In the late 1980’s when Susan Vinal was a student in Cornell’s prestigious Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) program she recalls taking classes in human resources and thinking how she really would not be interested in a career in that field. Fast forward and it is ironic that she spent a good deal of the last 20 years as the VP of HR and Operations for Euclid Technology. As a part owner, she recently sold Euclid and some of her proudest accomplishments were those involving her role as an HR leader.
High Standards and Good Mentors
Susan grew up in a small town in Ohio and she maintains her friendly, midwestern demeanor. Susan was an active athlete in her youth. She cites one of her swim coaches as an early positive, female role model. Her family, especially her dad, a professor at Bowling Green State University, encouraged her to aim high.
After graduating from college where she met her husband Charlie, they moved to Washington DC. She spent her first few years working on Capitol Hill for two different US Senators. While she was working in the Senate, Susan’s experience from the ILR program came in handy as she helped draft labor relations legislation. She left the Hill for grad school at UT Austin and then returned to become a lobbyist for American Humane, a non-profit focused on children and animal welfare issues. She was fortunate to have another excellent professional female role model as her boss.
After the birth of her first child, she went to work part-time in the ‘family business’ – Euclid Technology, a SaaS software provider focused on associations and non-profits. Typical for a startup, Susan was required to wear many hats: finance, logistics, operations, and human resources. Over time she became a full-timer and focused more on ops and HR. Susan spent a lot of her time recruiting and hiring staff and building a great culture.
Flexibility Pays Off
With regard to culture, Susan is rightfully proud of her management team which was made up of 50% women and 30% people of color. This is quite an accomplishment, particularly in an industry not known for diversity. Under Susan’s leadership, Euclid provided part-time opportunities, four-day work weeks as well as telework, long before COVID made it a necessity. This flexibility was highly valued, particularly by female staff, and the outcome was a strong, inclusive culture. The firm was also justifiably proud of sponsoring nine employees for H1B visas, six of whom are now US citizens. An interesting insight from Susan - with the current prevalence of remote work for knowledge workers, she feels it is more difficult to differentiate your firm through its culture.
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Cast a Wide Net
When we talked about the success of Euclid in the competitive IT landscape, she shared her philosophy of casting a wide net for talent. Many firms in the tech sector focus on recruiting strictly computer science and related majors. Euclid brought in people with varied academic backgrounds but great attitudes and motivation - the firm was able to provide them the needed skills. The result was a tremendously loyal workforce and high retention. Euclid’s growth strategy threaded the needle of growing a workforce but never overreaching and having to lay anyone off.
Making the Family Business Work
I asked Susan what it was like to spend decades in a business working with your spouse. She smiled and responded, “Charlie is a great boss; he gave me plenty of latitude.” Susan went on to explain how they each had their lanes – Charlie was focused on the technology, marketing, and CEO responsibilities while Susan focused on HR, Ops and keeping everything running smoothly. There was clearly professional respect and trust, encouragement, and an understanding of boundaries.
So Now What?
I was impressed that Susan continues to sharpen her edge by pursuing the Senior Human Resource Management (SHRM®) certification. A reminder that true professionals never stop learning and improving. While she’s taking a well-deserved breather, she’s considering her options. I expect she’ll once again be in a leadership role in HR and/or Operations soon. Maybe those HR classes weren't so bad after all!