Chief Operating Officer, Peloton
“Peloton is a kind, collaborative, high-performance culture where we believe that success is best when it’s shared. That’s something I took from Tuck.
Before she came to Peloton as the interactive exercise startup’s chief operating officer, Mariana Garavaglia T’08 spent 11 years with Amazon, working in a variety of roles as the company grew from about 21,000 employees to more than 640,000. However, shortly after she joined Amazon as an HR business partner at its Reno fulfillment center in 2008, the company implemented a hiring freeze.
The country was in the depths of the financial crisis, and Amazon’s meteoric growth was on pause. Weeks after Garavaglia started, the night shift manager at the sprawling fulfillment center abruptly quit. The absence threatened to significantly hinder operations during the make-or-break holiday season, and Garavaglia was powerless to hire a replacement. So she did the job herself.
“It was terrible hours, starting at 5 p.m. and finishing at 6:30 a.m. the next morning, six days a week. It wasn’t a job anyone was volunteering for, but at that point the team needed a warehouse manager more than an HR partner,” she says. “So I raised my hand.”
Tuck gave her the confidence to fill the void, and the general management skills to excel in the position. “One of the key things I took from Tuck is that you’re not incapable of doing something just because you’ve never done it before,” says Garavaglia, whose roles at Amazon included leading HR and recruiting for the company’s worldwide advertising businesses and managing the online giant’s entry to brick-and-mortar retailing. Quite a career for a person who had never opened a spreadsheet before coming to Tuck.
Garavaglia was born in Connecticut and spent her childhood in Mar del Plata, Argentina. Her parents were educators and economic policy would necessarily become a regular topic of dinner-table conversation when Garavaglia was in fifth grade and a bout of hyperinflation rippled through Argentina which ultimately led the family to return to the United States. She went on to study international relations at the University of Oklahoma and started her career as a bilingual teacher in an at-risk school near Dallas. “I was interested in opportunities to teach and lead and thought it was a role in which I could add a lot of value and make significant impact,” she says.
Garavaglia quickly identified as a natural leader with an aptitude for mentoring colleagues and managing programs. The school district recognized her talent, nominating her Teacher of the Year and pressing her to pursue a master's in education and become an administrator. “That was a good opportunity for me to pause and really understand what had given me the most joy in terms of the work that I’d done,” she says, adding that the answer aligned with her skill for bringing out the best in people and programs.
She began to think about an MBA and a career in general management. Tuck’s reputation for collaboration and teamwork, coupled with its rigorous general management curriculum, made it her first choice. Upon arriving in Hanover, she was energized by the culture of collaboration and performance at Tuck, and the school’s embrace of people from diverse backgrounds and experiences.
“When I arrived on campus, it was immediately evident that Tuck is committed to creating a learning environment with incredible depth and breadth, where the diversity of backgrounds and experiences makes the entire class stronger.” Recalling an economics course in which professor Andrew Bernard asked who in the class came from a country that had experienced rapid inflation, Garavaglia raised her hand, expecting to be the only one. However, a surprising number of classmates from all over the world also raised their hands as well, leading to a rich discussion and analysis of myriad factors and circumstances that could lead to similar economic conditions in different countries.
“It was just one of many moments where classmates who hadn’t come from traditional backgrounds got to share their unique experiences,” she says.
She strives to replicate that dynamic in her work as chief people officer at Peloton, a job she started in June after Peloton president and CEO John Foley brought her on board to build and scale a global people function. The job encompasses core human resources disciplines with a strategic emphasis on talent acquisition, engagement, development, and retention, says Garavaglia. Talent is everything in technology-driven companies like Peloton, and the company has given Garavaglia the tools to put people and culture first. For example, workspace design falls into her purview because it plays a significant role in teamwork and employee satisfaction.
Peloton’s business model is built around a virtual community, in which customers buy the company’s innovative and interactive bicycles and treadmills, as well as a monthly membership providing access to world class content and a like-minded community of fitness enthusiasts. Even the name reflects the power of cooperative effort. In cycling, parlance a peloton is a group of riders that, working together, can outpace even the strongest of individuals. That emphasis on teamwork and performance is baked in to the company culture, Garavaglia says, and it has a great deal in common with the culture at Tuck.
“Peloton is a kind, collaborative, high-performance culture where we believe that success is best when it’s shared,” she says. “That’s something I took from Tuck, and it’s what attracted me to Peloton as a company.”
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