How do you hire the right COO? This is probably one of the most critical choices for your company when you are scaling up. Today is an important day for Le Wagon as we welcome our new COO Virginie Vinson
, who will help us to grow, challenge our organisation, enhance processes and coach our managers in our 43 campuses worldwide. So, I thought it would be useful to share the story of how we met Virginie and how we decided that she was the perfect fit for Le Wagon!
What matters most to your organisation?
We had already spoken with many candidates for the role before meeting Virginie. Some of them had a lot of experience and impressive track records in education or tech companies. The truth is, the more candidates we interviewed, the more selective and picky we became, adding new criteria to our checklist:
- We wanted a doer, an entrepreneur at heart: of course, at this stage of our development (43 cities and 150 staff), we needed someone who is comfortable with scaling a large organisation, setting up and monitoring KPIs and optimising process whilst being close to operational teams. We are still a very flat organisation with mostly localised teams and less than 10 purely global staff. This meant we needed someone who can make things happen starting from our current position, and help us progressively shape our global and regional teams - not someone used to big centralised teams and a lot of existing support.
- Coding bootcamps are intensive human experiences: when you order food on Deliveroo, get a ride on Uber or buy something online, this is a short and lightweight experience. When you join an intensive education program like Le Wagon's coding bootcamps, you work 360 hours for 2 months with teachers available to help you at all times. It is very challenging, you learn new concepts every day and you push yourself to the limit! This is far more engaging than most customer experiences provided by companies. We needed someone who understood the challenges of intensive education - not necessarily just a profile with a background in education, but also someone who has dealt with intensive human experiences.
- Coaching an international community of managers: Le Wagon has expanded very rapidly, opening 40 campuses by fostering community and collaboration. We don't want to disrupt this culture with a cold-blooded COO radically changing our culture overnight. Instead, we needed a COO, who genuinely cares about people, is interested in empowering managers from various international backgrounds and coaching them to reach their goals. This was the most challenging skill for me to find. There are lots of very smart, rigorous people, who can help you structure and improve your processes. Yet, finding someone who can do this with the right human approach, in line with your company's culture, is really the most difficult part!
Once we were clear about what really mattered to us, we started to wonder if we would ever find the right match. I guess we got lucky! Or maybe, it was just serendipity.
Trust your network and instinct (...not just your head hunters!)
While interviewing candidates for the COO role as part of our official hiring process, I met Virginie - initially, this was for an informal chat on our B2B strategy since she was managing B2B global operations at EF. I was so impressed and aligned with her that instead, I started considering her for the COO role. One thing I really appreciated is that she started helping me on some challenges I had (like recruiting our new VP for B2B) without asking anything in return or even without being officially in the hiring process for the COO role. For me, this was the best way to build trust and it continued to confirm my initial intuition that she would be perfect for the role. The more I spent time and spoke to her, the more I realised she was checking all of the boxes. So, let me introduce you to her story so that you can judge this for yourself!
Virginie has extensive experience in operations. She is an entrepreneur at heart, she loves coaching people from various background and optimising processes to reach ambitious goals.
- After 3 years of Marketing and brand management at Procter & Gamble, she joined a young pastry brand Hugo & Victor as their first employee. She basically did everything , from marketing & PR to food logistics & partnerships, helped them opening pop-up stores in different market (Tokyo, Hong Kong, Paris) and finally launched their US branch moving to Miami, even though she had never set foot in the US before !
- While finishing her MBA at INSEAD, she was scouted by an EF recruiter and joined EF to manage all of their UK summer camps for kids (the original EF core product). There, she was in charge of 6000 young students and had to build a cohort of 250 temporary staff to manage them during the summer, 24/7 for 3 months without weekends or breaks. Virginie is definitely not afraid of our intensive bootcamps!
- After this first role, she moved from kids to professionals joining EF B2B brand to lead their Global Operations, which included managing call centres and a team of 45 Customer Success Managers across 20 markets.
We are convinced Virginie is the person we need to grow all of our campuses, coach our managers, challenging our organisation and improving our processes from Marketing & Sales to Student Outcomes!
Hiring a COO is a structurally significant and important decision for your company. Take some time to ask yourself what matters the most to you. Activate your network and trust your instinct. In the end, you are the best head hunter for your own company!