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HubSpot’s Yamini Rangan on the Challenges of Unexpected Power

Over the past two years, Yamini Rangan, chief executive officer of software company HubSpot, has faced more upheaval and forced to rely on more management techniques that many bosses face in their lifetime.

But that’s nothing compared to the time in March when Brian Halligan, 54, the company’s founder and at the time its chief executive officer, broke 20 bones in one snowmobile accident. Months of painful surgeries went by. It leads to a phone call in which he asks Rangan, all of a sudden, to be in charge for an unspecified amount of time.

The risk of a “leadership vacuum” is real, Rangan, 48, says now. “You don’t have assertiveness, you don’t have someone to make decisions, to call what’s important.”

More than a year after joining the company as its first chief client officer, the Indian-born executive said she realized there was a need for a conscious change in style. Sometimes, in the past, she was “just running from job to job, switching from job to job, not fully reflective, thinking, and deliberating.”

The key is to consciously adapt the management style to the needs of the moment. “You cannot and should not assume that whatever has worked for you in the past will continue to work for you in the future,” she says.

Coming in the middle of a pandemic and a software business boom, all of which is a lesson in “how adaptable and flexible you have to be in times of uncertainty,” she says. It was also a lesson for both companies and individuals at the time.

“I feel, both personally and as a company, we’ve been really flexible and flexible, there are points where I feel like you’re about to break,” she said. “And then we were able to go back.” Resilience, she says, has been “sometimes exhausting, really draining.”

In September, when Halligan was ready to return, he chose the position of full-time chairman, confirming his position of permanent CEO. Rangan still expressed fear at the time – something she never expected, she said, at the beginning of her life in a small town in southern India where there was not even a high school. .

Her drive and determination to rise to the top at a software company now valued at over $30 billion is evident in the way she continues to work – as well as the changes she’s made to His personal approach along the way. Growing up in a conservative countryside, “you are mute, you are not expected to speak up,” she says. So she threw herself into her studies, topping her engineering class before moving to the US to earn a master’s degree in computer science.

The United States, with its emphasis on participation in the classroom, has been forced to “a huge cultural adaptation”. Learning to speak out, she said, “drives me crazy,” recalling how she wrote down what could be said in class the next day.

But adapting to a new business culture also brings uncomfortable compromises. “I was always the other person in the room,” she said. Her first reaction was to copy what others were doing, before gaining the confidence over the past decade to set her own terms: “This is not authentic, this is not me. I don’t like to play golf. So I’m not going to learn to play golf.”

During the crisis immediately following Halligan’s accident, Rangan focused on two things: a unified leadership team and assertiveness. It means that all top executives must be open. “When you are on a new team, and you have a new kind of interim leadership, the question is, what are you going to share? What won’t you share? ”

Then it’s about “making sure we make a quick decision and then communicating the “why”. Those are the essentials in any leadership vacuum. “

Having two jobs also means that “the relentless pursuit of what you need to do, you have to bring that energy to the team,” she says. “The last few years, we’ve all talked about burnout, because work is never-ending.”

All in stark contrast to the role Rangan was originally hired for. An engineer who has learned lessons from a decade at more mature software companies Workday and Dropbox, she was brought in to develop some of the same areas at the fast-growing HubSpot.

She calls it “pattern recognition” — the experience of recognizing, from data, how a company is performing and what adjustments are needed for the next stage in its growth. Rangan says refining data-driven businesses like this is both an art and a science.

That means introducing new metrics to focus more on customer satisfaction. Instead of customer churn – a key metric in any registered business – attention turned to revenue retention rate, a key metric in the software industry in which she “It measures customers who join the company, stay with the company, get value with the company, and continue to buy from the company,” she said. It is the core. ”

A second new metric – the company’s net advertiser score – has also been elevated to center stage. It’s now measured weekly and has literally become “first email of the week”.

But the pandemic, as it happened, has brought with it the need for an entirely different style of management. The company has fallen into a “wartime” situation, she said, forcing it to react quickly to help customers who are facing a crisis themselves.

Three questions for Yamini Rangan

Who is your leader hero?

Mike Stankey (Vice President of Workday). He is an incredible mentor and one of the best executives in the industry. I learned a lot from him about pattern recognition, connecting points and leveraging data, then making decisions about where we need to go.

What would you be if you weren’t a CEO?

An architect. I’ve got this little notebook, I’ve been sitting outside drawing different buildings. When I was little, I told my mother that I was going to be an architect. She said no, you are going to the US, I heard they don’t pay you there. Engineering worked great.

What was your first leadership lesson?

You need to go slow to go far. My tendency is, just go fast – I get answers very quickly, that’s my sprint mentality. But as a manager, you look around and no one is watching because they don’t feel like you’ve empowered them. So you have to go slow and ask questions instead of providing answers, and subscribe instead of providing that vision directly.

Next came the boom, as more companies turned to software to keep their operations going. HubSpot, whose stock has grown sixfold since the pandemic began, has added 2,000 people in the past two years, bringing its total to 5,000, and says it expects to triple its workforce by the end of 2024.

Through all of this, Rangan had to create a new style of working, both for the company and for herself. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area when most of HubSpot’s operations are on the East Coast, she always looks forward to learning new techniques for remote management. The pandemic has made that much more complicated, forcing the whole company to work together.

Her answer was to spend more time in regular meetings with workers at different levels of the organization – something she claims is measured by characteristic rigor. With hybrid work, she says, “we have proven ourselves that productivity is not the limit. But the connection between people is the hidden limit.”

The outbreak of the pandemic and the discovery of new ways of working have also brought recognition that deeper changes are needed. At the corporate level, Friday has become a day without any meetings, to encourage “reading, reflection, and time for thoughtful decisions.”

On a personal level, that means setting aside specific amounts of time to spend with your husband and children. “It takes a certain amount of courage and conviction to think that you are who you are,” she says, and a big part of that is, for her, “being actively involved in raising children.” teach two children”. For other women earlier in their careers to develop similar self-confidence would be to “take a role model and women talk about the decisions we have made in our careers.”

Referring to the scarcity of women running software companies, Rangan said: “We don’t have enough people, that’s a real problem. We need to open flooded stores and have a pretty big shift in the number of women – the number of people of color – in leadership positions. “

https://www.ft.com/content/ad61f2cd-2f8b-42c4-a40b-7e951898ad2c HubSpot’s Yamini Rangan on the Challenges of Unexpected Power

Ian Walker

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