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HRx Radio – Executive Conversations: On Friday mornings, John Sumser interviews key executives from around the industry. The conversation covers what makes the executive tick and what makes their company great.

HRx Radio – Executive Conversations

Guest: Jeanne Achille, Founder and CEO, The Devon Group
Episode: 324
Air Date: April 26, 2019




Important: Our transcripts at HRExaminer are AI-powered (and fairly accurate) but there are still instances where the robots get confused and make errors. Please expect some inaccuracies as you read through the text of this conversation. Thank you for your understanding.

Full Transcript with timecode

00:00:13:27 – 00:00:27:15
Good morning and welcome to HR Examiner’s Executive Conversations. I’m your host John Sumser and today we’re going to be talking with Jeanne Achille who is the Devon group. So Jeanne, how are you?

00:00:27:27 – 00:00:42:25
Well I’m fine John. I haven’t I haven’t grown into quite those large shoes yet. There are others here. But I thought it would be just that you were the only person that did everything but you most certainly are

00:00:43:07 – 00:00:46:15
The persona and public face of the group.

00:00:47:23 – 00:01:09:18
Well thank you for that. You know we’re celebrating our 25th anniversary this month which is I. It has gone by so quickly and when I say that to people there they’re like Wow 25 years. I mean especially when people are 28 years old they just it’s mind boggling that a business could be in place that long.

00:01:09:29 – 00:01:22:04
Sure it will. We’ve we’ve been at this the same amount of time. How interesting. However since you told me about the different of people who don’t know which let’s be sure that they.

00:01:23:04 – 00:01:55:12
Well you know I think our our journey has been very interesting. Obviously we started as a tech PR firm back in the day. When the Internet was becoming commercialized so that that in and of itself sounds like a million years ago. But it’s been a heady ride. And part of the journey has involved a heavy focus on each our technology to the extent today where that is most of the client portfolio. And what has also changed over the years of course is the science of public relations.

00:01:55:12 – 00:02:05:26
So we are not just working with traditional journalists anymore at print publications. We’re creating programs that influence the influencers.

00:02:06:21 – 00:02:17:10
Work with industry analysts such as yourself work with financial analysts. Certainly the journalism community but also heavy focus on content marketing.

00:02:18:03 – 00:02:29:04
So. So what are you most excited about. What’s what’s what’s really making the entire system jump up and cheer.

00:02:29:15 – 00:02:29:21

00:02:31:18 – 00:03:03:05
I think you know for us that Devon always been about the kind about the clients and you know I think I think culturally in terms of a corporate culture that’s been a very interesting orientation. And sometimes one that isn’t comfortable for new hires you know some people onboard that company and are really looking or you know the the weekly softball game or the keg party on Fridays and that’s not our culture. We are very focused on our customers.

00:03:03:08 – 00:03:25:28
We’re very focused on making our customers successful and supporting whatever their vision is and whatever their exit strategy is. And so a lot of times we are one of the quieter players out there in this category because we are behind the scenes rather than you know kind of thumping on our own chests here.

00:03:26:02 – 00:03:42:01
Well that’s great. Isn’t that what you want your marketing people to be. You say that what you do falls squarely in the marketing universe. You don’t want to know who the marketing people are. You want to know what what the company is about.

00:03:43:00 – 00:03:56:27
Exactly. Exactly. It’s a build process and it’s a blend of corporate brand and product brands. So it’s as I as I said it’s definitely a science and it’s a discipline. And it keeps us busy.

00:03:57:09 – 00:04:19:03
So recently you’ve started. That doesn’t really seem worth the risk you’ve taken this active interest in promoting women in nature technology. Good. The chair was a women in technology. I think it’s a day though. Yeah. You know your conference and I think you’re doing some work on things.

00:04:20:02 – 00:04:54:02
You know it’s it’s interesting and I think there’s been a lot of focus on on gender equality and pay equity in recent years and I think we’re all aware that much of that focus was spawned by the May 2 movement in my world. It’s always been about equality in the workplace. And that’s not just restricted to gender equality. Equality takes many different forms shapes and forms. And so when presented with the opportunity to chair women in H.R. TEC

00:04:54:02 – 00:05:24:04
TEC at the H.R. TEC conference you know with which we’ve been associated for many many years. And then to expand that role in Singapore to do the women in nature tech summit they are I was very excited by the opportunity. I think it’s a terrific platform to bring smart people together and that’s male and female by the way we don’t we don’t really have a program that is limited in that regard because we lift each other up. And it’s important that everyone be involved in this mission.

00:05:24:06 – 00:05:31:09
So what’s that use. You said that you’re expanding globally which which the global story.

00:05:31:13 – 00:06:05:17
So we’re going to be in Singapore. And you know I know I’m going to have the good fortune of seeing you there as well. Hopefully we’ll all be fresh as a daisy after our 18 plus hour flights from from New Jersey I know you’ve got a little shorter stint than I do but we will of course be kicking off the event which is the first week of May in Singapore and is going to be the largest H.R. and technology conference in Asia. So we’re expecting I think close to 5000 delegates which is super impressive

00:06:06:12 – 00:06:21:13
And they will draw from Singapore as well as throughout the region. So you know we will have a number of very impressive people on our program and also some very impressive people in attendance. So I’m excited about that one.

00:06:22:17 – 00:06:33:23
Yeah so. So is there a difference between your efforts to promote women in nature technology Singapore compared to the United States or their cultural differences.

00:06:34:25 – 00:07:09:04
I’m glad you asked that question because this has been a bit of a learning curve for me and I’ll tell you where some of the some of the variances that I’ve observed. You know we are further along with women in H.R. Tech here in the states where this will be our fourth year of the summit. And the list of people who vie for a speaking slot let’s just say no one is shy. So we have an abundance of riches in terms of selecting from speakers and we’re very grateful for their submissions and certainly wish we could accommodate everybody.

00:07:09:04 – 00:07:41:12
But you know we would have a program that was 60 days in duration of that were the case in turning attention to Singapore and programming in that region. Culturally it’s not as acceptable to put yourself forward and to be talking about your personal journey. So there’s a great deal of focus organizationally as a culture but not as much on your personal promoting your personal journey. So that’s the difference I am. Have you observed the same John I’m curious.

00:07:41:13 – 00:08:11:27
Well so it seems to me that you know if one of the subtexts show women in nature or text attention is to bridge the development of women in Victoria Park it seems to me that that the Singapore in particular but some of the other Asian countries actually have a a more effective utilization of women.

00:08:11:28 – 00:08:26:19
So so I think that what you see in suit let’s just do Singapore in particular is that is that women are fully ensconced in management roles. In Singapore it seems to me less true in Japan

00:08:28:13 – 00:08:46:15
perhaps more. Yes. So and so the barriers that the the sort of gender equality question plays out differently in each of the cultures. I find that fascinating I’m looking forward to seeing what that looks like.

00:08:46:29 – 00:08:47:04

00:08:49:03 – 00:09:27:10
absolutely you know I where I have noticed a number of women in leadership roles would be in the Singapore banking industry and we in fact have one of them from CBS bank who has helped lead the digital transformation at CBS. And of course that is the named as the world’s best digital bank. By your own money magazine we will have both show too. So. And Paul Ko ban from CBS bank on our program and I think that’s going to those are going to be fascinating sessions to listen in on show.

00:09:27:13 – 00:09:50:14
So tell me a story too about how women make it into this. This is a really interesting question although I think that a surtax is has has accelerated success for women in technology so maybe both of those things. Do you think that your tech is a different environment than the rest of tech. And then tell you a couple stories about women who make.

00:09:50:16 – 00:09:50:27

00:09:52:16 – 00:10:25:01
I think I’d like to be as optimistic as you are John. I don’t know that that’s actually the case. You know my my own career has has been focused in technology for the duration and not much has changed. And when I speak with my colleagues in a number of roles their frustrations are still the same frustrations. I am not the the we can’t assign blame per say bad behavior is bad behavior and bad behavior emanates on on both sides of the equation.

00:10:25:01 – 00:10:44:13
And you know from my vantage point of course I argue that people don’t know that it’s bad behavior unless you tell them and you call them out on it or the company puts the types of infrastructure in place that makes people feel safe in being transparent about bad behavior.

00:10:44:14 – 00:11:17:02
So you know in terms of what makes for a successful women woman and tap it would be the same things that make for a successful man in tech that is you know being focused on on career development being focused on being a positive contributor to your company’s culture certainly in tech at U.S. Airways and KPI is already you know pretty pretty apparent. It’s like being in sales. There’s you know there are there are goals in place and you know you can definitely attain them because you know what they are. I’m

00:11:17:02 – 00:11:22:16
I’m curious though have you. Do you feel that that women in H.R. tech have an easier time of it.

00:11:23:28 – 00:11:59:07
I just I don’t know that easier is a word that but it’s worth pointing out that every single meaningful role directing the strategy of a company of H.R. TEC is run by a woman every single one and an opponent. Right. And so. So that’s pretty interesting. All right. That’s pretty as I got to address technology right. But you’ve got Gretchen our turn at Oracle you’ve got Amy Wilson in a success factors you’ve got the CEO at Ultimate Software and on and on and on to that to the to the track.

00:11:59:09 – 00:12:37:29
You know there are very few with the few people in the industry who are as powerful as the animal lover and seller. Right so there is this heavy technical heavy competence leadership of massive. There’s that that is squarely in the hands of women. And I think that you need and when I went out so I spent some time this week with us IPT and their H R tech incubator project has huge numbers of startups that are all women led startups.

00:12:38:02 – 00:12:47:10
I think this. I think this change going on and that is that it’s a more global environment of a talker.

00:12:49:09 – 00:13:21:05
So first of all I appreciate that clarification because my observations were more from the end user company side than the vendor side. I would agree that you have just named some incredibly impressive women in H.R. tech who are driving product development product design and product development. I think that they are contributing significantly to this category. There are quite a few women entrepreneurs who have started firms in H.R.

00:13:21:05 – 00:13:28:12
tech as well. We here at Devon have had the pleasure of helping many of them launch.

00:13:28:20 – 00:13:56:04
It’s still tougher for women in technology to raise funding though than it is our male colleagues. It’s you know it’s still if you look at the venture capital community for example you don’t have the balance and you certainly don’t have the preponderance of women versus men in those roles. So it’s more difficult for women entrepreneurs to raise money OK.

00:13:56:13 – 00:14:17:17
But I don’t I don’t doubt that for a second it just seems to me that there is better modeling of leadership. I see anywhere that I see anywhere else it may be that what you’re saying is is that I’m describing the difference between a pig and a pig as is the in the mud.

00:14:20:11 – 00:14:25:28
OK. I don’t know where that imagery came from but let’s agree to disagree about that.

00:14:26:14 – 00:14:42:15
OK good good. Yeah that’s great. So you have a lot of time showcasing people who are successful. What else do we need to do to make this a more fertile environment for success of women.

00:14:42:15 – 00:15:02:19
Well I think I think building community is a really important part of making successful and and I’m not saying segregated communities I mean communities that are collaborative and inclusive. And I think to some extent John that’s what these events in the industry do.

00:15:02:19 – 00:15:21:16
I mean H.R. TEC in October in Vegas is is the de facto town hall for everyone in the H.R. technology industry and I think the more of that type of whether it’s physical or virtual coming together and exchange of ideas it advances everyone.

00:15:21:17 – 00:16:02:04
You know it’s interesting when we do messaging and branding workshop we have a discovery phase to that process and we do quite a few interviews usually with the respective vendors customers depending where they are in that journey. And every single time when I ask one of their customers what influences your buying decision they will tell me it is word of mouth from their colleagues. So even if let’s say I’m a bank a and my competitor is bank B I will still listen to my colleague and observe what my colleague is doing at that competitive bank vs.

00:16:02:21 – 00:16:19:11
you know maybe reacting to something external that doesn’t have the validation of of another of another user. So I think that’s a really really interesting observation but I can’t overemphasize the role of community enough so.

00:16:19:11 – 00:16:24:08
So besides having events what what exactly is going on to build.

00:16:25:01 – 00:17:04:25
So you know I think certain organizations are doing a really good job with engagement and some of it you observe on social of course you know Sherm does a really nice job with their next chat where where they’re you know being provocative in a number of questions that are asked and engaging H.R. professionals. And I know that there’s a healthy exchange of ideas there. There are of course a number of other whether they’re physical or virtual events. There are also people in our industry who have done a stellar job of creating a following because they are trusted advisors and you would certainly fall in that category.

00:17:04:25 – 00:17:15:22
I know you’ve got quite a following at H.R. examiners. I don’t know if that was your intent to create community when you first started out but that’s certainly where you’ve landed.

00:17:15:25 – 00:17:20:13
Well it’s interesting. You know I don’t know that I

00:17:23:20 – 00:17:56:02
by the idea that there’s that there’s digital community to be had. I know that that’s probably contrarian. But but but it seems to me like like it’s something less than it could be. And so what I’m what I’m trying to understand because because I want to be helpful in this area is how you get people connected in rich ways that transcend the hard work of the job that you have to do every day.

00:17:56:02 – 00:18:05:11
Done right. And that’s that’s. Community that’s over and above the workday is a really really hard thing to sustain

00:18:07:11 – 00:18:07:12

00:18:07:22 – 00:18:14:02
I agree. Well and let me just say that that no one would ever call you contrarian John but

00:18:19:12 – 00:18:21:06
so do I.

00:18:21:06 – 00:18:31:12
I don’t know that the incorporation of for example social media into the work day is unnatural at this point in time.

00:18:31:15 – 00:19:03:24
I think it was initially you know we go to the wayback machine but I think that now it’s something that you know people have up all day long. They’re interacting real time. They’re perhaps weighing in on a topic or some of our our industry thought leaders they’re certainly planting some interesting topics out there. And I think people want to be heard and it gives them a platform. Twitter’s a great example. You know it gives them a platform to be heard.

00:19:04:02 – 00:19:26:18
And I think we have some people in the H.R. technology industry in particular who are very generous about sharing thought leadership and being of counsel to to to those H.R. professionals who reach out. So I think digital communities are viable. And at this point in time and we’ll continue to grow.

00:19:27:06 – 00:19:30:06
Okay that’s great. So so we’re going to

00:19:31:25 – 00:19:36:06
for next week. What do you expect to learn. Are you going to try.

00:19:38:05 – 00:19:47:11
I am not going to China. My schedule is so tightly booked in May that I am not able to continue on to Shanghai. Are you going to Shanghai.

00:19:47:29 – 00:19:58:17
No. Well Singapore was it was as rigor to Whitman as I could make to being global this spring Yeah it’s tough.

00:19:59:22 – 00:20:01:01
So what do you want to get out of the trip

00:20:02:22 – 00:20:25:00
so you know I’m I’m fascinated first of all just from a conference standpoint. I’m fascinated in the engagement of the delegates in Singapore. It’s very much a must attend type of event and people are very excited about being in attendance and sharing information.

00:20:25:00 – 00:20:49:28
We are of course going to have a pitch fest there. I know people are very excited about seeing the startups and pitch fest. We have companies like Spotify and Unilever on the vendor side ADP and workday at Microsoft and trust we’re making presentations at the event. Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower is strongly supporting the event as well.

00:20:49:29 – 00:21:07:17
So I think that’s very interesting. And of course the proximity of Singapore to Malaysia and Philippines and Vietnam and all of these countries have amazing talent pools. I think all of that’s going to be think for a very interesting show.

00:21:09:01 – 00:21:23:01
Well I’m excited that Singapore is very interested in understanding corporate culture these days in Singapore turns out to be the case study for how to Google

00:21:24:17 – 00:21:36:07
it’s really it’s interesting so there’s there’s there’s great stuff to learn about that as well. So who’s going to be talking in the women in nature our tech agenda Singapore.

00:21:36:08 – 00:22:11:11
Well we are fortunate to have J.C. Fong of work day as our opening keynote and our closing keynote is someone you’ve mentioned earlier in our conversation today and that is seal from Ultimate Software. We’re also going to have kind of we blew it. He we are going to have A.L. Collier from Ron star joining us Stacy Harris is flying over Stacy of course does the industry’s gold standard research at Sierra cedar. So

00:22:11:11 – 00:22:23:24
So you know I just think it’s going to be a very interesting women in tech summit. And of course it is the first one we’re doing in Singapore. So I’m looking forward to it being the first of many to come.

00:22:23:25 – 00:22:32:20
So if I’m a woman in nature that would not have quite deep waters with the frozen nature to your reader

00:22:34:10 – 00:23:00:25
Well you know I always and I as you can imagine spend a great deal of my time chatting with people and a lot of the patterns and trend data that comes out of those conversations help inform the work we do for our clients but also help inform the programming that I get to do both for the Singapore show and for the the U.S. show. Those types of

00:23:02:14 – 00:23:05:20
conversations make their way into the sessions.

00:23:05:21 – 00:23:28:02
And we also take feedback very very seriously. So if someone feels that a topic did not resonate with them we want to know why and we will make adjustments accordingly. So you know I’m all about people reaching out. And of course I think the women in tech summit builds community in and of itself. So always eager to hear from people.

00:23:28:02 – 00:24:00:24
So give me a sense of what the themes are that have your attention towards women in tech. This is kind of a straw soon overarching thing that must be important somatic pillars under way would be pay equity or sort of social justice issues and how you make a difference coming from. This is a career. Is that is that the meat of nature to watch.

00:24:00:26 – 00:24:02:14
What’s the underlying story.

00:24:03:13 – 00:24:08:14
Yeah I mean listen the women who attend these conferences are

00:24:10:05 – 00:24:14:00
usually fairly far along in their careers.

00:24:14:02 – 00:24:51:12
They are holding leadership roles or in some capacity you know overseeing strategic projects or managing work groups oftentimes in a multinational model. They don’t want to go to women in H.R. attack and be told what the problems are. They want to be told what the solutions are. That’s what they’re there for us to learn what the solutions are. So we do focus on topics such as pay equity and such as you know pilot programs the use of block chain the evolution of augmented reality and virtual reality.

00:24:51:12 – 00:25:28:21
I mean we have focused heavily as you can imagine on technology topics but there is an element of process as well because our attendees are looking to go back to their own organizations with actionable information that’s going to help them either craft those processes you know individually to their organization or maybe improve on existing processes. So I think that there’s something for everyone. We also do have a few sessions for those earlier in their career who want to learn from the very impressive women that we have on our on our speaker circuit.

00:25:28:21 – 00:25:42:17
So we always include something along the lines of climbing the leadership ladder so that our earlier entrance in the workplace are able to to learn from others. That’s an important teachable moment as well.

00:25:42:19 – 00:25:58:03
Fantastic show. So as I was there and I’ve been I’ve been seeing our conversation which I take away from this conversation Well I hope that since we’ve been talking about events those that’s the easy part.

00:25:58:11 – 00:26:09:04
Look at the rock festival Asia Web site and also the H.R. Technology Conference Web site and get those dates on the calendar and please tell your colleagues about the events and join us.

00:26:09:04 – 00:26:37:28
And if you’re not able to join us I would hope that they would reach out to you or me and perhaps we can share some of the learning that we take away from our participation in these events. But on the other side you know we’d love to have the machine said so any kind of feedback or new ideas or is always open to process improvement. So looking forward to hearing from your listeners with their ideas as well.

00:26:37:28 – 00:26:49:23
Fantastic. I’m looking forward to seeing this in Singapore. It’s a remarkable to behold. Thanks for taking the time to do this. Jim would you reintroduce yourself and tell people.

00:26:50:24 – 00:27:05:09
Absolutely. So my name is Jeanne. My last name Achille. I’m the CEO of the Devon group. That would be at Jeanne Achille on Twitter. My email address is Jeanne at Devon PR dot com.

00:27:05:10 – 00:27:21:11
Thanks again for this gene. Listening to HR Examiner’s Executive Conversations and we’ve been talking with Jeanne Achille the founder and CEO of the Devon group. Thanks for the thanks again Jeanne. We will see you back here this time next week. Bye bye


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