Heather Casey is the President & COO of PartnerHero, a global business process outsourcing company that serves the needs of technology startups and brand-forward organizations. In this role she is accountable to PartnerHero’s customers and 1,500 employees worldwide. Heather is passionate about women’s issues and ending misogyny in society. Being the mother of two boys, she hopes to make a difference in their lives so they can grow up to become allies to all marginalized people.
Heather loves traveling and experiencing the outdoors and is always looking for ways to combine these interests at work and at home.
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Table of Contents
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up?
Heather Casey: Some of the hardest times were at the very beginning when the company was just forming. People look to the leaders for answers but you don’t always have them because you’re figuring it all out alongside them. One of the biggest challenges was having a really clear vision of exactly what I wanted PartnerHero to be but knowing that I didn’t have the resources to make it a reality. I had to figure out how to get as close as possible and carefully prioritize until the company got to a point where I could make those investments.
In those early days I was the only person responsible for HR and, while there a lot of fun and interesting things about HR, it can also be hard to absorb everyone’s issues, both personal and professional. Playing that role while also trying to build an operations company was very taxing. I had broadcasted to the company, “if you have an issue, come talk to me.” Overtime I had to undo that and start deflecting more to our HR team as that function grew.
The thing that kept me going in those early days was my drive to build a healthy, robust organization that could meet all the needs of our people.
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
Heather Casey: Something that I’ve always known but that especially struck me during the pandemic is how resilience is not a personal act, it’s a communal one. An ecosystem cannot be resilient without biodiversity. Similarly, as humans, we cannot be resilient without communities supporting us. Throughout the pandemic my motto has been “if we don’t get our entire community through covid, we won’t have a company anymore.” So that has been our driving force. One example of how this played out is the COVID loan program we set up that made it possible for anyone at the company to request additional (interest-free) funds in the event of unforeseen financial hardships due to COVID.
For example, we had some employees whose spouses lost their jobs because of the pandemic and suddenly the PartnerHero employee’s salary was the only income for a large family. We lent money to employees who were dealing with large, unforeseen medical bills as someone in their family got sick. In addition to the loan program we moved everyone home and have been cautious about returning to office, especially because, as a global company, we know that not every place has had access to vaccines the way we have. We’ve given people paid time off to get the vaccine and recover from any side effects.
PartnerHero is coming out of the pandemic much stronger than how we went into it. To me, that is resilience.
What is most important to your organization—mission, vision or values?
Heather Casey: What makes our company stand out from the competition is not just our values but also how we live them. We intentionally chose values that are relevant to every person’s personal life. For example, a company could have a value like “we put the customer first.” But how is that actually going to move employees on a deeper level? Our values speak to employees on an emotional level and employees can see how they apply not only at work but also in life.
The values we have inform our mission and vision. For example, one of our core values is “care for others.” An extension of that is that we believe that treating people well leads to profitability as opposed to working to get to profitability first and then trying to figure out how to treat your employees well.
My hypothesis is that if we want people to do their best work while they are here then we need to help them be true to themselves and be comfortable with who they are rather than forcing values on them that you as a company value but maybe they don’t personally value.
What do you consider are your strengths when dealing with staff workers, colleagues, senior management, and customers?
Heather Casey: My top three skills are courage, results-focus and care. Courage comes up on a regular basis in the form of making unpopular decisions, or taking risks that you know could flop but hope will succeed. Also, as an early employee who wore many hats it took courage to trust people to take over work as the company scaled. Courage is hard but I’ve seen it pay dividends time and time again.
To me, results means earning the right, day in and day out, to continue to run our business the way we think is best. To do this, we need to achieve results for our customers and for our employees. Without strong results for all stakeholders, day in and day out, we would fail.
Finally, I genuinely care about how people feel at work. I’m not talking about their happiness as human beings (that is not something I can control) but I do genuinely want to show up for people and, even though it can be challenging, I view it as a real strength. Sometimes that means taking off my C-level hat and putting on a regular hat, showing up as just another person. At the end of the day, what is a business if not just a collection of people trying to do good work everyday? Our caring is a strength that has helped get us to where we are today.
How important do you think it is for a leader to be mindful of his own brand?
Heather Casey: Leaders have the ability to affect people and, for that reason, it is important for them to be mindful of how they show up. Of course there are times I want to be a mess, between being a working mom of two kids under the age of five and the COO of an organization that has grown more than 50% year over year for the past seven years, I don’t always feel like the best version of myself. However, I do think it’s important to still show up, authentically and professionally, everyday.
As a leader you need to balance your values with also being inclusive. I have to know what my personal values are because those inform my brand. At the same time, I need to recognize that everyone has their own values so I have to find the balance of sharing my personal values and being open to others and their values.
How would you define “leadership”?
Heather Casey: Leadership is knowing when to inspire and lead and knowing when to roll up your sleeves and get down into the weeds. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I hear a lot of people talking about “servant leadership” or saying “I don’t micromanage.” I believe in situational leadership. As a leader you are responsible for meeting people where they are in their professional maturation. You shouldn’t manage all people the same way. When people say they are a servant leader I worry that they won’t be able to push people when they need to be pushed. I think of different leadership styles as tools that can be used in different situations.
Do you think entrepreneurship is something that you’re born with or something that you can learn along the way?
Heather Casey: I don’t think that some people are born for it while others are not. Not to sound trite but I think anyone can be an entrepreneur if you find the right business for you. I don’t think there’s a secret club of entrepreneurs but I do think it is challenging. You have to get through the years slog that it takes to even start to make a profit. So, while I think anyone could do it, I’m not sure everyone would want to. When people say they want to start their own business I say, “are you sure? Do you know what you’re getting yourself into?” I may be old school but I think there’s something pretty special about being a W2 at someone else’s company. You can focus on the work you’re asked to do and then put it away.
Starting a company means making a lot of tradeoffs. I know there are a lot of things I could have accomplished in life if I hadn’t joined PartnerHero at a very early stage and become the COO. I used to do triathlons. I always wanted to do the Peace Corps and hike the Camino de Santiago which I still hope to do at a later stage. It took me two months to get to my best friend’s house after she had a baby when I would have preferred to be there earlier to help clean, cook and take care of the baby. I love being the COO of PartnerHero and wouldn’t trade it for anything but I don’t pretend to be a superwoman who can do it all, of course there are trade offs in life.
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
Heather Casey: “You, but better.” When I first read it I hated it but the more I’ve thought about it and how it relates to how I’ve approached my career the more I liked it. When I think of development or professional maturation I think of how I can be a better version of me. It’s not about trying to be someone I’m not, it’s about leaning in more to my strengths and what I have to give and how I can contribute more each day.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Heather Casey for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Heather Casey or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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