Q&A with Bronwyn Smith: Ada’s SVP of Operations

In a down economy, merely reacting to the changing landscape of consumer needs is not enough. Brands need to be on the cutting edge of what customers expect: more relevant, timely, and proactive interactions that are always on and always helpful.

But this doesn’t only apply to your customers. Brands today are treading through the murky waters of the great resignation, mass layoffs, and projections of a recession in the making.

It’s during these uncertain times that brands need to start turning their eyes inward and evaluate their ability to attract and retain top talent, ensuring their operations are equipped to provide stand out employee experiences (EX).

Lucky for Ada, we have an expert in creating and sailing high performance teams at the helm of our ship.

Bronwyn Smith, Ada’s SVP of Operations is a data-driven decision maker who started her career in finance and strategy consulting. Here she learned the foundational tools that have helped her to succeed in the tech space — like how to use data to value the size and impact of priorities, how to create mental models and frameworks, and how to use a hypothesis-driven approach to solve complex problems.

Of course, none of this can succeed without a culture that fully embraces the mission of a company, shares their values, and is driven to build better, stronger, and faster. We sat down with Bronwyn to learn more about her professional experiences, and how companies can build better operations and support hyper growth.


Tell us about some notable and formative job experiences you’ve had in the past. How did these prepare you for the role of SVP of Operations?

My first job in tech was at Airbnb. This is where I began to really understand the power of being a mission-driven company. The power of knowing what you value and getting people together that share those values. The right people, in the right roles, are very powerful.

Influitive was a smaller, earlier stage startup. Here, I learned a lot about creating operating cadences, creating a culture of accountability, goal setting and OKR processes, and getting teams rowing in the same direction. 

I moved to Shopify at the start of the pandemic and experienced an enormous wave of growth.  This taught me how much of your success is about being in the right market, with the right product, at the right time. My time at Shopify also taught me the value of transparency and creating an environment where people can do their best work — and limiting other distractions that take away from that.

All of these experiences, coupled with companies I have consulted, coached, read about, or talked to, have helped me to form my thoughts on how to create a high performing team, and this is what I hope to bring to Ada as we build out our operations.

What are some qualities you think makes a person a great leader? How do you incorporate this into your day-to-day at work?

I think leaders have many different strengths — and I don’t think there is one way to be a great leader. What stands out to me is that great leaders are uniquely good at ~three things, and they lean into those strengths. They are also hyper aware of their weaknesses and build a team around them to compensate for that.

There are some table stakes qualities that any leader should have: integrity, a positive attitude, the ability to embrace failure, a desire to learn, and empathy. You can’t be a great leader without these qualities, but you can have these traits and not be a great leader.

One of my favorite frameworks for identifying great leaders was Jack Welch’s criteria called “4E’s and a P.” A leader has a lot of personal Energy, they Energize others, they have an Edge (and can make tough calls). They are able to Execute, and they are Passionate. I often use this framework when I’m assessing leaders myself.

How can companies effectively scale their operations during periods of hyper-growth?

A few guiding principles to use:

  1. Getting A+ talent fixes a lot of issues.
  2. Have clear goals that you measure and report on. Cascade these throughout the organization.
  3. Reduce organizational drag as much as possible. As you scale, it's really easy to add on practices, procedures, and structures that waste time and limit output. Don’t add policies or processes for the sake of adding it.
  4. Look for ways to automate or simplify. Start creating lists of broken processes or silly things taking up time and automate them.
  5. Push decisions to the edge of the organization. Set up RAPID or other forms of decision making frameworks to help make it easy to make quick decisions. 
  6. Assume you hire incredibly smart and capable people. Build systems for these people!

Why is it important for brands to think beyond baseline CX and start focusing on providing VIP experiences to every customer and employee through automated brand interactions?

Whether you are servicing customers or employees, highly personalized journeys are more likely to produce better results. Truly tailoring an employee's journey towards their needs will result in a faster time for them to start creating value for your company — and a higher likelihood of the employee having lasting success.

As you scale, the only way to continue to provide highly personalized journeys is through automating interactions. For example, most companies offer an standard onboarding journey for all employees that looks like this:

  1. Give every new employee the same generic welcome package.
  2. Group onboarding to learn the basics of the company and its products.
  3. Provide a very high level overview of a few tools the company uses.
  4. Point new employees to an intranet site and say good luck.

Forward brands will have completely personalized onboarding plans, based on the characteristics of an employee, that will enable employees to ramp much faster:

  1. Employee gets a unique welcome package based on their specific interests.
  2. Onboarding on the company and its products goes into varying levels of depth based on the background of the individual.
  3. Deep training on tools the employee doesn’t know how to use.
  4. Personalized bot who not only answers questions, but proactively recommends what key information they need to know to succeed.

What is something people might be surprised to learn about you?

I only read books the old fashion way. I like to hold them physically in my hands. If it's a business book, I like to use a highlighter to note something interesting. I love to go back to them again and again.

Who is someone you look up to (could be someone you know, don’t know, or a fictional character)?

Greta Thunberg. I admire her courage, and I think she has done more than anyone else to move the mindset on global change. She is so inspiring and provides me with hope for our future.

Sarah Fox
Sarah Fox

Sarah Fox is a scuba-diving, animal-loving journalist turned content marketer. In her career, she’s covered stories on development, written profiles on notable philanthropists, and interviewed celebrities with a passion for giving back. When she’s not producing content for Ada, Sarah’s likely fawning over her dog somewhere in the woods.

More info about Sarah Fox: LinkedIn

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