Truist Leadership Series I Clara Shih I Full Interview
[MUSIC PLAYING] KELLY KING: Hello, I'm Kelly King. And I'd like to welcome you to The Truist Leadership Series. For those of you that have not been a part of the series before, we've been doing these leadership series for a number of years, interviewing outstanding leaders that have made a substantial contribution to business and society. And we've been doing that just to try to make the world better.
I'm excited because this is today a first time we've done it virtually. As you know, we're in the midst of the COVID crisis. And so my guest and I are doing this remotely.
And so if you hear any dogs barking in the background or anything, please understand we are doing the best we can to make this helpful for you. I am very excited about our program today. And we're very pleased today to have a very special guest, and that's Clara Shih.
Clara is the author of the bestseller, the Facebook Era, now in its second edition. If you've not read this book, I strongly encourage you to read it because I can speak as somewhat of a non-techie, it's really, really helpful. And so I encourage you to read that. And you'll be glad that you did.
So let's get into our discussion, Clara. And it's going to be an informal discussion. And so just a bit of background. Clara is the founder, and until very recently-- we'll talk about that-- the CEO of the company she started called Hearsay.
She is consistently listed as one of the top 40 under 40 in technological and other areas. So Clara, thank you so much for joining us. We're glad to have you with us. CLARA SHIH: Thank you for having me, Kelly.
KELLY KING: We're glad to have you. I talk a lot about one of my five great books called Man's Search for Meaning written by Viktor Frankl, which really talks a lot about purpose. And I know you have talked a lot about that. So how can you use social media to convey that vision of that purpose to your employees, clients, and other stakeholders? CLARA SHIH: I couldn't agree more with that, Kelly.
I mean, without a vision, what you're doing is just giving people a job. But with that vision, with that purpose, you're helping your employees find their calling. And when that happens, it's magic. What I see in a lot of organizations is that there is a vision at the top. But where it can sometimes break down is communicating down the hierarchy.
And by the time you get to the front line employees, who really need it the most, sometimes it gets lost. And so that's really what I've seen social media been able to help address is to really equalize communications and let people hear directly from the various people in the organization, whether it's top, sideways, others in the organization be able to ask questions because social media is interactive, and also hear from their leaders more frequently. We're shifting from the once-a-quarter email and press release, or not shifting, but we're supplementing that with more frequent touch points, nudges, reminders, examples, and stories that bring the vision to life. KELLY KING: That's amazing. In your book, the Facebook Era, you talk about-- there was a conversation at some time over 10 years ago, I think, when you were in Hong Kong.
And you overheard some folks talking about Facebook. I think it surprised you. And I think at the time, you were with Salesforce. And that catapulted, it seems, you into thinking about what ultimately became Hearsay.
Can you talk about that genesis of how this all got started? CLARA SHIH: Sure, it was early 2007. So this was a few months before the iPhone launch if we can all remember that far back in time. And I was an early user of Facebook. And it launched my third and fourth year in college. And so I was a power user.
But I always, at the time, had thought of it more as a way to stay in touch with my classmates. I didn't know that it had gone mainstream. Now when I went back to visit my grandmother in Hong Kong, and I went to this narrow alley in a really remote part of Hong Kong, and I heard these two guys talking about it in Cantonese, I knew in that moment that Facebook was very much mainstream. And it just got me thinking if Facebook could help these two gentlemen in Hong Kong feel more connected to their children and grandchildren who were abroad, what could it do for business? What could it do for society? What will it mean for relationships and trust? And it became an idea that I couldn't stop thinking about. And it resulted in an app that I built and then in the writing of the Facebook Era, and ultimately, as you mentioned, founding my tech company Hearsay systems. KELLY KING: So that's a giant leap from here in that conversation and thinking about it and all the way to having the courage to found a company, made the connections later with Facebook.
How did you have, at an early age, the courage and the vision to take that idea all the way to becoming CEO of Hearsay? CLARA SHIH: Well, in my experience, it happened one step at a time. My first idea wasn't to start a company. My first idea was just to think about it and write about it and just be intellectually curious about it. And my second idea was to build an app. And even then, I was happily employed. I didn't want to leave.
I had no reason to leave my job. And the app that I developed connected social media, Facebook, to customer relationship management because I started to have some idea around how salespeople and relationship managers would have to increasingly use social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn to connect with their prospects and customers and to build their own brand as a professional. And it was one thing led to another. And at each step, there were trials and errors. But ultimately, I got pretty good feedback at each step.
And that gave me more ideas, more courage, more inspiration to do more. KELLY KING: Your idea was such a natural tying of Salesforce and Facebook together. Could you have applied that idea to any industry? I mean, you did fintech.
But could the same idea be applied to any area? CLARA SHIH: Well, yeah, so originally the Hearsay product or vision was to help relationship managers hear what's happening in their network. So people changing jobs, people having a baby, people moving, life trigger events to reach out. And in the same part of Hearsay was helping, or is helping, them reach out with the right message at the right time in a very personal and authentic way. In the first year of Hearsay, we did serve multiple different types of sellers. So we had real estate agents. We had insurance agents.
We had Avon ladies that were using our products. But Hearsay is really a great case study in the power of focus because the moment we started working with financial advisors and insurance agents, the product just took off. And before long, we knew that in order to focus the resources we needed to as a small company on building out all of the compliance requirements, we'd have to say no to other things. And so we made that difficult decision to focus.
And we've never looked back. KELLY KING: Wow, that's amazing. So let's bring it forward to present time. 2020 is an amazing year.
It's caused everyone to think about things differently in our relationships, how we connect. All of those have changed. How have all of those changes played into social media and technology? And how has social media been able to play a role in helping us connect in a very, very changing world? CLARA SHIH: Well, this year really has accelerated years of digital transformation in the matter of months, right, as [INAUDIBLE] said a few months ago. And I'd say whether it's social media or it's text messaging, or other forms of digital engagement, all of us have had to figure it out and find ways to be human and to connect using these technologies since we just can't be together.
We can't go to the store. We can't do the things that we used to. And we're finding, I think, technology isn't just a way to replace human interaction. But as we're seeing, and we have to, it has to be a way to amplify it.
KELLY KING: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. But that's all about change. At least for me, I'm finding this year, to be honest, frustrating. And sometimes I wake up and slap my face and say, what in the world is going on? It's like everything is changing.
And that brings me to a question for you around mindset. A second one of my five great books is called Mindset-- I'm sure you've read-- by Dr. Carol Dweck. And she talks about how in life people choose to have either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. Growth mindset are people who believe that they can change. They will change.
They can learn. They can grow. They can improve, all of which is required today. So more than ever, people need, I believe, to have a growth mindset today. You've clearly had a growth mindset by your nature it seems to me.
But have you always had a growth mindset? CLARA SHIH: No, I think everyone is capable of having a growth mindset. But what holds people back, and this is true for me too, is a fear of failure or a fear of not being accepted. Early on in my career, I worked at a company where I was the youngest person by a decade. I was one of the only women on the team. And I always felt like I had to be perfect.
No one told me that. No one in retrospect went out of their way to make me feel that. It was really my own insecurity. And that really held me back from growing as quickly as I could have and from building as many authentic relationships as I really wanted to. I mean, over my career through a lot of coaching and journaling and reflection, I've learned, and I practiced a growth mindset. And I think anyone is capable of that.
KELLY KING: I really agree. And Dr. Dweck clearly points out it is a choice. Some resist it. But it's encouraging to know that it is a choice for all of us. You talk about shifting. When you talk about shifting, are you talking about shifting mindsets or other aspects of how we think? CLARA SHIH: Well, I think in order to shift your mindset, you have to be OK looking dumb.
To have a growth mindset, you literally have to say I don't know. And again, for me when I was starting out, I was too scared to admit that I didn't know. And so I didn't grow as much as I could have. And now I say it all the time.
KELLY KING: And that brings me to a question about in your book, you talk about the last mile and why it's so important to include a personal human touch in all of our interactions with our clients. Can you explain that? CLARA SHIH: I mean, the last mile is a concept the delivery industry and transportation and logistics is well familiar with. In a world, as you were saying, where everyone now has a mobile device, the last mile can mean something different.
And the first wave of digital technology for customer experience focused on an automated and self-service last mile. So mobile apps, chat bots, being able to login online to your portal. But what we're seeing now I think has even more potential and complements what we've already seen in the past. And that's the human last mile. That's when you connect your relationship managers and your sales reps with technology to your customer. And you use technology to, again, to automate or to amplify rather than to automate that relationship.
And you're making it more convenient to be in more frequent touch with your provider. And in my opinion, in this industry, it's why it's called the financial services industry, not the financial products industry because what's unique about it is the service. KELLY KING: That's a really good insight.
So for our viewers, many of which I suspect are saying, hey, this is awakening, I need to be more active in this, I need to change my business, I need to change my personal interactions, what would you say are the top two or three things that companies need to do to build relationships through marketing technology and social media? CLARA SHIH: The first one is hiring the talent. The market in technology is changing so quickly. And so as we just discussed, it's less about the particular skills and really more about hiring people with the basic skills that are needed, but also a hungry growth mindset to constantly keep up with these ever changing technologies. So it always starts with the people. It always starts with the talent in the organization.
The second is to be where your customers are. It's not about phone only or texting only, or email only. It's about all of those. And what we're seeing is a lot of customers use every channel for different situations. And so making sure that all of that is available.
And then the third is understanding how the technologies complement each other. I think this is an area of opportunity for a lot of Fortune 500 organizations that I work with and have seen is sometimes once you put the technology in there, they don't all talk to each other. And so how do you make sure that it isn't overwhelming for the teammates, and also that it's cohesive and integrative for the customer? KELLY KING: Yeah, that makes total sense. For any particular call out in terms of what they should avoid? CLARA SHIH: Well, there's a lot of not to do's.
I think one is treating new communication channels like social media, treating it like a traditional one. As I know in the early days of Twitter, some companies, they just tweeted their press release. They just tweeted their corporate statement.
And that doesn't fit with the expectations and the norms on the medium. So I guess the takeaway there is don't jump in without understanding. Listen first, learn, and then you can engage. Another one is don't jump in without understanding the cybersecurity risks.
There's a lot that we've seen play out over the last few years in terms of new risks that come from mobile devices and from Wi-Fi networks and from social networking passwords. And so being smart and making sure that every associate, every team member, even your customers are educated on what the risks and precautions need to be. KELLY KING: Let's talk, Clara, about value. And I've always said that value for any organization or any individual for that matter is really about differentiation. How do I make myself, my company, special? So how can companies use social media, AI, chat box, other technology? How can they use all of that to differentiate themselves? CLARA SHIH: Customers are overwhelmed by bots and automated marketing campaigns. And all of us crave authentic human connection.
We're trying to filter through the noise. And what customers want is they want trusted advisors. They weren't trusted advisors to help them sift through all of the noise out there to make informed decisions, especially in financial services.
And so if you can combine that trusted advisor, and you can amplify his or her reach with tools like email and text messaging and social media, then you really have a very valuable loyalty maximizing set up there over time. KELLY KING: Clara, I'm going to come back to talking about trust because you just alluded to that in a minute ago when you were talking about the trusted advisor, and yet the trusted advisor needing to have more information, social media information, digitized availability of information. I want to share with you a little story. It's actually very true. Over the years, people would ask me, what keeps you up at night? And I would honestly say, well, not much. I actually sleep pretty good.
But I have had a recurring nightmare. And that is will someone ever figure out how to totally digitize trust? Because if someone completely digitizes trust, you've taken the human element out of it completely. Now, to be honest, I don't believe that's ever going to happen. But I'm curious what is your view about can you completely digitize trust? And if you can't, what is the relationship between digitized interaction and the human touch? CLARA SHIH: That's such a good question. There are different kinds of trust.
And in some categories, and we're seeing this with the Amazon, trust doesn't involve a human. You're buying things directly through e-commerce, mobile commerce. Even when you have a customer support issue, the vast majority of the time, a bot is helping you resolve the issue based on common requests that they anticipate.
And they can machine learn over time. And I think that will apply increasingly to categories where customers are really just buying. They know exactly what they want. And generally, they're buying based on a combination of price and convenience. I'd separate other categories that really where you need that trusted advisor, as we were talking about, whether it's in financial services or professional services, enterprise software.
Anything that's large and complex requires considerable explanation and learning. That's really where I agree with you. I don't think that it's possible because what's special about it is that whole thought process. It's almost like the trusted advisor becomes a coach to the decision maker on their important life or business journey decision.
KELLY KING: At Truist, we call this concept T3 where T stands for technology and touch and trust. And what we try to help our people understand is that it's not technology or touch. It's really the seamless integration of technology and touch that yields a high level of trust.
And that trust ultimately results in value. And that's how you develop really good relationships. It sounds like our T3 model is.
And it's very similar to your ultimate model. CLARA SHIH: I love that. I think it's spot on.
And the thing to your point, right, is these days, you can't have technology without the touch. But you also can't have the touch without the technology as we're seeing in the pandemic. And even outside of the pandemic, relationship managers won't be able to scale their time to provide the frequency of touch that today's customers want unless they master technology.
KELLY KING: Let's switch gears. I want to talk about a very important current event. We're all talking more and thinking more and hopefully trying to address more the racial inequity and social injustice that we're experiencing in this country. And you recently, in a staff meeting, just cleared the agenda and addressed the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Tyler and the related national unrest and had a apparently very robust discussion with your team about that.
What did you learn during that experience from a leadership point of view, or otherwise? CLARA SHIH: It was a highly emotional and transformational experience for me. When I read about the news of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, I initially became overcome with personal emotion around racist acts that I've experienced personally as well as witnessed. And I was so distraught personally that I felt like I wasn't being a good leader that day because I couldn't stop thinking about it. And yet, we had our company all hands the next morning with an agenda that was full of business items.
And I just thought to myself, gosh, I'm the CEO. And I don't want to go something's wrong here. And at first I thought, well, maybe I should just cancel it. But I realized what we needed as a team was to heal and was to go through this together. We turned the all hands into an open forum about race, which it was very-- it scared me to do that because I didn't know where it was going to go.
I worried that it might be polarizing, or it might be too much. But it was what our team needed. And it would be no exaggeration to say it was a cathartic experience for our whole team that helped us build a new level of understanding with each other and a new level of trust and sense of team.
And what I learned from that experience is that especially this day and age, our employees want us to have emotion. They want us to not hide them, but to think about them and think about how other's emotional awareness is so important. And it also taught me that leadership is forged in crisis. It's when you're scared and when there's no one telling you what to do and no playbook that leadership really counts.
And that's when leaders have to stand up and do what they feel in their heart is right even if it scares them. KELLY KING: I ended up calling myself out of it all unconsciously incompetent. I mean, I thought I understood what was going on. I mean, I grew up very poor on a farm.
And most of my friends were people of color. And so I thought I understood what others were experiencing. But when we started having conversations, I was talking to a senior officer, African-American lady, and she just opened up. And she said you know what? She said I am scared every day.
When my husband and my kids, my boys leave the house, I am scared they won't come back because of the color of their skin. And so I think all of us have got to increase at a real level our understanding of the reality. I've said in terms of thinking about leadership, Clara, I've said that there are three characteristics of leaders. One is very honest about the reality. They know where they are.
The second is they're very clear about where they want to go. And the third is they have the courage to go there. And I think that's where we are in our country today. I think we have to raise the level of understanding about the reality. I mean, where are we? Because so many people just do not understand the difficulties that many in our society are living through every single day.
And then we have to work together to craft a vision. And I think the vision is getting back to what the Declaration of Independence promised in the inalienable right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And it didn't say, based on what color you are. Hopefully we can all come together and move towards that very wholesome purpose of offering equal opportunity for everybody. Speaking of the whole area of changing and trying to figure out life, this may be too personal.
So you may not want to answer it. But you recently stepped down as CEO of Hearsay. And you said you realized you weren't living your own values. What kind of happened to get you to come to that point? CLARA SHIH: Well, it's really been the silver lining for me and for my family of the pandemic because all this time, of course, I've said, my family was the most important thing to me. What I realized when all travel halted was that I wasn't spending enough time at home. And my son really needs me here.
I don't want to be traveling every week anymore like I was before. And it really got me thinking about what I want to do for the next 10 years. Hearsay will always be my company.
I wouldn't have traded the experience of starting the company and serving as CEO for 11 years. I wouldn't trade that for anything. But now I know that my priorities are so clear to me after this year that I need to find-- my next role needs to allow me to be at home the vast majority of the time. KELLY KING: All right, good for you.
Good for you. At Truist, we spend an enormous amount of time talking about our values, how our values need to be aligned, how our values need to drive, how we live at home in the community and at work. And I wanted to ask you about-- a couple of our values are success and happiness. And I found that especially in the world today that people are having a hard time figuring out the relationship between success and happiness. And it sounds like you're on that journey right now.
How would you define the relationship between success and happiness? CLARA SHIH: Well, it's all how we define success. Some people define it more monetarily. And there is a level of financial security. I mean, there's research that shows there's a level of financial security that is required that most people need to be happy. But beyond that, I mean, you look again at the research, there's not-- it doesn't grow with more money. And so it's about having purpose.
And it's about having relationships. There's a famous longitudinal study of Harvard. I think it was the class of-- it's like the 1920s or 1930s. And they followed them their whole lives. And many of them are in their 90s now. And it ultimately comes down to having quality relationships.
And you don't need a ton of them. It's not even realistic to have a ton of them. But just a few quality relationships are what we all need and a sense of purpose that we have found our calling. KELLY KING: Where is all this heading 20, 30, 40, 50 years from now when we look back and see this as a giant paradigm shift? Or will we see it as an evolution in terms of understanding what life is all about? CLARA SHIH: I certainly hope that a silver lining from the pandemic is that businesses and individuals choose to reflect and to make changes in their lives really guided, to think about the long term, think about our environment, our legacy, our families, our co-workers. I think one of the biggest issues right now facing not just our country but around the world is the level of divisiveness. And actually social media has played a role in that.
But so has the uneven distribution of economic opportunity. And so one of the areas that I want to spend my time on, and I think that as a society we as leaders need to spend time on is thinking about how do we make sure that the American dream is still alive. KELLY KING: So Clara, as we begin to wrap this really, really interesting discussion up, do you have any advice for leaders as they try to help their teams and other constituents find happiness in a dramatically changing world? CLARA SHIH: Yeah, I think it applies both to the leaders of organizations, as well as I think about individuals themselves. I think there's an important distinction between happiness and hedonism.
And happiness takes time. It's about purpose. It's about going through hard times.
Look at the Viktor Frankl book. And you might not feel happy in the moment. But you'll feel great satisfaction over the lives you've touched and what you're able to accomplish as a team. So I think that's really important. I'd say in addition to that, finding moments. And we forget to do this sometimes because we're all so busy.
But there's happiness and there's joy all around us. I just heard birds chirping outside. We have our health, remembering to be thankful, authentically thankful. And to be compassionate toward yourself and to your team, that's how we can individually be happy and also help lead our teams to be happy in these times and in all times. KELLY KING: Yeah, that's extremely well said. So as we wrap up, any final words of advice for our audience? CLARA SHIH: My parting thought would be I'd like to challenge all of us to think about how we use this year as both a wake up call and an opportunity to reset both in our personal lives and at work.
And I challenge you to think about how you'll lead differently once we're all back in the office again. [MUSIC PLAYING]