Inspirational Woman: Jeanne Cordisco | Chief People Officer at O’Reilly

Jeanne Cordisco leads the formalization of O’Reilly’s employee programs and enhance the company’s manager training, career tracks, and approach to global hiring, with a goal to increase headcount by as much as 20% in 2022 to support O’Reilly’s global growth.

Jeanne has over 20 years of extensive HR and business management expertise across technology, sales, global retail, and more.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

Born in Honolulu, HI, and raised in Southern Africa, I had a nontraditional upbringing that’s provided me with a unique perspective. With the opportunity to appreciate differences in cultures, languages, ethnicities, religions, etc. as a child, I learned diplomacy, the realities of hardship, and the value of diversity, and I’ve tried hard to carry those lessons with me through my life.

From a young age, I’ve always cared deeply about the well-being of others, so in retrospect a career in HR makes total sense. I was raised by two very hardworking parents who were extremely passionate about their careers in international development. Not only did I learn my work ethic from them, but more importantly, I learned that if you find something that you’re passionate about and can make a living by doing every day, you’ve found utopia.

I completed an academic degree in premedical sciences but ultimately decided to forgo medical school to pursue a career in sales. But at the age of 32, I was floundering because I hadn’t yet found my professional passion. I took a risk on a career change into talent acquisition and was “hooked” when the candidate accepted the first offer I extended. I’d helped someone define a new chapter in their life through a new job, and at that moment, I knew that I had found my professional home. This passion has carried me through many roles across many facets of HR, culminating in my current role as chief people officer. As a CPO, I manage the teams that are responsible for delivering an extraordinary candidate and employee experience.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I didn’t. I always planned to pursue a medical career and become a pediatrician. It came as a complete surprise (to everyone!) when I took that right-hand turn into sales and then another into HR. As I reflect on how my career has progressed, what’s increasingly apparent is that although each path I’ve pursued has been so very different from the others, medicine, sales, and HR are all focused on helping people and helping to find solutions to a problem. So in theory it does really all make sense—it just wasn't planned.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

I’ve faced more challenges than I can count, and I’m grateful for each of them. If it wasn’t for those challenges, I wouldn’t have learned persistence, resilience, and grit. Now, instead of fearing obstacles that come my way, I seek them—to be humbled, to learn, and to prevail each and every time. And when I fail, I fail fast and move on, without giving myself an opportunity to dwell too much. As long as I develop and grow through the experience, that’s a win for me.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Being a mother is my greatest achievement. It’s taken me on an unexpected but infinitely rewarding journey that continually educates and confuses me. There are times when I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing! Although the balance between motherhood and my profession ebbs and flows, I work to share my career with my children so that they can learn and appreciate what comes from hard work and pursuing your dreams. And I hope that they aspire to emulate my work ethic in all they put their minds to.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Determination is the major factor to my achievement. It’s kept me moving forward, always with a clear goal in mind. Through determination, I work to stay focused on the future, believe in myself, and set small achievable goals within larger goals. Above all, it also helps keep me grounded and grateful for the opportunities that I’ve been afforded.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I’m a devout believer in mentorship and take on every opportunity to act as a mentor for those who ask it of me (and also seek mentorship from those I admire). I’m actively mentoring several individuals, all of whom I’m helping think through skill development to accelerate their professional growth. I also have several mentors of my own, each of whom have generously spent ample time with me as I transitioned into my chief people officer role earlier this year. Above all, they’ve provided me with a safe, trusting place to share my vulnerabilities. They are judgment free, allowing me to air (and work through) my insecurities and then building me up and giving me the support to feel confident to take on the world knowing that they’ll always be there, cheering me on. I hope to do the same for those who seek mentorship from me.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

Bold action and audacious thinking are needed to accelerate the pace of change toward gender equality. To most effectively achieve gender equality in business, the playing field must be leveled for women across the corporate spectrum. Removal of the gender pay gap, deliberate and intentional skill-based training for women, professional development opportunities, and making work-life balance a priority in the workplace are all ways to enable this change.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Relax and stop worrying! I spent so much unnecessary time worrying about my future. I worried about whether I’d ever find a job that I loved, whether I’d live up to others’ (perceived) expectations, and whether I’d do something important and impactful enough to be remembered for it long after I was gone. All of that worrying was not worth it. What I wish I’d known is that if you work hard, relentlessly pursue your passions, ask for help, and surround yourself with people who support you and want to help you succeed, you can’t be stopped and you’ll leave a lasting effect.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I took my CPO role less than half a year ago, so I’m very much on the uphill climb as I onboard and transition into this new professional capacity. I hope to achieve what my younger self was worried about: doing something important and impactful enough to be remembered for it long after I’m gone. I have big plans for myself and my team as we carry out really important and interesting work. If I achieve nothing else, I hope that those who are impacted by my team’s work are inspired to bring their whole selves to work every day and are even more motivated and enthusiastic to contribute to our company’s success. Simply put, I’m just getting started!

Inspirational Woman: Laura Baldwin | President, O'Reilly

Laura BaldwinLaura Baldwin began working with O’Reilly in October 2001 as Chief Financial Officer and added Chief Operating Officer to her responsibilities in October 2004.

She became O’Reilly’s first President in March 2011 and is currently responsible for O’Reilly’s businesses worldwide.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I started out in banking, which is where I learned how to marry my math skills with process and business. From there I transitioned into roles in cash management and finance. It didn’t take long for me to understand that finance is really telling the story of the operational decisions made every day in service of the business—and I’ve immersed myself in the business operations of every company I’ve worked for. That personal curiosity around business decision-making and strategy development led me to my current role at O’Reilly. I first joined the company as CFO, where I intentionally led the team through an operational decision-making lens. That resulted in promotions to COO and then president.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I didn’t plan my career, per say, but I always knew I wanted to be in a leadership position. When I was 29 years old, I remember thinking, “I want to be a CFO by the time I’m 35.” And it happened when I earned the title with Chronicle Publishing. But the rest of my career path has really been a combination of my love of numbers and my natural curiosity.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

I’ve faced my fair share of challenges throughout my career. But one significant one that comes to mind was taking the reins of O’Reilly from the company’s iconic owner and CEO, Tim O’Reilly, in 2011. Tim built the company from the ground up, and for 33 years it served a community of technology and business visionaries with its educational books. At the time, print publishing—an industry that has slumped at pace with the internet’s rapid growth—made up about 75% of O’Reilly’s revenue. I knew that to succeed we’d need to build a new paradigm for bringing our editorial instincts to market. It was imperative to transition to an audience-first approach and build out new capabilities such as video, newsletters, and training courses. We developed a path to become a true media company, which secured our current evolution into a digital learning organisation. As time would prove out, it was ultimately the right decision. But it wasn’t a popular one at the time, and it faced much pushback by employees all the way up to my peers on the executive team. But my career journey has taught me that the numbers tell the story, and we did what was right for the business. Even when it wasn’t easy.

This would prepare me for another tough business challenge that came last year at the onset of the pandemic. In March 2020, we made the difficult decision to shutter our live conference business, which drove almost $40 million in annual revenue. As was the case with our transition from publisher to media company to online learning platform a decade prior, we had to weigh what was working presently—and decide what would put O’Reilly in the best position to serve our learners now and in the future. While this was an extremely difficult decision, both personally and professionally, it enabled us to create an innovative solution through a new virtual conference series. Despite the uncertainty of 2020, we achieved 24% year-over-year sales growth in new business across our enterprise learning solution. Again, we did what was right for the business even when it wasn’t easy.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’ve long been an advocate for promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and I’ve worked my entire career to elevate and promote talent when I saw it—and in tech that includes women. That’s why 49% of the O’Reilly senior team (director level and above) is made up of women; a number far above the North America average of 29% per

But given the horrific events over the last several years—and the trenchant demands being made to meet them, including from the Me Too, Black Lives Matter, and Stop Asian Hate movements—it’s clear we still have a very long way to go. From both a social and humanitarian standpoint but also from a professional one.

In 2015, O’Reilly created a diversity and inclusion scholarship program to help people from underrepresented communities more easily attend our events. We made a concerted effort to improve the diversity of our lineup of experts at our conferences, and within two years 30% of our keynote speakers were women. Within five years 100% of speakers at our virtual open source event were women.

When our in-person events were shuttered we still wanted to ensure the O'Reilly community remained welcoming to everyone. So just this month we announced a new scholarship program to provide access to the O’Reilly learning platform to help people from underrepresented groups stay on top of technology trends and set them up for career success. What started as a move to abate the “brogrammer” culture that was proliferating in Silicon Valley at the time has evolved into a more critical call to action to change the face of technology for good. These initiatives are ones I’m proud of, and they’re some of the best ideas I’ve brought to the company.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?   

I’ve been very fortunate to have great mentors throughout my career, but the one who affected me the most was Kathy Franzen, CFO of Giorgio Beverly Hills in the mid-eighties. I watched her navigate the company’s all-male executive team with grace and dignity, and she never deferred to the male leadership in the room as I had previously seen women do in the workforce. Instead, she challenged them—which made them and everyone else around her better. She gave me opportunities because she saw potential in my hard work; she elevated those who earned it. I learned how to lead and grow talent simply by watching her, and she was shaping my career without even knowing it. She taught me early on to have a voice and not be afraid to use it.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

To excel in the fast-paced tech industry (or really any field), you need to be a student. You simply can’t cultivate progress or innovation without the desire to learn. Find out what tools and resources your company offers to help you build skills. If there aren’t any existing solutions in place, propose some options to your managers or the HR department to help your organisation promote a culture of innovation. There are so many ways your company can invest in its talent, from learning platforms and virtual event passes to online certification programs and even local college courses. Encourage them to do so. Because when companies provide ways for employees to learn, they strengthen their own business position and gain a competitive edge. And when you take initiative to advocate for yourself and your coworkers, it demonstrates how much value your ideas can add to the organisation. Imagine what your businesses could accomplish by arming its entire workforce with the ability to learn on the job? It’s invaluable.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome? 

There are absolutely still barriers for success for women in tech, and in order to fix it we need to start at the root cause. The problem people have with women in tech doesn’t start at tech companies—it starts in third grade when little girls are told that math and science is hard. It starts when assertive little girls are told they’re being bossy but assertive boys are told they’re being leaders.

We have to stop this rhetoric and start encouraging all kids to pursue STEM careers—and it’s so important for them to learn these disciplines at an early age. But our education system is falling behind. If we want to create tomorrow’s tech leaders, it needs to get up to speed immediately. Fortunately, there are resources that are addressing this challenge. The Goldilocks Coding project, to give one example, is a unique method that uses the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” to engage students in different stages of the technological problem-solving process. Students can design structures for Goldilocks to build to replace items that she broke, and work through a coding project that guides her path to reach the bears’ home. Resources like this need to be available to all kids very early on in their schooling to have the greatest impact.

What do you think companies can do to support to progress the careers of women working in technology?

Put simply? So much more than what’s being done currently. Companies need to give women a voice and support it. Really listen when they speak up or ask for something, and encourage them to go after what they want aggressively. If you’re a woman working for a company that doesn’t offer that kind of support, find one that does. You’re not different from men in tech—you’re just as smart and capable, and there are companies that want your perspective in their conversations. On the flip side, companies need to take a deep look at their organisations. How many technical workers or leadership roles are filled by women, and what can they do to increase those numbers? At O’Reilly, we’re constantly looking for ways to foster the next generation of talent. I’d advise all businesses to dedicate the time and resources to do the same. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary and it’s the right thing to do.

There is currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?  

Waving a magic wand to fix the face of technology would be nice, but it’s going to take dedication and hard work to change an industry bias that has persisted for years. To accelerate changes that need to be made, I’d encourage all organisations to first acknowledge the problem, then address it head-on—starting with supporting elementary school education and continuing all the way up to leading global technology companies. Offer more resources, access to learning, and mentorship to help women climb the ladder and break through glass ceilings. Arm them with the skills they need to succeed, and celebrate lifelong learning and curiosity. Make a firm commitment—backed by numbers—of how you plan to increase the representation of women and people from other underrepresented groups in your company. We all have so much to gain from a more diverse technology industry. Now we just have to work together to make it happen.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Of course I’d have to say O’Reilly offers a great selection of videos, books, tutorials, live online training courses, virtual events, interactive learning scenarios, and certification programs to help tech professionals build new skills and reskill. This goes beyond providing the tools and learning materials on a subject; we’re actually helping businesses and individuals understand why certain trends or technologies are important and how they’ll shape our work and personal lives. We’ve dubbed this the “O’Reilly Radar,” and it’s built into the DNA of our entire organisation. We provide a learning environment that helps people put this technology-driven world into context and sheds some light on what’s possible to give them a more focused outlook for the future. Most importantly, we’ve made a commitment to increase the diversity of our course leaders and speakers to 40% this year, so learners from marginalized groups—like women—can see themselves represented in positions of leadership in the tech industry and elsewhere.

Regardless of where you go for your learning resources, I encourage women to be voracious learners, not just of tech but of our world.

I’d encourage women interested in O’Reilly to explore our new diversity and inclusion scholarship, which will award 500 recipients with a free membership to our learning platform for one year. Applications are being accepted now through May 15. You can learn more here:

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here

habits, Q2Q IT - tech support - SME advice

Embracing the culture of evolving technology

By Laura Baldwin, President at O’Reilly

habits, Q2Q IT - tech support - SME adviceAt the start of 2020, little did we know the disruption that would take place in the business world.

We’ve had to adopt strategies for employees to work remotely, support mission-critical business systems, and enable customers to continue to successfully conduct business. There’s a palpable need to adopt and build cultures that rapidly embrace technological change. And that will change everything.

We’ll see an evolution of business models due to this period in time. Organisations that have thrived through the pandemic may not be operating solely in a digital business model, but all successful businesses will have a strong digital culture in common. That future needs to be faced moving forward. Businesses need to start thinking about how to create and implement a long-term digital business model, and there are plenty of new tools to help make that possible.

Three to five years ago—and really up until the pandemic—tech companies were riding the wave of a growing market. The wave has broken, and now we need to adapt, adjust, and do more with less. The big winners will likely be startups and smaller companies that were born digitally enabled or companies unafraid to change and adapt to our new realities. The losers will try to return to the old ways and find themselves swiftly left behind in the new normal.

It all comes from the top

Instead of moving into the future in fear, leaders need to think about all of this as opportunity. In order to rapidly adopt new technologies that will enable future business success, leaders need to embrace, drive, and support change throughout the organisation. This requires three essential elements.

First, leaders need to evaluate technologies as they emerge to determine which solutions address their business model, needs, and challenges. Because of the pace of technological change, what may be impactful today could easily be replaced by something far better in a year. But don’t let your big-picture vision be undermined by the newest sparkly tool. See holistically and understand the results you’re truly seeking from a tech solution.

Second, leaders need to build teams that are nimble and flexible enough to adapt to rapid change and provide them with the tools to develop skills and learn new technologies as they come to market. Change is often scary for employees—they don’t want to find themselves left behind as technologies evolve. They need to be supported with opportunities to learn. They need to get hands-on experience and build new skills to stay relevant and create career paths through your business. Invest in your employees as part of your tech investment, and in turn they’ll enable your business. You’ll never regret it.

Third, it’s important to admit when something has failed and be unafraid to change course. Continuing to drive a strategy or technology implementation that isn’t working or having the expected business impact doesn’t make any sense. Employees can see it. And they’ll have more respect for leaders who admit that something isn’t working and can reset. O’Reilly is about to undertake a major software rearchitecture that requires the hands and minds of all our developers, taking them away from new feature development while they complete the work. It’s a bold and expensive step, but we’re not afraid to admit something isn’t working, change course, and make the corrections needed to help ensure long-term success. Our employees get it and support it.

Start by building the right foundations

It’s becoming increasingly clear that systems architecture, clean and readily accessible data, and the cloud are enabling technologies that organisations need to focus on. With these layers in place, businesses can more successfully add new technologies that enable productivity, enhance digital connectivity to customers, and provide effective support for remote employees. These technologies also pave the way for broader adoption of artificial intelligence, whether it's increasing productivity by augmenting employees in their day-to-day roles, predicting customer behaviours, or enabling new and engaging customer experiences.

When it comes to the cloud, cost reduction will be a big driver of adoption—and that impetus to lower cost is going to have a huge impact on innovation. Investing in a multi-cloud strategy may also help businesses against potential disruption in the market, and it’s an approach many should consider in the current competitive environment. New capabilities are being enabled in the cloud each day. Make sure as a leader you stay on top of what’s being made possible.

Some of the biggest innovations happen after times of crisis; it’s been proven time and time again. Right now, we’re undergoing a huge reset, and that presents an opportunity for any company with the capacity and drive to think ahead.

AI and cloud adoption are definitely growing at a strong rate—it’s an area in which O’Reilly has done a lot of research. Our recent AI Adoption in the Enterprise 2020 report found that the vast majority of organisations (85%) are evaluating AI or already using it in production, and more than half of these folks identify as “mature adopters.” For these innovators, their focus is on supervised learning for ML. On the cloud side, 25% of those we surveyed reported that their organisations were planning to move applications fully into the cloud in the next year, and 17% of those from organisations with more than 10,000 employees reported they’ve already made the move.

The new normal

This new normal has taken a lot of us by surprise. And we all know it’s impossible for any company to get it all right from the first go. But by focusing on leading through change, supporting employees, and placing the right bets, companies will have a greater chance at successfully navigating this period of disruption and setting their business up for future success.

About the author

Laura Baldwin began working with O’Reilly Media in October 2001. She became the company’s first President in March 2011 and is currently responsible for O’Reilly’s businesses worldwide. Prior to O’Reilly, she was a consultant to the publishing industry through BMR Associates, and managed several large consulting engagements across all genres of publishing and media.

She attributes much of her success to the all-girls high school she attended, where she was taught that leadership is available to anyone who demonstrates initiative and drive regardless of their gender. She brings that philosophy to O’Reilly, where she helped to create a diversity scholarship program and continues to advocate for an inclusive and open workforce.

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