CPOs in Silicon Valley: The allure of the ‘culture bearer’

Chief people officers are in high demand in Silicon Valley — “literally every company in Silicon Valley is hiring,” tweeted Lambda School CEO Austen Allred in mid-December 2019. His observation prompted fellow professionals to chime in with their thoughts and sparked a Twitter conversation.

Katelin Holloway, who recently stepped into an advisory role with Reddit after serving as its VP of people and culture, agreed with Allred: “But like actually,” she replied[1] on Twitter. SurveyMonkey Chief Marketing Officer Leela Srinivasan joked that “It’s a good thing they grow on trees.”  [2]

A former CPO at several New York City-based companies, Rick Pereira, said in a Tweet that he views Allred’s observation as part of a larger picture: “companies are making this investment earlier and earlier to create an impactful culture foundation.” [3]

Experts within Silicon Valley generally agreed with Pereira’s analysis, though sources who spoke with HR Dive framed the trend within different timelines.

Is there a CPO hiring surge in Silicon Valley?

An executive recruiting professional in Silicon Valley said he has not observed a recent uptick in CPO hiring — “I’m not feeling a spike in the last month or two,” executive search firm SPMB Managing Partner and Owner Dave Mullarkey told HR Dive in an interview.

He did identify an overarching trend, however, which he said began several years back. “Companies are looking to hire chief people officers earlier,” Mullarkey said. “So that means there are more of them and more of those opportunities for people.” SPMB conducts more than 300 executive searches per year, according to Mullarkey, many of which occur in the Silicon Valley area, where the company is located.

Over the last two years, there has been an uptick in CPO hiring within Silicon Valley, according to Robert Half Director of Permanent Placement Services Adam Bennett. “The Silicon Valley giants have always been ahead of the curve and have had this role internally for many years,” Bennett told HR Dive in an interview. But when the talent market tightened two years ago, he said, smaller companies followed. 

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