PR’s Top Pros Talk… Navigating a Career Change
Raoul Bhavnani, Chief Communications Officer, Betterment
Raoul Bhavnani, Chief Communications Officer at Betterment, shares his experience transitioning from an advisory role to an in-house role. Raoul explains the key factors that made him realize that Betterment was the best fit for his career. Raoul also explains the value of building relationships with junior employees when starting a new role.
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HOST: Doug Simon
GUEST: Raoul Bhavnani
DOUG: Navigating their own careers, top of mind for a lot of people in the communications industry, and this segment is going to really give you some good ideas and information on an interesting navigation story. Raoul, thanks so much for joining us. Now, you went from years at a senior level in communications advisory roles to now being in-house. How did you navigate that change?
RAOUL: Well, first of all, Doug, thank you so much for having me today. It’s a pleasure to be with you. And look, it’s a great question. I did, I had a nearly 20-year career advising companies, large and small organizations, large and small, you know, every day of the week. So, you know, making this change from that to an in-house role was a significant one for me, but I also think it was one that I was very well-prepared for because over that career, I had seen many, many, many different circumstances benefiting organizations of all types. And I’d also work, quite frankly, with a lot of companies in regulated industries. So, I think in many ways I had seen this movie before and have the tools and the experience to be able to shift from advising multiple clients on any day of the week to going in and having a singular situation to navigate.
DOUG: Obviously, the package one would receive when making a move is important, but if it’s going to be sustainable, it’s got to go way beyond that. How do you look and get a feel for yourself that, okay, Betterment was the right place and what are some things people should be looking for to make the switch to sort of improve the odds of success?
RAOUL: Yeah, I mean, for me, I will admit that there were two really big drivers in my coming aboard here. One was coming to an organization which has such a sense of mission. Betterment was started quite a few years ago. We’re not by any stretch of the imagination a startup, but the company was started to make lives better, and to improve financial outcomes for a wide swath of individuals, and to do it in a way that, you know, had previously been kind of unattainable for a very large number of Americans. So, that sense of why we’re here, why we were created, still very much permeates the organization and that sense of mission is held by so many so that was a big attraction for me. The other big attraction for me was having a relationship with our chief executive officer, who I’ve known, you know, for many years, and the opportunity to work directly for her. So, I’d say that those can be and perhaps should be touchstones that others, you know, in my position on the advisory side might want to look for. Is it a really good fit from a mission perspective, and what the company does for a living, and what it delivers to its customers? And also, do you feel like you have either a preexisting relationship or the ability to build a very strong relationship with chief executive and other key members of the management team?
DOUG: So, what’s a device you might give others who are considering making this similar type of journey from advising multiple clients, if you will, to focusing on the in-house role? Is there a bit of a transition that’s required?
RAOUL: I think the advice that I would give people who are coming from the consulting or the advisory role is that one, I think there might be kind of a view or a perception that you leave the advisory world and you come into an in-house role and the multiple issues that you face as a consultant, you know, really kind of winnow down to something that is perhaps more comfortable. I think the world of working in-house for a single company but dealing with myriad issues is just as exciting and just as engaging, perhaps more so because you get to go so deep. I think the other thing which is I don’t know if it is advice or just an observation that I would say it’s nice to be on the inside because you get to see it through. When you’re the consultant, to some extent, you get to see it through, but you’re there to provide that outside perspective, provide advice, help, you know, roll up your sleeve at certain moments during a company’s journey, whereas here you’re in a day-to-day, and you are a decision maker, and you are really at the table. So, that’s something that, you know, certainly has been very attractive to me, you know, making this change and I think could be attractive to others as they consider making the move from consulting to the in-house role.
DOUG: Yeah, and given that you have that experience, do you sometimes say to yourself, okay, wait, now I’m going to look at this as if I was the outside adviser? What would I be telling myself, sort of having those conversations with yourself?
RAOUL: 100% and I think where it also is particularly useful is in my dealing with our outside advisors, our outside PR agency, who’s wonderful, but I have a perspective on what it’s like to be in their shoes. And I think as a result, I’m able to be, if you will, a better client because I understand the way their day is chopped up. I understand that I’m not the only client that they serve. I understand that they are only as good as the perspective and the context that I can provide them to do their work and the consistency of that insight because they’re not sitting here in my shoes day-to-day, they are constantly a bit on the outside. So, I do, I think I’ve done a benefit.
DOUG: Yeah, those are really key points. Now, one thing that’s interesting, and even as a smaller company, we’ve experienced this. When you bring in someone at a senior level, you might know more sort of industry-wide about approaches, but you might have very junior people who know more about the operations and what goes on its Betterment. Is there any way to improve on sort of two-way mentorship and sort of prevent a potential resentment where people know that you come in, you’re being hired, you’re being paid more and geez, they have to tell you how you put coffee in the machine in the kitchen?
RAOUL: Look, it’s a very fair point. And my learning curve here, not even a year into the role, you know, has been very steep. And, you know, I think I did have to navigate that not only with the communications team, but many other teams because as a communications officer in an organization like this, I think in many ways you’re only as strong as the relationships that you build around the organization because you constantly need to ferret information. You need to understand what’s going on. You need to have trusted relationships with subject matter experts. And in a fintech like ours, as well as to your point, you know, there are a lot of people considerably junior and younger than I am, who I have had to rely on from the very get-go. Yet, I come in at a very senior level to bring that level of expertise of how you scale a function and how you scale a business to the next level. So, I think you’re 100% right that, you know, I’ve had to navigate that to build those relationships and avoid, you know, a situation where there’s a feeling of, you know, as you say, either resentment or an unwillingness to kind of work together, make it very clear that I’m learning and that I can learn from very junior people or people who, you know, have been here for some time, but may have lower level titles than I do in order to be as good as I can be, as well as, of course, getting counsel, and advice, and direction from, you know, the leadership team and the board. So, I’ve had to navigate that. It’s been a wonderful journey for me because I have learned from so many and there’s so much subject matter expertise here, but it’s definitely something that you need to navigate.
DOUG: Yeah, and it’s also a great opportunity if you are a junior person at an organization or a more senior person joins, if you take the approach that I’m going to become an important cog of support for that new high-level person, that’s a good quick way to move up the organizational chart yourself.
RAOUL: I think that’s right. And I think that, you know, what’s exciting where we are specifically is Betterment in our journey is that we are really scaling the business and scaling the brand. So, if you will, the marketing and communications dimension of our business is really, really critical to getting that done. Obviously, we have to build our operations, our engineering team, our product stat for much more substantial scale to live out that promise, but we have to tell that story, you know? So, as a result, I have found that a lot of people around the organization are very, very keen to work with me, with us in helping to tell that story.
DOUG: Raoul, a lot of our viewers will really benefit from your insights whether they’re thinking about changing what their career arc is or even how to advance within an organization. Thanks so much for sharing your great ideas with us.
RAOUL: It’s my pleasure, Doug. Thanks for having me.