Started From The Bottom w/ Larry Dunivan


The boys welcome Namely CEO Larry Dunivan to the show to talk industry history, leadership, issues of diversity and inclusion, as well as a growth strategy and whether or not an IPO is in the offing.


It's rare to find a CEO who has worked from the bottom to the very top of the HR software industry ladder. It's even rarer for a CEO to have industry experience combined with the ability to understand software, systems, sales, marketing, and infrastructure since before the days of mainstream internet adoption.


Larry Dunivan is that rare CEO.

Corporate leaders, wannabe leaders, DEI proclaimers, and every HR and recruiting industry vendor should have this interview on a continuous loop. You're welcome!


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Larry (1s):

But the reality is the one thing that is still not happening that we've been talking about for 30 plus years is the answer to the question "how can HR be more strategic?"


INTRO (13s):

Hide your kids! Lock the doors! You're listening to HR’s most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheeseman are here to punch the recruiting industry, right where it hurts! Complete with breaking news, brash opinion and loads of snark, buckle up boys and girls, it's time for the Chad and Cheese podcast.


Joel (34s):

Hi, my name is hi my name is. What's up everybody? It's your favorite podcast the Chad and Cheese podcast. This is your co-host Joel Cheeseman joined as always by my partner in crime. Chad Sowash.


Chad (47s):

What's up?


Joel (48s):

We're just, we're just giddy to welcome Larry Dunivan CEO at Namely to the show.


Chad (55s):

You've been giddy a lot lately.


Joel (57s):

Larry is an industry veteran to say the least we're talking Ceridian. We're talking. Jeez. He's he's brought up some really old companies. He's a Kellogg guy living in New York. Larry welcome to the show. Are you still there?


Larry (1m 9s):

Thank you. Yes, I'm delighted to be here.


Joel (1m 11s):

We haven't scared you off yet.


Larry (1m 13s):

Nope.


Joel (1m 13s):

Usually when really smart people come on the show, they freak out a little bit. Like what the hell did I get myself into? But you are an avid listener, but Chad is geeking out over you and your history. So before we get to Namely, I'm going to let Chad geek out on a little bit of history here.


Chad (1m 29s):

First off, I want to hear a Twitter bio from Larry. So for our listeners who don't know who you are, Larry, give us just a Twitter bio of you, and then we're going to dig in.


Larry (1m 39s):

Sure, no problem. It all started when I was running cars at the Hertz counter in downtown Chicago in the early eighties and at a job, I despised one, beyond all others. And one of my best friends who I worked with there kept telling me, please do not be here 10 years from now. Like I have been, my husband has this company that does payroll stuff. Do you want to work there? And so that's how it started. That was over 30 years ago. And you know, my Twitter version is I've done everything you can do in an HR software company from customer support to implementation, to sales support. It's been twenty years in product management and product development. And then when I went to Ceridian decided I wanted to be a CEO, the only way to be a CEO is to run a sales organization so I did that.


Larry (2m 24s):

After I left there, I did some board work and interim gig at think at HR now Mineral, to Namely.


Joel (2m 29s):

You've seen how the sausage is made. Can we say that?


Larry (2m 34s):

And I've made it.


Joel (2m 36s):

Okay, good enough.


Chad (2m 36s):

And a lot of that sausage probably started in the mid eighties at Cyborg, but we're not going to go into that. So is Lawson still around?


Larry (2m 44s):

Yes, it was acquired by Infor.


Joel (2m 46s):

Tell the listeners what the hell Lawson is.


Larry (2m 51s):

Lawson was, you know, original, you know, Eats founded in '75, ERP software company that had built an HR product. The company thrived through the Y2K phase, built a huge business in healthcare among other industries.


Chad (3m 6s):

Yes.


Larry (3m 7s):

Full suite of products was acquired by Infor, in 2011 and products still live on today very, very, very well.


Chad (3m 12s):

This is back in the day when you actually had to load the software onto a client server, this is not where you could actually just hit the internet and everything was just there and available for you. You had to have a mainframe system.


Joel (3m 26s):

You loaded up AOL as you loaded up your Lawson.


Larry (3m 28s):

Well, we said, we're going to talk about Cyborg, but I mounted tapes.


Chad (3m 34s):

Wow. See, this is what I'm talking about, Larry. We don't get, we have so many like newbies, we have so many fucking newbies in this space, it is amazing to actually get somebody who has been around since the tapes days, which predates Joel and myself. So we're bowing to you. You can't see it. So talk about what you're seeing today, which has, let's say for instance, like we just talked about client server versus like obviously web enabled, what have been the biggest changes that you've seen in your career and what today still stays the same?


Larry (4m 14s):

Yeah. You know, it's funny that the way I talk about this is that, you know, I've lived through three complete reinventions of the HR technology landscape and by the way, have no intention to be here for the fourth. What has happened and this is really important because I think people miss this point, what has happened is people have innovated on the product, but people love to talk about it as if it was the technology that changed. Right? We went from mainframe to client server to the cloud to SAAS, but none of that mattered. It was just really smart people who cared about a lot about serving customers, build better products, thanks to those technology innovations.


Chad (4m 57s):

OK.


Larry (4m 57s):

They fueled it. And you know, this is a unique industry because you have to have these products. It's unlike these, you know, nascent segments that are coming out of nowhere, that either might be ad-ons to things we do or outside of HR, you know, all the stuff you hear about like e-commerce et cetera. You know? So at the end of the day, when a discontinuous innovation hits the market, it creates a wave of replacement. And that is what has happened, you know, three times in the last 35 years.


Chad (5m 24s):

So one thing that has not changed, and actually I think today is even worse than it was in the late nineties, early two thousands, is that thing we call vaporware. Am I right? Is it something that has just exploded over the last five years or did it just never go away?


Larry (5m 42s):

I don't know. I mean, listen, we had our, I also refer it off in this shelf where, you know, there's all of this stuff that people just never use. There's no difference. You know, everybody buys a bunch of stuff and they have all these savings from using them and then they never do. Or in the case of, you know, maybe a more vapor oriented view of the world, they just sucked. I mean, they were never good to begin with, but they were, you know, they were sold in large quantities, fueled by great marketing. I have all kinds of respect for great marketing, but there's a lot of really bad products out there that can get somewhere thanks to marketing. But the reality is the one thing that is still not happening that we've been talking about for 30 plus years is the answer to the question "how can HR be more strategic?"


Larry (6m 26s):

It's still struggling to do that.


Joel (6m 27s):

As a veteran, or you are even you surprised at how much money is flowing into our space right now or not so much?


Larry (6m 34s):

Well, listen, it's a broader trend in the investment community. I mean, I spent a lot of time talking to investment banks and investors and the investment community. You know, there is just so much money out there that every half decent idea can get funded. It's no different than any other industry, but we see a great deal of it because there are these, you know, kind of niches where there's a lot of interest in moving the needle.


Joel (6m 55s):

And how does it end in your mind? Does it end well or not?


Larry (6m 59s):

It's just going to go, they'll just be another cycle of it. You know, there's no end. No, there's more you just start over again.


Chad (7m 9s):

So back to your HR strategy piece, right? I personally believe HR talent to be quite frank is the core, is the engine of every fucking company. You cannot create new tech. You can't develop new software. You can't create widgets. You can't manufacture. You have to have, at least today, you have to have people, although HR is fine, talent acquisition is more fine to be able to continue to show themselves as a cost center, as opposed to a productivity center. Why is that?


Larry (7m 46s):

Well? Okay. So now we're getting into a area where I have a very strong opinion.


Chad (7m 53s):

Good.


Joel (7m 54s):

Yeah.


Larry (7m 54s):

Consider this, consider the last head of people that you encountered that came either outside of HR or through the core HR functions, whether that be employment relations or HRS or whatever, compared to compared to the head of HR who came up through recruiting. They are completely different human beings, they can argue sometimes they're alien with one another. And it's why the talent acquisition space is so interesting because if you are dealing with a company where HR is recruiter led versus where HR is not, it's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And so, you know, I have met so many, especially in recruiting leaders, you know, talent acquisition heads, that many often came out of, you know, the head hunter world.


Larry (8m 38s):

They have a completely different view of the universe, which is why you see so much point solutions in talent acquisition because they, especially in the labor markets we're experiencing. Now, they have the power within the org to support that while you couldn't certainly make a case that, you know, good information management, you know, well executed technology would do that within very tight integration to the system of record. But frankly, find a company that has built both, a great system of record and a great recruiting system. They don't exist.


Chad (9m 13s):

Well, why, why is that?


Joel (9m 15s):

And which one's better?


Larry (9m 18s):

Well, it's really hard. They're both really hard because they're both massively different. Like I said, the mind of the end-user, they don't, they can't even communicate with one another two thirds of the time.


Chad (9m 32s):

I agree. I agree. The problem seems, and we have this discussion all the time is who is responsible and accountable for different aspects of hiring and/or onboarding, et cetera, et cetera. So when we're talking about recruitment marketing, why isn't marketing involved in this? And then we're talking about internal mobility. Who owns that as an HR, or is it TA? It's almost as if there are these gray areas so that people can just do a shitty job for no reason.


Larry (10m 2s):

Here's another filter to look at it through. Who has the power, right? And that is going to change based on what industry you're in, if you're in a professional services organization that has, you know, super in demand skill set requirements compared to your manufacturing organization. The nature of that, the approach to it, the way you think about it is going to be radically different, but yet vendors are trying to serve, you know, both of those customers and often they'll serve one well, and the other poorly or both terribly.


Joel (10m 34s):

Every CEO that we hear talk at at conferences and webinars talks about how people are their greatest resource and asset. Do you agree with that? Or do you think it's a lot of lip service?


Larry (10m 42s):

Well, I mean, it's listen, I can't get anything done if I don't have great people with great motivations and the right skills, so sure. I don't need to turn it into some, you know, flag I carry all day long because at the end of the day, the most important thing is what kind of values do you lead with and how do those values affect people's behavior, because that will drive their motivation to do great work. And I'm happy to have, you know, a B plus player that is wildly motivated and loves what they do. The odds are I'm going to get a great experience out of that person as I am, you know, an A player. And of course what distinguishes me from a B plus that's a ridiculous conversation.


Chad (11m 27s):

Yeah. It depends on the person. So you took over Namely as CEO in July of 2019. And to continue this conversation about people, you have put a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, and now Larry, we've heard this shit from CEOs forever. Okay? Yep. The needle's not moving and we haven't seen it move, right? What are you going to say to the listeners to actually make them believe that you do care and what are you doing within Namely?


Larry (11m 56s):

Well, first of all, I'm going to tell you what you said is wrong. Just to assert that, you know, quote unquote, "I put a focus on diversity and inclusion." I think that would be too generous.


Chad (12m 6s):

OK.


Larry (12m 8s):

But what I will tell you is this, what I have done as a CEO has been to first go deep within myself to ask the question, "what kind of leader does it take in 2021 to earn the right for people to be willing to spend some portion of their career working at this company?" And so that has of course, many, many dimensions. In our case, you know, two thirds of our employees are in New York City, the average age is well under 35, that generation cares a great deal about the quality of that experience. We also have a very large African-American population in our sports center in Atlanta. And when you look at what went down in 2020, at the end of the day, you have to figure out what kind of leader you have to be in order to earn the right for people to continue to work with you.


Larry (13m 2s):

And for us, a key element of that has been to be deeply accountable all the way down to our values, to do those things that we think are right. And for that, a key element is making sure that we are creating a great environment that responds and addresses everyone's unique differences.


Joel (13m 24s):

Chad, Chad mentioned you've been there since 2019, but the company's been around since 2012. What was it about this opportunity as a veteran, I assume there were other opportunities on the table. Why this one, or are you just to settle masochist that you can't get out of the recruitment industry?


Larry (13m 39s):

Oh, that's a funny question because I was living in New York City in 2015 when Namely was on every billboard, every taxi, every subway station. I thought wow that's a cool company I want to work there. And the founder at the time ignored my inquiry. And then, you know, two years later, I dunno, three years later, you know, you can do any Google search and find out he was terminated for a behavior unbecoming a CEO. And I, when I heard about that, I'm like, there's the destiny I'm supposed to run this company. My dream had always been to run an HR software company and live in New York City. There's only one game in town. It's Namely.


Joel (14m 15s):

Yeah so it just landed on your lap. Well, you pursued it. The opportunity opened up. That's, a unique story. So you guys have raised around $217 million. When's the IPO?


Larry (14m 29s):

You know, we raised $217 million. We haven't taken any capital and you know, almost both going on three years, you know, so who knows? You know, I don't think that the whole, I look at iCIMS. I mean, how long did it take them? And they finally announced this week.


Joel (14m 46s):

1999.


Larry (14m 46s):

Yeah. So there you go. So who knows?


Joel (14m 48s):

It only took ZipRecruiter half that time.


Larry (14m 48s):

Employees ask me that question all the time and I'm like, you know, if we get to a place where, you know, we think that's the right thing for us to do, I'll be sure to let you know, but it's just not a big deal. I mean, there's a million ways we can raise capital. An IPO? You know, I worked for a publicly traded company. That's not high on my list to be a CEO of a publicly traded company.


Joel (15m 10s):

I can't imagine why not. So you're scaling the team, you have a new VP of marketing, for example, talk about that, building the team around that. And I guess for a new, a new world, right? I mean, COVID has changed everything. Feel free to talk about how it's changed Namely.


Larry (15m 28s):

I think that when it's all said and done all the enormous negatives aside, the pandemic will be good for Namely. You know, our new VP of marketing is a woman that's been with the company for six years. She started in sales support, she's amazing! You know, I have had the good fortune to be able to develop a number of people. I have made only one outside, well, really two outside C-suite hires. One the head of people who is basically my work wife and I've known her for 15 years, we've worked together at a number of companies and a head of sales. What we've been doing is just being super insularly focused about what kind of company we want it to be coming out of the pandemic. So we retrenched quite a bit early on.


Larry (16m 9s):

We conserve cash. We, you know, put ourselves in a position to maintain our destiny, regardless of what was going to happen, short of complete catastrophe, which we, which the world so far has mostly avoided, I suppose, depending on your perspective. And then just got super focused on who our ideal customer is that we can be wildly successful with. You know, whereas before, when we were in crazy growth mode, you know, be all things to all people all day that just wasn't going to work in 2020 and into 2021. And so that focus has paid off handsomely for us and the board is delighted with the outcomes.


Chad (16m 43s):

So with that kind of growth and also the focus on diversity, I mean, that's hard to manage sometimes, especially when you get into a groove and that groove might not be as diverse as you'd like. So how do you actually drive outcomes on the hiring, the retention and the promotion side of the house? How do you get your team rallied around that?


Larry (17m 4s):

Yeah. Great question. Well, first of all, well, let me rewind a little to right after, you know, March, April, May 25th, 2020, you know, it was clear we were not going to be doing much hiring. Yeah. The world was crazy around DNI. Well, I wasn't going to solve any problems inside a Namely based on being more proactive about who we hired, because we did very little hiring in the second half of 2020. You know, so I asked myself hard questions like, well, what can we do? So one of the programs we had was, we had this pretty broad mentorship program where we brought 15 or 20 people into a group and we created a mentoring experience. And I decided to take that one step further and we created a more accustomed mentoring program for a small group.


Larry (17m 44s):

That first cohort was five people, which I lead personally, where I spend a ton of intimate time along with our head of people who creates the programs behind it to really do career development. And the conscious choice we made for that cohort was that it was only open to people of color. So we made that very conscious choice first cohort, the timing was right. It was appropriate.


Chad (18m 5s):

Any resistance to that?


Larry (18m 9s):

Yeah, there was some.


Chad (18m 10s):

How do you deal with it?


Larry (18m 12s):

I didn't, I don't care. That's great. I appreciate your input and I'm always open to hearing people's feedback. I'm a CEO, sometimes you just have to make decisions. It was an easy choice for me. Let me tell you, it was an amazing experience for me personally. And I think if you talk to, we had one dropout, but the four that completed the program, I think had an amazing experience. We started a second cohort about a month and a half ago, we opened it up to everybody, but we did end up, we selected five people, three were people of color. And, I think that, you know, it wasn't, it's been very eye-opening for me in so many ways. Now we're growing head count a lot more now. So we did actually also then implement a series of steps, to hold us all accountable.


Larry (18m 54s):

I report to the company at every all hands meeting about how we're doing. I will tell you we have not broken yellow in terms of traffic leading our progress. And then more importantly, every time we do a above a certain level, think of it, maybe middle of the pack and above that, my leadership team, myself and a representative from our ERGs, all meet to discuss the search, discuss and be transparent about our efforts to create a diverse candidate pool. And then all agree that based on the candidate pool we created, the sense of urgency needed to fill the position and the recommended candidate that everybody buys into making that choice, whether it's a person of color or not.


Joel (19m 31s):

Right. Right. A lot of companies are, are struggling with the work from home question. What are you guys doing at Namely? Are you a hundred percent work from home? Are you hybrid? What are your thoughts on that? Moving forward?


Larry (19m 41s):

Yeah. Well, we'll be a remote first company going forward. I happened to be in our office in New York today, which is, you know, 40,000 square feet with five people here.


Joel (19m 53s):

You're looking for sub leasers is that fair?


Larry (19m 55s):

Fifteenth is closed. That's another thousand square feet. And there are no sub leasers to be found in New York City at the moment.


Chad (20m 2s):

Yeah, I bet. You talked about employee resource groups and you have a ton of them now, did they exist prior to you getting there? Did they ramp up? What kind of attention do you take to those groups and are they instrumental in driving your DEI efforts?


Larry (20m 21s):

Yeah, I, I credit Elisa Steele who I believe started them originally. They might've been there prior to that, but they really came to life while she was the CEO. She was our first independent board director became CEO briefly, and then I replaced her. And so we inherited that very rich group of EOGs and they played a significant role in helping us all kind of, for those that wanted to, educate ourselves in those ways, places and spaces that we were, you know, given all, everything was going on, where we felt the need and desire to learn more without turning this into, Hey, please let's make sure all the black people teach all the white people, what they should know about treating black people well.


Larry (21m 3s):

But it is our, each of our individual jobs to do that, not look to someone else to do it. And so the ERG is, you know, certainly did though, help facilitate some of that. You know, we meet with them all the time. Interestingly, our greatest challenge with our ERGs is getting people to volunteer, to lead them. You know, there's no issue with supporting them there, we get decent participation. But what my biggest struggle with them is the same people have been leading them for a long time and nobody wants to step up to take them over. That's our biggest challenge.


Chad (21m 38s):

Well, here's a question. And seeing how ERGs in some cases have turned into part-time jobs, depending on, you know, what types of projects are happening with inside the ERGs. Is that actually a part of that individual's 40 hour a week job description then? Or is that an additional duty?


Larry (21m 57s):

You know, it's all relative. Where we have all we have certainly said, we will make accommodation for that. And we added a stipend, to compensate people for it. You know, it's not gonna change your life, but I can't honestly say that I've bent over backwards to say, you know, here's all the things you no longer have to do, so you can be the ERG.


Chad (22m 18s):

Is it important enough to actually have somebody dedicated to running the ERGs overall?


Larry (22m 22s):

Oh, you know, we had a director of DNI, you know, at our, at our crazy Cashburn Peak that, you know, had a salary that would take your breath away and you know, was it effective? I have no idea? For a company of our size, absolutely not. And it is my job in partnership with our head of people. You know, the thing that drives me crazy about the stuff that I've been reading, especially there's, you know, I follow a Facebook group around, you know, small and medium-sized HR people and how many posts were like the CEO came into me and told me to solve the DEI problem. Are you fucking kidding me? You know, here's the mirror, that's the tool you need.


Chad (23m 1s):

It is a leader's job. There's no question, but you're a white dude. How does that actually, how does that actually impact the optics? Because that's what some people worry about. Oh God, I can't go into this. I can't go into this ERG and say I'm behind it. You know what I mean? It's an optics type of scenario now, not to say that you don't believe in it, but again, you know, that's kind of, that's the landscape that we're in.


Larry (23m 21s):

Yeah. I like to jokingly say I get half a point cause I'm white, but I'm gay. So, But listen, I lived in the closet until I was 36 years old. I know a little bit about this, but at the end of the day I'm a white privilege guy. Let's not confuse it for one minute. And I reiterate that at every turn, you know? So my job is to create an environment where it can thrive, but for sure do the kinds of things a leader has to do to make that happen. And honestly, sometimes, and I get accused of this with some frequency. It sometimes will appear as if I am, you know, giving some sort of preferential treatment at times and places, you know, to various constituencies in the business that are tied to that.


Larry (24m 6s):

And I just don't care, you know? And I don't, I don't make any claims about my right to be anything other than a privileged white man. Trust me. It's not my it's on my mind all the time.


Chad (24m 21s):

I appreciate that. Both Joel and I can appreciate that. Yes,


Larry (24m 25s):

I have 2 very progressive 30 year old daughters who are checking me all the time. But let's not fool it let's not joke around there either because they come from white privilege.


Chad (24m 35s):

Yes.


Larry (24m 35s):