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Five questions with Patty McCord

Continuing a series of interviews with inspiring female leaders, Wolff Olins’ global COO, Sairah Ashman, interviews

Patty McCord

Patty has spent her career setting people up for success in a variety of high-tech businesses.  She’s famous for her role as Chief Talent Officer at Netflix and is often cited as “the woman behind Netflix”.  She now advises young tech businesses, such as Warby Parker amongst many others, as they look to grow and scale.

What are the most significant shifts influencing your business?

Fundamentally, the world of work has changed because we’re so connected now. Business is less about command and control and more about enabling speed through collaboration. It’s not about adding another programme or layer, it’s about taking something away. The big shift is about taking a more holistic approach. Moving away from departmental silos, because collaboration and focus provide speed. This is what helps make start-ups successful. They concentrate on how to get things done in the simplest way, leveraging all the brainpower and skills they have. The biggest shift business needs to focus on in the future is collaboration.

What do you see as the key growth accelerators for you over the next 12 months?

I advise start-ups as they scale and the biggest accelerator for any business right now is creating the right customer experience. You can confidently assume that a large portion of your profile is being created by word of mouth, and more specifically by people using social media to comment on their experiences of you. Being able to track this data, respond and make your offer more relevant will be what drives growth.  At the end of the day it comes down to the product and the experience you provide.

What role do you see brand playing in achieving your goals?

It’s critical and great businesses make their culture their brand. Their people join in delivering the experience and you see a great connection between culture, experience and how they make money. Tom’s shoes is a great example. Brand also creates context and helps articulate your strategy i.e. what you’re not going to do. It frees you up to make the right decisions quickly. Businesses typically go through 3 key development stages. In the first stage, they work hard to establish viability. If they’re successful, they focus on scale and handling the complexity that brings.  Then they might look at going public and making the transition from private ownership. Brand plays a key role between those stages - communicating and connecting the transitions with your core purpose and what you stand for.

What or who inspired you in the early years?

I’ve learned a lot being surrounded by amazing inventors and innovators over the years. I’ve often just stopped and thought, ‘I’m in the room who can make these incredible things happen’. People who start with the experience and who think very logically as engineers. So you know that if they can’t make something work, then there’s a really good chance it’s just not going to work. There’s so much to be said for originality and creativity. Starting with the question 'what would be the best experience?’ and 'why not me?’.

What advice would you pass on to others just starting out?

Learn the business of business, no matter who you are or what role you have. Be curious, seek to understand how the machine works because the more you understand holistically what your endeavour is trying to accomplish then you can figure out your role in it, and you don’t have to wait to be told. That gives you power. Find your own power and align it to the good of the organisation. This is my algorithm: Success = is what you love to do, that you’re extraordinarily good at doing, something that the company needs someone to be great at?  The first thing you have to do is figure out what you love to do.  It’s a life-long journey. How you manage people’s careers is… you don’t! You manage their learning. If you can encourage people to work on incredible things with incredible people and build a track record of doing great stuff – then they’re golden.