Over the last 25 years, Sid Nair has held C-suite positions at large companies like Wirpro, Dell, HPE, DXC, Cox Automotive and Rackspace, where he led cross-departmental teams that totaled more than 15,000 employees. Decades of experience taught him that creating and maintaining a healthy culture across big businesses and teams comes down to one idea: unity.
“To be successful in these roles and drive culture for an organization, you need to bring people together,” Nair said. “Doing so requires a common mission, vision and value system.”
Nair brought his experiences in creating unified cultures to the automotive marketing and software provider Affinitiv when he joined as CEO eight months ago. The company spent the last four years expanding its product suite through acquisitions of automotive digital agencies like Caldwell & Kerr Advertising and software providers like AutoLoop. When Nair joined, Affinitiv had seven distinct brands and over 800 employees in offices across five states. He said the brands lacked a sense of cultural cohesion so he got to work bridging those gaps with a new set of core values, the building blocks of a more unified culture.
“We believe these values are going to help us achieve long-term success for the company and that they represent the performance of every Affinitiv team member,” Nair said.
After crowdsourcing the team for a couple of months, Affinitiv’s new values were rolled out: passion, integrity, unity, innovation and impact. Nair thought a core value was missing, though: diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Nair helped set up a diversity council at the company that built out Affinitiv’s DEI framework. This work led to the creation of 16 diversity-driven resource groups, with each one backed by an executive sponsor.
“We launched the council in October and by December, we had 16 resource groups,” Nair said. “And 50 percent of the company are currently involved in these groups in some way,” Nair said.
Below, Nair discussed how his previous leadership experiences helped him unite and evolve Affinitiv’s culture and what he loves most about the company. Spoiler alert: It’s the people.
How did Affinitiv’s new mission and values come about?
While our seven different companies were being merged, there wasn’t much time spent defining a new culture. When I came on board, I knew we needed to come together because there are so many people from different companies and backgrounds. I wanted our new company culture to be built on a foundation set by our mission and five new values.
It was important to come up with values that united us, but which also came from our associates. So a group of people across different parts of the business worked for about two-and-a-half months to survey the company on what those values should be. They came up with about 250 different values before we finally arrived at five. So the foundation of our culture was homegrown and something the employees agreed on.
The foundation of our culture was homegrown and something the employees agreed on.”
How did your experiences at other large tech companies impact Affinitiv’s values and culture?
I learned that there’s a deep sense of belonging and pride at every company. Companies like Dell and HPE are very competitive. So there, you try to build a performance-oriented culture based on pushing your business to be better than a specific competitor. It was a little different when I went to Rackspace. Their sales and revenue were down but it was a fun company full of young, driven people. So there was energy and enthusiasm for the teams to perform and I helped them rebuild a winning culture after I joined.
At Cox Automotive, we had 25 different brands and each had its own team with a unique history that I was responsible for. As their first chief sales officer, I had the challenge of bringing 3,000 salespeople with an $8-billion book of business together; to grow like we had never done before!
Cox helped me bring my experiences to the auto industry, but at the end of the day, the industry doesn’t matter. Eventually, I learned that to be successful in these roles and drive culture for an organization, you need to bring people together. Doing so requires a common mission, vision and value system. You can define a new culture if you can establish these three things while also creating excitement and empathy within the organization.
What does diversity, equity and inclusivity (DEI) look like at Affinitiv right now?
When I came onboard last summer, we didn’t have much DEI structure because of how disjointed our companies were. So we created a diversity council of six employees from different backgrounds that built a vision around what an inclusive environment should look like for us. A key part of that involves raising awareness and challenging employees to make a change in the workplace and in the community.
Now, we have 16 business resource groups (BRGs) that include assemblies for the Black, Jewish and Latino communities, as well as groups geared toward mental health, working parents, veterans and homelessness, to name a few. Anyone can start a BRG and it will get the full support of the company. For instance, each group gets an executive sponsor to support that team. Each one also has an individual charter that gets reviewed every six months to make changes if necessary. They also publish a quarterly newsletters and a calendar of events for the year. Recently, the mental health BRG brought in a non-profit speaker to discuss how to identify someone in the workplace could be having a mental health issue due to dealing with the stress of working from home in the pandemic.
What do you think Affinitiv’s biggest challenges are at the moment?
We shut our offices down last year around late March and we’re hoping to open them again this summer. But one of the things that keep me up at night is how people will adjust after working from home for so long. We launched our “Work From Here” policy where employees don’t have to return to their office when it opens. We give them the flexibility to work from home or the office when they need to come in. And I wonder how people will adjust to that policy. If people want to come back to the office, wonderful. But if they don't, that's fine, too. So that's a balance that I need to figure out.
Additionally, before coming back to the office, every associate needs to be vaccinated to ensure it’s a safe environment. But getting vaccinated in certain states is easier than in others and there’s not much we can do as a private company. So we’re at the mercy of the local government in the cities.
Employees don’t have to return to their office when it opens.”
What excites you most about working at Affinitiv?
Our associates because they’re striving to make a difference every day. We call them the “A-Team.” After I arrived, I created the “To Affinitiv and Beyond” award that we give to 10 people each quarter for going above and beyond their normal roles. And I see a lot of people striving to do just that.
Our people impact not only the business but also the day-to-day lives of others in the company. We launched a group called the “Fun Force,” which is a team of volunteers that works to help bring our people together. We have spirit days and Microsoft teams channels for pets, families, environmental issues and many other topics. We celebrate victories across the company, not just in sales, but also if someone has a new baby or pet. People are looking out for each other, building on our culture and demonstrating our values every day.