Lorna Hagen, the SVP of People Operations at OnDeck, is at the forefront of talent strategy. Today, she tells Fairygodboss why she thinks humility has a huge place at work, subject matter expertise is just table stakes, and it’s great if your career trajectory looks like the Rocky mountains.

Fairygodboss of the Week: Lorna Hagen
SVP Operations, OnDeck
New York, NY

FGB: Tell us about your career. How did you get to where you are now? 

LH: I studied Hospitality Management and thought I wanted to be a restaurant owner. I loved food and wine, and at the time, the perceived glamour of the restaurant industry. I ended up working in corporate dining, managing 50+ union employees and realized I was spending all of my time managing people and virtually no time thinking about the customer experience.  I left to help open a major flagship retail store only to learn that the project was more a labor of love for the designer rather than a business. I couldn’t reconcile aesthetic choices being made that were eating into our revenue, and ultimately the commissions of my staff.  

During my time in retail I realized that I loved the training and recruitment part of my job.  At the time, I was 24 and decided to go into HR full time and took a pay cut to become an HR Assistant at a global sports management firm. The experience of going from manager of dozens of people to an assistant was jarring, but it was a brilliant career move. It taught me that humility has a huge place at work, and being open to new experiences will take you far. After three years I joined a publishing house. The parent company then bought Dow Jones, and at 31, I became the global VP of Talent Management overseeing compensation, recruitment, and learning & development for all of their brands, including The Wall Street Journal.  That was a formative experience.  

After three and half years in this role, I left to join Ann Taylor LOFT, which was a great learning ground for corporate governance and discipline. When I was ready to leave big corporate America, I joined OnDeck as head of People Operations. At the time, we were a private start-up with around 200 employees in the US. Almost three years later, we are now a public company with over 600 employees in the US, Canada and Australia, and we are the leading online lender to small businesses.  

FGB: What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?

LH: First, I am very proud of the teams I have built and the talent I have developed.  Subject matter expertise is table stakes. Curiosity and courage, on the other hand, are much harder to find. The folks who have been successful partners to me have either been vastly inquisitive with unlimited professional courage, or have learned to harness those skills. When we are all open to different perspectives and ideas, we all benefit from more impactful and innovative work. 

Second, I am incredibly proud of our work at OnDeck. I always say we are working on building a “values-based valuable company” – and we are. Rapid growth is always faced by a number of challenges. OnDeck has dealt with these with grace, intelligence, drive, and an unwavering vision that we will be a small business’ first choice for financing. 

FGB: What is a challenge that you’ve faced and overcome?

LH: Managing my career and family, though it’s not that I have overcome it, I have come to peace with the trade-offs.  As a single mom, it becomes even harder to “balance” as you don’t always have a partner to share those personal responsibilities with.  But years ago, I was speaking to Ann Sarnoff, President of BBC America, and she told me about her bucket theory – separate things into three buckets: the things I can only do (recitals, championship games), the ones I share (with my sitter, my parents, my “village”), and the outsourced bucket - dry cleaning, groceries, etc.  In 2016, the outsourced bucket is amazingly simple with companies like Blue Apron, Amazon, and a host of service apps to help you manage your household remotely.  

Lightning Round:

FGB: What do you do when you’re not working?

LH: I work on my garden, spend a lot of time at my kids’ baseball games, and I travel. This year I went to Isla Holbox in Mexico to celebrate a big birthday. The place is hard to get to and completely unspoiled by big hotels, cars and throngs of tourists. Their main mode of transportation is the golf cart!

FGB: If you could have dinner with one famous person - dead or alive - who would it be?

LH: Maya Lin. I think her ability to find the intersection of history and art is inspiring. (And Tina Fey - who wouldn't!?)

FGB: What is your karaoke song?

LH: California Girls by Katy Perry (don’t judge – it’s too fun!)

FGB: What is your favorite movie?

LH: Too many: Thomas Crown Affair (with Renee Russo), the Princess Bride, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Cinema Paradiso 

FGB: What book would you bring with you on a desert island?

LH: An iPad filled with the entire Garcia-Marquez library, the New Yorker, and the Robert Caro LBJ books.  

FGB: What is your shopping vice? What would you buy if you won the lottery?

LH: Birchbox.  I can’t get enough.  The idea of a small box arriving every month full of goodies is irresistible.  If I won the lotto, I’d pay for college for my kids and nieces and then I’d buy a small little bungalow in a sleepy Florida key – where all I need is the SPF samples from my Birchbox!

FGB: Who is your Fairygodboss?

LH: Macaire Pace, Managing Director at Willis Towers Watson. I met Macaire when I was in a job that was a stretch assignment for me and she quickly became the person I could bounce ideas off of, who would challenge me, support me, and always push me to think through all possible outcomes. She was the first to make me see decisions through an “If/Then” filter, which is a great skill to have when dealing with any major decision from employee matters to big capital intensive projects.

FGB: What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share? 

LH: Read.  Understand what is happening in the world and how current events affect the context of your companies and industries. I read two major newspapers a day, but find the right content for you: news apps, LinkedIn, Flipboard, podcasts. Also, not all career opportunities are “up”. I have made lateral moves, moves into different industries, and moves that paid me less money.  My career trajectory line looks like the outline of the Rocky Mountains, and every choice helped get me where I am.  

FGB: Why do you love where you work?

LH: I love that we are disrupting an industry while being thoughtful. It’s a unique experience to build a company in an evolving space that is transforming something as mature as traditional financial services.  At the same time, we do it while thoughtfully building our employment brand, value proposition to candidates and employees, and doing something incredibly beneficial for the heroes of our economy – small businesses.  


Fairygodboss is all about women helping other women - so each week, we celebrate a woman who made a difference in another woman’s career. Is there a woman who has made a difference in your career? 
Celebrate her and thank her by nominating her here.