Natasha Ashton: How to build a better company, one hire at a time

Natasha Ashton

Natasha Ashton, co-CEO, Petplan

Hiring the right talent to manage and operate your business is one of the biggest challenges any executive faces. No matter how amazing your product or how visionary your plans, success won’t come easily without a workforce in place who can cultivate and enrich your company’s core values.

Figuring out how to attract and employ this talent can be tricky — candidates who look good on paper aren’t always the best fit in person.

Here’s how Petplan picks winning personalities who support and sustain our company’s culture.

Know thyself

When your company’s core values are clearly defined, hiring decisions become much easier. At Petplan, we have established ourselves not as an insurance company but as a pet health company that sells insurance. Putting pets first is the central idea from which our entire company culture has evolved. Thus, our staff absolutely must have a passion for pets.

Our goal to help pet parents afford the best care for their pets is something that resonates with all our employees personally, and this personal investment drives our customer service, helps determine our business partners and defines our marketing and communications strategies.

Understand your needs

To make the best hiring decisions, you need to know what you need. Because we are a business with a start-up culture, Petplan needs people who are excited about building solid, scalable infrastructure to accommodate explosive growth.

Because we are dedicated to advancing pet health, we need people who have the vision to identify key partnerships and who have an inherent passion for the product.

Above all, we need people who can think and communicate in the brand’s fun and friendly voice, whether connecting with our customers, our partners or each other.

Don’t be afraid to pass over talented people who may not be a great fit for your company’s culture. There’s more to a great team than talent. While skills can be taught, passion and personality tend to be part of the package or not.

Pass it on

Once you’ve determined your company’s modus operandi, you must effectively communicate it to your employees. For Petplan, culture is king. We strive to maintain the classic start-up culture — an environment in which everyone is a hands-on contributor and shares ideas. We use an open floor plan that promotes interaction throughout the staff, managers and executives alike.

We balance productivity and play. Our offices feature a plethora of pet-inspired décor, plus a treat table we keep filled with staff and visitor favorites. When one of our claims adjusters passes an exam, we order mini cupcakes for everyone.

When we debuted at No. 123 on Inc. magazine’s list of the fastest-growing privately held companies last year, we filled the office with balloons and had a party.

These are small perks, but they reinforce our belief that hard work can be punctuated by playful pick-me-ups now and then.

The rules of attraction

Find the sweet spot in your company’s culture for wooing the talent you want. For Petplan, one of the biggest perks we offer is that we allow pets in the workplace. Encouraging our employees to bring their pets to work helps foster a uniquely creative work environment and has given us a distinct advantage in attracting new talent.

So many prospective employees place a real premium on being able to bring their pets to work as it provides more quality time with their beloved companions and reduces expenses like dog walkers.

Most importantly, we have found that sharing our office with pets serves to reaffirm our commitment to pet health and well-being — and keeps our “pets first” philosophy at the heart of everything we do.

Natasha Ashton is the co-CEO and co-founder of Petplan pet insurance and its quarterly glossy pet health magazine, Fetch! — both headquartered in Philadelphia. Originally from the U.K., she holds an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. She can be reached at [email protected]