Susie Youd – Braze
- Written by: Neil Cote
- Produced by: Andrew Wright & Mike Szajner
- Estimated reading time: 5 mins
It’s all about being a great connector. HBO Max, Burger King, NASCAR, Grubhub, PureGym—these companies and so many more access Braze’s multichannel engagement platform to build and sustain customer loyalty.
How much more effectively could Braze serve them with enhanced in-house connections? This is what Susie Youd asked upon becoming the head of global real estate and workplace experience in June 2021.
Optimizing office performance won’t happen, she emphasizes, if it’s just about securing and furnishing square footage while overlooking or downplaying the human aspect. Being so remiss, Youd warns, gives way to “quiet quitting”—employees feeling less engaged, doing the bare minimum and their disconnect is contagious.
“If Braze is all about connecting people with the brands they love, I see my team’s role as doing the same, only internally,” she tells Blueprint in March from New York City headquarters. “My customers are our employees, and my role is to connect them with each other and the Braze brand.”
Coming to Braze at the height of COVID-19, she essentially was looking at a blank canvas when it came to workplace experience, the offices primarily closed and the majority of employees working remotely.
But she seized the opportunity, commencing with a “gap analysis” to evaluate priorities and build a roadmap for the coming year, visiting seven of the now nine global offices in person. She took ownership of four general areas: real estate, insights and development, workplace operations and physical security. Leadership OK’d her hiring a consultant to help create a framework for a more progressive office environment that’s only growing more so.
“It was Whac-A-Mole in the beginning,” Youd recalls. “A two-year backlog of real estate projects to handle while building a team and developing new programs.”
Two years later, she has much progress to report, some of it attributable to Youd and her workplace experience team reporting to the People Department—a subtle but significant move.
“That shows how we’re more concerned with supporting our people than simply managing an asset,” she says. “Obviously we have to be financially responsible but when you show you invest in people and give them what they need, they’ll perform better.”
As Braze’s workforce almost doubled to more than 1,500 on Youd’s watch, she reminds they’re not robots. Each has a personality and a mood that might differ by day or upon assignment. While Braze allows them to continue working remotely, Youd’s preference is for a lively and welcoming workplace, noting how critical it is for recruiting and retaining talent, especially young people who might cringe at a Dilbert cubicle environment.
“We’re building offices where people want to come in,” she says. “The more choices you give them, the more they’re likely to engage. We’re approaching this from a hospitality mindset.”
That includes any number of options: private desk, no-talking area, collaborative space, wellness room, the latest technology and what-not. Then there’s the need to offer accessibility, as well as Braze’s initiatives for diversity, equity and inclusion, for which Youd is onboard.
“For folks outside this industry, it’s easy for them to forget just how much physical spaces contribute to the interactions taking place,” she says.
Youd having been in people-intense industries for most of her still-young career, she knows well the necessity of a positive workplace experience.
Streaming good vibes
She did much to foster one at Hulu during her four years with the now Disney-owned subscription streaming company, first as site lead in San Antonio, Texas, and then adding Seattle and San Francisco to her portfolio.
These being very different communities, Youd was mindful of the culture of each—the San Antonio office decor having a Tex-Mex flavor while Seattle’s reflected the Pacific Northwest. Hulu took an interest in its staff, encouraging company-wide community while giving employees space to create their own local culture. Group lunches, trivia nights and clubs spawned teamwork and positive morale.
“A top-notch company,” Youd says of Hulu. “It had the kind of culture that made me want to give it my all. I felt I was really adding value. I was having so much fun and was so motivated that I’d work even when I was sick.”
Youd says she’s getting and spreading similar vibes at Braze, which also is a mecca for creativity. Founded as Appboy, Inc., in 2011 by Bill Magnuson, Jon Hyman and Mark Ghermezian, the company made its mark as a marketing innovator, garnered a couple mention in Inc.’s Best Workplaces and went public around the time Youd joined.
But even the best workplace can get better, she’s quick to say. There is, after all, an arms race of sorts for young tech-talent and a positive workplace experience is a powerful draw. It’s what brought Youd to Braze and Hulu and, before then, a couple other choice employers, though she didn’t start out this way.
“Like most workplace professionals, I sort of stumbled into it,” she says. “It wasn’t what I set out to do, but I’m glad to be here.”
Born in Augusta, Maine, Youd earned a French degree and a master’s in public administration from Brigham Young University and, like so many of her contemporaries, was initially drawn to societal good. She worked part-time with Especially for Youth Programs in Utah, then logged four years in Philadelphia and New York with Teach For America.
Architecture and design among her interests, she worked over a year as a project manager and interior designer at Carson Design Associates when her husband’s military career brought them to San Antonio. The sidestep into client services prepared her for Hulu and Braze while giving her a better sense of what she didn’t want to do.
“Rather than working for a client I’d rather be the client and decision-maker,” she says.
Youd lives in New York where she and her husband are raising sons, a 4-year-old and 10-month-old. Her hobbies include marathon running, seeing Broadway shows and traveling. Braze having offices in Berlin, London, Paris and Singapore, she’ll have opportunity to visit all, and says there’s so much to learn in any locale.
“Workplace experience is about human behavior and so personally fascinating,” she says. “I want to study it everywhere.”
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. IV 2023 Edition here.
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