When Alessandra Yockelson joined Pure Storage as its chief human resources officer in 2021, the fast-growing enterprise IT company already had four thousand employees and $1.7 billion in annual revenue. Those were impressive numbers, especially since the business had only been established a decade earlier. But Pure Storage leaders wanted to build upon their early success, and they asked Yockelson to help advance their human capital practices to enable the business’s ambition of doubling its size.
That kind of aggressive push is part of the Pure Storage playbook. By 2013, just four years after the company’s launch, leaders had raised nearly $250 million in venture capital investments, and Pure Storage’s revenues were doubling every quarter. The company was quickly recognized and respected as a true disruptor in the storage market thanks to its flash-based storage drives, used and loved by data center operators for their increased data storage capacity and low power usage in a smaller physical space.
A 2015 IPO thrust Pure Storage into the national spotlight, and Yockelson says the strong culture has continued to enable the founders’ original vision. “I came to a company filled with creative, aggressive people who are trying to break new ground and develop new products and solutions,” she says. “We have a team of people obsessed with innovation and customer experience.”
Yockelson came to Pure Storage at an important time. She’s in place to advance a human capital agenda that will help what was once a trendy start-up mature into a global enterprise. To make the transition, Pure will have to expand its focus on talent acquisition, especially abroad, and also introduce succession and talent management practices as well as investments in accelerated leadership development. All of these are needed to build talent into leaders of the future for the company.
Three programs will help Yockelson ensure Pure Storage is ready to meet its goals for growth. First, she’s developing robust succession planning, career development, and leadership development programs. Second, she’s implementing DEI strategies to build a culture of inclusion that gives everyone (including people from underrepresented groups) opportunities. Third, she’s escalating and automating services to employees and leaders that enable the company to effectively operate globally as it opens new offices in international locations like Bangalore and Prague.
Maintaining the elements that make a company special amidst rapid growth is no easy task. Yockelson, who has master’s degrees, MBAs, a PhD, and other advanced training, thinks of culture as a ball kept afloat by various sources of air. A CHRO and other leaders can shift one of the streams influencing the ball, but they must be sure the ball doesn’t rise, drop, or burst.
Yockelson says those in a CHRO role should be able to communicate the end state and describe and outline the behaviors they want to support and recognize. Then, even in a fast-paced environment, leaders can hire the right candidates. At Pure Storage, that means onboarding people who have seen a business scale with high growth and identifying leaders who can run a $5 billion business.
As it grows, Pure Storage continues to evolve its products and business models. The company is now known as a storage and data management leader that offers on-premise infrastructure products and solutions, a bridge to the public cloud and cloud integration, and a unique subscription model meeting customers where they are both today and tomorrow. “We’re doing things nobody else is doing in this space, and we have the right plan to keep innovating well into the future,” Yockelson says.
Yockelson came to Pure Storage after holding key positions at Volkswagen, Avon, Philips, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) in Brazil, the Netherlands, and the United States. She was born in São Paulo, has lived on three continents, and speaks fluent English, Spanish, and Portuguese. This background, combined with her demonstrated experience in building performance cultures, has put her in high demand for executive committees and corporate board positions.
In 2021, Yockelson accepted a board position with iCIMS, the company behind the world’s leading talent cloud. The all-in-one recruiting platform is a software-as-a-service model, making it a perfect fit for the tech-savvy CHRO. She can both learn from iCIMS’ approach and offer her own experience and insights to help guide its strategy.
Securing a seat at the boardroom table was both a longstanding goal and the logical next step for Yockelson. “Board membership helps C-level executives become more strategic as they hand off some of the direct day-to-day work,” she explains, adding that she’s excited to see how she can apply what she learns at iCIMS to her work at Pure Storage.
Finding a board-level opportunity took some time, and Yockelson was selective. She vetted organizations and analyzed their visions, values, and leadership. She encourages others looking for their first board seat to take their time and stay optimistic. “The first board seat is the most challenging one to get because people want experienced directors,” she explains. “Persistence is key.” While rising professionals might be told they don’t “have the right profile,” business acumen and the ability to provide trusted advice now carry more weight than a traditional pedigree, Yockelson notes.
Still, preparation matters. As Yockelson searched for her first breakthrough position, she readied herself by researching board governance, interviewing various board members, attending seminars, and joining organizations like the Latino Corporate Directors Association. Then, she started reaching out to members of her network and making her interest in board membership known.
And Yockelson has not been alone in preparing for the future. Pure’s CEO Charlie Giancarlo is looking ahead to 2027. That’s when he says the price difference between his flash-based technology and the solid-state drives used by large competitors like Dell and HPE will vanish. When that happens, Pure will have the best technology at the best price—and Yockelson is working to make sure it has the best team to capitalize on the opportunity.