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Celeste Ryan: Building things that last: Path to CPO


Celeste Ryan

Tell me about your upbringing and how it informs how you thought about your career?

“I grew up in the Dallas Texas area, and am the third kid of 4. I have an older sister, an older brother, then me and a younger brother and two amazing parents. I think the two biggest influences from my early life that have shaped me into who I am today are being a middle child and the role that sports played in my life. Both experiences definitely taught me how to be a part of a team and I view the core areas where I derive and can add value in my career as being a good teammate, building great teams and improving teams. I also think both sports and my family contributed to my adaptability and how I relate to people. Up until around middle school, I would always play on boys sports teams. Without realizing it at the time, I think that helped me navigate how to fit in with different groups of people in different settings. Similarly, with both brothers and a sister, older and younger siblings, I feel like I had a lot of practice observing and adapting to people and situations. Lastly, my parents and sports created a clear link between hard work and achieving results which I’m grateful to carry with me today.”

Have you always known you wanted to sit in the C Suite?

“No, I had no idea (though I did wear suspenders and a tie to my kindergarten class picture day). I have loved leadership from early on and was drawn towards the opportunity to help people. As a kid I think this looked more like being a coach, or a teacher, or a doctor. After playing soccer in college, I stayed on the coaching staff for a season after I graduated to explore the coaching route. It was an amazing experience but I was excited to step outside the playing field to see how my learnings could translate to a business environment. Early in my career I got the taste of leadership in new hire training and team lead types of roles which I loved. During business school, perhaps I started to aspire towards the C-Suite but until I learned about Alpine’s “CEO-in-training” program, I thought it would be a much longer journey to achieving that ambition. Having the opportunity to serve in leadership positions at a few different companies now I have loved and feel so fortunate to.”

Tell me a little bit about your role, what is a Chief People Officer?

“It was a role that I was particularly interested and passionate about, as opposed to, say, continuing with the CEO in training route, which would have brought me in a different direction. So I see the role of a Chief People Officer as overseeing the whole people life cycle of a business from acquisition through joining a company, to onboarding and experience of employees at the company, the performance and development of those employees and helping them find a great place to work and building their career there. Then, helping the organization with both, the organizational design, how teams function together, and then other services that help the company teams operate as efficiently as possible. Then there is how I frame my role here at Evergreen. It’s an acquisition piece, experience piece and any other shared services that ultimately should be in service of people being able to either receive the services that they need.”

How did you come to know Evergreen and how did you determine that it was for you?

“Yeah. So I got to know Evergreen through the Alpine connection and then I met Jeff, Brad and Ramsey. I got to know Evergreen a lot better and as I was looking for my next opportunity, the planning kind of worked out such that they were looking for a CPO, and that was a role that I was excited about pursuing. A big question for me through my career was my exploration was being in the role of an operator at an operating company versus a role at a holding company. I think that the other things that were important in my job search very quickly checked out with Evergreen. The people, both at the leadership level and then across the board, I wanted to surround myself with those folks that really enriched my work life. The second was the kind of ambition and growth of the company, and then the third, was the connection to the mission of being America’s best home for companies and their leaders just resonated really strongly with me, especially the leader part.I was intrigued by the newness of Evergreen, it being different to what I had done in the past and I was nervous about it, but working at the holding company has provided a lot more scale and direct influence.”

Tell about your experience with Evergreen thus far, and what has been the thing that you think has surprised you most in your early days?

“So far it’s been 4 and a half months, so still fairly new but what I’ve really enjoyed is the ambition and moving of the organization. I I think it’s inspiring to work around so many smart, hungry, driven people and I feed off that, especially folks that are earlier in their careers and that has energized me.

This role has been one where I feel like I can have a positive impact and contribute. There have been areas where I feel like I’ve been able to step in and help coupled with plenty of areas where there are learning curves, where I want to step my game up, which is exciting. I’ve also really enjoyed the combination of working both with the whole team and across the portfolio and having the ability to understand the experiences of the different leaders and their respective companies, finding out what is important to them and their employees.

The surprising part of Evergreen for me was empowerment. Empowerment was a word that was used a lot in the interview process and it seems to be one that is definitely real, but to an even greater degree than I expected, both at the Holding company and at the Operating company levels. It’s not necessarily a surprise, but I am consistently impressed with the people early on in their careers taking on big stuff and doing amazing at it. Similarly, our CEO’s and just how quickly they have scaled their businesses and to do it at the scale that they are, with the types of challenges that they’re working through, I think it’s not surprising but it is just continuously impressive.”

You are about to have a baby, how has that experience been with Evergreen?

“I feel very excited for this next chapter in my life and so grateful for the support from the Evergreen team from the start. I don’t know why but I remember feeling nervous to share that I was pregnant with Brad but when I did, his reaction was pure elation. This reaffirmed that joining Evergreen is about more than a transactional employee / employer relationship. We are a team, invested in each other for the long-haul.

I know I have a ton to learn in general as I become a mother and that is my biggest focus but on the side, I think the experience will also be eye-opening for me as a Chief People Officer, to understand and gain empathy for others going through similar life changes.

While I may be the first woman at Evergreen HQ to go through pregnancy and having a baby while at Evergreen, I am certain that I won’t be our last and am excited for what we will learn together as an organization about how we can show up for parents and people during different stages of their lives.”

What are you most proud of in your career thus far?

“What brings me the most joy and pride in my career is impact and building things that last. I think this was most evident through my experience helping start a new office for my company in Singapore. I am proud of the organization and culture we built with many of the employees we hired ~7 years ago still working there today. I am proud of the relationships I built and my own personal growth living and working overseas. I feel proud when I get a call from one of the team members who started their career with us, asks me for a reference and gets into a top-tier business school. And lastly, I get such a kick out of seeing the lasting relationships that colleagues who met in that office have formed – seeing them in each others’ weddings and there for each other through different stages of life – it makes me feel proud to see the impact we played some small part in extend outside the four walls of an office.”