“As a leader with over twenty years of work experience, I want to impact positive change,” says Amy Schoemehl. She is the Chief Operating Officer at E. A. Renfroe & Company which provides a full range of catastrophe support services to insurance companies, self-insured corporations and governmental entities during times of disaster.
Amy believes that leaders are in a constant and ever-changing evolution of learning, living, and role modelling behaviours. She herself works tirelessly and genuinely cares about the people she works with to reach consistency in her approach. For her, at the end of the day, human connection is more similar than not, regardless of the business one is leading.”
In an interview with Insights Success, Amy shared her view over technology, work culture, leadership, and the challenges she faced before becoming an inspiring woman business leader.
Below are the highlights of the interview:
Kindly take us through your journey on becoming a proficient tech business leader.
I am a fourth-generation Japanese American, born and raised in Northern California. It was a dream of mine to attend UC Berkeley, and I am fortunate to have earned my degree during the Silicon Valley dot com boom. My first years were primarily in agency recruiting, a somewhat “dog eat dog” environment where only the strongest survive. I left that world when I accepted a role in-house at Google in the mid-2000s; I credit most of how I structure my sense of being a good leader to my experiences there because I was surrounded and mentored by some of the most incredible leaders of this generation. I don’t have an MBA, but so much of what I learned about business strategy, global mindsets, good leadership fundamentals, and innovation stems from the five years I served at Google.
Eventually, a fellow Googler whose tenure overlapped mine reached out. He had started his own business and wanted to hire the first Talent leader into his Series B startup. I jumped at the opportunity to be in an environment where the leaders had the same ethos and discipline as Google but were still very much in building mode, meaning I would have a bigger seat at the decision-making table. Then I joined Twitter, which was still pre-IPO and looking for someone to co-lead the recruiting function; it so happened that my partner was actually my old boss at Google. I only say that because I realize I have an amazing work history, and while a lot of it is hard work and dedication to my craft, a lot of it is also being very fortunate to have the extensive network I have curated over two decades. I never take for granted my connections and how important those relationships and my reputation are. I believe in karma and paying it forward, and the more seasoned I become, the more importance I place on myself to be the advocate and sponsor for others, as others have been for me.
My next transition was to head up Amazon’s global hiring for their fulfillment and customer services centers. I am so thankful for that opportunity because it was an invaluable experience to hire upwards of 300,000 temporary and fulltime employees annually. There is so much planning and thought that goes into such a wide-scale challenge, and to attempt to continually iterate and improve is an evergreen feat. I think the best leaders have experiences that span many diverse scenarios, so they are the ace in the pocket a business needs when a challenge arises. I am strongly supportive of stretch opportunities and giving “up and comers” the headway to succeed, but there is simply no substitute for leaders with depth and breadth of experience. I believe that’s also why my Amazon journey was the inflection point where I consciously decided to expand outside of core Talent and Operations. I started thinking about the employee experience in totality and how leaders can affect better business results. I still focused on acquisition but also became a student of how talent management and development impact business. This paved the road for me to take on more visible, larger roles at Netflix and Stitch Fix to lead more of the entire life cycle of employees. I am blessed to currently be the Chief Operating Officer at E. A. Renfroe & Company, a leading people logistics company; I am literally using every lesson here that I’ve learned along the way.
What are the vital traits that every business leader should possess?
70 percent of adult learning happens on the job; people need to be comfortable and embrace a mentality to always stay curious and be on a path of continuous learning. Knowledge is key in any scenario!
In terms of specific traits, I would apply the same qualities I believe help me stay connected to my twelve-year-old daughter, who is hands down (in my unbiased opinion) the most amazing human I know:
- Trust and honesty are table stakes
- Give and accept high-quality feedback in real-time
- Humility is critical, always own mistakes and learn from them
- Understand intrinsic motivation and have empathy\
- Try to laugh! It makes the time pass faster than crying
Where are you focusing your energy now, and where do you hope to make an impact next?
As a leader with over twenty years of work experience, I want to impact positive change. For me, disruption can look or feel very different at any given time. It could be leading the way for other Asian American women into Csuite roles, leaning in authentically to affect DEI at every level in every company I support, or bringing science and technology to the art of Talent and Operations.
In my current role, I know I am judged for not having the same background as others in this field – which is overwhelmingly a white male-dominated industry – but being a strong leader and intrinsically understanding people is what I do.
What is your opinion on the necessity of a positive work culture? In what ways do you implement it at your organization?
First and foremost, you must love what you do. My first job out of college was in agency recruiting; it was a boiler room, 100 percent commission grind. But I was hooked from the very beginning, because the way I saw it, I was getting paid to talk to people all day. It’s true that I was not a doctor saving lives, but I felt a lot of pride in knowing I was helping to change people’s lives with amazing opportunities. I think that positive outlook is infectious, and if people who work with and for me see how inspired I am, it’s hard for them not to be on the receiving end of that vibration.
Engagement is also key. That’s not a people strategy; it’s a life philosophy. I am intentional to really know my teammates at every level. I make an effort to be my authentic self as much as I can and encourage others to do the same. I am willing to be vulnerable and honest in service of optimized results, and team efficacy and throughput are exponential if everyone around me subscribes to the tribe methodology as well. There’s really no secret or shortcut. Being a good leader takes hard work, and the person must be dedicated, disciplined, and consistent.
According to you, what could be the next big change in the IT industry?
The way companies and IT leaders allocate resources and view the availability of talent will change dramatically in the next year. In the past 9 months, many large companies – both tech and non-tech – have had to completely rethink how they manage their workforce. With so many going remote and the workplace becoming decentralized out of necessity, leaders are suddenly realizing that their access to talent does not have to be bounded geographically. What was once somewhat of a novelty will soon be a clear competitive advantage. The companies that embrace “hire the best talent no matter where they live” and allocate resources to support that dogma will have a leg up on their competitors.
What roadblocks or challenges were faced by you in a corporate business? And how did you overcome them?
When I started high school, I was thirteen years old and probably looked about ten. I had to quickly learn the human survival skills required to be accepted and excel in that environment. I think the best leaders in corporate business all have formative experiences in their lives that created a muscle memory of grit. When faced with adversity and business challenges, we can dig deep into our arsenal of tools and influence other leaders, teams, and clients. I often say that I am building a plane while I fly it. Being well-informed is optimal, but in life, we don’t always have that luxury, and I think the strongest leaders have an exceptional ability to make sound decisions by connecting the dots with whatever limited signals they have.
What advice would you give to the emerging entrepreneurs and enthusiasts considering a career in the tech industry?
There are a lot of really smart, inspired people who have a passion for this work. I think the people who thrive at it hone in on improving their business acumen IQ, but, just as importantly, also realize the value of having excellent EQ (emotional quotient). It’s not an environment for the feeble; individuals need to be resilient, flexible and know how to read signals, like the Kenny Rogers song:
“If you’re gonna play the game, boy you gotta learn to play it right You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em Know when to walk away, and know when to run.”
How do you cope up with capricious technological trends to boost your personal growth?
Whether we are talking about technology or fashion, my approach is similar; I have fun with a few trends, but my focus tends to be very disciplined around a core perspective on what I know works and will have long term viability.