Excellence in HR Awards Honorees: Vivian Maza
Meet Vivian Maza, Chief Culture Officer at Ultimate Software
One of Ultimate Software’s original four employees, Vivian Maza spent nearly 30 years cultivating Ultimate’s award-winning, “People First” culture. She began as office manager (1990), later became Chief People Officer (2004), and retired as Chief Culture Officer (2019). Before joining Ultimate, Viv was a systems analyst for ADP’s wholesale division.
Favorite Quote: “Be selfless, just care, and live life every day making a difference.” — Viv Maza
Fun Fact: In 2018, I completed a four-day, three-night hike of Machu Picchu, along with 23 fearless Ultimate women
How do you unwind after a long day of work? After a full, rewarding career — including almost 30 years spent building Ultimate Software from the ground up, surrounded by some of the most caring, amazing people on this earth — I officially retired at the end of 2019. Despite being retired, I’m definitely keeping busy these days. I cherish the time I get to spend with my family, especially with my children and helping to raise my beautiful granddaughter. My daughter is expecting a boy in April, and we’re counting down the days until his arrival. Being around family and keeping in touch with my former work family (all my “UltiPeeps”) helps provide some peace and comfort in an otherwise-uncertain and very challenging time.
What challenges have you faced in your career, and how did you overcome them?I’ve been fortunate to have a rewarding career with many more good days than bad. But there have been challenges along the way. When Scott [Scherr] started Ultimate, it was just four of us — Deb [Sasso], Paul [Gonzalez], and me — and two donated cubicles we got from our friends, who believed in us. As any startup does, we took risks. But we believed in what we were doing. We set out to make software for people, with features that would make the work experience better, anchored by a core philosophy to always put people first. Early on, we committed to covering healthcare for all employees. Learning from our CEO’s father on how to succeed in business, you always take care of your people first, and they’ll take care of the business. We stuck to that principle, even as we grew to hundreds of employees. When Ultimate was a publicly traded company, we heard from investors who told us to stop covering healthcare premiums for employees because of how much it cost the company each year. But Scott and I kept firm. We believed in always taking care of our people and their families, so we kept covering premiums, even though it cost millions of dollars (that practice continued, even when Ultimate grew to 6,000 employees). Our stock weathered many storms and wasn’t immune to market crashes. It was as low as $2 a share at one point, but then finished at $331.50 when Ultimate was acquired and went private in 2019. There are always going to be challenges in life. But if you stay true to who you are, your beliefs, what you stand for — your why — you can overcome anything.
What has been the most monumental moment of your career thus far? There have been so many unforgettable moments and milestones over the years, but one that really stands out is Ultimate ranking #2 on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list in 2020, which felt like the culmination of everything we worked so hard to build together at Ultimate over 30 years. From day one, we spent every day focused on putting our people first — caring for our employees and their families, supporting our customers, and serving our communities. While we never did any of it for the recognition, but because we believed in always doing the right thing and always taking care of people, we were so proud to receive that honor from Fortune. It’s a testament to the dedication of our people, the way they treated one another like family at work and outside the office. We were extremely proud to have ranked in the top 25 on Fortune’s list for nine consecutive years (including four in the top 10), but little compares to the pride, happiness, and celebration that comes with that #2 ranking.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten? My Aunt Maria, who raised me after my mom passed away when I was a very young girl, always engrained in me to work hard, be independent, and always be able to stand on your own two feet. It was funny coming from her, part of that Cuban generation brought up believing that a woman’s place was in the home taking care of children. She taught me how to focus on a goal and always strive my best to achieve it. She passed away at 89 years old in 2010, and I think I’ve made her proud.
What qualities make for an outstanding HR professional? Trust, honesty, selflessness, having a huge heart, and being an all-around genuine, caring person. Those are qualities that make any person great, but they’re critical in HR. You have to be a good person and love working with and for people. The most successful people in HR most likely achieve success because they put others before themselves, always looking out for other people’s interests first. Every day, they’re focused on helping people and finding ways to make a difference, whether it’s a random act of kindness for one person or leading an entire team in an effort to improve the community.
How have you adapted your HR skills to COVID? I retired a few months before COVID-19 started to impact the United States, so I haven’t been involved in full-time HR work during the pandemic. However, even in retirement, my focus remains on caring for people and investing in their future, while staying safe and socially distant. Although I’m retired from the workforce, I’m keeping involved in the community — such as supporting nonprofits like Kids In Distress, Women In Distress, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving — and partnering with some great organizations doing great work. For example, the Miami Angels, a syndicate actively investing in early-stage, tech-enabled companies. Although it’s not always talked about, South Florida has a booming tech industry with incredible talent that continues to drive startups and innovation. I’ve seen and lived it firsthand, and now with the pandemic and changes to where and how people work, South Florida is quickly on its way to becoming another Silicon Valley. I’m proud to be a part of helping to shape the future of tech.
What are some misconceptions about HR and how do you combat them? One thing is how much the role and breadth of HR has evolved over the years. When people think about HR, they might still have this picture of a person stuck behind a desk, using outdated systems and pushing stacks of papers from one pile to another. The truth is, HR has come so far, and even more so in the past decade — with a big thanks to technology and innovation. Almost every traditional part of HR has been improved by HR technology, from the ways organizations manage data and report information about their people to how companies communicate with employees and keep them engaged at work. We have platforms that can now take the guesswork out of what employees are saying and feeling, and AI-driven technology to help HR and managers hire, train, serve, and — most importantly, keep — their best people. In some ways, the fundamentals of HR haven’t changed much, but skilled human experts trained in traditional HR practices can now partner with smart technology solutions to ensure the best possible experience for employees, no matter where they work or what they do at the company. Anyone who’s had the privilege of working at a company that uses this technology (or creates it) has learned firsthand just how advanced HR’s capabilities have become. Once they see the power of HR tech, it’s not long before their perception of HR changes, and in a good way.
What do you like most about working in HR? By far, it’s the people. Being able to work together with people, and finding new ways to serve people, is really the reason I spent so many years in HR to begin with. I started as an administrator at Ultimate, doing a lot of everything around the office, from processing payroll to handling all of the HR (all while finishing my college degree at night). In the early days at Ultimate, we didn’t have an HR department, so it was a lot of learning on the go. As we grew from a few dozen people to hundreds, I took on more and more responsibilities and my role continued to expand. Eventually, we grew to thousands of employees and I had the fortunate privilege of leading an entire HR team, then later becoming Chief People Officer and really focusing on building Ultimate’s award-winning company culture. It’s been an absolutely incredible journey with many twists, turns, challenges, rewards, and times of uncertainty. But one thing that’s never changed is my love for people. When you surround yourself with great people, you can get through anything.