Andrea Kane: “Above everything else, do the right thing”

My movement would be centered on unity and diversity. We’re all trying to survive in this world and what color you are shouldn’t matter. My philosophy around diversity is having a diversity of thought. Focus on surrounding yourself with people who bring different perspectives to the table, regardless of who they are, where they come […]

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My movement would be centered on unity and diversity. We’re all trying to survive in this world and what color you are shouldn’t matter. My philosophy around diversity is having a diversity of thought. Focus on surrounding yourself with people who bring different perspectives to the table, regardless of who they are, where they come from, and how they look.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrea Kane. As the Chief Human Resources Officer at Cinch Home Services, Andrea focuses on enhancing culture while overseeing talent management, learning and development, total rewards, and internal communication strategies. With more than 30 years of experience in the Human Resources industry, she has held senior-level roles with well-known national brands, including AutoTrader, General Electric Company/NBC, Belkin International, Inc., ADT, and Pepsi. Andrea has considerable experience guiding companies through cultural transformations, and a passion for delivering smart and innovative talent solutions to bolster a company’s ability to attract, develop, and retain great people. She knows great people are the key to success. Andrea earned her bachelor’s degree in industrial and labor relations from Cornell University.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I didn’t choose HR, HR chose me. Originally, I had applied to Cornell University’s Liberal Arts program as a pre-law major, and instead, was accepted into the school’s industrial and labor relations program also known as the ILR School. After touring the campus and falling in love with it, I decided to try it out.

To make money during the summers, I worked as an HR intern for several companies like Citibank, Morgan Stanley and Pepsi. I never thought I would end up in this industry, but during my Pepsi internship, I was given a huge opportunity to sit at the table. From there, the company gave me a scholarship and an early job offer, and I decided I would defer my aspirations of becoming a lawyer and focus on HR. That’s where my career took off. I guess you can say I fell into HR by mistake.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Being in the world of HR, there’s a lot I cannot share. I like to think of it as the book that you can’t make up. Just when I think I’ve seen it all in my career, there’s always a new first that surprises me.

That being said, my current role as CHRO of Cinch Home Services has definitely been one of the most interesting and fulfilling experiences in my career. I came on board in the middle of a major restructuring effort, which included onboarding several C-suite executives, reimagining the corporate culture, and more. Having a hand in shaping the company’s long-term HR strategies and overall culture was incredibly gratifying and allowed me to leverage an entire career’s worth of knowledge and experience.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

At one of the companies I worked for, there was this one instance where the leadership team was meeting to discuss some budget changes. My boss walks in the room to hear our thoughts on this matter and the entire room just sat in silence. I ended up being the only person speaking up to explain all the reasons why we couldn’t make the changes, while thinking to myself, “I’m getting fired for this!”

What’s funny about this story, is that my boss actually listened to me and decided to invest rather than make the cuts. Moments like this have taught me that there’s power in my voice and my point of view adds value. It’s a moment that I’ll always remember.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?

Having worked in HR for so many years, I’ve always been excited about taking that next big step in my career. In the case of this most recent position, it really was the opportunity to come in at the ground level and develop strategies to drive real change and transformation within Cinch. The process has been challenging, but the impact I’ve seen across our employee base is just incredible. It reminds me of why I chose to enter this field in the first place.

Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

From the outside looking in, people think being an HR executive is all about hiring and firing people. But in reality, it’s an end-to-end process from a talent management perspective. This means working with leaders to strategically identify the right roles and right talent a company should be hiring for — and creating the right culture to support the company’s goals and objectives. It’s all about fostering a high-performing culture that enables the best talent to unleash their best skills, develop and grow, and have fun along the way. Not every culture is right for every individual. That’s why people say, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” because it’s important to create a corporate culture where your employees can thrive and understand how they contribute to the success of the company — that’s true engagement!

Being an executive is about helping a person succeed in their professional journey. Making sure they have the necessary tools and resources to develop and grow while offering them incentives and recognition to ensure you retain the best and brightest talent. As a CHRO, I serve as an employee advocate to balance their needs against business demands and objectives, while also helping managers communicate and hold their employees accountable. It’s all about finding the right approach to solve today’s ever-more complex issues while always keeping an eye on tomorrow’s impact.

What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?

As an HR executive, I still love to find untapped talent or the “unsung heroes” and encourage people to reach inside of themselves to achieve their maximum potential.

A lot of times, people don’t know what they’re good at. That makes helping people find their passion — or their “North Star,” as I like to call it — and placing them in a role where they can flourish truly rewarding for me.

As a leader, I enjoy keeping my finger on the pulse and my ear to the ground within an organization. I like serving as a radar to effectively bring employees into a company’s journey and ensure they focus on the right things to drive the right outcomes.

What are the downsides of being an executive?

Sometimes it can be tough to help employees understand when they are missing the mark. I always say, “You may want the job but are you prepared to do the job?” This means all the things that go along with doing the job, including working evenings and weekends, if needed. It’s often seen as a cliché, but it’s really true: the higher you go, the higher your responsibilities will be. As such, it’s key to learn how to manage yourself and your time.

I believe in work policies that are guardrails. One size does not fit all, and people are in different stages in their lives, so you have to tailor the work environment for each employee without compromising company policies. It’s a balance.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?

Just because you have a “C” in your title doesn’t mean you’ll be able to take a step back from the day-to-day. As an executive, you must be able to balance high-level strategy with necessary daily tasks, all while keeping your eye on the long-term playbook. Even more important is knowing how to manage people and ensure they’re being adequately challenged and nurtured. Knowing the difference between a demanding manager and an unrealistic one is no easy feat, especially in today’s ultra-changing world.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

My first job reporting to a CEO was in 1996. Being an executive for such a long time, I’ve gotten used to being the only woman in the room and, similar to race, it doesn’t bother me. As a female leader, you often get labeled as being emotional or overly insensitive so one of the biggest challenges for me has been learning to hold my own and approach things from a fact-based perspective. This means knowing how to maintain your composure and not being extreme. Don’t overcompensate for being the only woman in the room — instead, focus more on solving the issues at hand and less on the kind of people who are in the room with you.

Another challenge for a lot of women is balancing personal and work life. Many women will reach the top and throw in the towel because their family life begins to suffer, while some male leaders often have their spouse or significant other to help them out with family needs. Finding the right work-life balance can be tough, but it’s possible and critical for success.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

In my profession, I never set expectations of what I thought the job would be. I’m the kind of leader who thinks strategically and focuses on how to get things done, with an eye on the longer-term implications. But throughout the years, as I’ve worked in various companies, I’ve come to understand and declare that flexibility is much more necessary for success than I would have initially thought.

The focus on nimbleness varies across every organization, especially since they are each at a different level of maturity. Depending on whether it’s a start-up or a decades-old company, the learning curve can be steep. I often think of this in terms of my own educational career, with smaller companies feeling a little like high school and the larger more established organizations being more akin to business school, forget about undergraduate school. At the end of the day, what’s expected of you will always change, but one thing that will remain consistent is that you must be agile and flexible.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive, and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?

At Cinch, we joke that you must be able to spin seven different plates at the same time without breaking them. No matter what, you’re going to break a couple of plates, but if you can manage to keep five in the air, I think that’s good. You’ll find yourself sometimes having to be in the driver’s seat, while other times you’ll be the passenger, so you have to stay flexible. Being able to wear multiple hats and keeping your skillset fresh will help anyone succeed.

As an executive, you need to have knowledge in all different areas and be willing to roll up your sleeves and get hands-on. If you aren’t able to show your team you can do this while spearheading the company at the same time, being a leader may not be for you. Not everyone is cut out for it and going for the job purely for the title and money isn’t what being a successful executive is about. Unfortunately, many aspiring executives don’t realize this until the burdens and hard decisions start coming their way. You’ve got to be prepared to handle the unknown and unknowable.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Always hire people who have strengths that are your weaknesses. We all have strengths and weaknesses and we all have things we like and don’t like to do. Hiring to your gaps will help support you in the midst of a battle when you tend to go for things you’re good at and ensure you maintain a high performing team that will help you thrive.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful for helping get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate enough to work for various leaders who have been both my mentors and role models. Presidents and CEOs including Jack Welch and Bill Bolster of companies like AutoTrader and General Electric/CNBC and ADT have promoted me to the senior positions I’ve held throughout my career. I’ve been their right-hand partner from a people strategy perspective and am truly grateful to them for bringing me along the journey to find the right outcomes to support those companies’ growth.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I’ve always had a passion for giving back to the community. In my spare time, I’ve been involved with many charity organizations such as United Way and Big Brothers Big Sisters. I really enjoy volunteer events centered around children. The value in investing in kids is important to me, whether it’s by providing them with gift cards, new school supplies, or participating in mentorship or fundraising activities through my job.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Just because HR is perceived as being great today, doesn’t mean that will be the case tomorrow.
  2. No matter who you’re dealing with or at what level, it always comes down to: What have you done for me lately?
  3. Throughout everything, you must stand your ground.
  4. Above everything else, do the right thing.
  5. Make sure to uphold your integrity and the integrity of the company you work for.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

My movement would be centered on unity and diversity. We’re all trying to survive in this world and what color you are shouldn’t matter. My philosophy around diversity is having a diversity of thought. Focus on surrounding yourself with people who bring different perspectives to the table, regardless of who they are, where they come from, and how they look.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my bosses, Bill Bolster (former Chairman of CNBC) once said to me “Be careful what you ask for.” To me, this means being prepared to take on the decisions and pressures that come with being an executive. This phrase has always kept me focused and helped me learn that you have to be realistic and honest with yourself, always. Ask yourself, are you prepared to take on the responsibility that goes along with a new job, and are you going to enjoy the journey along the way? It’s going to be stressful and there will be times you doubt yourself, but you have to be able to enjoy the ride.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

Great question! Picking just one individual is tough as there are a handful of successful people in different industries that inspire me. I’ve been very fortunate throughout my career to have some great managers, heads of HR, and company leaders who took the time to coach and mentor me along the way, including Jack Welch, who was a visionary and really understood people and the HR industry. I’m also fascinated with executives from big-name companies who have achieved extraordinary success like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson.

When it comes to the entertainment and sports industries, I’m inspired by Michael Jackson, Bill Belichick Tony Dungy, and Tom Brady. Particularly, I’m a HUGE Tom Brady fan. His story as a rising football legend is one that I love. He may not have been the first-round draft pick when he started his career, but he had people who believed and invested in him and look at where he is today. Rather than a private lunch, I would love to do a roundtable with these individuals!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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