BITE interview: Ann Hiatt, Non-Executive Director, Armadillo

“I had no idea what I was getting into when I was accepting the job, thank goodness because I would’ve been rightly terrified.” Ann Hiatt, Non-Executive Director at Armadillo is sharing the blissful ignorance she experienced before she accepted her first job in 2002 straight out of university, as Amazon supremo’s Jeff Bezos’ assistant. “Talk about jumping in the deep end with a millstone round your neck,” she adds honestly.

As a girl from Seattle, Hiatt said she never expected to find herself at a tech company and never could have imagined where that would take her. But after graduating “just after the dot com bust”, she started at Amazon “at the dawn of the Internet.” A three-year stint which provided the launchpad for a career that has been equal parts eclectic and rewarding.

The head on the octopus

Having earned her stripes at Amazon, Hiatt upped sticks and moved to California to do a PHD at the university in Berkeley focusing on European politics. After two years however, Google came knocking and, up until last year, she’d spent 12 years at the tech giant.

For nine of those years she was Eric Schmidt’s Chief of Staff, a role she describes in unique terms: “The easiest way to describe that role is I was the head on the octopus. I just kept all the arms coordinated, picking up everything in the right order and keeping the plates spinning.”

It was a move that she says had one main draw: “to speak truth to power and to manage up.” Throughout her career at Google, she kept her eyes and ears open, to new ideas, inspirational projects and people: “I considered it my own personal business school.”

Diversity of position and experience and age and background informs decisions and helps you be more innovative, and solution orientated.

Ann Hiatt

An innovative decision

It was while on stage at SXSW a few years ago that Hiatt’s next job came calling. Chris Thurling, Executive Chair of the board at Armadillo saw her speak and, although the two didn’t meet, they corresponded afterwards online.

When Hiatt was over in London, they met for a coffee after which she was offered a position on the board of directors. The move aligned with what was happening in her life as she left Google in September 2018, married a Spaniard and moved to Spain.

Of Armadillo, Hiatt is honest about how she felt taking the leap, as she explains, “At first I was like well I know absolutely nothing about CRM,” she explains. But she was curious about what she didn’t know and interested by what was happening at Armadillo: “I believed I could learn a lot.”

Hiatt adds that she was impressed by the agency’s decision to choose her, not least because it demonstrated their desire for innovation: “Inviting me to join their board shows the kind of innovative and revolutionary disruptive thinking they have because I’m so non-obvious as a choice.”

The diversity of the agency’s decision is an essential part of maintaining their innovative approach believes Hiatt. Difference of attitude, opinion and life experience is vital. Hiatt explains, “Diversity of position and experience and age and background informs decisions and helps you be more innovative, and solution orientated.”

A cultural fit

Aside from the focus on innovation, for Hiatt, the most essential factor in her ongoing relationship with Armadillo is the fact that their internal culture suits her. She explains, “The most important thing for me is the people. The culture has really resonated with me. They’re all about people first, not only their clients, but in developing their internal talent.”

For creative businesses, where the primary asset in people, culture has to sit inside more than just a positioning document. Hiatt believes that a positive culture ultimately creates the best business. If your employees are happy, they will produce the best work and your clients will notice.

My why is to give people an advantage at work that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Ann Hiatt

Sharing the learnings

Hiatt says that her move to Spain has allowed her to gain some perspective, to take a “moment of pause” she says as, “it’s a little bit of culture whiplash forcing me to step out of the crazy that is Silicon Valley.” She continues, “I’ve been so head down for the last 15 years. I jokingly say but it’s kind of true that I haven’t slept since 2002.”

She is now consulting for various technology companies in Europe as well as writing her first book, part of a two-book deal with Harper Collins. It’s something she says is both “wonderful and terrifying at the same time.”

The book draws on the lessons she’s learnt along the way, from the “greatest CEO minds of our generation,” and “how that’s applicable to the everyday person.” For Hiatt, she is conscious that work has been a central part of her identity as she has grown over the course of her career. As she says, “I’m American so my identity is very much tied into what I do and how I contribute work wise.”

Hiatt’s aim is to share her experience of the workplace with others, to prepare them for the jobs they just started or the leadership roles they’re occupying. She adds, “My why is to give people an advantage at work that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

In a world where people frequently play with their cards close to their chest, fiercely and often unnecessarily competing with the person next to them, Hiatt’s outlook is refreshingly honest. For her, the lessons she’s learnt along the way are only useful if the information is shared with others. As a leader who operates as such as open book, it is only apt that her next task is writing one.

Q: As NED of Armadillo, what is your primary focus?
A: I work with Armadillo on strategy, growth and leadership development for maximum impact. I am focused on helping the company meet two primary goals: being the most recommended CRM agency and attracting the best talent in the industry. I bring with me 15 years of experience working for the most influential CEOs in Silicon Valley at Google and Amazon, so I’m focused on finding the best ways to apply the lessons I’ve learned about innovation and creativity at Armadillo.

What has been your agency’s best work in the last year?
A: Armadillo is thrilled to have added Carnival UK to its client base this year. I am also personally really proud of the internal strategy and leadership development which made that possible. We have driven ourselves to reach deeper, invest in our employees and stretch our creativity into expanding arenas. The focused efforts of the larger team takes this work to another level.

Industry wide, what work has excited you most this year?
In terms of broadcast media, in the UK I loved BBC “Change the game” around the Women’s World Cup this year, a punchy, on-point celebration of some of the world’s best players (and Team USA ultimately clinched the title!) I’m also a big fan of Airbnb as I travel quite a bit, and I love the balance of personalisation, relevance and creative in their digital marketing and particularly their emails.

It comes down to each person to seek out ways in which they can contribute at higher levels and grow their own individual talents.

Ann Hiatt

Q: How do you see the advertising industry evolving over the next few years?
It is fascinating to see ways in which AI is affecting and infiltrating every industry, including CRM. Armadillo is taking an active approach to all developments in technology in order to serve their clients best and give them a competitive advantage. We are working on research and investing in technical expertise to add a data-driven compliment to campaign creativity.

What are your ambitions for Armadillo over the next few years?
To scale, but in the right way. Our ambition is to run an agency that believes in the long-term success that comes from putting the best interests of our clients and the well-being of our staff at the heart. Maintaining strong relationships as we grow is key.

What piece of advice do you give to the junior members of your team?
I always encourage a proactive approach to individual roles. This is especially important when you are a junior member of the team. It comes down to each person to seek out ways in which they can contribute at higher levels and grow their own individual talents. We have worked hard to create an environment at Armadillo where risk-taking and passionate learning are rewarded and celebrated. This creates an environment of massive innovation and creativity.


This article first appeared in BITE

Interview by Izzy Ashton, Assistant Editor, BITE