equation for the companies that are going to, you know, look to hire college students. You know, it doesn't just because somebody went to a top school doesn't mean that they're going to be the most incredible hire for you. So look beyond just the brand name of the school, but understand their journey and how they got to where they got. And you know, I love to hire back to Canada app. cleat aspect, I love to hire athletes because they show a, they show grit, they show the ability to be a part of a team. And yeah, they've already been on a journey. And so if you can turn all that into very positive experience, and it relates well to your company and your culture and what you're doing, it's also going to be beneficial for both sides of the equation.

CAITLIN ALLEN: What's coming to mind is what you said actually, about how our, the unfortunate era of entitlement that might have been part of tech for a while is changing. Athletes really understand the the necessity of hard work, and what you input into your sport being partially what comes out. So I really, there's some continuity of of what you've said, across multiple different questions. And as someone that really struggled when I was graduating as well, you know, what do I do with my life? It's wonderful that you're doing that. For those, those kids slash young adults. I imagined to Nancy, the you've, you've learned a little bit yourself about, you know, about what, in the process of mentoring, what would you say you've learned from these, these individuals.

NANCY CONNERY: They teach me as much as I teach them. And so to think that just because we're older and more experienced in our careers and in life, and in, you know, our disciplines, it doesn't mean that we know everything, and it's very, very humbling. It's also, you know, incredible to just hear the different stories and what has shaped people into who they are today. And so, you know, kind of those would be kind of two main points for me.

CAITLIN ALLEN: That makes sense. Just super tactically, what does that look like? Do you have weekly sessions with someone? Do you talk to them once? Like, how does the mentorship relationship work,

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NANCY CONNERY: they're all a little bit different, you know, the, the students and the folks who enter our internship program, have regular meetings, there's a lot of structure around it, their goals. And, you know, it's kind of a predetermined period of time, and then there's an opportunity to stay on or to move on. And so that's extremely structured. The the work with Boulder has been, you know, really kind of on a monthly basis, where you do the meetings, and it's an I turn it into kind of their time, you know, take this time to come to me, how can I help you, instead of me telling them what to do, I will turn it around, and obviously give them the advice and in my own way, tell them what to do. But first, they need to lead, and they also need to do some of that legwork, you know, behind the scenes as well. And then, you know, just really being available to you know, you have the structured piece of it. But you also have that, you know, building the trust with them and saying call me if you're having a hard day, or if you had a hard situation or if something didn't go the way it was supposed to. Or if you're preparing for a job interview, let's talk. So there's a very structured elements of it. And then there's also just being available and being that resource on an ongoing basis and in less formal way.

CAITLIN ALLEN: Love it. Last question on the mentorship topic, Nancy, where does this passion of yours come from where you mentored extremely well in your life? Are you just a naturally big hearted person? Like, how does have it? Where did this start?

NANCY CONNERY: So yeah, I do say I do have two key mentors in my life. But I wouldn't say that I was necessarily mentored along the way, there were a lot of times where I felt really, really lonely doing what I was doing. And HR can be actually a very lonely field, you know, you have access to information, you have to learn how to have thick skin around it. And to kind of just put your head down and power through. And nobody really ever sat me down and said, Go get a mentor. But you know, my father is one of my mentors. He's 91 years old. He is a thoracic surgeon who still does grand rounds at UCLA. And so you know, just in that work ethic, as not only a child but also an adult, and also at this stage of his life, for me has always had a very, very big impact. He'll laugh if he listens to this, because he never thinks I'm listening to him. But actually, I'm always listening. And, you know, Mark is my other mentor. And he will probably laugh too, because the same thing he probably thinks I'm not listening to him, but I am actually always listening but listening in my own way. And so I feel very fortunate. You know, it's a little bit of never earlier on feeling that I necessarily had those mentors and having a little bit of loneliness, to say, I'm going to seek out mentors and make sure that it's a long lasting relationship that I have and for all these three Since both of those are long lasting relationships

CAITLIN ALLEN: very much, so I didn't know we had that in common. My dad is also one of my mentors and is also a surgeon. So I love that. Yeah. So rounding out with the last couple of questions as we wrap up, let's talk about philanthropy, which is near and dear to your heart and showed up in your career as early as when you were at Oracle. Why is that?

NANCY CONNERY: Yeah, actually, it did show up in my career at that point. But I, when I was at Boulder, I used to tutor underprivileged students. And so I guess you could say that it started way back when, with and I didn't even know really what the word philanthropy meant. And then, you know, when I met Mark, and started working so closely with him, he is one of the biggest philanthropists out there, which many people know. And so I really, you know, stepped back and realize that this is core to my value set as well. And I felt so lucky that I can incorporate it into our corporate work as well. And so, you know, we started Oracle's promise partnered with Colin Powell. And that was an opportunity for us to bring technology to the underprivileged as it related to education. And I got to help put that team together, men at Salesforce, we started the foundation, you know, way back when at the very beginning of the company. And that really shaped kind of the the way also that a lot of tech companies think about philanthropy too. So it was a great learning experience, not only for us, but also for the industry in general. And then moving on the you know, Connery consulting, we put in place, Connery cares, which is our way to, you know, not only match from $1 perspective, donations that our employees and causes that our employees want to support, but also from a time perspective to see if they support a certain philanthropy. And, you know, at the end of the year, you know, pre COVID, we used to do these team, philanthropy days and bring everybody together, we would really focus on some of those organizations that our employees found very near and dear to them. So weaving it into the work and personal, and just, you know, the reward and the feeling that you the feeling of goodness and happiness from giving back is really unparalleled, in my opinion. 

CAITLIN ALLEN: I love the expanded definition of philanthropy beyond just money as well that I typically associate dollars with philanthropy, but the idea of giving your most valuable resource, which is your time, and your experience, I think is a really important point. And I appreciate you, you making it. I also, the next question is the last one on philanthropy, but it dives into how our listeners can lead the charge to incorporate philanthropic or social impact principles into their businesses. And you mentioned some of the work you've done at Oracle and Salesforce and Connery. And you know, open comp also has a social impact part of its business led by our VP of social impact, Emily, sweet, so it's, it showed up in every business you've touched? What advice would you give to the HR listeners here today?

NANCY CONNERY: I would say, you know, number one started early, if you look at Salesforce, if you look at the work that with Connery consulting, we started that early as well, open comp, you know, we started that early in the formation of the company too. And so, you know, when you bring Philanthropy In, at the beginning, it becomes a part of who you are and what you do as a company. So it will stay it will last it will stick. But you also have to lead by example from the top. So if your executives are not embracing it, and involved and feeling passionate about it, and leading, and really showing the exec the employees, the that is a very important part of what we do and who we are. It won't necessarily be successful. So the employees, you know, the the executives need to lead by example. And you see that in a lot of companies nowadays, which is, you know, really been an evolution I would say in the industry as well. And then also make it a low lower barrier to entry. You know, they don't have to do a lot to be involved. And as you said, it doesn't necessarily have to involve money. There are many different aspects to philanthropy, whether it's your time, your money, whatever it might be, but cast kind of a wide net, and make it easy for your employees to be involved. And for it to be just a natural part of your company.

CAITLIN ALLEN: I love that. It's really it's a part of culture. It's a part of the company's DNA and if it's represented for On the top down, and it's there from the beginning that it just naturally grows with the concentric circles of the business. Yes. So final question. One I really like, glad you suggested it. You're a mother of two, what words of advice do you have, and maybe any anecdotes along the way for working mothers who are trying to figure out how to make it all work in a world where work life balance really just means constant priority shuffling.

NANCY CONNERY: It does. But we've also seen a big evolution with that, as well, you know, now you have a lot of a lot, a lot more women in the workplace, a lot of companies that actually make a concerted effort to make sure that they have a large female population in their companies. And that's an incredible move forward, especially from when I first entered tech decades ago. You know, so as you know, your tendency, I think, when you for a lot of, of new mothers, is to kind of step out of the workforce. But don't just think about today, think about, you know, 1520 years from now. And think about the impact that you will have, in terms of being an example for your children and showing them that you can do it all you can have it all. And it is it's a lot about the balance aspect. And today's you know, working world is a lot more understanding about the balance aspect. So, you know, I would say absolutely stick with it. Think about it as a great example, for your children. And, you know, champion that quality, you know, in the workplace, and in the home, and talk about it a lot and your accomplishments and your achievements. And, you know, it's a win win situation. I would say I have a lot of friends now whose children have gone off to college, they pulled themselves out of the workforce, they want to get back into the workforce. And they're having, frankly, a really, really hard time doing that. Were there plenty of times, you know, over the years where I said, How on earth am I going to do at all and I want to step back and take a break? Yes. But am I beyond thrilled that I didn't and I just stuck with it. And today have you know, two wonderful companies and open comp and Connery consulting couldn't be happier about having it having it all as much as one can.

CAITLIN ALLEN: I love that. I think this actually might be my favorite podcast so far. We're out of time, unfortunately. But thank you for this amazing conversation and just letting us into your life and your expertise.

NANCY CONNERY: Thank you, Caitlin. It was really fun. Take care

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