Entrepreneur, Viewpoint 15.12.2016
By Anne-Marie Finch, Vice President, Global HR

Trustpilot VP: Maintaining the entrepreneurial innocence

How do you lead a company from startup to big business in just a few years? According to Anne-Marie Finch, Vice President of Global HR & Talent at Trustpilot, it requires a religious approach to culture, as the DNA of a company is crucial.  

The entrepreneurial innocence is pure. Ideas are followed swiftly by action. The creative
innovators’ workplace is a playground for grown-ups. They don’t work nine to five jobs, because
their job is their passion.

In 2010, after several years working in a large company, I was made responsible for HR for a
medium-sized subsidiary. I got a mixed reception. In the beginning, I was viewed as guilty of
taking away innocence: the very innocence which was the reason for sky-high satisfaction
among the company’s loyal customers.

"I was corporate. The subsidiary was entrepreneurial. Being corporate, I didn’t understand the
culture, customer loyalty, or self-taught entrepreneurs. I was academic and process oriented,
spoke in abbreviations, and dressed differently. What was Casual Friday in other places, was
Casual-Every-Day here."

I arrived from layoff-round number eight with colleagues who had been working harder and
faster than ever thanks to dwindling staff numbers. Taking my post at the HR front line, I found
myself with new colleagues whose concerns included whether the breakfast rolls were hot
enough. It was just one of a similar strain of topics appearing in my inbox.

During my first three workdays, I received friendly welcome emails, but also some saying things
like “ It stinks of headquarters” or “W e’ve been headquartered.” The first six months felt like one
long uphill struggle, and I felt stigmatised and surrounded by spoiled employees.

It took time and patience to win their trust, as my new colleagues were determined to maintain
their entrepreneurial innocence. And in no way was I or my corporate approach going to change
that. We were dealing with people’s existential foundation and the commercial religion of
authentic customer care.

So I listened and learned. I unlearned some things and learned even more so I could guide my
colleagues to unlearn and learn different things. It was necessary, as the competition in the
mobile provider market was fierce, and our market position was being challenged. We could no
longer just wallow in our success and growth, spend lots of money and consider ourselves
unchallengeable. We had to think more strategically and cost-efficiently and professionalise the
business. I could help with that, but I first had to speak the language and be invited inside.

Four years later, I became the head of global HR for the growth company Trustpilot. Starting up
here was different, as I understood the entrepreneurial way of doing things. And this was
necessary, as we were facing a massive upscale on a global level.

Today, two years later, we have doubled our number of employees. But we still consider
ourselves a startup. On the one hand, we want to be grown-up and responsible, but on the
other, we also want to continue being playful, young souls who think innovatively and celebrate
each other, from the smallest sale to brilliant ideas. We are so busy conquering the world that we do not have time to wait for the right infrastructure, so we build away while the earth is trembling.

We are more than 500 employees comprising of 42 nationalities across six offices in
Copenhagen, Berlin, Melbourne, London, New York, and Denver, and new challenges arise with
increasing frequency. So how do we maintain our entrepreneurial innocence?

At Trustpilot, the answer lies in our near-religious adherence to the value of a “Culture Fit” when
we hire new staff. It is obligatory to involve several stakeholders in the hiring process to ensure
we find the right candidates. All new employees must fit the Trustpilot culture DNA, and it is
crucial and a direct competitive parameter for our ability to successfully upscale on a global
level. The question is whether the entrepreneurial innocence can be maintained if the culture is
not.

Oversat fra dansk. Original bragt på Business.dk

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