Virginia Tirado

People & Talent Leader, Looking for next challenge

1. Do you remember a time when you were happiest as a child? Where were you, who were you with and what were you doing?

Christmas is always a special time of the year. Growing up in Venezuela, I always looked forward to Christmas. It was a time when family came together, celebrated the season, and celebrated life. Tradition played a big part in the celebration, from creating a manger, complete with shepherds and shooting stars, decorating the tree and singing ‘aguinaldos,’ the Venezuelan version of Christmas Carols, but of all my favorite tradition was making ‘hallacas.’ Hallacas are the centerpiece of the Christmas dinner, a golden dough filled with a delicious stew wrapped in a plantain leaf. Making hallacas was my first lesson in teamwork. Family and friends get together to make them, everyone has a job: cleaning the leaves, making the dough, preparing the stew, assembling and tying them with kitchen twine, boiling them and then of course eating them!! The flavors, smells, and the vibes around the kitchen table linger in our hearts for the rest of the year!

2. What seemed like an inconsequential decision at the time, but in hindsight
turned out to fundamentally reshape your life?

In 2015, I applied for the Diversity Lead for the Google Ads business, back then there were few roles like this in the market. I was then the Director of Business Transformation for Baker Hughes (BH), and had witnessed an inspiring practice at Baker Hughes which gave me the courage to explore roles in HR. At BH all senior business leaders would take on a role in HR at some point for their development before advancing to other more senior roles. At the time, I was considering going back to the tech industry, I started interviewing for business operations roles at Facebook and Amazon. At Amazon, I was interviewing for a global operations role, when the executive recruiter supporting my process asked me if I would not mind sharing what other roles I was interviewing for? I shared that aside from the ops roles at Amazon and FB, I had applied for the Diversity lead for the Google Ads business in London, this became the starting point for a conversation that led to an offer to lead Executive Recruitment in EMEA, and the rest is history…

3. What habit or behaviour or belief have you recently acquired? Why is it now in your life?

Take the compliment! For years I have struggled to receive praise without minimising it, brushing it off or justifying my way through the compliment. Confusing humbleness with taking credit where it has been earned, is something that women tend to do often. As part of my leadership journey, I have learned that you must lead by example. I have noticed that many of my peers, as well as my team members struggle with the same issue. I have learned to notice and correct this behaviour in me and share my learnings with others, so we are more comfortable taking a compliment, and wearing our medals proudly.

4. When was the last time you changed your mind about something really
important? What was it and what led you to change your view?

I changed my mind about following the job. I have been blessed to be able to work for some great employers, but at times that has meant I have moved or have had to commute for the job. Our move in 2008 with Oracle involved the whole family, and while we did plan to return to the US, life has kept us in England, and England became our new home. Over the past 8 years I have had the privilege to work for Amazon in Luxembourg and Zalando in Germany. But after the pandemic, it became clear to me that you can still manage to have a fulfilling career and do great things, without having to sacrifice being close to your loved ones. I have now decided that my next role will keep me close to home. While I will continue to work for companies with an international footprint, (with a multicultural background, this is where I believe I add the most value), I am certain this is something I can do closer to home, in London!!

5. What is a Ted Talk that changed your life?

This is a hard one, as there are so many TED Talks that have provided a learning experience or some food for thought at different times. Although I can think of two that have really had a lasting impact on me. The first of these was a TEDx talk by Jessica McCabe. Her talk introduced me to her channel How to ADHD and this helped me be a better parent to my son, a bright mind that was diagnosed at age 7 with ADHD, and taught me so much about neurodivergence.

The second one was “The Happiness Advantage: Linking Positive Brains to Performance” by Shawn Achor from the TEDxBloomington event. I go back to the Happiness Advantage from time to time, as it is easy to forget how much of being happy is down to a choice, when there are so many things around the world and around our loved ones that can affect how we feel everyday. Whether we follow the war, the news on layoffs, a loved one recently diagnosed with an illness, our children’s struggles, it is easy to forget to smile.

6. What is the number one thing you would recommend every person in the
world to practice from now on in order to increase their happiness and wellbeing?

Kindness – be kind to yourself, your teams, your loved ones, or the strangers that cross your path. Little moments of kindness can increase your happiness and that of those around you.

7. In current industry conversation, what is an example of ‘making a mountain out of a molehill’?

AI. I honestly think that it is not about AI replacing us all, but replacing those that fail to learn how to incorporate AI into their jobs. I believe AI will make us more efficient, more productive and will free up time so we can invest in ourselves and do the things where Human Intelligence (HI) has the advantage over AI.

8) What is that thing which is OK to ask you about, but which other people are
wary to do so?

But seriously… Where are you really from?

9) What would be the perfect gift that someone could buy you right now?

Time. Being present, give me your time and your attention to make a memory together, to experience a moment that matters, that is something that money cannot buy.

10) Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why
haven’t you done it?

Start a property investment business, buy and flip properties. I love real estate, and can spend unlimited amounts of time looking at property that I cannot afford, but would love to buy…Why haven’t I done it? I still need to put two kids through college! For now I am happy fixing up my pied de terre in London, that I purchased last year, and I am keeping my fingers crossed that the London property market will continue to recover and appreciate in value with time!

11) If you were to own a bar, and you could design it how you wanted, what would it look like?

A library with a cozy fireplace, next to an art gallery and a few relaxing couches where you can sit back and relax, either reading a book, admiring art or opening your soul to anyone willing to listen… some free peer therapy sessions at hand!! An eclectic place that can offer something for everyone!

12. Aside from family & friends, if you could invite any 3 people - living or dead - to your final dinner party before the end of the world, who would they be and why?

Maya Angelou, she was fascinating, a poet, dancer, singer, civil rights activist, and scholar, her writing style was unique. She is inspirational to me to this day.

Betty White, an American actress and comedian, she was a pioneer, she was the first women to produce a sitcom in the mid 1950s. She held the world record over a number of years as the longest TV career by a female entertainer, she stayed relevant until her death a couple of months before her 100th birthday. She was a supporter of great causes from animal rights, to racial equality to LGBTQ rights.

Maria Corina Machado, a Venezuelan Politician, who is currently running for the opposition nomination for the upcoming presidential elections in Venezuela. She is a brave, smart and incredibly hard working human, and the one ray of hope we are holding onto for my beautiful birth country to free itself from the oppression of the current regime under Nicolas Maduro.

13. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received? Who gave it and when?

Don’t limit yourself to one mentor or coach, and definitely don’t wait for your manager to assign you one!! Be resourceful and identify people in your network that you trust. You surely know more than one expert in your network that is willing to share their knowledge with you when you need it so don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. Georgina Yellowlees at Amazon, reminded me of this. I had already been doing this, I would reached out to people when I needed help or had questions, but never thought of the mentor relationship in this way. When I took on the HR path in 2015, I often took advantage of this advice.

14. What's a skill that isn’t on your resume, but your former bosses would recognize as one of the reasons you are successful?

According to Gallup Clifton Strength finder – I score high on Woo, which is defined as someone that loves the challenge of meeting people and winning them over. This is a great strength for stakeholder management and leadership, and has for sure helped me in achieving successful results.

15. What role do you find yourself playing when you join a newly formed team? Can you explain why this happens?

I enjoy leading teams so naturally I would likely be leading, but I believe that leadership cannot be imposed it needs to be earned. So in a newly formed team, or if I were new to a team, I would invest time in listening to the team, learning about their ways of working and spending time to get to know the team personally and professionally. Understanding what challenges we will face as a team and how I can help overcome those challenges is where I will put a lot of my energy.

16. Have you ever been the weakest member of a team? How did you handle it?

Joining Executive Recruitment at Amazon, I was new to the role and a bit intimidated. I had a toolkit of knowledge and experience, but when it came to recruiting, which I had done throughout my career, I had no idea what executive recruiters were like. Earning their trust was something I had to work hard at; this was a skeptical and very self-sufficient crowd. While I was not the weakest member of the team, I certainly had my moments, where I felt I needed to fill in the gaps, so that is exactly what I did. I earned my stripes by making 13 hires in my first year managing the team!! Not bad for a rookie running exec rec for Amazon with a high bar to meet!

17. When it comes to our work and industry: what scares you most?

The way our leaders manage quarterly and fiscal year results. In this war for talent, where talent has already won, we are falling behind for lacking the vision on the future of talent. Layoffs never pay off, and not having a sustainability agenda that also includes our most precious resources – people/our talent, is going to catch up with us. We need to invest fast in upskilling and preparing our talent for the future, which incidentally is here!!!

18. Do you have a secret tip, tool or trick that’s contributed to your success?

Never ever fear change, it is the only constant in life. Those who embrace will always succeed.

19. If you could add a question for the next person to answer, what would it be?

What is the one thing you wished you had learned earlier in life? That?

20. Who would you recommend to do the next 20 Questions With … ?

Joanna Szwajgier. Joanna and I worked together at Amazon. I have a lot of respect for her. She has been generous with her time when I needed help or simply shared her knowledge. She has grit, thinks as a Business Leader, when it comes to creating value for the business and her teams, and has recently transitioned to a broader HR role.

Thank you to Virginia Tirado for taking 20 Questions for The Brainfood Tribune. Make sure to follow Virginia on LinkedIn

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