There is one major theme that has resounded throughout Melissa Ribeiro’s career, and that is her ability to always be “dangerously knowledgeable.” The catchphrase of her career started when she was an eighteen-year-old intern—and the only English-speaking person—at Ingersoll Rand in her native Brazil. At the time, the company was going through a merger, and high-level executives depended on her for her language skills, which resulted in a sort of “baptism by fire” and a chance to learn everything about the human resources function.
“I just embraced that,” says Ribeiro, who is now the chief people officer at Actian. “Being exposed to the C-level so early in my career helped me develop an executive presence and taught me how to work with different cultures and adapt to merging groups. That’s when I became dangerously knowledgeable because I had to do a little bit of everything.”
This flexibility has served Ribeiro extremely well ever since, especially at Actian. She joined Actian in November 2018 just months after the computer software company was purchased by HCL Technologies and Sumeru Equity Partners. Today, Ribeiro leads a “lean” team of seven people that oversees the human resources function across the globe. Her primary job, she says, is to advise and elevate the company’s C-level, particularly CEO Lewis Black.
“I always strive for them to be people managers no matter what they do,” she says. She adds, “I feel very proud that our CEO believes that he needs to work in concert with me because that’s the way we’re going to make sure that our employees are always top of mind.”
When it comes to Ribeiro’s leadership style, she believes in being “absolutely democratic,” the type of accessible leader with whom employees can enjoy a beer. She’s also keen to raise employee engagement and have her team be visible to the entire organization. To this end, she is a strong believer in collaboration.
“I care about every individual, from my team to leadership to every employee in the organization,” she says. “I start with ‘How are you?’ and I pause, because that’s how I’m going to really be the best leader, the best human, the best person that I can be. It’s by just listening and being there.”
Ribeiro also embraces her status as a Latina leader. She notes that, as a woman working in technology, she’s often been the only woman in the room and the only Latina within her organization. She often heard skepticism directed at her throughout her career, whether that was for being Latina, for being Brazilian, for being a woman, and even for being considered too young for a role. Ribeiro never let that dismay her, though, as she knew she brought a valuable diversity of thought to the table. Instead, she focused on her mission to be respected and worked hard to confront bias and ignorance.
“It makes no sense whatsoever, but you have to confront that bias and you have to build yourself. On top of that, you need to build everybody around you to make sure that people who have the same differences are going to be respected,” she says.
Ribeiro is currently involved in several efforts to help keep Actian top-of-mind in the marketplace. For one, she and her team developed programs and virtual events to help keep Actian’s employees engaged and connected when the company switched to working 100 percent remotely at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ribeiro and her team implemented a new summer internship program that started this year. Actian had previously offered one-off internships in the past, but now this would be an official program. The eight-week internship program was 100 percent remote and involved a buddy system, capstone projects, and regular weekly meetings with the human resources department. Program feedback was “extremely positive,” according to Ribeiro.
Throughout all of this, Ribeiro has worked closely with the Actian leadership team, especially as everyone continues to plow through the COVID-19 pandemic and as Actian continues on its post-acquisition trajectory. She notes the importance of continuing to keep employees engaged, as there is never a shortage of job options in the enterprise software space, and she wants to help Actian retain its talent. She proudly pointed to the company’s consistently positive employee engagement surveys.
“People are everything, so if we have a culture where people don’t want to be there and don’t want to work with each other or aren’t proud of the product, we’ll disintegrate,” she says. “Believe me, engineers have jobs out there. In the Valley, they can find a job at any time, so what is the difference between working for us and for another company? It’s because the culture of Actian is about excellence and collaboration.”