Oportun’s mission is to provide hardworking people with affordable capital and integrate them into the financial mainstream, all-the-while helping them establish a credit history. This is also a personal goal for Chief People Officer Stacy Klevay Newton.
When Klevay Newton was twenty-seven years old, she was a newly divorced single mother who was $27,000 in debt and making $27,000 a year. “I literally could not make ends meet,” she remembers. “We had macaroni and cheese with hot dogs many nights because it was the cheapest option.”
Klevay Newton pawned her grandmother’s earrings to afford the new tires she needed to make it to a job interview. She also estimates that she spent thousands of dollars renting furniture for what was probably a $400 couch.
These stories aren’t rare. But Klevay Newton’s firsthand experience with the hardship of those who are working to extricate themselves from difficult situations provides a compelling lens as a leader at Oportun.
Since arriving just a few years ago, Klevay Newton has helped foster a feeling of community and family to an organization that was already excelling at it. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Klevay Newton has also helped completely reshape Oportun’s in-person protocols and ushered in a new, and permanent, era of remote work, while finding ways to keep employees connected to one another and the company’s mission of service.
No Persona Required
When it comes to establishing a familial rapport with her team, Klevay Newton says the work of trying to maintain two different personas just doesn’t make sense for anyone.
“I don’t separate between my family at work and my family at home,” she explains. “My father and his brother built a metal manufacturing organization, and I grew up feeling like every person there was a member of my own family. I love and value the great people I work with at Oportun and those within my home. I think that integration is one solution to a lot of what we are all struggling with right now.”
More concretely, Klevay Newton says she doesn’t have to shed one persona when she ends her workday. It allows her to bring her most authentic and present self to work, and she wants everyone at Oportun to feel the same.
Klevay Newton has helped promote those efforts by serving as an Executive Sponsor of Oportun’s Women’s Initiative Network as well as its True Colors Pride Network.
“Both of those groups are just roaring along,” she says, “and it’s so exciting to be connecting with people through these groups and the fantastic events they put on.”
She has also noticed something about everyone she works with: if your mission and values don’t align with the organization, Oportun probably isn’t the place for you.
“You just can’t survive here because it becomes obvious so quickly,” Klevay Newton explains. “That alignment with mission is such an authentic part of our culture that the very few people who have come through here who didn’t have it didn’t last long.”
Evolution in a Crisis
The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly been one of the more challenging periods in Klevay Newton’s tenure, but she says it’s also a career highlight.
“All of the wonderful things that I knew were true about this company were really brought to life during that period of time,” Klevay Newton explains.
She recalls nine consecutive months of morning calls where the entire focus was on caring for Oportun’s people and strategizing innovative ways to support them during such a difficult period. Programs to address mental, emotional, and financial wellness were created along with mindfulness seminars, health webinars, and other resources.
To maintain a feeling of comradery as Oportun sent its workforce home, Oportun hosted “Oportun’s Got Talent,” a chance for employees to show off their skills, such as singing, art, or even world-class weightlifting. “The day before Christmas, we were sent a video from all five of the finalists who had gotten together to record a song wishing peace and joy to everyone,” Klevay Newton says. “It was so amazing for these people to get together on their own to do this for us, and it really speaks to the spirit of what remote work can be.”
Oportun has taken lessons from the pandemic that will truly reshape the nature of work for its people. They will continue to be a remote-first organization, which Klevay Newton believes will provide a true strategic advantage for the company.
“The feedback we’ve received is that people really have no interest in looking to be in an office to do their base work,” Klevay Newton says. “Instead, they want more opportunities to connect and collaborate with other people. That’s the missing link that we’ll continue to work to solve for in this environment. We’ll continue to find those connection points over and over again.”