Christian Sutherland-Wong become the CEO of Glassdoor in January 2020.
He talked to Business Insider about what he’s learned, and what’s changed, since he stepped into the top job.
“The data is pretty clear that you can’t just get away with being an average employer or a bad employer, thinking money solves all evils,” he said.
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Christian Sutherland-Wong stepped into the role of chief executive at Glassdoor in January 2020. By March, the company, which reviews jobs and employers, would go fully remote.Sutherland-Wong, who is 40 and a resident of Marin, California, has said that helping people get jobs is a personal mission.He has a remarkable vantage point for seeing how organizations are run, too, given Glassdoor’s 50 million reviews of more than 1 million companies.In our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, he talked about what makes a great employer going into the new year, the future of work, and how he put himself on the CEO track.
You picked quite the year to become CEO. What’s changed since you started, and what’s changed since the pandemic took hold?It’s a massive delta, and it’s not something I think I’m alone in feeling as a CEO from Glassdoor. We see it on our site, in the way employees talk about their leaders. As I go out and talk with connect with other business leaders and CEOs, I think we’re all going through a sea change in so many different ways. Of course working remotely is something we’re all adjusting to.As leaders, we’re all focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion. For all the craziness and negativity around COVID, I think that’s the bright spot has become out of this.You mentioned that Glassdoor users have changed the way they talk about leaders and leadership. How so?
People are speaking to the events that are happening. We saw this huge increase in mentions of COVID in reviews, same when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. In the wake of the George Floyd murder, we saw a 63% increase in mentions of diversity, inclusion, and racial justice.These are now our expectations that people are showing. They expect their leaders to be able to have a voice in these areas and also to act in a way which is compassionate and thoughtful to their employees.This theme of leaders looking to be great employers is not new. That’s the whole movement of what Glassdoor has been behind over the last 13 years — that employees expect their employees not just to pay them a wage but also create a great environment for them to be able to develop in their careers.There’s been a lot of discussion about whether business leaders should have a social voice — going back to Milton Friedman, maximizing shareholder value kind of stuff. It’s powerful to see the numbers in what employees want borne out in the data so explicitly.
There are real economic reasons this stuff matters that even Milton Friedman would have to agree with. There is supply and demand for labor, and, in competitive labor markets, particularly knowledge-worker roles, companies who want the best talent are going to need to be the best employers.The best employers — people often think it’s just how much you get paid, a simple economic transaction. That’s important, but it’s not the most important factor. We find that the most important factors are, first of all, culture and values, secondarily senior leadership and the connection people have with senior leadership, and third is growth and development.The data is pretty clear that you can’t just get away with being an average employer or a bad employer, thinking money solves all evils, particularly in a competitive labor market.I’d like to know more about your personal journey. What decisions do you think put you on the path to the role of CEO?
From very early on, I had a really strong and wonderful relationship with Glassdoor founder and CEO Robert Hohman. All founders need to make a decision on how long they want to stay as leader in the company — at what point are they going to feel like it’s right to hand over the reins?If you are going to hand over the reins, do it with a person you trust. And that’s the relationship that Robert and I formed, so that when it was time where Robert felt like he wanted to step aside, he felt like the company would be in good hands. That’s first and foremost.The other thing is, it was a real advantage for me to be at Glassdoor for four or so years prior to taking on the CEO role. Understanding the business really intimately, having really intimate and strong relationships with the leadership team, and having a reputation as someone people know and trust. It’s a great set-up. It’s much more challenging to take on leading a company when you don’t have those relationships or deep understanding of the business.What makes for an effective chief operating officer?
In my case it was being the righthand person to Robert as CEO at the time. Complementing Robert where there are things that Robert wanted to lean into. As the visionary founder, he wanted to be more focused on the product and in the next wave of product development.But there’s a lot of day-to-day management of the business, what I call the rhythm of the business, that needs to be run effectively. And so that was probably where I leaned into more as a COO. And I think it’s pretty common. A lot of what’s going on behind the scenes and kind of running things falls in the lap of an effective COO.What trend lines are you seeing for the future of work? What can we expect in Q3 or Q4 of 2021?It’s something we study very closely as a job site. We see four key trends that you’ll certainly see in the second half of 2021, but likely for years after. One around working in and out of the office; two around the shape and distribution of salaries; three around jobs themselves, which will be here and which may never come back; and then, especially important for us at Glassdoor, what company culture means in a post-COVID world.We see a 276% increase in the number of jobs for remote workers, and something like 38,000 open positions for remote work in a time where we’ve seen a contraction in the labor market. Our perspective is that this isn’t something that goes away post-COVID.
We believe that people will want to have some connection to the office. In fact, when we surveyed our people, we found 70% of them said that they actually want a mixture between working outside the office and working in the office, and 26% would be happy to work remote the whole time.There are certain tasks that technology hasn’t solved, particularly in terms of innovation and creative tasks. Being in the office has its advantages.Content moderation has become a major question for any company that considers itself a platform. How do you control for authenticity in reviews?It’s a huge focus for us because at the end of the day the value we provide comes down to the authenticity of our reviews. So we take it really seriously. And I think by and large we’ve done a really good job of creating a really authentic experience for our users.Every piece of content that comes onto our site goes through both an automated as well as human moderation before it gets on the site. Then we also have means for our community to tell us if they think reviews are not authentic. We think this process works really well.
We also have community guidelines, not just authentic, but content that adds value to the community. We make sure that if something doesn’t abide by community guidelines, we take it off the site.You did a 10-day silent-meditation retreat in the jungles of Malaysia. What from that experience stays with you?I found it one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my life and also one of the hardest things. Not the bit about not talking, but the bit with just keeping your mind still.The biggest reflection I had was how much I’m the controller of my happiness in my life. That’s kind of been something that I have certainly kept with me. Times where you’re feeling stressed, times where you’re feeling unhappiness creeping in. Ultimately, you’re in control of that, of your reaction to the circumstances that defines your happiness. You can control that. That’s probably the thing I reflected on most when I was in Malaysia.