McKenzie Ragan originally went to Arizona State University to study sustainability with a track in international development.
“I wanted to help preserve and grow the national parks,” she said.
But after a couple of years in school, while working on a water research project with a government agency, she realized that her real interest was not necessarily in water analysis. It was in the agency’s own processes and procedures – and how those affected the staff’s productivity and community impact.
That interest prompted her to take on her second course of study, with a major in public service and two minors in leadership ethics and public management. After graduation, McKenzie spent two years working at a large investment bank, but she admits it wasn’t a perfect fit.
“I felt I could have a bigger impact — and also have a chance to work on my own personal development — with a smaller organization,” she said.
Local firm offers large opportunity
That’s when she connected, through a mutual friend from her ASU network, with Howard Fraser, head of sales at financial company, Longboard, in Phoenix.
“He had an energy and excitement about the company that was really contagious,” she said. “I wanted to have that energy!”
And Longboard was interested in what McKenzie brought to the table.
“The coolest thing about Longboard,” McKenzie said, “is that they want to understand, ‘What’s your vision?’” And they asked her to describe the job she thought would have the greatest positive impact on Longboard.
She described the employee experience job.
“They thought it was great, but said, ‘Look, we’re just in the early stages of our growth (they had only 34 employees at that point), so we don’t really need that right now. But we soon will.’”
McKenzie took a chance and started on the sales team.
“I thought ‘why not start in the center of the organization and understand sales and the clients? And then move over into the employee and client experience role once the company is ready for it.’”
Persistence pays off
Less than a year later, Ragan has what she calls her “dream job” at Longboard, defining and managing employee experience.
The alternative mutual fund company is growing fast – with its staff doubling in 2015. And they want to provide the best possible experience for their employees, so they’re inspired to give customers — the financial advisors who buy Longboard’s funds — the most helpful service in the financial industry.
Longboard fosters what it calls an “ownership mentality.” They want a work environment where high-achieving employees can work freely and produce great results. That means a minimum of bureaucracy, no micromanagement and clear communication.
To support that, McKenzie looks at the company as an ecosystem – making sure each process and practice has a purpose and that things work efficiently.
She works on everything from improving both the candidate and employee experience with Longboard to connecting the company to its community through philanthropic and social events.
“I’m growing so much personally every day,” she said. “I can’t think of anything else I’d do Monday through Friday that would be better.”