Hello Steve, please tell us about your journey from being an HR Generalist at Esprit De Corp to becoming the Talent Hacker & Advisor at Cadigan Talent Ventures?
Well, if I am honest, my first job out of college was for Esprit, but it was as a collector and credit analyst. After doing that for a year or so, the company asked me if I wanted to try and be a recruiter, and fortunately for me – it was love at first sight. Everything I love about sports I found in the world of recruiting and HR – helping build a winning team. After doing HR in a small company and a small HR team of only 7 or 8 of us, I decided I wanted to try doing HR in a bigger company. Through the husband of a colleague at Esprit, I found a job in a huge insurance company called Fireman’s Fund. Now I was on an HR team of close to 500 people where I could learn a great deal. HR is such a large function with many specialties, so I wanted to learn which of the specialties I wanted to focus upon. Fireman’sFireman’s Fund helped me realize that coaching and talent strategy were the main places I loved to play. Coaching leaders and employees through difficult situations have always been immensely challenging and rewarding, and the diversity of unique workplace situations energizing.
After doing that close to 4 years, I was recruited to my first job in Silicon Valley to be an HR Manager for a company called AMD. I fell in love with the dynamic culture of Silicon Valley and how to open leaders were to try new things and experiment with new ideas. This is the place where my network started to explode because people changed jobs fairly frequently in the Valley, and they still do today. After about four years, a colleague I had known from AMD asked me to join him at Cisco Systems, which at the time (1998) was one of the hottest companies in the Valley. I joined to do Acquisition Integration work as Cisco was buying dozens of companies at the time. I loved the work and the company and traveled the world, integrating amazing people and companies. Sadly in 2001, the .com bubble burst, and Cisco had to pause its acquisition ways. The company offered me to move to Asia and be the head of HR for their Asia operations. I jumped at the opportunity and loved my experience living in Singapore on so many levels.
After two years in Asia, my boss demanded I move back to the US, but I had other plans. I did not want to move back to expensive California, so I looked for another role and found one as head of HR for a small semi-conductor company in Vancouver, Canda, called PMC-Sierra (now Microsemi). I loved everything about Canada, and for the first time in my career, I was THE top HR person in a company. I was not sure I’dI’d like it, but I did – a lot!. Those were tough years – post .com bubble burst, and PMC was challenged, like many other tech firms, to adjust to new valuations and realities. That was one of the best cultures I had been a part of, and the CEO Bob Bailey, to this day, remains a mentor, friend, and advisor – He made that job the most satisfying and gratifying of any job I ever held. Bob really cared about leadership and HR, and I learned a ton from him.
After four years, I was approached by video game company EA to move back to the US and play a big role with them. They essentially made me an offer I could not refuse, which for me meant I would be able to bring my three boys (all born outside the US) to be closer to my parents and my siblings as we had been outside the US for six years. I was still not overly excited to be back in California, but the opportunity to in the games industry seemed really dynamic. Well, once again, the economy took a hit in 2008 with the banking industry meltdown, and the job I was hired to do got smaller and lots less interesting. Around the same time, a friend of mine asked me to apply for a job at LinkedIn, so I did, and fortunately for me, I got it.
When I arrived at LinkedIn, the company was six years old and had 400 people in 4 offices around the world and two countries. Four years later, when I left, we were 4,000 people in 26 offices and 17 countries. I helped drive this amazing growth, and as the first-ever head of HR for LinkedIn, helped lay the foundation for what I think even today is a phenomenal culture.
Nearing my 50th birthday, I was ready for a break; LinkedIn required a lot of my time and energy, and thanks to the success of the company, I had saved enough $ to take a break. So, somewhat unexpectedly, I resigned. I was really tired and feeling lots of guilt about not being as present with my kids as I felt I wanted to be. I had no plan other than to rest and engage with my kids more. After a few months, more and more people began reaching out to me for help and advice, so over about a twelve-month period, the idea grew to build my own Talent Venture firm focused on helping leaders and companies build compelling talent solutions. I started doing this in 2013 and 2014 and can say since then that I have been enjoying myself a great deal and finding a new life built on being a parent, husband, and value creator for many leaders and companies. I think career success is working with who you want, on what you want, when you want. I am extremely fortunate to say I have that today. I get to teach, coach, volunteer, work, and beyond my work with clients, I sit on a few Boards of Directors and engage with some amazing people.
As I said – I never had a grand plan. I never thought I would be where I am today. But over time and from job to job and company to company, I learned more about what I did well, I found mentors and coaches to give me feedback and help me grow, and I worked hard to be great at what I do. From 2009-2013 when I left Linkedin, I can honestly say for my profession, HR, I had the best job in the world. Not many people get to say that in their careers, they reached the pinnacle of what is possible. I am very proud of that accomplishment, and it has opened many doors for me.
I have a love-hate relationship with Social Media. I think that Social Media enables us to focus too much on how we are different, which causes polarization. I wish Social Media could help focus us on how we are alike and how we can benefit being a global community vs. how I am right, and you are wrong. I think the book “Zuck” by Barry McNamee outlines this dynamic well.
That said, I love LinkedIn in so many ways and use it every day. Twitter, I have not found the commercial value in, but I love it for research or immediate updates on news things like a fire or natural disaster where I want to know and see what is happening. I do all the work on these platforms myself. I recently had some students at George Washington University approach me and offer to help launch my ideas on TikTok, so with their help; I have been experimenting with that platform – and the same with my business Instagram. They have been great coaches and mentors for me helping me learn the nuances of those sites.
Listen, the whole conversation about AI, automation, robotics, and technology replacing human workers is not the most important conversation we should be having. When we read how jobs will be lost, we induce fear, and people stop listening. I think we need to shift to talk more about something more relevant to all of us – that being human has never been more important. The good news for us we are all humans – so the better conversation is – how can we double down on our human traits of empathy, communication, leadership, compassion, passion, etc. in ways that make us more valuable in the future?
By asking how AI will replace humans, we are setting ourselves up in a defensive posture. That is not healthy. I have been recruiting for more than 30 years – I don’t think anyone I know who does this a lot really believes AI will replace human efforts in recruiting so much as it can augment some things humans have been tasked with doing in the past. AI will hopefully help us reduce bias in the hiring process; it will help reveal that even though someone did not say they had the title of data analysts – the words they use in their description indicate they probably know how to do this. Here is a sad fact – most companies will tell you people are #1, but when it comes to hiring a great team of recruiters, they don’t put their money there because they don’t think it is a difficult job, so many recruiting teams are not deep in experience because the company has not valued the function.
As you know, as the world knows, in March, the world changed. The impact is still being felt, and we don’t know the long-term impact. What we do know is that how every organization needs to operate has to change. Everything about work for almost everyone has changed – where we work, if we work when we work, and how we work are all different than six months ago. For the past ten years, I have focused my work on helping individuals and organizations navigate the future of work. I have had to shift my work to help organizations deal with the many big challenges they face today due to COVID. How do we ensure we are not burning out our staff? How do we think about culture given many people are working from home? How do we think about the workday given to our employees who have kids at home and not in schools need help and support? Does our business need to change, given the pandemic? If so, how? These are but a few of the areas I have been helping organizations and leaders with the past six months.
Honestly, I am not sure the right question is how can you improve performance during a crisis. I think the first question is, how do we survive this and keep everyone focused when so many other life-altering issues and realities have surfaced. It’s during the hard times that we find out what leaders and organizations are really made of. I’m trying to help people navigate a new reality. Not a single client has asked me how do we improve performance. However, I do think now is a great time to build trust in your organization. Now is a great time to think about how you play offense vs. play defense. But the reality is that people are nervous about the future and unsure of what is next. That makes it really hard to focus. The best strategy is honesty, transparency, and authenticity. I am encouraging leaders to check in with their teams far more frequently today than they have in the past.
Thank you for that kind of feedback. I never aspired to be a speaker or to be someone who is motivational. I don’t think I knew what I really wanted to do, as I said earlier, until about age 30 – but that was more around loving HR and the work of helping teams and individuals be better. I feel fortunate that I have found a way to teach and that people seem to like what I have to say. I have many mentors and coaches and friends who give me great feedback. I can’t say I have a specific role model, but there are many people I admire. It’s interesting – early in my career, I almost stopped my work in HR because I did not see anyone who was a top HR person that I wanted to be like – it really made me worry that maybe I was not right for the profession. I think I am somewhat effective as a speaker because I really believe what I am saying, and I have a great passion for what I speak about and teach.
Without a doubt, being the first HR leader at LinkedIn was the most challenging. I had never built an HR function before, I had never started something from nothing, and I had never experienced hyper-growth at the scale we faced at LinkedIn. It was exciting, challenging, and enormously stressful and complex. I definitely made my share of mistakes but thankfully had a great boss in Jeff Weiner who tolerated my learning curve and who was very supportive – recognizing how hard it was to hire against Apple, Google, Facebook, and Twitter when we could not pay what they paid or offer the benefits they did. I’m not sure if any of you have ever tried to build a company from 400 to 4,000 and to open offices in 15 new countries in less than three years. It’s the closest I have come to crazy. I’m surprised I still have a full head of hair.
Finding your own professional path is not a simple matter. Surrounding yourself with a great network is paramount. Sometimes I think who you know is more important than what you know – as we increasingly all face new situations and challenges. Having people to call for help is essential. I believe the future will be about what you can learn more than what you know. As the life of a skill continues to decline – your learning velocity, your ability to learn new stuff will become more critical than what you know. A company’s value is going to increasingly be placed on how they can adapt, so the more people they have who can adapt, the better the firm will adapt. I have a book about the future of work that is due to come out at the end of the year, and it’s all about what new careers are looking like and how to thrive in the future of work. I hope I can come back and talk more about it when it comes out.
Thanks for the opportunity to share some thoughts with you.
To connect with Steve Cadigan, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://stevecadigan.com/ Link:https://www.themediabulletin.com/inside-experts-mind-mr-steve-cadigan/
Oishee Mukherjee is a blogger, published author of 2 books, and a full-time content writer. She has worked for various industries like entertainment, technology, finance, sports, social, and digital media to name a few. Her educational background includes graduation in English Literature and an MBA in Media & Communications, which has taught her the power of storytelling that she implements to bring out the voice of the brands she works for.