Groundwork Podcast – Episode 3

Brandon Sammut (Zapier)

Brandon’s the Chief People Officer at Zapier, the $5B automation startup that pioneered distributed work at scale.

A show about Chief People Officers from the world’s fastest-growing companies.

An HR Podcast about how these leaders guide organizations through the turbulent times of hypergrowth by investing in human beings.

They lay the groundwork that makes the impossible, inevitable. Join Lingo Live CEO Tyler Muse for conversations on how they became the leaders they are today, how they’ve navigated their toughest challenges, and how they envision the future of work.

EPISODE 3

Brandon Sammut (Zapier)

Brandon started out in recruiting at Teach For America. After earning a Stanford MBA, he dove right into hyper-growth startups. He served as the Chief People & Culture Officer at LiveRamp, a SaaS platform that he helped grow to over 1,300 employees across 13 offices around the world.

Recently he’s moved on to become the Chief People Officer at Zapier, the $5B automation startup that pioneered distributed work at scale.

In this episode, Brandon talks about how he approaches career development and it’s radically different from what you might think. We’ll hear about one of the best decisions he ever made, his grandfather’s influence as an auto worker at the original Ford Motors factory in Detroit, and the phone call from his CEO that propelled him overnight to the leadership table.

What We Cover:

[1:02] An intro to Brandon

[2:01] The call to build LiveRamp’s people function

[5:17] Brandon’s thought process for joining his first hyper-growth organization

[9:24] The unique challenges hyper-growth organizations face as they’re scaling

[12:26] Brandon’s start in recruiting at Teach For America

[16:45] A radically-different approach to career development

[22:11] College as a time of deep introspection and personal transformation

[28:05] Brandon’s family immigration story and establishing roots in Michigan

[31:14] His grandfather’s work at the original Ford Motors factory in Detroit (and his lasting influence)

[35:14] Reshifting the balance of power between employees and employers

[36:53] Will there be whiplash that prevents us from fully embracing flexible work?

Tyler  0:00  

Welcome back to Groundwork, brought to you by Lingo Live. I’m Tyler Muse.

 

Tyler  0:06  

At Groundwork, we talk to Chief People Officers from the world’s fastest growing companies. We get to know them on a human level and explore how they became the leaders they are today, how they’ve navigated their toughest challenges, and how they envision the future of work.

 

Brandon  0:36  

One thing that’s exciting for me is that at least in some parts of the world right now, the kind of balance of power between workers and workplaces is tipping a little bit more in favor of workers. This dynamic keeps employers on their toes. It makes us more accountable. It makes us more creative. And it makes sure that we’re doing everything we can to deliver on our proposition.

 

Tyler  1:02  

Brandon started out in recruiting at Teach For America. After earning a Stanford MBA, he dove right into hyper-growth startups. He served as the Chief People & Culture Officer at LiveRamp, a SaaS platform that he helped grow to over 1,300 employees across 13 offices around the world.

Recently he’s moved on to become the Chief People Officer at Zapier, the $5B automation startup that pioneered distributed work at scale.

In this episode, Brandon talks about how he approaches career development and it’s radically different from what you might think. We’ll hear about one of the best decisions he ever made, his grandfather’s influence as an auto worker at the original Ford Motors factory in Detroit, and the phone call from his CEO that propelled him overnight to the leadership table.

 

Brandon  2:00  

Likewise, Tyler.

 

Tyler  2:01  

So walk us through your most recent experience. At LiveRamp, obviously this was head spinning growth. And what did you walk into? How did you get there to begin with, and then what happened over the next several years where you really started to get into this hyper-growth mode?

 

Brandon  2:19  

I got the call to build out LiveRamp’s people team, and I was actually actually exactly in the room where I’m joining you today here in our office here at my home in Berkeley. And I was on parental leave. I was about two weeks away from coming back to work. We had our first kiddo in the months earlier and had just a wonderful kind of parental leave with him, was planning to come back into my business development role. And I got a call from our CEO. And his invitation was, hey, you know, I know, this is a little bit of a wild proposition, but, you know, we’re looking for someone to build our people team. And, you know, you’re hiding out on our business development team. But I understand that, you know, you’re really interested in like scaling people systems, and you have a little bit of experience with that, like, not a lot. But why don’t we give this a go? Like, what’s the worst thing that could happen? And, you know, the interesting thing is Tyler, I told them no.

 

Tyler  3:15  

Why?

 

Brandon  3:16  

Now, I called them back the next day and I said, yes but I said no. You know, I would chalk it up to some, honestly, like, ego, maybe a little MBA, I did an MBA in the years before LiveRamp, maybe a little MBA-induced ego, you know. I think, yeah, I think in all vulnerability, what was running through my mind is like, you know, I didn’t, I didn’t go to business school, after all this time, and nonprofits to come back out one year later, and take an HR job. Now, my partner thankfully had the good sense to remind me that the work of scaling people systems so people can realize their potential gives me a massive amount of energy. And similarly, you know, like, you’re not, you’re not that extraordinary in business development to, like, get to the leadership table anytime soon. Like, this is an opportunity to, like, build an entire function and like be at the leadership table, like tomorrow, right? Like, why, like, why would you say no to that?

 

Tyler  4:10  

Right.

 

Brandon  4:10  

And thankfully, I took her advice and call back the next day and sheepishly said, yes, our CEO graciously accepted.

 

Tyler  4:17  

Yeah, plus, you know, part of the reason that you took the job with this organization was because of that type of freedom and optionality to try new experiences. And, yeah, well, you had a background, you know, at Teach For America and working in the HR field, this is obviously a very different beast. So that’s, that’s so interesting. And I find it so fascinating that you, you anticipated that LiveRamp had this type of culture before you join. I mean, isn’t everybody saying that they have this as an organization that they provide freedom for people to explore new career paths and that they take talent strategy really seriously and really want to bring out the unique potential of all their employees but at the end of the day, most of them, right, are saying no, you either do or don’t have these skills, we need these skills, we’re going to put you into this, this role. How did you sift through the BS and actually understand that LiveRamp was going to be this type of a place that did that and gave that type of optionality to you?

 

Brandon  5:17  

That’s a good question. I mean, I had the luxury of time to get to know LiveRamp before I decided to interview because I was still, I was in grad school, you know, so I, probably 10 to 12 weeks before I actually applied to a job. And I had come up to SF from Palo Alto, and, you know, a couple times for just like a lunch or a coffee with a couple of folks who work there, and I just asked about their their story, like, what why did you join? And what’s your path? And where do you think it’s gonna take you and the things I heard in those conversations kind of showed me, right? It was like a classic “show, don’t tell.” Like, this was a place that thinks like, pretty dynamically about what people are possible of and makes, you know, informed bets on people.

 

Tyler  6:01  

And so I know, we’re gonna get into this later, in terms of your time at Teach For America, but why LiveRamp? That’s a pretty big shift coming from Teach For America.

 

Brandon  6:11  

It is, it felt that way at first, too. So one thing that, that the teacher American LiveRamp experiences have in common was that both of them, like they weren’t, they weren’t obviously, like the perfect job, or the perfect organization. But they had a couple characteristics that, you know, when I’ve talked with mentors, you know, like, just kind of kept coming through is like, you know, these are maybe non traditional things to index for but potentially very valuable things to index for and the the things that the things we talked about were, you know, hey, like, brand name or not brand name, whether you’re familiar with it or not, whether you know exactly what’s going to take you or not, you know, there’s there’s a lot of merit in going to places where you see many examples of people growing and scaling, right? Where you really admire the people, where you feel like the organization is healthy and growing. And a place that, you know, as you get to know, the team, and they interview, what have you feel like, recognizes you for who you are not just what’s on your resume. And that has just like a healthy empowering culture, right? It’s like, it may not be exactly the company you were thinking of, or exactly the perfect role you were thinking of. But if you find a place where those other things are true, that’s ultimately fairly rare and special, and can be an amazing place to grow, even if you don’t have as much visibility on exactly where that’s gonna take you. And that was part of the proposition to be at Teach For America. And it was definitely part of the proposition, maybe even more. So at LiveRamp. That was my first tech company, it was my first for-profit company. And when I got there, I was not in the people role. I was in a business development, right. So it was like, you know, every possible, like change up, you could imagine, was part of that that experience, especially in the first year.

 

Tyler  7:59  

So you didn’t necessarily say I want to get into tech, and I want to get into b2b SaaS, you said, I want to, I want to find a new type of opportunity. But that gives me a lot of what I valued so much of my time for Teach For America in terms of the culture and the optionality, the autonomy. And it just so happened, that that happened to be at a B2B tech SaaS company?

 

Brandon  8:21  

That’s right. And the tech part was intentional in the sense that when I was back in grad school… I went back to grad school, in large part to like, get smarter on the intersection of like, you know, where the workforce was going, trying to figure out like, how do you build kind of systems and opportunity to make sure that all of this change that’s happening in the economy and in the labor markets, benefits as many people as possible? And what ways can technology play a role in enabling, right, that opportunity and making sure it’s as assessable as possible, so that was, that was kind of the thesis or the interest in grad school. And then I wanted to be, you know, “in tech” you know, as I say that as though I knew what that meant at the time. And so ended up being very flexible on exactly what part you know, of tech, or what industry? And I’m glad I did, because all the other characteristics I mentioned in terms of just — healthy growing company, empowering culture, like thinking very expansively about what people are capable of — those things were certainly true at LiveRamp and had a lot to do with my path there.

 

Tyler  9:24  

What are some of the challenges that you saw that maybe aren’t what you expected walking, right, like, you know, you’re walking into some unique challenges, and maybe there’s some fires that, you know, shouldn’t be there that people are putting out but I guess what are some of the the challenges for those who haven’t worked in hyper-growth environments that are maybe thinking that this is where they want to take their career that you found to be the most interesting fun-to-solve type of opportunities?

 

Brandon  9:51  

I could broadly put them in two categories. The first is operational, like you said, right, like, you know, thing, things that worked at 100 break at, you know, 500 and could break again, despite your best attempts to make them kind of evergreen, again at 1000. And in every part, like, from recruiting to finance to product development, you know, both in terms of the process, but also the tooling. Right? What tools are you using to deliver, you know, all of the kind of core mechanics of the company? So that’s operational. And that’s, I think that’s super interesting. But I think there’s some pretty well, you know, you can apply more readily kind of playbooks or learnings from similar companies to thinking about that at your organization. And it’s, you know, at the very least a good starting point.

 

Brandon  10:39  

The second category, I would say, is kind of more more adaptive, right, in its in its nature, and that’s the cultural piece of scale. Right? It’s like, you know, how do you think about those, those scaling, kind of break points where you’ve got folks who’ve been with you from the very early days, and they scarcely recognize, at least in the ways that matter to them, the company that they work at? Right? You almost have like the company when the company is so different than it was even just 18 to 24 months earlier that you have kind of cohorts, right, whose understanding of how the company should work. And what it’s about is pretty different. Because their first, you know, their formative time at the organization was in a very different context than how it’s operating today. And in the work, I did a LiveRamp, like, we were navigating, you know, both of those first two types of scaling kind of considerations. And then a third, which was more specific to LiveRamp’s story, which is that when I joined LiveRamp had been acquired already. And during the time I was there, was part of a divestiture of the company that acquired us and then spun out and became its own public company. So you also had the kind of cultural and operational kind of planning you did have like, okay, we’re our own high-scale company, but now we’re part of another company, and then we’re not part of that company anymore. And now we’re out on our own. And now we’re public, which has a whole other set of operational and cultural influences.

 

Tyler  12:09  

Yeah. So your background, that that kind of breadth of opportunity that you had in finance and operations background, I’m sure helped a ton as you navigated some of those logistical challenges that are not the typical types of Chief People Officer challenges that you’re facing.

 

Tyler  12:26  

Alright, so let’s talk about Teach For America. This is something I’m really interested in. I know, folks that have worked for TFA. I considered working for TFA, myself when they came to USC and kind of pitched the concept. And it’s obviously an incredible mission. And what they have accomplished is really, really impressive. But it’s also extremely hard work from everyone I know, that’s gone through this. What leads you to Teach For America?

 

Brandon  12:55  

You know, I came to Teach For America in 2008. This was just a couple of years after I finished college. And for the years right before Teach For America, I was working for one of the University of Texas universities in Arlington, just west of Dallas, and I was a Residence Director. So I was overseeing a residence hall for 420 undergrads. And as part of that was running Academic Success Program, as well. So I was doing some teaching as part of. It was super meaningful. About two years later, I was looking to move up to Chicago, and I had a good friend who during those same years, I was in Texas was doing the teaching core of Teach For America in Chicago. And he was the one that told me that Teach For America was massively scaling its recruiting organization, as it was getting ready to bring in not only more and more teachers every year, but to diversify their teaching core as well. And so they’re making a big investment in this recruiting organization, and he was planning on signing up to be part of it. And I thought that was pretty interesting, too, for a couple reasons. One, just in terms of like, mission, right, like the, you know, the kind of thread you probably see through so much of the stuff I’ve done, career wise is about helping people realize their potential. And, you know, this was an opportunity to be part of a mission that was connected to that idea, and to be in a role in the recruiting organization where you wake up every day, right, figuring out how to know, you know, for whom a specific opportunity could be, you know, massively impactful for the world, but also an amazing growth opportunity for for them as an individual. So that was the initial hook to Teach For America. And in those six years, I just be another example of an organization culture that was looking in between the lines of whatever your job title was to try to understand what you were capable of, and thinking flexibly about that as they path people through the organization. And so I give a give teacher America and it’s kind of talent, strategy and culture, a lot of credit for the opportunities I had in those six years. Right. from, you know, sorcerer and coordinator to recruiter to finance and operations, recruiting diversity strategy and enablement. And then lastly, corporate partnerships, fundraising and marketing. Right, that’s like a pretty wild blend of roles over six years. And you know that there’s a specific environment, right, that made that possible.

 

Tyler  15:22  

And did you know coming in, like, so the appeal, it sounds like was more the mission and the purpose of the organization and kind of the manifestation of what you believe in at your core, which is empowering human beings to unlock their own unique potential? Did you think that you were going to have a path within Teach For America where you’re just focused on recruiting? Or were they pretty clear about what you just articulated that there’s going to be a lot of options here to wear a lot of different hats If you succeed, and was that part of the appeal for you, as well, was the ability to kind of build different muscles?

 

Brandon  15:56  

The ladder played a big role, right? Just like this, this proposition that no one’s gonna promise a particular path, but that in terms of the way this this organization set up, that we think dynamically, right about what’s possible, and it’s a high performance culture, right, so like, folks need to show up and get results. But that, you know, amidst all of that we’re not we’re not like locking people into, you know, kind of predetermined paths. And I think, yeah.

 

Tyler  16:25  

So you’ve shared with me before how crucial career development is in your mind, not only to the health of an organization, but also just intrinsically, you know, is a big motivator for you. Can you speak a little bit about what career development looks like, under your leadership as a Chief People Officer?

 

Brandon  16:45  

First, you know, like, those experiences, like seeing that, like, you could go down one road, but you choose another, and that also is, you know, just like life giving to you, like this major versus that major, you know, being one example, you see that, like, you know, we’re all capable of a variety of things, right. We have to make choices over the course of our lives, but like, our, our potential to do or accomplish things is generally pretty expansive. And if you apply that to a talent strategy context, like it gets really interesting to think about, like, how do you create a system where people can, you know, you, you can help people expand their thinking and also help the organization expand, its thinking on what people are capable of. And I think that’s more important now than it used to be because the nature of the work to be done in it particularly in like knowledge, economy jobs, is both more interdisciplinary than it has been, and also shifting faster than it has been. So for both of those reasons, both for individuals and for organizations, I do think it’s a powerful idea to think about ways of understanding what people are truly capable of, in between the lines of their resume.

 

Tyler  17:59  

How do you actually do that and remove a lot of those pressures so that people can kind of take more of an organic, open minded approach to what career development in an organization looks like?

 

Brandon  18:10  

There’s one kind of saying that someone taught me actually, in my Teach For America days, that’s always stuck with me and is relevant to that question, which is, you know, it’s hard to be what you cannot see. And thankfully, the inverse is true to, right, is that our sense of what’s possible for us is heavily influenced by our exposure to that thing, right. And in particularly, to seeing, you know, people like us, whatever that means for the individual, who have come before us and gone down that path. And so at an organization level, like what what can you do to kind of create those pathways.

 

Brandon  18:44  

The first is architectural, right? And more mature, most mature organizations have what I’m about to say, but it requires constant tuning and pruning. And that’s a mapping of the work to be done at the company, and how that at least at a given point in time translates into roles. Right? So that’s commonly called job architecture. Right? That’s, that’s a building block, but it’s not sufficient. Building on top of that, you know, I would say transparency is part of what actually starts to deliver that openness and that sense of possibility both for the individual and for their manager or for the organization in general, right. We can probably all think of organizations that in some cases, maybe have like very strong job architecture, and I understand like, this role has these skills that you would build and if you want to do it at the next level, here’s what that looks like, and that’s really useful. But opportunity in many cases is to be more transparent about that. Right? Because again, like if, if you can see it, if you can see those pathways, like your your sense of possibility about bridging into that, whether it’s up the ladder in your existing function or jumping over to another discipline is that much higher and then the third and final piece I would mention is something we’re working on at Zapier in earnest is, is then structuring pathways for folks to get from what they’re capable of today to what they need to be capable of, to, you know, jump to another team or to be ready for their first management role, or, you know, for whatever it is that you know, we think needs doing next.

 

Tyler  20:25  

So that are that architecture that that is something you’re literally building out now, and have done and other organizations is really starting to map out what does success look like in this department or this part of the organization and why? Versus here’s where you go next. And here’s why. So that if there’s a little bit more freedom and autonomy for people to say, “you know what, I’m in customer success now. But I think I actually might want to be an engineer, and I have visibility, because I can see this architecture as to what it takes to be a software engineer and what success looks like the skills and experiences I need to get there.” You try to do your best and in terms of making that success clear, but not making the path to getting there preordained and kind of constrained.

 

Brandon  21:16  

That’s right. And that’s something that I think is is at the org culture level is the organization building its its talent system in a way I’d say like a dynamic fashion, right, such that you may not only be allowing folks right to make maybe less conventional jumps into new disciplines or what have you, but in some cases are like actively pathing people there. So an example of that at Zapier that I take zero credit for, because it was built years before I joined is called the PIE program. And it stands for Path Into Engineering. And it’s a program that’s partly designed to build kind of exposure and visibility into what it’s like to be a software developer and also does some skill building as well for folks from non-technical backgrounds to consider whether they want to prepare to get their first engineering job and to do it right here at Zapier.

 

Tyler  22:11  

Okay, so now let’s talk about your time in college. So you end up you end up staying in Michigan, right? You went to the University of Michigan and you studied poly-sci, sociology. You know, why coming from your family and some of your interest? Why did you think you wanted to go to the University of Michigan and specifically study PolySci and Sociology?

 

Brandon  22:36  

Yeah, that’s a good question. You know, I was among the first in my family to go to college. And, you know, there wasn’t a ton of accumulated wisdom in terms of how to apply to college or which colleges to apply to. So it was a little bit of like a dartboard exercise. And I applied to the University of Michigan almost as an afterthought. You know, it was, I mean, it’s a, it’s a wonderful university, like one of the best in the world. But he’s also the one down the street, from where I grew up. And so it was like the last one on my list, I added it at the very end, really, and it’s a good thing I did, because it’s the only one I got into.

 

Tyler  23:18  

So interesting for me, I’m like, okay, makes sense. It’s probably the best school, he knows that that wasn’t the case.

 

Brandon  23:26  

Yeah, well, you know, it’s generous, if you did to imply that I knew something about the other places I applied to, I really didn’t, you know, they were they were just brand brand names or places a friend was also applying to and, you know, lucky me, I applied to U of M as well. And that’s where I got in. And that’s where I went. And the the choice of majors was pretty definitive. For me, I went to Michigan, intending to do their undergraduate business degree. And at Michigan, at the time, I think this is still the case, you take two years of prerequisites, in hopes of applying to and getting admitted into the Bachelor’s in business, which you then do in your last two years. So there’s like two years of toil and uncertainty to get this, what especially at the time, we’re talking about, you know, the years running up to the great recession in the US. So boom times like, lots of jobs, lots of recruiters on campus for business jobs. It was yeah, it was close to a golden ticket as as they come. And that’s what I thought I wanted to do. So I took all that coursework in my first two years. And then in my last semester of that second year, while I was applying, to do this business program, I took a course on intergroup relations. This was a course requirement to be a resident advisor, and I really wanted to be an RA. So I took this course and it changed my whole thought on what I wanted to finish my degree in. And you know, because this was a course, that was all about people. It was a course that was all about identity and the histories of identity and what that means for you as a person, how do you see the world and how the world sees you like through the lens of these histories and these identities? And then practically speaking, like, what does that mean? You know, when you’re forming a team, or advising a group, as you would be doing as an RA, and it, it was powerful. It’s really the first time in my life I thought about, like, what does it mean to be a white man? What does it mean to have grown up in a blue collar home? What does it mean? Right? Like those what does it mean questions? Right then and this, it was a, like a transformative experience. So much so that right is that course was finishing, I did get the golden ticket to do the undergraduate program in my last two years. And I turned it down. This was a time when things were done on paper. So I remember getting the envelope and, and it was almost like, just as a matter of course, there was like a card that you put back in the mail that said, you know, do you accept? Or do you not accept, and I checked, I do not accept, and I put it back in the mail. And I got a call the next day from the admissions team at the business school who thought I had made a mistake, because like, they couldn’t remember the last time someone checked. No. And it was maybe the best decision I made in college, ironically, like, it was definitely not the path to riches. That’s, that’s for sure. Now, but it was, it was the right one for me. And then in those last two years, than I declared my major in political science and sociology and spent a lot of that time like exploring, like, you know, kind of how, you know, organizations, you know, influence organizational design, right in like systems like that influence the extent to which people can realize their potential.

 

Tyler  26:50  

I want to pause before we get into that, because this is pretty amazing. You were asking these existential questions about identity, and understanding the nuance of human beings and how organizations of human beings operate. That is not what a typical person in college I feel like, it’s certainly not what what I was thinking about when I was at college. That’s, that’s pretty incredible, right?

 

Brandon  27:12  

Well, before you give me too much credit, I would chalk it up to a couple things that I think were kind of gifted to me from my family and my just my family background, right, which is that, you know, I arrived on a college campus with very few expectations placed upon me, if that makes sense. There’s a lack of pressure and expectation plus, like a healthy healthy dose of naivete that comes from not having very much exposure to like the different types of things that you could do, or that you should do, or what makes the most money. Like I just didn’t have a lot of visibility into those things. And that ended up just creating a, I think, just more open canvas, you know, to make decisions off of and, you know, those aren’t always things you get to choose for yourself, some of that’s just determined by your family background and culture and circumstance and things like that. But I think that was definitely part of the recipe that helped me make that, you know, unconventional decision.

 

Tyler  28:05  

Absolutely, it is. So let’s, let’s go back even further, because I think, obviously, so much of what makes all of us as human beings and as professionals is the way that we grew up and what our childhood was like, and the, you know, shared experiences that we had. So you grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is that correct? Can you can you tell me a little bit more about that.

 

Brandon  28:26  

I was born in Colorado, in a town called Lafayette, which at the time was just prairie. We bought a little starter home in the first subdivision in Lafayette. And I lived there till I was about six years old. My parents are both from Michigan. My dad grew up in Allen Park, which is a kind of classic, like auto manufacturing town, just downriver of Detroit. And my mom grew up in a town close by called Clements, they met in college and moved out to Colorado where they started a family and I was up first. So we lived there until I was about six, and then the call back home, you know, became strong, and they wanted to raise their kids around family. And so they brought me and my brother who came along just a couple years later, back to Michigan, and we live there all the way through our college years, each of us in a town called Canton, which is right between Ann Arbor and Detroit.

 

Tyler  29:23  

Okay, so you grew up just outside of… okay. You know, I’d never been to Michigan before and I went this summer for the first time we went to the Upper Peninsula, and it was jaw droppingly gorgeous. So I can’t imagine… I realized the Upper Peninsula is probably different from Canton, but I’d love if you could paint a picture a little bit about kind of what was what were some of those formative moments from your childhood? What was it like growing up in that part of the country?

 

Brandon  29:49  

There are a couple things like one like, you know, looking back, I’m really grateful that my parents decided to move closer to family because family was a huge part of growing up In Michigan, and in particular, my dad’s family, my dad’s family is from Malta, the tiny island nation in the Mediterranean, right, a whole country with fewer than 400,000 people. And one generation after the other, my dad’s family moved from Malta to the US for automotive jobs. You know, a lot of the trades in Malta, like a lot of the GDP after tourism comes from shipbuilding and ship repair. Malta has the deepest harbor in the Mediterranean, so they can work on just enormous ships. And so especially in the years after World War II, a lot of the, you know, workers like skilled labor was in things like welding and tool and die. And, you know, my grandparents and uncles, and what have you brought those skills to the US as part of a broader wave of immigration in the couple of decades after the war. And the single best place in the US at the time to put those skills to work was in Detroit, building cars. And so that’s how my dad’s side of the family got to Michigan, where most are still today. And so being around, you know, my family was just such a rich part of growing up in Southeast Michigan.

 

Tyler  31:14  

Yeah, I’m sure I mean, you think of that as kind of the the picture of kind of blue collar working class America as being that that part of the country it was that was that the experience that you had growing up around your family, seeing, seeing folks that were, you know, doing the nine to five and working in a factory and coming home covered in dust, or whatever it is, I’m embarrassed to say, as a habitual white collar worker, I don’t know anything about, like, tell me about that.

 

Brandon  31:40  

Yeah, well, my grandfather is the person I spent the most time talking to about his work, you know, kind of on the line, he worked for Ford Motors for his entire career, once he emigrated to the US, and the weekends, sometimes he would take me to the plant when his part of it was closed. And we’d like look at the the machinery and the die casting units. And it was just really neat, because you could, you could just like the the pride in what he was able to do and what he and his team did was just like, just, you know, shining right off of him. And those were really special moments. He passed away when I was young, I was just seven when he passed, and those memories are stills, like so crisp, and so meaningful. He did bring me in one time I was in the Boy Scouts when I was a kid and we were doing that the classic pinewood derby car race. You get a block of pine, and you have to shape it, carve it, do what you’re going to do, you can put little weights on it, and then eventually add the wheels and you race them on a track. And I did that a couple years too and one of my favorite memories at this particular plant with my grandfather was he would take me in, yeah, at a time when other kids were using like hacksaws at home. And like, you know, he took me to the manufacturing plant, we got to use, like, you know, the, like, the grandest tools you could imagine to like…

 

Tyler  33:06  

I was going to say, it seems like an unfair advantage you get to use the Ford Motor plant to make your pinewood derby car. [Laughs]

 

Brandon  33:12  

Oh yeah, absolutely, massively unfair advantage. Anyway, so those are some memories that I have with my grandfather whose experience in manufacturing, you know, that’s, that’s the person who’s, you know, through whose perspective I got, like, the cleanest view on on what, that’s what that can be, like, at least from one person’s perspective. 

 

Tyler  33:31  

Well, you talked about there that just the beaming with pride was that the first time that you kind of associated work as being something that isn’t just a paycheck, but something that people are actually proud of, and want to share and show off?

 

Brandon  33:45  

I think so. And it also showed me that, you know, like, people have many facets, you know, the the grandfather I knew before, you know, I started visiting the plant with him was, you know, my grandfather, and I experienced him exclusively through home life. And in these moments, you know, at the plant, I was able to see him in a completely different environment. And I felt like I was able to experience a completely different side of him as a result. So it’s just, uh, you know, really taught me that, you know, people are complex, there are a lot of parts of us. And sometimes, you know, you need to, you know, be kind of in the arena, right, or in that environment with them to really appreciate that part of who they are. And those moments where we get that additional perspective, you know, are really special.

 

Tyler  34:35  

Yeah, I love that you’re sharing this because I think one of the things that’s most interesting about you, you have a very non-traditional career path into the world of HR and the people world and you talk a lot about talent strategy. I think a lot of people talk about talent strategy, but they don’t necessarily do so with this kind of user centered design perspective that you bring. And so I was just thinking that as you were talking about, you know, your grandfather in that experience of really understanding the different facets of a human being, as you think about kind of what motivates them, and making sure that the organization is in a place where people have a chance to realize their potential.

 

Brandon  35:14  

Yeah.

 

Tyler  35:14  

So you talked about the past the present, I want to talk a little bit about the future, what excites you and kind of what scares you about where you see work going? We’re obviously going through this transformation right now. What are your thoughts on kind of what’s exciting, and what’s maybe a little bit concerning for you as we move forward into the future of work, as they say?

 

Brandon  35:36  

One thing that’s exciting for me is that at least in some parts of the world, right now, the kind of balance of power between workers and workplaces is tipping, you know, kind of rebalancing a little bit more in favor of workers. And I think from a competition point of view, and kind of, you know, I think that’s, I think that’s positive, I say, bring bring it on, right. And I say that as someone who you know, is accountable for, you know, hiring for a high growth company, and all the challenges that come with that. But underneath that, right, like it, this, this dynamic keeps employers on their toes, that makes us more accountable, it makes us more creative. And it makes sure that, that we’re doing everything we can to deliver on our proposition, right. Like, I think it is a is a privilege and honor, when someone says yes, to working with us, you know, even more so than the other way around. You know, it’s so conventional think isn’t “oh, thank goodness, I got this job. I’m so thankful, like what an honor to work at this at this organization.” That’s wonderful. But I think it cuts both ways. And when the talent market is tight, like it is right now, I think it just kind of puts into relief, that that really is meant to be a two-way dynamic. And I think that’s really positive for people. So I’m all about it.

 

Brandon  36:53  

What am I afraid of? The change, some of the changes, we’re seeing, like the kind of snapping to remote or hybrid work and and what have you, they’re, they’re happening so quickly, that I’m a little nervous, not about the trends themselves. Like I think they can be incredibly positive for people and wellness, and what have you if they’re done right. But I do worry a little bit about whiplash. You know, when the pendulum swings this far, this quickly, it’s sometimes snaps back quickly to and my hope, with some of the innovation we’re seeing on how and where works getting done is that it doesn’t snap back kind of so aggressively that we lose some of the lessons and learnings from how we’ve, or at least how so many of us have been working together over the last couple years.

 

Tyler  37:40  

So to be clear that you’re saying you’re worried that when there’s some type of a level of comfort to going back to the way that things were before the pandemic, that there will be this kind of whiplash, and people will try to overcorrect for lost time?

 

Brandon  37:55  

A version of that, yeah, it’s, you know, it’s like a world like a year to two years from now, where, you know, getting people back in the office is now like somehow, like, incredibly trendy again, and again, like it’s complex, and there are some organizations and some people, right, who will find a ton of value in meaning. And in that, you know, traditional office format, and, and what have you. So, I think, when the world changes, right, in these ways, I mean, these are fundamental, right, like, where and how work gets done. Like, when is the last time like, so much of that has changed so quickly, in so many parts of the world? It’s, it’s just remarkable to think about. And so I think you can think about it the way I like to think about it, like when I’m feeling, you know, especially optimistic is, you know, that we’re in the middle of a renaissance on talent, and opportunity, and all of the connections to, you know, the rest of our lives that we live, right. And so I’m incredibly hopeful on balance.

 

Tyler  38:52  

Absolutely. And if it’s not viewed as a renaissance, if it’s viewed as a temporary bump in the road, but we’re going to get back on track, these are, this is just fundamentally the wrong way to be approaching what is a massive opportunity, and that totally resonates. And I think we see that sometimes with organizations that a lot of waiting game, and it just stifles innovation. it stifles your ability to really anticipate what’s coming next. And I definitely share that concern with you. Brandon, thank you so much. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. I feel like I could have gone for a whole other hour. There’s so many things about your story that we didn’t even touch on that I’m bummed we weren’t able to but I really appreciate the time that you spent with us and looking forward to the next one.

 

Brandon  39:33  

Likewise, Tyler It’s been fun.

 

Tyler  39:37  

That was Brandon Sammut. One of the big stories I’m taking away from that conversation I had with Brandon was this anecdote he told about when he went to the Ford Motor factory with his grandfather and his grandfather was showing him some of the equipment that they use and the parts that they manufacture and he could see in the demeanor and in the eyes of his grandfather this immense pride in his work. And that was very deeply instilled in him at an early age that work should equal pride. You should be working on something that gives you pride, that gives you purpose, that you look forward to showing off to your grandson. And it was really cool to hear how that connected to Brandon’s idea of career development and employee development and culture in an organization putting purpose at the forefront of what we should be focusing on when it comes to scaling people and culture especially as we are scaling at this head-spinning exponential hyper-growth rate.

 

Tyler  40:56  

Groundwork is produced by Mike Giordani at Flowship, audio engineering by Alex Roses, production assistance by Casey Miller, music by Aaron Sprinkle, Adrian Walther, and Corolina Combo. Special thanks to Pedro Matriciano and Natalya Krimgold.

 

Tyler  43:00  

Until next time, thanks for listening.

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