The Real Intelligence team interviewed Claude Silver, Chief Heart Officer at VaynerMedia, where she fuses empathy with agency to unlock employee potential and foster a culture of belonging. Claude discusses her career journey and how she became the world’s first Chief Heart Officer, the importance of diversity in the workplace, developing career paths in tech, fostering a sense of belonging in the workplace, and much more!
Listen to the full episode on marketing data and analytics below, or wherever you listen to podcasts!
[Anna]: Welcome to the Real Intelligence podcast. You’re on with Katia Sausys, SVP of Business Intelligence at RXA, and Anna Schultz, Marketing Coordinator at RXA. Our guest today is Claude Silver, Chief Heart Officer at VaynerMedia. As VaynerMedia’s Chief Heart Officer, Claude fuses empathy with agency to unlock employee potential and foster a culture of belonging.
Between her deep education in psychology and spirituality, two decades as an advertising strategist, and time at VaynerMedia, she’s been studying and influencing human behavior for over three decades. Outside of VaynerMedia, she speaks globally about the need for heart leadership in today’s workplace and the importance of treating employees like people, not numbers. Her success guiding client relationships, global brand strategies, operations, management and culture is driven by an abiding passion for creating spaces in which people can thrive. Welcome to the show!
[Claude]: Great to be here. Thank you, Anna. Thank you, Katia.
Claude’s career journey and development of the Chief Heart Officer role
[Anna]: Yeah, thanks for, thanks for sharing your time with us today. So, we like to kind of start off our podcast by getting to know the real you. So, I have a few questions that we might not find the answers to in your professional bio. So, we know your… We know that your role is the Chief Heart Officer, which is really interesting. And it sounds like you’re maybe the first person to hold that title.
[Anna]: So, can you tell us a little bit about what that job entails and what got you interested or inspired in the first place?
[Claude]: Yeah. I’d love to. I do think I’m the first, but I know I’m certainly not the last. That’s what I know, which is a great thing. I’ve, you know, I’ve always been this person. The title is fantastic, it’s the best title in Rock and Roll. But I think my nature is one to be very player-coach, you know, champion of people.
I really, really believe in giving everyone a second and third chance and opportunity. And so when the opportunity came for Gary, my CEO, Gary Vaynerchuk and I to create this role, it was pretty much a no-brainer, because it was everything I had already been doing. Taking time to have one-on-ones with people, really listening, actively listening, holding space for people, co-creating space, and then doing something. And I think that’s the really important part of this role, is that it’s not just listening. It’s being in action.
So… And that could encompass anything from recruiting, to retention strategies, to global talent strategies, to core competencies and at leadership meetings and finance meetings. The real deal is that human beings are the ones that are running our companies, you know, not robots. And human beings have hearts. And we create the culture at our companies, and cultures have people that need to be seen, need to be heard, need to be valued. And it comes naturally to me. I’m really honored that I get to have this role and be in it every day, and work with almost 2000 people, and really, work for 2000 people.
[Anna]: That’s wonderful. And it really sounds like you’ve had a big hand in kind of developing that role, and kind of, you know, building it for yourself based off of your strengths and what the company needs, it sounds like. So that’s really cool.
[Claude]: Yeah. Absolutely. I should say, the only job description that I have when I… When I asked Gary, how do we know if I’m successful? He said, you’ll touch every single human being and infuse the agency with empathy. And every year I ask him, is this the same thing? And it’s the same exact one sentence, and it really has been mine to figure out how to do that, how to scale that, how to empower others to do that.
It’s my wish that everyone has Chief Heart Officer on their signature, as well as whatever their other role is, because it’s not just me. It takes an entire village as we know to co-cultivate cultures and also create change.
[Anna]: Yeah. Absolutely. Can you talk us through a little bit about, kind of, your career journey and maybe how it ended you up in this position?
[Claude]: Sure. I’d love to. I somehow found my way into this advertising comms world in 1998 in San Francisco. Was literally right place, right time. I had no business being in advertising or being in marketing. I didn’t know what it was, I really didn’t. But it was the right time and I must have interviewed well. When I started I was project manager. I’m so thankful I started as a project manager, to understand what it entails to get the trains moving, right?
And even today, I think it’s very important that my success comes from understanding the business, and I worked on the floor for so long. And so after being a project manager then I naturally found my way into client partnerships and those types of roles.
And then I, when Katia and I met at Organic, I moved from the front of the house to the back of the house and worked with our COO, because I really wanted to understand to how to run an agency, how it operates, how do you resource and those types of things. And that’s really where my love of behind the scenes came from, and taking care of people, really kind of manifested there.
And one thing led to another and we had a wonderful Chief Strategy Officer there named Tim, who tapped me on the shoulder one day, and he said, I think you’re a strategist. And I didn’t really know what that was, but I had studied psychotherapy pretty extensively. And so my career really, really went into another trajectory as a global strategist. And I ended up moving companies, and moving to London and working on a really global scale.
And then my best friend introduced me to Gary Vaynerchuk in 2013, and she said I just met this guy, you’re nothing alike, but you’re everything alike, go talk to him. And we had a conversation as I was pacing my kitchen floor in London and he was probably getting onto a plane. And we just hit it off, as most people do with him. And the rest was really history. I moved to New York and started at Vayner in May of 2014.
I was the first SVP that he hired. It was a big deal, as that company had a little bit more of a bro mentality at that point. And I was one of the, you know, three or four oldest people at that time too, which was incredible. And a year into me working on this Unilever account, which is our biggest account, it just dawned on me. The voices that were in my head, telling me that I was… I was meant to do something different now. I was meant to have a pivot. I was meant to do what really lights me up. They got really, really loud.
And so one day I said “Gary, like, I love this place. I love what we’ve created here. But I’m done with advertising.” And he said, “well, what do you wanna do?” And I said, “I only care about people. I only care about the heartbeat of this place.” And there you have it. Four, five months later, we sat down for breakfast and he said that’s it. You’re gonna be the Chief Heart Officer.
And I kind of knew what that meant. I just asked him two questions. “What are we doing here?” And he said we’re building the single greatest human organization in the history of time. Aspirational, so I loved it. I asked him what my measure of success was, and he gave me the job description. And then I said him, you know, I’m not HR. I never wanted to be in HR. I don’t believe in HR. So if I take this role, I’m gonna change the department name to People and Experience. And he said great, and hire really strong people around you. And so there we have it.
[Anna]: Awesome. Thank you so much for walking us through that. I think that’s really important too, that you kind of were able to take that step back and were able to work within the organization that you loved, but really kind of find that niche within it. So I think that’s really interesting.
Listening and gratitude in the workplace
[Anna]: Can you talk to us about something maybe in the advertising industry, or maybe even in the people industry that you work in, that you consider underrated in our kind of society, or in businesses today?
[Claude]: Yeah. Sure. Where should I start? I think listening. Listening is probably underrated. In many, many… In many different dimensions of it. It’s hard to listen. It’s hard to be patient. It’s hard to be still. It’s hard not to interject. And it’s hard to have the humility to know that you might not know the answer, and you’re certainly not going to be the smartest person in the room.
And I often say that the smartest person in the room is the room. It’s the sum of the parts. It’s the collective. It’s not just this person or that person. It’s not a way I think about things. So, listening is really important. And we listen with more than just our ears as we know, especially in this time of hybrid working. So that I would say.
And then I would say, thank you. Gratitude. It’s very, very, very, very easy to take 30 seconds out of your day and genuinely send two texts of gratitude and thanks out to people that are not expecting it. It’s just… It’s too easy not to do it. So, I recommend everyone taking out their phone and doing that, or going to Slack and doing that. And just saying, hey, I appreciate you. Thank you. You’ve made this week really fun for me, manageable for me, you know, so, that’s my soap box. Thank you.
[Katia]: That’s wonderful. So sweet, really an honor to have you Claude with us.
What is a woman in tech?
[Katia]: And like you… Like you said, you’ve worked for or with 2000 people, and you’ve done this for close to nine years now. And you’ve had 20 years or so in the agency world. So, it’s very safe to assume that you have a very vibrant perspective, and you can build a very rich archetype of women in data. What is a woman in data? How are they viewed in the agency world? Tell us.
[Claude]: Well, they’re few and far between. I think that’s the first thing. And so when you find a woman in data or tech, it’s an absolute anomaly, and you want to retain that person forever, and replicate that person many times over. That is what I will say straight up. It’s very difficult to find.
And why is that? You know, we have a lot of STEM programs. We have a lot, we have a lot of programs now that we didn’t have twenty years ago for women in tech, and especially diversity in tech, which is important. And so I ask myself, where are they or why aren’t we finding more of them?
There’s something extremely special, I think, about the mix of the left and right brain. If you think about tech being a little bit more analytical and linear on the left, and women, generalization, being more right brain-oriented, empathetic, creative. You need both of those things to create any type of product just like you need, you know, men as well. I mean, you need everyone. I think to have a department or a team that is very, very one sided, is a miss in today’s day and age. And there’s no reason for it.
[Katia]: Very true.
Developing a career path in tech
[Katia]: And you had quite a career jump. What is the most intriguing career jump that anybody has shared in the realm of tech, of data with you?
[Claude]: Oh, gosh, we’ve had, we’ve had school teachers who have come in. We’ve had lawyers, which I think is phenomenal, because I think lawyers have a very interesting way of seeing the world. Critical thinking eyes, which you need in tech for sure.
And I would say the last person that we hired… The last female that we hired into a tech, a product development role, had absolutely come from academia. Which is a fertile ground to find women in tech right there. So, it’s been really interesting. And then seeing them acclimatize to the team, and seeing the team adapt and adopt them. That’s where the magic happens, and that’s where the magic could very well not happen.
[Katia]: And in terms of an advice for women that are just starting and want to be in tech. What would you pass on?
[Claude]: You know, I was never that person that wanted to network. I’m actually a little bit shy. And so the idea of networking, quote unquote networking, always really gave me a bad taste in my mouth. So I reframe that to just building relationships. And I think in this day, again, more than ever when we are hybrid, when we are at home, but we have a vibrant community like a LinkedIn, and places where you can send a personal message and hopefully the person responds, a 15-minute coffee chat on Zoom goes a long way. So whether or not we call that, you know, unofficial mentorship or just hey, can I pick your brain? How did you get to where you are? Or what are the steps you took? Or, you know, what are the things I should promote about myself in an interview rather than, you know, being a wallflower?
Because we, I think, have a tendency, we women, have a tendency to not take up space. And in this world, starting out in a career, especially if you have limiting beliefs, which we all have, you need to somehow, like, put your courage cape on, and step into, like, the foreground to be seen and to share about yourself. I would say that for, for anyone starting in a career, but certainly, for women. We have so much… We have so much to offer that is not seen.
[Katia]: That’s right. Thank you. Thank you for empowering us. And Claude, think of a regular day of yours, what is one topic that people always come to you with questions?
[Claude]: Well, for sure right now, it’s wellbeing. I mean, for sure, it’s mental and emotional wellbeing. That’s always a question. And then I think the other question is, you know, how can I be promoted? And so we know the younger generations in the workforce are looking to be promoted tomorrow, whereas, you know, certainly in my day, that was just a hope that we were recognized. And if we got tapped for something, we were all, oh, thank you so much for noticing me.
So it’s really… You know, how can I, how can I get promoted? Is there a jump I can make? Is there a different team I can go on? And then you really have to, you know, teach some patience. And while you’re teaching patience, give them some action items. You know, people…
I always think to myself, you know, people, all of us, but especially younger people, right here in our forehead where it’s invisible, it says, you know, ‘help me grow’. And so people are coming to us to help them grow. And what are we offering them in exchange for that, in exchange for their time and their energy in the workplace? So making sure that people have opportunities and at bats, and learning and development programs waiting for them is important.
Fostering belonging at the workplace
[Katia]: Thank you. And I am really eager to ask you this question, because it’s fascinating how you’ve been able to commit your career on applying, on inviting spirituality to an industry that’s pretty cutthroat, notoriously based on competition, on ambition, on ego, politics, and yet progressive, advanced, creative. What made it easy or difficult to do so?
[Claude]: Well, I think, when I think about spirituality, the common denominator there is love. So that’s what I think about. Now, love is not used in a lot of different cultures, at work cultures. And so that is a paradigm shift that is happening and I believe it will… I believe we will see it happen in our lifetime. I really truly believe that. Yes, I firmly do.
And there are so many ways to put spirituality or poetry into the water without people even knowing it’s there. If that makes sense, there’s tons of ways to reimagine or reframe whatever it is that’s in front of us with some of the teachings of the greatest people of all time. The greatest, you know, masters, gurus, whatever you wanna call it, whatever you wanna call it. But at the end of the day, it’s always been about belonging.
And we as human beings, no matter what industry you’re in, or wherever you are, our quest is to find belonging, you know, and to find connection, and that’s from the dawn of time. However you do it. And all I ask is when we do it, not to create other with people, not to, you’re on the island, you’re off the island.
[Katia]: To be on the same side of the water.
[Claude]: Exactly, exactly. And if you’re not able to do that, at least be willing to build the bridge.
[Katia]: That’s right. Thank you, may it be. Alright. Last question.
Final words of wisdom – Take up space
[Katia]: If you could only read, or watch, or listen to one general of books for the rest of your life. What, which one be?
[Claude]: Oh my gosh. Autobiographies of any rock musician. Any of the music I like, any of them. Autobiographies all the way. I just listened to, on Audible, ‘Like a Rolling Stone’. The autobiography of Jann Wenner, who developed rolling stone. So anything like that, I want to know what happened behind the scenes when you, you know, met Mick Jagger and all of that stuff.
[Katia]: Yeah, real stories. That sound fascinating, and almost unreal, right?
[Claude]: Yeah, totally, because it’s all magical. I, we… You and I get to listen to the music. We have no idea what went into the creation. I love that question. Thank you.
[Katia]: Thank you for your time.
[Anna]: Thank you. Thank you, Claude so much for your time today and kind of, for sharing with us a little bit of your personality, of your career journey, offering some confidence boost and inspiration for people that are looking to get into this industry or to get into the data industry. We’re so grateful that you took the time to share all of that with us today. Before we, you know, hit stop on the recording, is there anything else you want to share listeners with today, any bits of advice or learnings that you would want to leave everybody with?
[Claude]: Yeah. Thank you so much again for having me.
[Claude]: The one thing I can actually talk about or talk to is what I said earlier, which is taking up space. And it’s so, so easy to let our negative talk track rule us and guide us. And the… You know, we have to remember it’s there to detract us and it’s there to scare us.
And so when you hear that negative talk track of, I’m not worthy, I’m not good, I’m dumb, whatever it is, try to really catch that and reframe that. Like, I am learning something new today, I may not be the fastest at it. But to reframe it into the truth, because the negativity in your mind isn’t the truth. The truth is, you know what the truth is…
[Katia]: In your heart.
[Claude]: Yeah. The truth is in your heart. Amen!
RXA is a leading data science consulting company. RXA provides data engineers, data scientists, data strategists, business analysts, and project managers to help organizations at any stage of their data maturity. Our company accelerates analytics road maps, helping customers accomplish in months what would normally take years by providing project-based consulting, long term staff augmentation and direct hire placement staffing services. RXA’s customers also benefit from a suite of software solutions that have been developed in-house, which can be deployed immediately to further accelerate timelines. RXA is proud to be an award-winning partner with leading technology providers including Domo, DataRobot, Alteryx, Tableau and AWS.