Over the course of her 15-year HR career, Marjorie Ajero has seen it all. Well, maybe not “all,” but she has merged public companies with private ones, scaled organizations during rapid growth, and solved countless employee relations issues. Her leadership at companies like Group Nine Media and Everyday Health has prepared her to successfully take on her new role as BetterCloud’s first chief people officer (CPO).
She sat down to discuss the strategic role HR plays in the growth and scaling of companies, the importance of true diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and her passion for travel.
Marjorie has a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration – Human Resource Management from Northeastern University.
Where are you from?
I was born in New York City, but I really grew up in New Jersey and I lived there up until I went away to college. I went to Northeastern University in Boston, where I lived for almost 10 years. Then I returned to New York City in 2006, and I’ve been here ever since.
You studied HR, you’ve practiced HR, and now you’re a CPO. What initially drew you to the field of HR?
I actually fell into HR by accident when I was in college. I thought I wanted to be in broadcast journalism, but at the time, the Northeastern School of Communications was full. So when I talked to the school counselor, I told him, “I really like the behavioral aspect of communications. That’s really interesting to me,” so he suggested that I talk to the business school about HR, and that’s really how I fell into it.
In terms of what keeps me in the field, it’s that HR changes so much. Laws change every year to reflect our changing society. It definitely keeps me on my toes — I really like that part of it.
And over the past few years, we’ve seen the rise of the CPO role in organizations. Could you tell us what exactly falls under the umbrella of CPO and what it says about organizations when they hire a CPO?
The push to hire CPOs in organizations comes from a strategic shift in how a lot of companies are viewing HR. Traditionally, companies looked at HR as an administrative function: the paper pushers, the people who paid you, who gave you good benefits, who would hire people and fire people, once you decided that’s what you wanted. Now, there is a value that is placed on senior-level HR professionals because they’re driving business performance through people-focused initiatives, such as succession planning, talent management, change management, organizational and performance management, training and development, and compensation.
A company that hires a CPO is one that really values its people. They value what an HR professional can bring in terms of enhancing business performance through its people.
How have your past experiences led you to BetterCloud, and how will your past experiences help you succeed here?
The last two experiences I had were with super fast-growing companies, and one of the things that I am tasked with here is scaling the company. At these companies, I learned how to bring cultures, people, processes, and departments together, which is exactly what I’ll be doing at BetterCloud.
A few of my previous experiences have been at startup-like companies. At the time when I joined, Everyday Health was a health tech startup. In the six years that I was there, I scaled them from 80 to 600. It gave me the opportunity to do a lot of different things. After I left Everyday Health, I joined Thrillist Media group. Thrillist was only 220 employees until we merged with Group Nine, doubling us in size. So even though these companies seem like more established organizations, when I first joined them, they were kind of startups.
I made the switch to BetterCloud because I wanted to get out of media. I wanted that change in a dynamic environment, and I wanted to scale and grow another business. But frankly, I also joined for the people.
What are the qualities that make a successful CPO?
Someone who can work across a diverse skill set. By that I mean, the CPO sits in the executive suite and needs to adapt to work with each member of the C-suite in order to fulfill the needs of every department and help them all be successful. Additionally, just being a good listener and being objective is important in order to be a successful CPO.
You’re the first woman in our C-suite. Why do you think it’s important for companies to diversify their leadership and be more mindful about who they choose to lead their companies as they scale?
Diversity of talent and thought have been proven to help businesses do better. It’s important to diversify leadership because if we want to attract diverse talent, they need to actually see themselves represented. In order for us to retain the diverse talent we have, we have to prove we are an inclusive environment that accepts, wants, and values all types of people to work here.
We need to be more open and do a little bit more work in finding the right talent that we need to keep our business successful. What I’ve found is some of our teams are pretty diverse, and I know we will only continue to get better.
As you know, BetterCloud has been named one of Crain’s Best Places to Work for the past four years. How do you think we preserve and scale BetterCloud’s existing culture as we continue to grow?
It’s about investing in our people, continuing to be transparent where we can be, keeping the lines of communication open, and building a sense of community between our offices. I know that’s not something that I can instill in people; it has to happen organically.
Some of the things that we can do to preserve the culture are to bring the groups that are happening informally in Slack, like the Women of BetterCloud group and the Chocolate Rain group, to the forefront. We need to invest and create programs that empower and help people network among these groups.
What makes you excited to be a BetterClouder?
The people! I met so many people at [our company kickoff] Summit and really enjoyed hearing about their passions and what makes them excited, which only motivates me more. They make me motivated to be in my role, and I’m excited to build better programs for them. I want to make sure that we’re always doing the best by them.
What do you do for fun?
I’m a foodie. I love to try new restaurants and new experiences. I’m into some sports: boxing, Muay Thai, and basketball. What else do I do that doesn’t sound like a dating profile?
The beach is what makes me so happy; I come alive in the summertime because it’s warmer.
I’m also a big traveler. So any opportunity that I have to get out of New York City, I try to take. I try to visit two new countries a year if my job and pocketbook allow me to.
Two of my favorite trips have been to Egypt and San Sebastián, Spain. In Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, my sister and I went four-wheeling in the desert and we had tea at a Bedouin camp. Four-wheeling was one of my “Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m doing this” moments. San Sebastián was a foodie vacation. All we did was plan where we were going to eat. So many food people had done shows there, so we were just trying to do all of their recommendations.