🏦 Internal Communications Introductions: Luiz Whitney
Head of Internal Communications & Employer Brand at Pagaya
☎️ Welcome to The Switchboard. Our mission is to help you become a better (internal) communicator with career insights, inspiring stories and best practices from industry leaders. This is Edition #75! Thank you for being part of our community.
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In This Interview
🎻 The partnership between the People Team and Internal Communications
🙏🏽 The importance of being your authentic self at work
✨ The power of mentors in your current job and beyond
Luiz Whitney is a seasoned Internal Communications Leader with 15+ years of experience in manufacturing, entertainment, technology, and FinTech. Living in Austin, TX, he holds a Bachelor in Advertising and MBA in Human Resources. Luiz shares an incredible passion for connecting with people and storytelling.
Luiz Whitney serves as the Head of Internal Communications & Employer Brand at Pagaya. Over the years, he has helped multiple organizations tell their stories and build high-functioning communications teams from the ground up. As a leader, he strives to help organizations and teams practice authentic and transparent communications.
Driven by the desire to make the world a more equitable place for all, Luiz is an active advocate for increasing workforce representation and was part of the team that led Ball Corporation to be awarded as Forbes’ #1 Best Employer for Diversity. He is also the recipient of the 2018 PR Team of the Year Award issued by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and the 2017 Employee Communication Campaign of the Year Award by Ragan Communications.
Previously, Luiz served as the Director of Communication for Corporate Pride Network of the Rockies (CPNR), a non-profit dedicated to advancing LGTBQ+ inclusion in the workplace and supporting the LGTBQ+ and Ally Community in Colorado. In his free time, he enjoys exploring new countries and binge-watching documentaries on Netflix.
What sparked your professional path into Internal Communications?
I was fortunate that my first job out of college was in Internal Communications. I have an Advertising and Marketing background. But, I always liked the idea of engaging people and storytelling. So, I started with an Internal Communications internship at Bosch, a German-based global supplier of technology and services with over 395,000 employees. After two years, I was hired as a full-time employee. I fell in love with the profession right away and continue to be passionate about it to this day.
At Bosch, most of my time was spent in Internal Communications. I was reporting to the VP of Human Resources and loved working with the People team every day. I got into HR and even spent one year leading their trainee program.
Then, I had the opportunity to join Ball Corporation. I led communications in South America focusing on Internal and External Communications in addition to Community Relations, which was one of my favorite roles. I had the opportunity to travel all over Brazil to support and give back to the communities we operated in.
After your career started in Brazil, how did your career grow in the US?
I came to the United States to lead employee communications for Ball’s largest acquisition — a 6 billion dollar deal. I focused on employee communications for a six-month assignment, and here I am, many years later. We created a campaign called “The Power of Day One!” to welcome the employees from the company we were acquiring. This project was awarded the Grand Prize: Employee Communications Campaign of the Year by Ragan. We achieved our main goals with this campaign, including making 99% of all employees feel welcomed to join Ball.
In Brazil, I always had to leave half of who I was at home because being openly gay was very difficult. So when I was invited to move to Denver, Colorado, I was able to feel safe and be proud of my own identity. Right after that, I immediately engaged with the LGBTQ+ Resource Group at Ball. I worked with the Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion to support Ball going from 40% on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index to 100% for three consecutive years.
As a 145-year-old company, our CEO valued diversity and inclusion when most CEOs didn’t, and actively supported all diversity and inclusion initiatives. My experience with the LGBTQ+ Resource Group resulted in my last position at Ball as the Global Manager for Diversity and Inclusion. It was a fantastic experience, and one of my biggest learnings during my time in that position is that eighty percent of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is focused on how you communicate, engage with the audience, and tell stories that promote awareness, understanding, and most importantly, empathy. Those are the key elements to help employees broaden their perspective, and ultimately, create a more inclusive environment for all.
After your corporate communications roles, you pivoted to work for startups and tech companies. Can you share your career journey?
It’s really about the people and mentors you meet throughout your career. I had the chance to work with really inspiring leaders during my career. One of my favorite ones is L’Teisha Ryan, who was the Director of Corporate Communications at Ball. She became a fantastic mentor (and still is to this day!) who ultimately offered me an opportunity to work at Atlassian as the Head of People Communications. As a result, I went from a comprehensive view of Internal Communications to work on more of a niche supporting the People team initiatives.
I started one month before COVID-19 shut everything down. Atlassian did a fantastic job adapting to this new world, mainly focusing on team connectedness and mental health. During my time at Atlassian, like most organizations, we had to pivot fast and think about new and creative ways to support and communicate with employees.
At the beginning of the pandemic, we created a week to help strengthen employees’ resilience during a very turbulent time (think COVID-19, racial injustice, elections, etc). That work was done very closely with Tami Rosen, Chief People Officer at the time, and other members of our People Research and Analytics team. Our main goal was to identify and address employees’ challenges and concerns through open and honest communication.
After that, I was invited to lead the employee communications for TEAM Anywhere, Atlassian’s vision for a hybrid work model. This topic was important for our Founders because they had been trying to go to a more remote workforce for years. Atlassians’ mission is to unleash the potential of every team. That was our opportunity to lead the way and help our customers move through this “forced” digital transformation era. As a result, we were one of the first companies to announce the intention to move to a hybrid approach internally. Our Founders wanted to let people work where they felt it was most productive, with a few caveats like having a legal entity in that location and a few hours overlap with your core team.
This project took six months of intense work and cross-functional collaboration focused on change management communications to help employees understand our direction as an organization. We also published bi-weekly blog posts openly talking about our journey on how we would get there.
After Atlassian, I was ready for my next challenge. That’s how I ended up at Zynga. In my short six months at Zynga, I accomplished a fair amount of strategic projects that helped stand up their internal communications and employer brand function. For example, announcing Zynga’s hybrid work model and leading Zynga’s “Great Place to Work '' certification for the first time in its history. But, ultimately, a former colleague (that Chief People Officer at Atlassian) kept inviting me for a role at Pagaya, as the Head of Internal Communications & Employer Brand. After two months working at Pagaya, the organization announced an $8.5 billion SPAC, and that is what I’ve been working on ever since. Supporting the organization through its hyper-growth while helping them articulate its vision and employee value proposition.
How do you define Internal Communications?
Internal Communications is all about creating meaningful connections between employees and the company. It is also about sharing stories that inspire and engage others so they understand how they can contribute to the bottom line.
Ultimately, we want internal communications to help organizations foster an environment where people can do their jobs effectively and contribute to their maximum potential while being their authentic selves.
What is one project you are particularly proud to have accomplished?
In Ball’s 145 year history, I led the first-ever Women’s Summit for 400 women at CU Boulder. We had Bonnie St. John, a Paralympic skier who spoke about resilience, as our keynote speaker.
This commitment has helped make Diversity & Inclusion part of the culture at Ball and led to us being named #1 Best Employer for Diversity in 2019 by Forbes. This list of 500 companies featured progressive organizations fostering workplace cultures that support and welcome all employees.
The event was an incredible opportunity to see how diversity and inclusion can change people’s lives. The feedback that we received highlighted the importance of togetherness and feeling valued as a minority group. From this event, employees had a chance to build community, and it’s very impactful to see the trickle-down effect of this work.
What are the skills that are most important for someone to succeed in Internal Communications?
First, listen! Listening to people and understanding what is happening around you is so important. I always like to reference a saying, “The biggest modern communication challenge is that people listen to respond, while they should be listening to understand.”
Second, building trust. We think that work gets done by great people, but really work gets done by relationship-building. You have to motivate the people around you on your vision and your goals. If you don't have good relationships, you won’t be successful. As a communicator, we're always in this mindset of sending, writing, and doing, but we must take a step back and create connections and build bridges.
I'm now in the middle of a listening tour to understand what’s happening from many different perspectives. To be a respected Internal Communications leader, everyone needs to see you as a trusted advisor. During my 1:1’s to meet people, it's about getting to know each other. There’s always time to talk about the business, but we don't have enough time to learn what motivates each other and what’s important to each of us.
How do you continue learning about the field of Internal Communications?
There are so many great classes that I’ve taken over the years, but in particular, from Ann Wiley, there have been some memorable ones that I’ve even kept the hard-copy versions in a folder in my office, and I often refer back to it! Cut Through the Clutter was one of my favorites!
I love Gartner (CEB). I’ve studied for a Black Belt in Internal Communications with them. They do a lot of research and best practice sharing through their platform. I also connect with industry partners and professionals on LinkedIn to expand my network.
In addition, I really like Comms-unity, a Slack Workplace managed by Banana Tag. I'm creating a group with just startup Internal Communications professionals -- people ask for Career Advice, problem-solving, and addressing significant cultural challenges. I also join a lot of PRSA webinars. Overall, I enjoy reading and keeping myself updated and informed through different mediums.
☎️ Every edition of The Switchboard is personally curated by me — Julia Levy. This post is based on a live interview conversation and edited for publication. Learn more about why I write.