After six years of helping to drive explosive growth at Five9, going from 300 to 2200 teammates and a 10x market cap increase, Tricia Yankovich joined Shield AI as our Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO). This is a huge win for Shield AI — it’s like getting Tom Brady to join Tampa Bay.
What brought Tricia and Shield AI together is a shared belief in our mission, values, and the idea that the driving force behind wildly successful tech companies are inspired teams — and that those teams are comprised of “ordinary” people with an extraordinary desire to build, compete, and excel. Tricia has committed her career to helping cultivate inspired teammates, teams, and cultures.
We sat down with Tricia for our latest “Meet Our Leaders Q&A.” Welcome to the team, Tricia!
You made a major career shift by joining Shield AI as it’s outside of Silicon Valley and in a different market. That takes courage! What advice would you give to people reflecting on their careers and aspirations?
Two things come to mind:
1) Surround yourself with incredible people and teammates who you can learn from, who will push you outside of your comfort zone to bring out the best in you, and who you will have a lot of fun working with. That is a winning culture.
2) Be bold, be confident, and don’t think too much about the risks. Sheryl Sandberg’s quote “What would you do if you were not afraid?” comes to mind. Life’s too short to not have adventures and to not try to make as much of a positive impact on the world as possible.
What specifically brought you to Shield AI?
There may be a theme starting here, but again, two things:
1) Shield AI’s mission and values really resonate with me. I have great respect for individuals and families that sacrifice to serve and protect our country. My two sons are actively serving in the Navy, so the mission is truly near and dear to my heart. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to do what I love, build winning teams and cultures in support of a deeper mission, and that my work contributes towards meaningful positive impact.
2) The people! This may initially seem a bit cliché for me to say as a CHRO, but the people-first company focus and emphasis on building strong teams really came through to me when Ryan Tseng and Andrew Berlin reached out to me. I asked them “Why has Shield AI been so successful?” expecting to hear about our products, or how we cracked the code on the government market. Without knowing the other’s answers, they both talked about the company’s focus on teams and on people. That was reflected during my discussions with the team in the interview process and has shined bright during my first couple weeks at Shield AI.
Some companies – Tesla, Apple, SpaceX, Salesforce – just get it. This doesn’t mean that they always get it right, but what’s important is they genuinely believe in the spirit of the individual, and what that individual means to the team. It’s rarer than you think to find this in a company, but I was lucky enough to have found that at Five9 and again at Shield AI.
Who are your biggest role models and why?
My Dad. He has this remarkable ability to push hard for something to be done extremely well, while simultaneously teaching and coaching in a thoughtful, caring way. He holds people to the highest standards but is empathetic and fair at the same time. I really admire that, and I try to bring those same high standards, thoughtfulness, and empathy to my family life by being a role model for my kids, and to my professional life by bring that to my work and my teams.
What do you like to do outside of work?
Like many of the incredible people I have met at Shield AI during my short time here, I enjoy studying something new, which makes life interesting and exciting. For example, I’ve been focused on fly fishing, learning the piano, target shooting and yoga. I also love to cook, so cooking for friends and family is one of my favorite things to do. I think having pursuits, hobbies, and passions outside of our professional lives makes all of us better teammates and contributors, so it has been refreshing to meet so many people at Shield AI who share this belief!
As a leader, what leadership skills are most important to you when hiring for management roles?
In addition to being competent and qualified for the role, I look for empathy and kindness. I think these traits tend to be underrated. One of Shield AI’s leadership principles is “Act with Kindness,” which stuck out to me when I was looking into the company. The idea that the achievement of extraordinary success “need not come at the expense of being a good person” may sound obvious to some, but I have witnessed firsthand this troublesome dynamic taking effect in the workplace. I also feel strongly that being a good listener is a crucial leadership skill. Ernest Hemingway is famously quoted as saying “When people talk, listen completely. Don’t be thinking what you’re going to say. Most people never listen.”
I have found this to be excellent advice in my career. Good listeners are listening to really understand, which is critical when leading a team and making decisions. Good listeners also make others feel heard, which directly impacts employee engagement and ultimately, employee performance.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would tell her to be more bold, more confident and less risk averse because she is capable of so much more than she thinks.
What interview tip has helped you snag a hot role in your professional life?
I think that showing enthusiasm for what I am passionate about and simply being myself has helped me through many rigorous interview processes. My interview experience at Shield AI felt more seamless and natural than many others I can recall because the company’s mission and culture already aligned with my enthusiasms and passions. Perhaps that is a second piece of advice: apply for jobs at companies with missions and cultures that are well aligned with your interests and intrinsic motivations. The interview process won’t be as painful if you are invested in the company from the start.
With 2022 ramping up, what are your top goals (personal and professional) for the year?
Here at Shield AI, my top three goals are:
- Grow the entire Shield AI team, through creative and effective talent acquisition strategies.
- Elevate the employee experience to improve retention, engagement and drive performance.
- Grow the People Operations team and amplify all the great work they do.
Shield AI is on an incredible growth trajectory because our products provide such immense value to our customers. To sustain this growth demand, we need the absolute best talent — from software engineers to business development leads. Through strong talent acquisition and retention strategies, I intend to meet and exceed all expectations. I can’t wait to look back on 2022 as a year of unprecedented growth and success!
From a personal perspective, some goals on my list include improving my leadership skills, as I’m always trying to get better, and embracing the adventures of living in San Diego by exploring this amazing city.
Share a fun fact about you!
Making homemade pasta like ravioli or tortellini is my therapy. It makes me so happy!
What’s playing on your Spotify/Apple Music right now?
Currently listening to an 80’s hits channel…