As a child in Nepal, Hayden Brown watched carefully as her mother ran a women’s empowerment program while her father dedicated himself to community development in the foothills of the Himalayas.
“What my parents were doing definitely informed my perspective and motivated me to find a career that could have a positive impact on people’s lives,” said Brown, 39, president and chief executive of Upwork, a Santa Clara, California-based company which connects employers with freelancers.
Brown, who was named CEO in January, spoke to Reuters about her life and work philosophy in 2020.
Edited excerpts are below.
Q. What advice do you have for employers and freelancers now?
A. We’ve actually seen an uptick in this economy. We have always been a company that was deeply rooted in remote work, but we’re really seeing opportunities for our customers capitalizing on newfound clients who are realizing that because of more people working from home, that they’re comfortable with and can tap into this incredible talent pool of independent contractors.
Use this opportunity to continue to build strong connections and relationships right now. This is a time when clients and freelancers can really create new opportunities.
Q.What was your first job and how did it shape you?
A. I started my first business, Hayden’s House Cleaning, when I was eight or nine years old and living in Amesbury, Massachusetts. The idea was that I would go around the neighborhood and do odd jobs.
I got $1 or $2 per hour – whatever anyone would pay me – and I learned about patience and kindness as a way to build relationships with people from all kinds of backgrounds, from helping elderly people unpack their groceries to parents who were frazzled and just needed a little help.
We had a Friendly’s which was a short bike ride away. I remember feeling so grown up being able to use my earnings to buy sundaes with an M&M smile on them.
Q. What has been your biggest challenge this year?
A. Getting a change in scenery. I love being home more. I’m spending more time than ever with my kids (two daughters, aged 3 and 5). But traveling outside of my little orbit here is nourishing and gives me new changes in perspective, so I’m forcing myself out on walks and day trips.
Q. What piece of advice do you often give?
A. It only takes one person to believe in you. So often, people come to me thinking about what they want to do in the future, like, “Oh I need to have all these skills and experiences and I’m not ready yet,” but quite often the thing I want them to realize is they may be ready to take that leap now.
They’re looking for affirmation from the outside but they need to realize that the person they need to believe in them is themselves.
Q.Do you have tips for someone starting their career right now?
A. Learn how to tune out social media and the news. Focus on the things you can control – your skills, your experience, your reputation. Those things are enduring and will serve you well.
Q.What is your work-from-home set up?
A. I have a two-person office that my husband and I share. He has been really generous and has forfeited the space much of the time. We also have a standing desk in the garage and now I have bright lights and a high quality camera (for video meetings), which was not true before this pandemic.
Our two kids are very good about not interrupting us in meetings. We have a nanny who has trained them pretty well. I usually take a break in the afternoon when they have a 3 p.m. snack, and I take my five-year-old to pre-school nearby on Thursdays and Fridays.
It’s such a nice mini-break for me to duck out and get some fresh air – a moment of sanity in the midst of an insane week. Work is important, but family and health and happiness always have to come first.
Q. Where do you want to go when the world opens up again?
A. For work, I want to have an amazing meal with my team, sit by the fire afterwards and talk into the wee hours of the night. As much as we are awesome at seeing each other on cameras, it would be wonderful to have that face time. (Editing by Lauren Young and Richard Chang)