For the Record with Jessica Perez, Chief People Officer and EVP of Culture, Starkey

February 7  

With more than 20 years of experience in Human Resources spanning across medical device, pharmaceutical, and biotechnology industries, Jessica Perez joined Starkey in 2010. As Chief People Officer and Executive Vice President of Culture, Jessica Perez is responsible for developing and executing people-centered strategies to support Starkey’s success. Ensuring Starkey’s values are reinforced with every initiative and communication, she is a culture advocate and brand builder with a focus on attracting and retaining the best and brightest talent to the organization.

Prior to this role, she held multiple key positions at Starkey, most recently serving as Vice President, Human Resources where she led the design and delivery of an integrated global talent development strategy across our four regions: North America, Latin America, Asia-Pacific, and Europe/Middle East. With a span of more than 5,000 employees across 28 facilities, she brought focus to organizational best practices and alignment to define and support the global human capital needs.

Give us Starkey’s elevator pitch.

Take a moment and envision a hearing aid in your mind. What does it look like? Does the device you’re thinking of detect falls, translate languages, give you voice reminders and automatically adjust itself using artificial intelligence? At Starkey, this is the kind of next-generation hearing technology we’re creating and making available to people today!

Founded in 1967 by Bill Austin, Starkey is the only American-owned hearing manufacturer. We’re based in Eden Prairie, and the work we do is supported by a team of 5,000+ caring employees who work at 29 facilities around the world. We aim to lead the world in hearing health and wellness for patient-driven care, and our people are the most important ingredient helping us do that.

What is one thing the Medical Alley community might be unaware of about Starkey that you think would be good to know?

Although Starkey primarily creates and manufactures next-generation hearing technology, our work extends far beyond that. Because hearing and a person’s overall wellness are connected, we identify as a health tech company. Starkey educates the general public about hearing loss prevention and its impacts on health, as well as provides ongoing learning opportunities to audiologists and hearing professionals so they can provide the best patient care. The groundbreaking features we include in our Starkey hearing aids are helping people hear effortlessly and take charge of their health so they can live better lives. It takes a lot of talented people to do this diligent work, and that’s what you’ll find at Starkey.

In fact, Starkey is the only organization to have a role dedicated to this mission. Dr. Archelle Georgiou, Starkey’s Chief Health Officer, is focused on improving individuals’ overall wellness and quality of life through our products and better hearing. As a gateway to understanding someone’s health and wellness, the ear is recognized as a highly effective place to measure key health indicators. It’s been proven that adults with hearing loss are up to five times more likely to develop dementia, and untreated hearing loss is linked to cardiovascular issues, loneliness, and mental health problems.

To combat these issues, Starkey released the world’s first ‘healthable,’ multi-purpose hearing aid, which uses AI and integrated sensors to detect physical movement and social engagement. When paired with Thrive Hearing Control app, the hearing aids deliver a “Body Score”, which tracks daily steps, movement, and exercise, as well as a “Brain Score”, which measures hearing aid usage and social engagement. The app allows permitted caregivers to monitor activity, which uniquely emphasizes hearing health’s impact on overall health and wellness. 

Additionally, the ongoing pandemic has left many feeling disconnected and isolated from the community. But for those with hearing loss, the use of face masks has created even greater communication challenges. The combination of social distancing, face mask use, and the presence of background noise greatly reduces speech audibility. To offset these challenges, Starkey developed Mask Mode which instantaneously optimizes speech audibility. Hearing aid users have reported that this feature has enabled them to stay connected to loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is crucial to combatting isolation and mental health problems.  

Why is establishing a strong company culture so important?

Creating a workplace where employees feel valued, connected to the organization’s mission and purpose, and have opportunities to grow is more important than ever. At Starkey, we believe diversity is integral to a strong company culture. In 2020, we introduced ‘Team Talks’, where topics include navigating uncertainty, resiliency, talking about diversity at work, and more. The goal is personal discovery with trained diversity champions to lead teams through challenging conversations.  We also require diversity and inclusion training, celebrate International Women’s Day, and host an engagement survey which touches on our inclusion efforts. In addition, we have women’s employee resource groups that meet regularly to support women in their careers, advancement, and mentorship.  

I believe these efforts truly make an impact on the organization, as I’ve seen an abundance of aspiring and existing female leaders move into higher positions of leadership at the C-suite and VP level in 2021. The competition for talent was already tough pre-pandemic, and recent trends have only made it harder for organizations to bring people in the door and retain them. Companies must be laser-focused on creating environments that are tailored to bringing out the very best in their employees. For Starkey, that is a culture that fosters and supports our core values: caring, fearless, and dedicated.  

The pandemic has not only shifted how we work but the way we think about work. People are craving a greater purpose and want their working hours to mean something. At Starkey, our robust culture was built around our vision, mission and purpose, even before the pandemic. I took on this newly created role to take things further. As Chief People Officer and Executive VP of Culture, I ensure we are connecting the dots between providing an exceptional employee experience and our end goal of leading the world in hearing health and wellness for patient-driven care. In order for organizations to thrive today, you cannot ignore the necessary role that culture and employee satisfaction play in reaching your end goals.

What have been some of the biggest HR challenges over the past few years?

The pandemic has been one of the biggest unprecedented HR challenges over the last couple of years. Because employee safety is our top priority at Starkey, we’ve taken a thoughtful approach to balance safety while ensuring we could still deliver for our customers. Changes that have come out of the pandemic, such as changes in how people work or tightening talent pools, have also kept HR leaders on their feet.

At Starkey, we’ve continued to stay nimble as we work through changes brought on by the pandemic, while not losing sight of what we do and its importance. During the pandemic, our work took on added meaning. More people discovered they had hearing loss when face masks, social distancing and virtual conferencing programs like Zoom became the norm. People also started putting more value on the importance of connections. I’m proud of our team for not losing sight of the role our technology plays in helping people reconnect to others.

What do you enjoy most about the Medical Alley community?

From the standpoint of a Chief People Officer, I couldn’t be more proud to be working in a geographic area where there is such a large group of talented individuals working in med-tech. In the Medical Alley region, our work at Starkey and the work of other organizations is looked upon highly. I love that we’re able to collaborate and draw on the resources of others. We can look at other organizations’ best practices and find ways to utilize them at Starkey. Likewise, we’re able to share our best practices to help other like-minded organizations. As we continue to grow, the Medical Alley community will continue to be an important resource for Starkey.

What does leadership look like to you?

Leadership is a subject that has always fascinated me and an area for which I have a great passion. Early on in my career I thought I could look to others to see what good leadership looked like. I took a very literal approach – how do they dress; how do they present themselves – and tried to replicate what I saw in them. Those that know me know I’m a pretty expressive person, so trying to emulate the behaviors of a more reserved and formal leader never came naturally to me. Over the years as I gained more experience and began to study transformational leadership, I learned that the true secret to successful leadership was finding your authentic self. I needed to understand who I was and what my values were, to be a great leader. This came with a lot of vulnerability, but as I started to bring my authentic self to work every day, everything became easier. I became more gregarious, positive, and began to openly express empathy. Ten years ago, empathy was not something that was celebrated. It was perceived as being too caring, too soft, and unable to make difficult decisions. As I continued to showcase my authentic self in the workplace, I realized that having empathy is better defined as being able to understand where a person is coming from, and most importantly, is critical to being a good leader.

What is the best advice you have ever received in your career? What is the worst?

The best advice I ever received was to be myself, while the worst advice was to always put on a poker face and only highlight the positives. A key lesson I learned from this is to follow your heart and do what is in the best interest of your organization, as this will be appreciated ten-fold. Own your mistakes and be honest.

What have been the most rewarding moments in your career?

It is incredible to watch someone accomplish a goal that they didn’t think was possible. I love to see team members grow and become proud of what they are doing. There is truly nothing more rewarding than the moment the lightbulb turns on for them and they realize, “I can actually do this!”

How do you relax/decompress?  

I love to paint. Paint by numbers specifically, in my free time. It allows me to shut off my mind. When I paint, I am able to quiet the ‘to dos’ running through my thoughts and open up a creative space for ideas to flow through. It is down time with no expectations.

What is one personal goal for the upcoming year?

My personal goal for the upcoming year is to continue to be flexible with myself and others. I think it is common to want to plan out every aspect of your life, but a lesson I have learned through the pandemic is thinking that you have control is an illusion. We need to be able to change when necessary and accept that change in inevitable.

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