What Color Is Your Company?

Jill Yarberry-Laybourn Issue 08 - Nov/Dec 2013, Operations Leave a Comment

Executive Vice President of Administration Todd Richardson reveals the secrets behind ExactTarget’s colorful culture.

By Jill Laybourn

Colors have meaning and can evoke emotions. They have a personality and character, and can inspire, rejuvenate and provoke. The color blue is characterized by reservation, quietness and idealism. On the other end of the spectrum, there is orange—a color symbolic of warmth, social communication, optimism, enthusiasm and an ability to think outside the box. While some may not believe in this color theory, it is spot on in describing what has been dubbed the “Orange Culture” at ExactTarget and the working style of Executive Vice President (EVP) of Administration Todd Richardson.

photo2Orange Appeal

The Orange Culture is what steered Richardson to his current employer. “I joined ExactTarget mainly because of the culture that I had heard about and seen and the leadership that was at the heart of that culture. The Orange Culture represents a unique passion for serving our customers, and a unique passion for serving one another. The level of teamwork, the level of excitement, the level of flexibility that we show in our day-to-day work, it is a rarity in most professional settings.”

quoteAs the company culture is standout, so is the “hybrid” position that Richardson fills. He is responsible for recruiting the best and brightest as part of his strategic human resources role, while at the same time overseeing all the legal functions necessary to run a company, “including contract management, risk management and real estate.” His greatest challenge in this role is “to grow and scale at a meteoric pace.”

The company that had a home office in Indianapolis and a few operations across the U.S. now has operations on four continents and has grown from 300 employees to more than 2,000. “We are operating on a much bigger scale,” Richardson said, “and to manage the hiring and coaching and development of employees on four continents while conducting legal oversight and legal guidance in numerous countries is quite challenging.”

Clearly, Richardson is finding his way. He and his team were just awarded the Stevie Award. “The team’s ability to partner with the business to grow ExactTarget at a rapid pace on multiple continents as we prepared for and successfully went public, all the while maintaining the unique culture, was an accomplishment we are all very proud of.”

Culture & (Over) Communication

How does Richardson manage multiple teams with a diverse spectrum of responsibilities, and win awards along the way? Other than the fact that he “loves it,” he makes sure that he hires the “best of the best” for his internal teams. He recruits individuals who are candid, passionate and hard workers.  He also ensures that he has brilliant external partners. And again, it comes down to that Orange Culture.

“We talk a great deal about culture and why it is important as it relates to attracting and retaining employees,” Richardson conveyed. “I take it a step further to ensure that our external employees are also a culture fit with our workforce.”

External people like Bryan Brenner of First Person; Michael Kim of Hall Render, who is external immigration counsel; and Jenna Barnett of Newmark Knight Frank Halakar, help Richardson to “check the boxes” when it comes to benefit offerings, immigration issues and real estate needs. Richardson manages these “best of the best” through effective communication.

“I over communicate every chance I can get,” he said. Richardson’s reports know what he is thinking, what he wants, what he is excited about and what is bothering him. The effect? The teams are all on the same page as they are “fighting for the same cause and in lock-step toward the pursuit of their joint goals.”

quote2Richardson chalks much of ExactTarget’s success to its culture. It not only has helped the company develop a large customer base, but also has served Richardson well in his recruiting efforts.

“Being able to recruit the best and the brightest is the most important factor in determining how we are going to serve our customers in the future” he said. “You want the A+ players on your team to ensure you are able to create and produce the most effective products for your customers. Culture is a big piece of that.”

What about the culture draws executives like Todd Richardson and helps him recruit top-notch employees? The dress code is an informal one to ensure employee comfort. The work environment is an open one; there are very few offices, replaced by open floor plans where the intent and purpose is to make it feel like a coffee shop in which teams can collaborate. To this point, the company provides coffee and sandwiches “to promote people staying around.” And, before or after that sandwich, employees have the option of using onsite gyms, relaxing with yoga or getting revved up with Pilates.

The organization’s culture has had to evolve with its rapid growth and acquisition by Salesforce.com, but it is no less dynamic and collaborative. In fact, Richardson believes that it is taking positive shape.

“We have made it priority No. 1, throughout the process of going public and now through the process of integrating with Salesforce.com,” Richardson said, “that the culture doesn’t change, but that it is enhanced.”

Not only are people drawn to work at the company, but they are compelled to stay. ExactTarget boasts a low attrition rate. Employees are valued, and therefore they value their company.

“We just have more loyal employees,” Richardson said. “They know that we have invested in them.”

The Pied Piper

More than likely, Richardson’s Pied Piper-like ability to draw 75 people to go with him to ExactTarget has less to do with the corner coffee shop feel and more with the relationship aspect of the Orange Culture.  While many, or even most, people work in businesses that are all about keeping relationships strictly professional, ExactTarget’s founders, along with Richardson, are firm believers in investing in the whole person.

“We do equal parts professional development initiatives as well as personal development,” Richardson said, attributing this idea of looking at employees “holistically” to the company’s three founders, who are “the nicest, most compassionate people that truly care about the development of people.”

Through mentorship, Richardson is able to help foster individuals’ professional and personal ambitions. “It is important for me to hit both sides of that coin so I can impact the whole person, not just the one that comes in at 8:00 and leaves at 5:00. We are not trying to just recruit and develop strong players on the ExactTarget team, but instead trying to develop world changers.”

ExactTarget and Richardson with their “orange” thinking are onto something big and effective. This one-of-a-kind culture is drawing young and veteran professionals alike and catching the eyes of those individuals and committees who are doling out awards (like ‘Best Places to Work’ honors). Clearly, orange—bringing compassion, boldness and appeal—is a good color when it comes to company culture, and it is catching fire.  

Jill Laybourn is a freelance writer based in Colorado
Todd's Key Partners:
 FirstPerson (Benefits/Wellness) | Hall, Render, Killian, Heath & Lyman, P.C. (Immigration) | Newmark Knight Frank Halakar (Real Estate)

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