We’re excited to announce that Gautam Srivastava has been appointed as Blend’s new Head of People. Gautam brings almost 30 years’ experience working in a wide variety of roles for companies including Universal Music Group, LSI Corporation, and Advanced Micro Devices. We took some time out of his busy schedule to get to know him a little better.
Tell us a little more about you and your background. How did you get into this field?
Gautam: My very first job was with a small management consulting firm focused on incentive compensation plans for top executives. HR was a small part of the role, but that wasn’t the appeal from my side – I didn’t wake up in the morning and think “I want to be in HR.” It was really just a first job.
However, as my career evolved, I had a lot of diverse opportunities and found myself always coming back to HR. I was in management consulting for a good third of my career, and I was actually in sales and marketing for almost another third of my career. I spent time as chief of staff to a sales and marketing officer, running sales operations. I then ran a territory for a multi-billion dollar company where I was living abroad. In my experience, the happiest people inside a company tend to work in HR and they work toward helping people work together toward something important. I grew to love it – it was infectious.
You've worked in a number of very different verticals. What's interesting to you about financial services?
Gautam: I grew up as an immigrant son in San Francisco and my father was in real estate. We really struggled. One of the things my father talked a lot about was the challenges he faced accessing and managing credit and his knowledge of how to do it.
From an early age, I resolved to be more financially astute. I spent a lot of time educating myself, reading about personal money management and investments. I read a lot of academic journals and actually majored in economics, partly because I was fascinated by how capital markets work.
So, while I wasn’t actively looking for a fintech job, it’s an industry that has always been interesting to me. I love the empowerment of educating people about finances, and I think Blend has an incredible role there. There are a lot of people that struggle with understanding personal finance. I value Blend’s approach to getting to everyone. That inclusivity really resonated with me. And I thought, “I want to be a part of that.”
How are you thinking about applying your diverse experience into Blend itself?
Gautam: The main thing that I bring is an open mind to the fact that, whatever I’ve done before, Blend will be different. I don’t come with any presumptions.
That said, I do have an awareness of the broader, multidimensional aspects of some of the decisions we may be making in the months and years to come. It’s important to make decisions with an awareness of the context that you’re going into, not just the one that you’re in, and hopefully that’s what I will help Blend with.
What do people sometimes get wrong when it comes to HR?
Gautam: I think a lot of people see HR as an extension of labor law. While partly true, that only touches on one aspect: compliance. HR is really also about engaging employees in doing something great with other great people and helping people to stretch and grow — sometimes in ways that are initially hard and uncomfortable but necessary for getting to “the next thing,” whatever we define that to be.
Another misconception is that what may work for your corner of the company will work across the company or into the future. If you build a lot of point solutions, it’s very hard for people processes to scale. And then you have to ask yourself whether those solutions are bringing any real organizational benefit or if they are just adding more administration and time, to the detriment of something else.
Finally, you have to do a few things differently, not just follow best or common practices. These things that are different are really what makes for a strong culture. I think everyone at Blend, including the People team, is way ahead on this one.
Blend: It’s interesting that you talk about point solutions. One of the things we are really trying to solve as a company is the fact that banks have a lot of point solutions plugged in across different processes and we need to really bring all of those together.
Gautam: Yes, and this is how you should think about HR as well. There are trade-offs when you have broader solutions, of course. But, the breadth does allow for scale, for streamlining, and for more time and energy spent toward the next thing that you have to do.
While I believe in broad processes, it’s so important to remember that processes are not people. People are individuals, and HR, managers, and leaders should really understand and appreciate individuals, even within a broad framework.
If you could pick a couple of things that you’d like people to know about you, what would they be?
Gautam: I think the first thing to know is that my family is everything to me. I have a wife and two sons: one headed off to college and another one going into eighth grade. My wife is restarting her career, and we have a large extended family — our parents are in India and we have relatives on the East Coast.
Another thing I’d like people to know about me is that I try very hard to keep my focus on what’s going to make a difference in the long run as opposed to getting everything exactly right. That is not an argument to say that being sloppy or lowering standards is OK, but you should be deliberate about what is necessary, when, and whether it makes a difference to do more.
Finally, another thing that is important to me is promoting a culture of health. I think it’s incredibly important that we get out and walk. We should take calls while we’re walking. I really believe in the benefits of exercise, its calming influence, and what that means for other people in your life.
What’s the best piece of professional advice you've ever gotten?
Gautam: People first, products and profits will follow.