February 22, 2022

Q&A – Sitting Down with ASG's VP of HR, Kate Velasquez

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Meet Kate Velasquez, our VP of Human Resources (who you’ve met before). 

Kate and her team oversee all aspects of HR across the ASG portfolio, including 45+ companies and over 900 employees across nearly all 50 states and three countries. Prior to ASG, Kate worked at FACES SF, where she built HR infrastructure and programs improving employee experience and benefits with a focus on building an inclusive work environment.

While Kate’s world of HR at ASG covers a huge portfolio of people and businesses (and the complex systems that come with that), her secret sauce comes in her partnership - with our Founders, CEOs, and our HR and Finance teams to build HR infrastructure that maintains an efficient, compliant, engaged, and thriving workforce. A day in the life of Kate and her team can include anything from conducting HR diligence on a company we plan to acquire, supporting a Founder and their employees through the acquisition process, managing compliant payroll and benefit providers, partnering with a CEO on launching a parental leave program, and designing initiatives that support our PeopleFirst culture.

After 3 years on the job, we sat down with Kate to hear her reflections on her time at ASG, learnings, and perspective.

What initially drew you to Human Resources?

I have always been intrigued by human behavior – what drives people towards certain actions, what motivates (or demotivates) them and how that intersects with various stages of society/daily life. 

I was working at Trader Joe’s after getting my degree in Social Science when a co-worker of mine mentioned his partner was looking to train someone in the field of HR. I didn’t know much about HR at the time but we spend so much of our life at work - where else is there a better place to study human behavior and how to motivate a group of people? After learning more about it in the first interview, I was sold.

How did you end up at ASG? What made you decide to join?

I learned about ASG from a longtime mentor. There’s a running joke at ASG about how I was hesitant to explore the opportunity at first. I had a lighter background in M&A, and I had some limiting beliefs about the way businesses were run in this space. 

Once I got to know the people here, I was instantly proven wrong. After meeting my now boss Bess Yount (COO) and the rest of the leadership team, I knew I wanted to work with and learn from this group of insanely smart, driven and equally humble leaders, who truly embodied the PeopleFirst culture. It only took a few meetings to know that ASG has a deep sense of authenticity coupled with a will to build something different. I wanted to be a part of it. 
I also love building from scratch. When I joined in 2018, ASG was at such an early stage of growth with a ton of M&A on the horizon. It was a huge motivating factor that I could build the HR function from a blank slate. And, because of our business model of continuously investing in SaaS businesses, the opportunity would only keep growing. Today, we’re still building and it’s still new. Best decision I’ve ever made for my career.

You mentioned the company culture drew you to ASG. How have you helped build upon the culture at ASG?

Building a culture doesn’t happen in a silo. And it doesn’t happen overnight. Building a culture and company where people want to work takes time, thoughtfulness, a lot of listening, and a leadership team willing to dig in. While the HR team plays an important role in creating the programs and spaces employees need, building a culture takes every single person.

Some of the tactical ways my team and I do this include leading a cross-functional Culture Squad and running a quarterly engagement survey to collect formal feedback from the team. Most importantly, the leadership and HR team exemplify our values and culture through action.

Two examples that I’m most proud of are our Minimum Viable Parental Leave and Minimum Viable Benefits policies; each sets standards that all companies acquired by ASG are held to to ensure employees across the portfolio have access to affordable, robust coverage and that families who are welcoming a new member in any way are able to take the dedicated time they deserve to focus where they should; on family.

At ASG, a large part of our business is acquiring and onboarding new companies and their employees. What role does your team play in supporting founders and employees during this process?

Selling your business is a hard decision for founders. And finding the right partner to take care of their employees is often what weighs on founders the most. We approach this process by partnering with founders to ensure the least amount of disruption possible for their teams, and the most streamlined, clear path to migrating the new company to our systems.

From an HR perspective, there are of course challenges that arise in acquiring a company. There are a large number of external vendors to manage, and nuances that stem from legal/employment/tax requirements under common ownership. There are payroll systems that need to be migrated, benefit plans that need to be reconciled, and there is no shortage of stakeholders involved (from all parties). 

The structure and complexity of the acquisition often determines the complexity of their HR onboarding experience. At the end of the day, a lot of the trust we build with companies post-acquisition can only come with time and people seeing us follow through on our word – you have to be comfortable sitting in the space in-between.

What have been some of the biggest learnings in your professional development and what are your key takeaways from them?

Two things come to mind for me.

  1. You can’t make everyone happy. Especially when dealing with ambiguous, complex (and often emotionally charged) situations, you have to remember that your role as a leader isn’t to please all parties; it’s to find a fair, objective way to move a situation forward that balances the interest of the employees and the company. Understand that you can’t control the reaction of others. And, no matter the situation, you can always lead with empathy and humanity, which brings me to my second takeaway.
  2. It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. Businesses are not made up of the products they sell (though those are important too!), it’s the people who work for them that matter most; how you treat your most valuable asset (people) is at the core of what drives businesses forward to success. Whether it’s a celebratory or challenging decision-making moment and everything in between, it all boils down to how you show up and approach the situation; the situation itself is secondary. This is at the core of what makes ASG so special – from how we approach acquisitions and onboarding to how we run our businesses as a whole. I could not be more proud to be part of a team with such high standards when it comes to being humans first and coworkers second, and truly living our values through action as a business.

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