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Nathan Coe talks to Glassdoor

October 10, 2020

Article originally posted on Glassdoor.

Auto Trader is a business that knows a thing or two about keeping its people happy. With a simple, flat-structured organisation and strong company values, Auto Trader has created a diverse and inclusive business that people are proud to work for. To get the lowdown on what makes the company so special, we sat down with new CEO Nathan Coe to talk about culture and his approach to leadership.

Tell us a little about yourself, your background and the journey you’ve taken at Auto Trader to get to CEO

Originally from Australia, my career started in telecommunications, media and the early days of the internet. Twelve years ago I moved to the UK with a newly appointed CEO to transform Auto Trader UK from a magazine business to an online business. Alongside the many brilliant people in the business we achieved this over a six-year period. I’ve done a whole range of roles in my time at Auto Trader which has allowed me to learn a lot. Most of my time and experience is on the product and technology side of the business, but I’ve also always loved spending time with our account management teams and customers as well.

The days of Auto Trader being a magazine are long behind us: tell us about the digital transformation the business has been through and how your Employee Value Proposition has evolved along with this?

Although the transition to a digital business was hard, every person I ever came across within the business really cared about doing the right thing. As hard as it was to see the magazine decline and eventually disappear, people knew it was the right thing for the business in the long term. Everyone involved can now look at the company today, which is in the top 100 listed companies in the UK, and be proud knowing that they played a part in achieving what so many other print media businesses couldn’t.

Our Employee Value Proposition is driven by our strong company values. It isn’t a glossy set of messages to candidates based on what we think people want to hear, but is instead a reflection of the genuine experiences of our people and are shared in a very authentic way. We are a bit quirky, our culture is not corporate and not what people expect. We (and by that I mean our teams) have very high standards and we believe in doing the “right thing”, the combination of these two things means that we make big changes often, which is definitely not for everyone. However, the real magic is that we also manage to be very human and values-driven. It’s not at all uncommon for people to form relationships that really matter to them personally, and often last even after they have left the company. We also take inclusion very seriously and work hard at ensuring people feel comfortable being themselves because this is when they will feel and perform at their very best. People shouldn’t feel like they have to “’fit in” to the dominant stereotype in businesses in order to progress and get opportunities. That being said, they do have to be naturally aligned with our values. That’s non-negotiable.

The final two things that people would say describe their experience at Auto Trader is that you can really make a difference to the organisation as an individual, and your career can take many directions, where the only limit is your goals, strengths and commitment. That’s why people tend to stay so long, because like me they rarely do the same job for more than 2-3 years!

Tell us about the culture at Auto Trader? How do you monitor and nurture this culture?

People will describe our culture in many different ways, but remarkable consistency. I use a neologism – “Uncommonsense” – to describe how if we do the right (and brave) thing for our customers and our people and build a solid foundation, then good results will follow.

Our culture is very “Human”. We don’t treat people like they are “resources” or a number. Instead we strive to recognise them as a unique individual and provide them with a platform to be the very best version of themselves. This is why diversity and inclusion is such a big focus for us and why we have won various awards and recognition for our approach. This means that much of our culture is not “top down”. Instead it is driven by groups of people that get together around a common interest (in “guilds”) and set about making a difference in that area across the organisation.

We are values-driven and principles led with a strong sense of being responsible and ethical. We respect people and we want to make a difference to the communities that we contribute to and rely upon.

Finally, we are data-driven, so we use rich data to monitor almost everything, including our culture. This gives us the insight to help us nurture and develop it as well as spotting areas where we can improve. We combine quantitative data across different stages in the employee lifecycle from job applications to exit surveys with qualitative data from our daily team stand-ups, focus groups with our various employee networks. It’s also important that as a leadership team we are available, approachable and having honest conversations with our people.

How do you tackle diversity and inclusion at work? Is this a big reason why people join and stay at the company?

We could talk about this for hours. The short answer is that it’s not about posters on the walls. From the very top of the company, including the board, we believe that all people should be able to feel a part of Auto Trader and accepted as they are. We have an established D&I working group responsible for the design and delivery of a comprehensive strategy. This includes workshops and awareness sessions, collaboration with different leading organizations and charities, and most importantly the internal networks that are really the ones leading our efforts. They have taken matters into their own hands, and I think that makes it more authentic and relevant than any top-down program could ever achieve. It’s absolutely brilliant, and as a result I, and many others have learnt lessons that have changed the way we understand and see the world.

One of your company values is “humble” – how does that apply to you as a leader?

I believe humility is so fundamental to making good decisions and getting better outcomes for businesses and the world. It’s about not pretending you have all the answers, seeking out and listening to the input from others, and owning up when you get something wrong. One of my favourite quotes from the Scottish philosopher David Hume captures this perfectly, “Truth springs from argument amongst friends”.

Is there anything that you can no longer do now that you are CEO that you miss doing?

What drives me is building and creating things (as in doing the “work”). As CEO you just can’t be at that level, and even if you did you would only frustrate all the great managers and people whose job that is. Once the direction is clear, the best thing you can do is to let them get on with it. I just miss being part of it!

What happens at your annual employee conference?

Everyone in the company comes together for a day and an evening. The day has a few big talks to ensure everyone is on the same page in terms of how we are doing, where we are going next and why. Then the bulk of the time is a series of tracks where people learn from other people in the business across a varied and wide range of topics such as technology, data, our customers, community initiatives, diversity and inclusion.

You’ve got a pretty amazing office – which of the cars in the office is your favorite?

Easy: It’s a Citroen van that must have been either an ice-cream van or milk van. I’ve never seen one on the road and if there was it would make everyone’s head turn!

What car do you drive yourself?

Audi A3, although it doesn’t get used a lot as I mostly use public transport.

What makes a successful employee at Auto Trader?

We have a great success framework that talks about the behaviours that define great people at Auto Trader and go along with our values. But rather than go through all of that I would say the three things that stand out most to me are:

  1. They care about Auto Trader and the communities around us
  2. They are humble and down to earth
  3. They take action and are willing (or love) to get their hands dirty

What would your team say about you as a leader?

I’d like to think they’d say I’m approachable, I care and have a clear direction for the company in the years ahead. That being said, they would probably also say I am too busy, but I’m getting on top of that!

What do you do with the data you get from Glassdoor?

The data we get on Glassdoor gives us great insight into the employee experience. As a CEO together with the senior leadership team we regularly read the reviews, reflect on the feedback and sometimes respond directly. We have a great overall rating of 4.5 but sometimes the experience of our people doesn’t match our aspirations. So it’s important we listen to what everybody has to say, irrespective of the rating they give us. We don’t always agree, but we will always listen.

What impact does Glassdoor have on employees and job candidates?

For our employees it is a way to share their experience of working with us with their potential future colleagues and provide advice to senior leaders. With the reviews being anonymous they tend to be more candid with their feedback.

All candidates that get to the final interview stage will meet myself or another member of our Operational Leadership Team, they are the most senior leaders of our business. We know our Glassdoor company page is popular with candidates as it receives thousands of visits each month. We are pleasantly surprised with the amount of research candidates have done into our business by reading various reviews. They trust your platform and it informs their decision about applying for one of our roles and joining our business.