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For Reduxio’s CMO, diversity is key to building a winning marketing organization
Mike Grandinetti says companies need people with multiple perspectives and experiences to get a holistic view of what's really happening in the world.
Of all the hot-button topics in today’s political climate, immigration is arguably at the top of the list.
On January 10, more than 100 CEOs of prominent businesses, including Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon, signed a letter to Congress asking for legislation that would enable Dreamers — undocumented immigrants protected under the DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival) — to continue to live and work in the US.
DACA is not the only immigration program top of mind right now for US business leaders. The H-1B Visa program, a law that enables employers to hire foreign workers for specialized occupations, is also under scrutiny by the White House.
For Mike Grandinetti who serves as CMO and chief strategy officer for the data storage and management platform, Reduxio, the H-1B Visa program offers US startups an invaluable resource that plays an integral role in his hiring strategy — the ability to hire from a diverse talent pool.
“If you think about how complex the world is today, and how quickly information is coming at us, you need people with multiple perspectives, multiple viewpoints, multiple sets of experiences to provide a holistic view of what’s really happening in the world,” says Grandinetti.
According to the CMO, he is a big believer in diversity — gender diversity, age diversity, country-of-origin diversity — because the best solutions are created when you have diverse teams. Grandinetti says the best ideas he has seen typically do not come from a single person but are a mashup of ideas that came from multiple people.
“One of the initiatives I’ve been very satisfied to be involved with for a long time is something called the Hult Prize,” says Grandinetti. “The Hult Prize is where Mr. Hult, whose name is on the Hult International Business School where I now teach, gives away a million dollars every year to the winner of the Global Social Entrepreneurship competition.”
Grandinetti says when he coaches teams during the competition, he gives them all one piece of advice: The most diverse team is going to win.
“What you often wind up with is a lot of people who want to work with the people they’re comfortable with — people who speak the same language, they come from the same country, whatever it may be. But every year, the team that wins is the most diverse team.”
Grandinetti knows what he’s talking about when it comes to building winning teams. Last October, Reduxio was awarded a MarTech Conference Stackie Award for its visionary marketing organization stack. (Full disclosure: the MarTech Conference and Stackie Awards are hosted by MarTech Today’s parent company, Third Door Media.)
In a release announcing award winners, MarTech Conference Chair Scott Brinker said Reduxio’s marketing model had implemented new organizational structures and processes, new skills and talents and a new management approach to operating in a fast-paced digital environment.
Today, Grandinetti explains why diversity is at the core of his hiring strategy and shares his concerns around the current anti-immigration sentiments playing out on a national level.
1. Winning strategies and solutions to wicked problems are outcomes that derive from spirited, healthy debate among teams with a broad range of functional, academic, gender, age and cultural backgrounds, as well as diverse perspectives, experiences and insights.
2. For technology-based companies — where there is typically an over-weighting of technically trained, male leaders, who often hold a similar worldview — diversity can help teams avoid the unintended tunnel vision and conformity that results in suboptimal strategies and solutions.
3. Today, every company is technology-enabled, and with technology changing so quickly, many companies are blindsided by the rapid emergence of platforms, the increasing challenges of cybersecurity and the ascendancy of AI and machine learning. To manage this disruption, companies need to bring in a depth of technical talent and perspective they never would have even considered just a few short years ago.
Amy Gesenhues: How did you come to be Reduxio’s CMO?
Mike Grandinetti: My role at Reduxio is interesting in that I’m the only guy on the management team that hasn’t spent his entire career in the storage industry.
As the subject of our discussion today is around diversity, I bring some unique diversity to this management team — I think it bears a little bit of context. Thirty years ago, when I finished my undergraduate degree, I went backpacking across Europe for a year. It turns out Reduxio’s current CEO [Mark Weiner] had the same idea. We wound up meeting in London and spent six months backpacking around Europe together before we went our separate ways, but we stayed in touch.
Mark had reached out to me when he was getting ready to take the Reduxio product to market and said, “We’ve been talking about working together for a long time, I’d love to have you join the team.”
At that point, I’d more or less retired from my startup activities. I’d done seven prior that were successful, and I was teaching and speaking. Mark wanted me to bring a different approach to the way the storage industry went to market. The storage industry is a very traditional industry, and they’ve used a lot of what I’ll call 1950s-era industrial techniques — print ads, trade shows, and they were just horrific at spamming people.
One of the reasons I was brought in was to bring the storage industry’s marketing into the present day — a lot more digital, a lot more social, a lot more community building and a lot more agile. So my role is, I run marketing, strategic marketing, some analyst relations and key influence relations (primary media spokesperson). We have a significant digital marketing machine we continue to evolve and refine and improve day in and day out.
AG: What role does diversity play when building out your team to meet these goals?
MG: If you look at my team today, I don’t have a single person working for me that is from America. Which is a remarkable thing in a US-based startup.
As you know the global war for talent is incredibly competitive, and startups are all about people. You are competing with global giants that are endowed with budgets that are orders of magnitude bigger than yours. The only way you’re going to win is with great people.
I’ve aways been a believer that — I don’t care where your daddy went to school or how much money you got in a bank account — I’m looking for fire in your soul. To me, that is what makes a great startup person. I have the good fortune, as a professor, of interacting with thousands of students a year all around the world, and I teach courses that are very relevant to what I do. I teach courses on entrepreneurship and innovation, and digital and social marketing. I have the opportunity to see these students and how they perform in the classroom. But I also do a lot of things outside the classroom. I run hackathons [competitions centered around software and hardware experiments and innovations]. I run design sprints. I run the OpenIDEO chapter in Boston, which is applying design thinking to social impact.
When I run the hackathons on campus, at least one of them is always on behalf of Reduxio. We give students a number of real-world, real-time marketing challenges that we’re struggling with — with the belief that you can bring in crowdsourced ideas from people from outside the industry and get incredible insights.
Normally, what will happen — through interacting with these students in the classroom, through other extracurricular activities, and then finally seeing how they perform in the hackathon — that’s when we start to get very serious about inviting certain students to join us as interns. Two years ago, we had 35 interns working for Reduxio, a company with only 70 full-time employees.
You can imagine it was quite an exercise to keep that many students managed over the course of a five-month period. And then, as you’re working with these students now in a very tangible way on Reduxio’s specific initiatives, in projects, you see people rise to the surface.
To be very clear, Hult is a school where 90 percent of the students are not American citizens. There’s all kinds of immigration and H-1B issues, and it creates a huge amount of anxiety in normal times. But in these times, you can’t even begin to imagine just how anxious students are about the dream they still want to live — the dream my grandparents lived, which is to come to America and live a life in freedom.
AG: Last year, I interviewed Barnes & Noble College’s CMO, and she told me they’re seeing content that deals with anxiety get the most traction among college students.
MG: There’s just general anxiety, of course, given what’s going on in the world around us, but then you have these incredibly talented, hungry, ambitious young men and women who want to have a fulfilling career. They dream of doing this in Silicon Valley or Boston, or some innovation cluster, and the odds are more stacked against them than ever.
The only reason I raise this issue is that when the students graduate, we have a very open talk with them, which is this: “This is a startup. It is an extremely risky proposition. There is no way that we can guarantee you’re going to get an H-1B. If you work hard with us, we will sponsor you, we will cover your legal expenses, we will do all the things we need to do to help you be successful in getting through that process. But recognize the odds of success are only 1 in 3.”
It comes down to a personal choice. Not everybody has the ability to live with ambiguity and uncertainty. Sometimes people we’d really love to work with us just don’t have the stomach for living with that uncertainty. They’ll go home to their home country, or they’ll try to get a job with a bigger company where they feel like they have more security.
We see how they perform technically and functionally — and then you really get a feel for the people who embody the values that we have. Over the course of the year, you see who’s able to live with the uncertainty, the anxiety and the stress of a young startup. And over time, those people then self-identify — they reveal themselves. I go from 1,000 down to four or five people, and these people are stunningly good at what they do.
It doesn’t matter to me if they are from Mars. If they fit our culture and get the job done, we’re going to hire them. Right now on my team, I have a person from Mexico, two people from Venezuela.
Venezuela had an incredible educational infrastructure before the country went into a tailspin. They invested heavily in education, and I’ve met an amazing number of very educated, very intelligent Venezuelan students over the years. Although now, with the currency basically crushed, they can’t afford to come anymore, so that talent pool has dried up.
I’ve got an employee from Argentina, I’ve got an employee from Israel,
AG: And these are all employees based in the US?
MG: Many of them are based in our commercial headquarters in San Francisco, and we have sponsored all of them for H-1Bs.
Two of them did not get H-1Bs. Unfortunately for them, they now have the onus of operating under a student visa. What happens is you need to have some immigration status to stay in the country. We paid their legal fees. We paid their challenge fees.
One of them was literally denied a couple of days ago. What he’s doing — he’s from India — he’s going for his Master’s degree in the evenings and on weekends and continuing to work for us during the day. So that allows him to stay in the country. He didn’t plan to go for a second Master’s degree, but he loves working with us, and we love having him. We’re very lucky to have him on the team. He’s got a great work ethic, great personality.
This is the kind of commitment that you see — these immigrant values. To work in a startup and go for a full-time Master’s degree is an incredible commitment, but he’s up for it. I’ve known him now for two years, and there’s never been a question that he would do it if he had to.
AG: How do you see current anti-immigration sentiments impacting US businesses?
MG: We both know this is going to have a negative effect on the American innovation economy for sure. Canada is a beneficiary today. Mexico and Guadalajara are becoming significant software development clusters. And of course you see very senior-level Chinese government officials saying, “Hey, come to China now.”
It’s so short-sighted, it’s insane. It’s beyond comprehension, it really is.
Listen, this is what made America the most innovative country on the planet, and this is what’s going to kill us if we don’t figure out how to move through this quickly. For the first time over the last couple months, a couple of significant Republican Senate leaders, not just resigning, but resigning with great oratory about how broken things are.
It’s gonna take a revolution to reverse this, it really is. And it’s done a lot of damage because, I will tell you, the number of H-1B applications fell by about, I think it was 40,000. The problem is that the best talent — when they know their very low likelihood of being accepted — they’re going to go somewhere else because they can work anywhere they want. They can go to London. They can go to Vancouver. They can go to wherever in the world they want to apply their credible skills and talents.
We are shooting ourselves in the foot, and it’s going to be hard to reverse — it really is.
AG: What are companies losing when they fail to make diversity part of their hiring strategy?
MG: I really think they’re losing the essence of what innovation is all about. Let me step back for a second. If someone was to ask you in the early 1990s, “Amy, is it possible that Apple would potentially be working on an automobile or a telephone?” you would laugh, like come on, what are you, crazy?
If you think about the way innovation is no longer respecting boundaries, that industries are no longer neatly delineated — new disruptive innovations are coming from anywhere. Every industry has to have a far more holistic view of the world than they ever did.
One of the roles I play at Reduxio is I’m the guy who pays attention to what’s going on in the entire world, not just in the storage industry. There are a lot of things I am interested in — that I pay attention to, that I read about — that my peers probably don’t. I’m making them aware of new business models and new approaches that, quite frankly, are critically important to our future success, but they are just not a part of their reality.
This is not to criticize my clients, it’s just the way the world works. People get very specialized, and they get very focused. When you do not allow diversity at the executive table, when you don’t allow diversity in your first level management team, you have many blind spots. This is what I call the permanent fast-forward innovation economy that we live in — where the world is coming at you faster and faster, and where the average half-life of an S&P 500 company has fallen from 75 years to 15 years. The room for error has gotten smaller and smaller.
Look at Blackberry. It took six years for them to [go from having] 90 percent of the smartphone market to being on the brink of bankruptcy. These dynamics are getting more and more challenging. I think companies lose a tremendous amount of perspective and context and lose the ability to fill blind spots that are going to kill them. That’s how I would describe it.
AG: What do you think C-level executives can do to take a bigger role in reversing the current conversation around immigration and becoming more inclusive to diverse hiring practices?
MG: Obviously, there are many layers to this, and there’s the national discussion. We can go back to that dark day in January when Trump issued the immigration ban, and the Silicon Valley community — which is largely a Libertarian politics-based community — was incredibly vocal in terms of their resistance to it. I don’t know how effective they were, but they were very vocal about it.
Now we know, more recently, these sexual harassment scandals in Silicon Valley, and the terrible track record of what are, purportedly, very progressive companies like Google and Apple. They say they’re progressive, but you look at the number of females working in these companies — it’s very disappointing given what year we’re in.
There’s a tremendous amount of lip service being paid to this stuff. At the end of the day, there’s many levels to it, but if you’re not focused on, and valuing, diversity in your own company, you can say anything you want to a reporter, anything you want to your Congress person. What matters is what you do.
It’s a competitive advantage, quite frankly. I think anybody who understands the power of diversity has a unique competitive advantage in the way they build their businesses.