BBH: Culture is an important point and often overlooked, especially in the early years. How would each of you define the Globalization Partners culture?
NC: It’s a high-performance culture with people who care about each other. They are engaged and invested in the success of their teammates so that everyone feels good about what they do and produces the best product.
DM: It’s also still very entrepreneurial. Every employee needs to be entrepreneurial because they need to figure out something that hasn’t been done before every day. Our culture is still very much about diving in and helping each other figure out the puzzle and come up with solutions.
NS: We foster a community of respect. We have high standards, but we take a coaching mentality rather than a hierarchical one when guiding employees and providing feedback.
DM: This is the best culture I’ve witnessed, and I’m proud to be part of it. There’s an open door to all of management, and it’s genuine. Everyone truly cares about each other, and that starts at the top.
BBH: How do you maintain that culture as you’re growing rapidly and adding employees?
NS: I realized a while ago that it’s not me anymore. I’ve set the tone; now everyone else has to carry it forward. Maintaining company culture is in the company goals, and you have to remind people that this is what they signed up for. Many companies have a high-growth culture, but we’re doing something different, and you’re buying into our mission if you join us.
If people want to be promoted, they need to coach others along and embrace the company’s vision. We use a co-employer that gives us access to coaching services for all employees, so many members of our team are using a management coach, which is helpful.
We also require that everyone use video for meetings. Thirty percent of our workforce is not in the U.S., and we have offices nationwide, so using video helps people communicate better and has been key to maintaining culture as we expand.
NC: It’s also about making the implicit explicit. During onboarding, I tell people we have a “no jerks” policy. If someone sees a co-worker violating it, I want to know because that’s not the kind of place we want to be. We are a service business, and we cannot deliver a good service and have happy clients unless we have engaged people delivering it, so we’re invested in making sure people are happy when they come to work. You don’t have to be best friends with the people you work with, but everybody needs to be treated with respect.
BBH: How does the management team work together to make strategic decisions?
DM: We have the best leaders in every area, so there’s a high level of trust to come together and pull in all of those perspectives. Nicole always has a vision that she is able to articulate. All of us feed off of that and build on it, and at the end it comes out the way she’s envisioned.
NS: I’ll share my vision for where the company needs to go, and Debbie comes up with a master plan to identify all of the projects required to make it happen. Then, we stick to a tight timeline. Part of my job is to always keep my foot on the gas and push everybody a lot harder than they want to go, which ultimately is helpful.
NC: It’s also an extremely collaborative team. Everybody wants to understand and learn about all of the different business areas, and I’m in meetings weekly with all of the groups across the company. Problems typically affect many departments, so the only way to solve them is to gather input across the board. When you have everybody’s buy-in, everyone is incentivized to make it work.
NS: Our executive team is an exceptional group of operators – people who roll up their sleeves and get things done. I think that sometimes when people get to the C-suite, they’re used to being in the C-suite and are just delegating. If anything, our executives are much better at operationalizing and building a company than they are at taking credit for what we’ve built.
BBH: What were you looking for when you built your executive team?
NS: I always want the best people I can find, even if it seems a bit out of the realm. When Debbie started working here, we were very small, and I was throwing a help line at someone who had been the COO of multiple companies.
When Nancy came in as outside counsel, I had been writing, editing and negotiating my own client contracts for a long time because the other lawyers I had engaged didn’t really understand the business. She understood the business from day one, though, and ran with it. It eventually came time to hire in-house counsel, and she was the obvious person.
I think they both bought into the idea that we could build something amazing.
NC: I was excited about the opportunity to work with people I respected tremendously and also liked. I was leaving the world of typically male-dominated law firms and going to an entrepreneurial company led by women building something that is intellectually exciting – but hard! It was an opportunity I couldn’t resist. It’s an amazing feeling today to look at what we’ve built.
DM: We’re still figuring out new things every day, which I love. Before I joined full-time, Nicole was one of my clients, and as Globalization Partners grew, I wanted to spend more and more time there. I felt the excitement of what was going on, and that pulled me in.
BBH: As you were growing the company, was building a diverse team something you thought about?
NS: We were not a diverse company at the outset because I hired primarily white women – that is a lack of diversity. I hired the most competent people I knew in my network, which happens to be full of women. When we reached 15 or 20 people, our team was about 75% women, and we acknowledged that we needed to have actual diversity instead of recruiting out of our network.
Since then, we have made a conscious effort to recruit people of all racial and gender diversity. That takes a lot of concentrated effort. Two outside C-suite executives have walked into the office recently and commented on our diverse team. I don’t necessarily see it because we still aren’t fully in line with the breakdown in Boston’s community, but we’re much more diverse than your average tech company.
NC: Again, you have to make the implicit explicit and tell people when they’re hiring that they should be screening a diverse candidate pool. You have to make an intentional effort to diversify where the applicants are coming from.
NS: Right, and in cases where one leader has a team with no diversity, you need to ask that person if he or she has an implicit bias and be direct that he or she needs to be very careful about recruiting a diverse team. It would be easy to recruit and hire people we have worked with, but if everybody just hires from their network, it doesn’t work.
BBH: Do you have a favorite story from the journey?
NS: We had a near-death experience as a company a few years ago. We were growing like crazy, and I was trying to recruit people. Debbie and Nancy were coming on board. The woman who ran our finance team was having a baby, so in the months leading up to that, I was trying to build a team to cover for her. When she went on maternity leave, we thought we would be OK, but we weren’t. For four nights, I had the classic entrepreneurial experience of staying up all night, stressing and trying to hold together the company. After the fourth night, I said to my husband, “It’s going to go one way or the other. I’m not going to let down all of these people around the globe who I owe payroll.” There was a solution, but it would have meant the end of the business – a fast sale to our partners.
I called Nancy because she is good in a crisis and told her what was going on. She asked, “Do you want to build this thing, or do you want to sell it?” I said I wanted to scale it. She told me that I needed to call the woman who had just had a baby. Having to call her and say that I really needed her, and knowing that our future rested on her answer, was the worst phone call I have ever had to make. She agreed to modify her planned time away from the office to instead work for an extended part-time period, and we gave her the resources to help make it possible to survive working a modified schedule with a new baby at home.
NC: My point was, don’t assume for someone what they want. Don’t decide for other people; let them decide for themselves.
NS: Obviously, we survived. We stopped taking new clients for three months so we could build out the infrastructure to withstand everything that we knew could come. A couple weeks after we started accepting new clients again, we were named No. 6 on the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing private companies in America and the No. 1 fastest-growing women-led company.
DM: There are so many little stories around that. At that same time, we knew we needed to do something different with our internal systems in order to function and survive, and we built a complete system from scratch in three weeks and started using it immediately. A lot of people pulled together to make that work.
BBH: Last question – what is your advice for entrepreneurs who are starting out?
NS: Think big and grow fast, but take one step at a time. And recruit the best people you can find.
BBH: Nicole, Debbie and Nancy, thank you so much for your time and insight.
Interview conducted by Jake Turner and Adrienne Penta, and article written by Kaitlin Barbour.