Silicon Valley’s People Person
Arnnon Geshuri has an impressive résumé that includes stints at Applied Materials, E*Trade, Google, Tesla, and his current position as Chief People Officer at Mountain View-based healthcare company Livongo. In all these roles he’s been responsible for Silicon Valley’s most important asset: the people behind the cutting-edge technology that’s having such a big impact on the way we live and work.
Written byDavid Needle
Photographed byJack Hutcheson
The healthcare market is exploding. Tell me about Livongo—what are they doing and why did you join the company?
Arnnon Geshuri: I joined in December 2017 and it’s been great. The healthcare sector is ripe for innovation and disruption. Livongo’s mission is to help people live happier and healthier lives. We’re mixing AI, science and data science, and healthcare knowhow to impact people’s health in a positive way. We started with diabetes and now the platform has expanded to other chronic conditions including hypertension, weight management, and behavioral health.
The executive team comes from the high-tech sector and the healthcare world. It’s like a Special Forces dream team that’s created this very innovative and proven product.
Diabetes was sort of the proof of concept?
People usually have more than one chronic illness. If you treat all of them at the same time it will have a profound improvement on a person’s health. This company understood it needed to work holistically to make a difference.
You had a long tenure at Tesla. Can you talk about why you joined and your experience there?
I could see that it was time to make a difference in the auto market and I felt I did my part. We went from 400 to 40,000 employees during my tenure and helped build something special. Now I’m in a new sector to do the same thing, making life better for people along the way.
You apply your team-building expertise in nonprofit work as well. Tell me about the work you’re doing with Silicon Valley’s Yavneh Day School and why it’s important.
I saw that it was an amazing gem of a day school in the South Bay, and realized I wanted to be involved. My kids go there as well as many families I knew, and I felt I could accelerate its development by treating it as a startup. I was lucky enough to get the Board Chair role seven years ago. With the amazing faculty there we built up the school with STEM and language courses and science courses to make it an amazing school in the community. We’ve grown tremendously and it’s open to everyone.
Your career path has been very people-focused.
New companies need someone who looks out for their people and to make sure the culture matures and that people are engaged as the company grows. The Chief People Officer or the head of HR has a large responsibility to make sure companies grow the right way. It’s really critical in both good times and bad times. When things get stressful, that’s when you need people to rise up and do their best, and sometimes you need the HR head to guide them.
There have been so many startups that begin with one or a few people, and they become very successful very quickly. As they grow, do they realize the important role their employees have?
The equation I say is that the value of a company is equal to the volume of the talent, and they get that. You build a better organization with great people who are passionate, smart, collaborative, super capable, and problem solvers. Another important thing is: do they have a will to win when things get tough? If you fill the company out with those kinds of people, you’re going to have a successful company. I think experienced leaders understand that inherently.
Now, maybe they went through an iteration with the first company they led, and it didn’t go so well. But it can get better over time.
So the HR role is generally well understood?
Well, some companies tuck HR under finance or legal. Under finance it becomes a cost center and under legal it becomes a policy center.
The people function should allow people to self-actualize and be their whole selves at work. It should really fall under the CEO.
You said something a minute ago I find fascinating – that you want to hire people who have a will to win. But before that you were talking about creating a safe, supportive environment.
Well, those two things don’t have to be at odds with one another. You can link up the will to win with the ability to be collaborative with your colleagues. Knowing this is where my skills end and yours begin, but together we can do amazing things.
You can definitely harness a collaborative environment and at the same time be a company full of people who know how to win in extremely challenging situations.
There doesn’t always have to be one winner either, right?
Exactly. There are markets where there is a lot of room for companies to win. Think about Tesla: they said, ‘Do you want to be the only electric car out there?’ And they said, ‘No, we can’t win if we’re the only one. We can only win if the entire industry moves in that direction and creates electric vehicles.’
There is a lot of competition for talent and salaries are very competitive, but salary is only one component; the high-level talent want challenges and they want to be working on the latest, cutting-edge stuff. What’s the secret to hiring great talent?
You can skip a master’s degree in HR and I’ll tell you the secret in 30 seconds. The secret is that you create two pillars of the company. The first pillar is to make sure everyone feels connected to the company, connected to the mission, the people, and the beautifulness of the work they are doing. The second pillar is building a learning organization. People want to learn, they want to self-actualize and get better at what they do. It’s not just learning to get better at your job and work your way up, but it’s also lateral learning. People want to get exposure to different areas and learn about different things at the company, not necessarily because they want a job there, but it helps them to be a better person.
You don’t necessarily need the best benefits in the world; you just need benefits that make sense and that are aligned to your vision and culture and make people feel connected to the company. If you build those things you will attract the right people to your organization.
Chief People Officer is another “C” title in the executive suite. Do you see it catching on?
I do. Chief People Officer is my title and it does encompass everything having to do with people and the environment. I’m also in charge of the physical space, including the colors and that we have the right infrastructure.
Your own take on Feng Shui?