Employee Spotlight: Latkes with Lora Rodstein
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One business function that has faced a uniquely challenging role to play during the last 12 months is Human Resources. At the helm of this function here at Kenna is Lora Rodstein, Vice President of Human Resources. In charge of stewarding our People Team through good times and bad (and boy, has the world had its share of bad times over the last year), Lora is a true fusion of grit, compassion, and professionalism. Lora and her stellar team have stopped at nothing to ensure the wellbeing of our employees and the success of our business. They have taken on new projects to empower the Kenna family, including pursuing diversity and inclusion, advocating for mental health (Mental Health Days, a new mental healthcare solution, etc.), helping employees get set up for success in a remote work environment, and so much more.
I’m delighted to be able to shine a light on Lora’s role as the captain behind these initiatives. And, through my time interviewing her, I’ve learned that Lora’s professional accomplishments are just one part of a very exciting life story. As I’ve already assured her, I’ll be the first in line to read her memoirs one day!
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I was born and raised in the former Soviet Union (Moscow). In 1989, I moved to America with my parents and younger sister in search of the “American Dream.” At the time, being Jewish in Russia wasn’t very advantageous, so we sought political asylum status here in the United States. After a year-long stint in Italy and Austria during the asylum process, we arrived in California. My folks had college friends who had immigrated 10 years prior, and they were able to sponsor us to come to America. We lived with them for a little bit and then settled in San Francisco. We lived there for about 5-6 years and then moved to the suburbs in the South Bay.
Q: How did you come into this field of work?
A: I came into this line of work by complete accident. I was actually going to college to become a dentist. In high school, I was in a dental hygienist class. I don’t recall how that happened, but I do remember taking molds of teeth consistently, and I always thought I’d end up being a dentist. At age 19, I applied for a receptionist position at a high-tech company because I needed money to support myself through school. The HR director who interviewed me ended up directing me to an HR coordinator opening instead. Just wanting money, I went ahead and accepted the role, and that was it—I’ve never been in a different field. Over the last 20-something years, I worked my way up in HR and I have no regrets. I really enjoy working with people and I love that no day is the same. During that first role as an HR coordinator, I was doing a lot of new hire onboarding, and I loved that part of the job—being able to welcome new employees and tell them about the company. When I became aware of the different fields within HR, I was very interested. Simultaneously, I also realized I didn’t want to be looking into people’s mouths my whole life.
It’s crazy to think that if I got that receptionist position instead, I probably would’ve gone on to become a dentist. It was a total fluke; I didn’t even know HR was a career at that time.
Q: How has the pandemic changed how you lead the People Team at Kenna (new challenges, opportunities, etc.)?
A: Much like all the other business functions, we’ve had to adapt. I’ve never been a 100% remote employee in my entire career, and that was a very tactical way to adapt to this new environment. A lot of my job and my team’s job revolves around people and just being a presence in the office. Moving virtually has really given me a great empathy for 100% remote employees.
Everyone in leadership positions has expressed that this has been the most challenging time in all of our careers.
I think back to March when we had to make business decisions with limited data—just speculation about what’s going to happen when the whole world is going into lockdown. All of us had the experience of living and managing through economic downturns but this was so different. Typically, a downturn has a recovery slope. But this time, the whole world shut down, and trying to predict what the recovery would look like and then align business needs and employee wellbeing has been incredibly challenging. We had to weigh the needs of the business as whole, our employees, and our own families in a global pandemic. Having to juggle all three of these things has been one of the hardest things that I’ve personally had to do.
Ultimately, though, I’m thankful for my team and for our company’s leadership. Karim’s leadership has stood out—leading with empathy, transparency, and basic human decency is a rare combination. It really helped us navigate the complete disaster of a year that was 2020.
One additional benefit that emerged in 2020 that I’m grateful for is overall less stigma around mental health. That’s something we can all benefit from.
Q: What project in 2021 are you looking forward to the most?
A: There are two most exciting projects for me this year: Kicking off in earnest our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) roadmap, closely followed by a Learning and Development program. The DEI program in particular is really important to me, because I want our company to be able foster an environment where everyone feels respected, included, and has a sense of belonging. It’s going to be a journey—probably a 3-4 year roadmap.
Q: Who has been your biggest inspiration in life?
A: It may sound cheesy, but my parents. They were in their 30s when they left everything they knew behind with two young children to move across the world to a foreign place to build a life we could all be proud of. I think back to myself when I was in my 30s and I just don’t know that I could’ve done the same thing. My parents must have been scared out of their minds. In Russia, it’s compulsory to take a second language in school, so my dad spoke British English and my mom spoke German. I was put into an ESL class and I supplemented my English learning by reading Calvin and Hobbes cartoons and The Far Side. Not even kidding—they were tremendously helpful.
I speak English today with an American accent so many folks may not know that English wasn’t my first language. My Russian accent does come out sometimes, especially when I’m tired. I still have to think about the soft “w” versus hard “w” sounds (i.e. wine vs vine).
Q: What do you miss most about being a kid?
A: Everything that’s not adulting. It was great to have someone take care of your basic needs and my only responsibility was to get good grades in school. I didn’t have to worry about bills, news stories and grocery shopping. I really miss that sense of having a single focus and not being aware of the world around me. School was that focus for me. My family’s ethos was that education is the most important thing. It wasn’t about what you’re gonna be when you grow up, rather understanding that school teaches you the skillset needed to be successful later in life—the disciple to learn new things and to think critically. That was really important for my parents. My parents always said they’d rather I get a “hard C” than a “soft A.” What they cared about most is that I learned something.
Q: What is your favorite time of day? Why?
A: Early morning before everyone else is awake. It’s my alone time to wake up, have coffee, catch up on the news, maybe do a little bit of work. It’s almost like meditation for me to go through my little morning routine.
Q: What trend do you hope never comes back? What trend do you hope does come back?
A: I hope fidget spinners and mullets are a thing of the past.
A trend I hope does come back is human decency and being able to treat everyone with respect that they deserve.
Q: Top 5 songs for your road trip playlist?
- Bette Davis Eyes – Kim Carnes
- Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison
- Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd
- Southern Cross – Crosby, Stills & Nash
- Take it Easy – Eagles
Q: Lollipop or Tootsie Roll?
A: Ice Cream
Q: Crunchy peanut butter or smooth peanut butter?
Q: Treehouse or underground cave?
Q: Travel through time or travel through space?
A: Travel through space
Q: Card game or board game?
A: Board game (Trivial Pursuit!)