We sat down with Katie Czerepak, Chief People Officer, to talk about her career path and her contributions to the Company’s core values, vibrant culture, and health-conscious workplace. Katie’s deep professional background includes spells in business development and strategic consulting, but her true passion, she’ll tell you, lies in people management and talent development—areas of expertise that she honed at McKinsey before coming to Indigo in January of 2016.
WHAT DREW YOU TO INDIGO?
One of the things that was so interesting to me about Indigo has to do with the fact that, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized the connection between what we eat and our overall wellbeing is just huge. I think you can sort of tune that out for a while; but I’ve realized how much of a difference what I eat has on the overall big picture of your health. And so being able to be part of an industry that’s thinking about that, and thinking about creating healthier options, is really fun.
WHAT PROMPTED YOUR SHIFT AWAY FROM PROGRAM AND PROJECT MANAGEMENT—THE BUSINESS LENS—TO MORE OF A PEOPLE MANAGEMENT FOCUS?
When I was a consultant, I liked what I did, but what I was really passionate about was developing my teams of people. I was managing these groups, and the part that I enjoyed most was coaching and developing my team members, and helping them grow, and watching them grow. And I started to think, this is what I want my whole career to focus on. I wasn’t particularly interested in “HR” as a concept at the time, because it felt to me like it was generally about policies, and forms, and following rules. I was much more interested in the human side of things.
WHY DID INDIGO CHOOSE “PEOPLE” IN LIEU OF “HR,” WHICH TENDS TO BE THE FAVORED TITLE FOR YOUR FIELD OF WORK?
When I took on the role, David and I talked, and I said, “I don’t think the title of this should be ‘HR’.” So, we went back and forth and tried to figure out what the right title was, and we liked “People.” I just think “Human Resources” feels like you’re trying to make a person into a machine, in some way. “People” feels a little bit richer to me; ironically enough, it feels a little bit more human. I think that HR, in general, gets a bit of a bad reputation. It’s sort of like the principal’s office, and I just didn’t want that to be how people saw us. We’re not here to implement policies as [Indigo’s] People department; yes, that’s part of what we do, but we’re also here to think at a higher level about how we want to grow our people, and how we want to develop our organization. [HR] should have a more positive connotation than just the person who you’re going to see when you’ve done something that’ll get you in trouble! So yeah, I do think the term “People” was very purposeful, and I think it’s consistent with what we, at Indigo, want to do, as a people-oriented organization.
WHAT ASPECTS OF YOUR WORK AT INDIGO DO YOU FIND MOST REWARDING?
I consider a big part of my job to be around making Indigo a great place to work—building a great culture. The fact that I can do that, and implement things quickly, and have an impact on people’s day-to-day working life, is rewarding. You’re helping people’s everyday life be a little better. We spend so much time at work that you don’t want people to feel like they’re just coming in for a job. It should feel bigger than that, and I feel fortunate that we’re part of a company with a big mission.
GOING OFF THAT, WHICH OF YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS ARE YOU PROUDEST OF? OF THE INITIATIVES THAT YOU’VE INTRODUCED TO INDIGO, WHICH DO YOU CONSIDER TO BE THE MOST IMPACTFUL?
I’m proud of a few things. I’m proud of the way we’ve scaled the recruiting at the organization—just in the sense of maintaining a lot of integrity in the whole process, and not compromising on quality. We’ve implemented systems and processes that have allowed us to hire a lot of people at a time when we’re growing quickly. We added over 70 people to the organization last year. Honestly, the credit goes to Hannah and Sarah on my team, but being able to be part of this effort has been really exciting. I’m also proud of generally being able to create an environment that has a positive impact on everybody’s lives—like the emphasis on food and wellness. We added an extra week of vacation, which I think has an impact on people’s wellness; we just added a bunch of benefits, including parental leave, which I think is really important. And, while it’s hard to measure this, I would say I’m proud of being part of building an organization that is aligned with our mission.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH INDIGO’S CORE VALUES? CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE PROCESS BEHIND THEIR CREATION?
When I started, drawing up the core values was one of the first things I did here. That’s actually something I’m really proud of, going back to your last question. David had written a draft of them that was not far from where they are today, but then we took those [values] across the organization. We only had 40 or 50 people at the time, but literally every person in the organization had the chance to comment on them. We had focus groups, and we had discussions. That was a really great experience, overall, because it felt like they then belonged to the Company, and they weren’t just what one or two people had written.
HOW DO YOU LIKE TO UNWIND OUTSIDE OF WORK? WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR HOBBIES?
Well, I have two kids and a third on the way, so a lot of my time outside of work is spent with them, which I love. They’re young—five and three—so some of that time is just chasing around after them. We’re a really active family; both of the kids already play soccer. Anytime that I can get to spend with my family is great. We go to Vermont regularly; my in-laws have a place way up north, the Northeast Kingdom. I also like to do yoga and various forms of exercise. I’m a regular work-out person—it’s a good way for me to unwind and de-stress. I’m a core member of our Indigo boot-camp group; I try to go at least once a week. There’s always a small crew of us!
SINCE INDIGO REVOLVES AROUND FOOD AND FARMING, I FEEL OBLIGATED TO ASK IF THERE’S A FOOD THAT YOU AND YOUR FAMILY CAN’T GO WITHOUT?
I’m totally crazy about almond butter—I could eat it three meals a day! I would say that’s a big hit at our house. We eat a lot of oatmeal, and we like eggs a lot…sometimes we’ll end up doing breakfast for dinner. We try to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, too. But I have a sweet tooth, so I do have a weakness for chocolate!
WORKING AT INDIGO INSTILLS A STRONG APPRECIATION—AN EMOTIONAL AFFINITY, EVEN—FOR FRESH AND WHOLE FOODS. WITH THAT IN MIND, WHAT’S YOUR “SPIRIT VEGETABLE”? IN OTHER WORDS, IS THERE A VEGETABLE THAT EMBODIES YOU?
I think I would go with something like kale or arugula. They’re so versatile, and go well with anything. I would say that, for me, I try to be a person who can figure out a way to get along with everybody. And it’s not just to be friendly or to be liked, necessarily; I want to be able to work well with everyone. I think it’s important in my role, as the “people person,” that I can get along with a diverse group and bring out the best in them. So there’s my salad analogy: You get a bunch of greens, and you put all sorts of things in it, and the greens bring it all together.
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