When Maggie Ruvoldt first joined 2U, Inc., as executive vice president of HR, she took a bet on a fast-growing startup helping a small handful of partners bring their graduate degrees online. Over the decade since, 2U has grown into one of the world’s most recognizable public education companies, supporting 435 programs for 75 great universities, thanks in no small part to Maggie’s work across the business. During her time at 2U, Maggie has served in a variety of critical roles across the organization—most recently as senior vice president of business operations. She’s developed a unique understanding of how the business functions, what it takes to sustain great student outcomes, and what inspires our people to keep coming back to work and do what they love every day. Now, she’ll take those years of experience and lessons learned and apply them to her most important role to date: 2U’s Chief People Officer.
Read on to learn more about Maggie and what makes her best fit to lead 2U’s People organization.
What drew you to the world of HR?
Imagine two companies that are in the same industry with the same products and resources.
One has employees who are engaged, understand how important their individual contributions are to the company, believe in the company’s goals, and have what they need to be successful. They can do their best work every day and know how that moves the company forward. They feel seen—valued as a person and in their role. The other has employees who view what they do as “just a job”; they aren’t sure how they fit into the bigger picture or what the company is trying to achieve.
Which company is more successful? Which company is the one you’d like to work for?
The People organization in any company is at the center of that difference.
How would you describe your leadership style?
Hire people who are great at what they do, give them what they need to be successful, and then get out of their way.
Whether I am building a new team or coming into an established one, I want to know what motivates each member of the team. I strive to provide the greater business context so that they can make the best, most informed decisions.
When I myself am making decisions, it is important to hear different perspectives. You may hear me ask “What I am missing?” That’s a genuine request for an opposite point of view. When it comes time to make the decision, I balance what I’ve heard, and I own the decision, including all its outcomes.
What are, in your opinion, the most important characteristics of a leader?
Our Guiding Principles provide a useful framework to describe leadership characteristics.
The “Be Candid, Open and Honest” principle starts with listening and includes respectful feedback. Leaders should listen as often as they speak.
Great leaders know that you must work to ensure everyone has the tools, information, and feedback to be successful. That is the heart of “Make Service Your Mission” for me.
Leadership is creating and leading diverse teams where there is shared trust, voices are sought out, everyone assumes good intentions of each other, and everyone is striving to achieve the best outcomes. It’s also the blending of “Relationships Matter” and “Strive for Excellence.”
What gets you out of bed every morning? What motivates you?
I adore helping people work to their highest potential. Sometimes that means providing context or direction for where we are going. It might mean removing a barrier that’s keeping a project from moving ahead. In the most rewarding interactions, it’s hearing about ways in which someone is hoping to grow professionally and making some contribution to their path.
In this role, I get to do that on a scale I have never had before and still have those interactions one on one. It’s a remarkable blending of what I love to do and what is expected of me in this role.
Who has had the biggest impact on your leadership journey?
When I was exploring different careers early, my aunt, Sally Egan, impressed upon me that every business has one thing in common: people. She taught me that you had to see the entire business and then contribute however you could, no matter your job title. That meant doing what you can to help others succeed.
When I took my first leadership role, she reminded me that people deserve honest and actionable feedback. No one can improve if, as managers and leaders, we shy away from difficult feedback. Most importantly, I saw how much she invested in the people around her and people early in their careers. She taught me that time spent on paying forward the investment others make in you is a serious responsibility and is the most lasting contribution you can make to a person and a company.
One of your biggest responsibilities as 2U's chief people officer will be championing our culture. What does company culture mean to you?
Company culture is an outward expression of a shared set of principles. It’s the how in what we do each day. How we celebrate our wins and own our mistakes. How we speak with, support, and work with each other. How we recognize myriad experiences, identities, skills, voices, and contributions across the company. And how embracing those differences makes us better at what we do. Ultimately, how we infuse our Guiding Principles into our decisions, our processes, our behaviors and evolve that outward expression as we learn as individuals and as a group.
Given everything facing employees today (e.g., a pandemic, remote working, social justice issues), what is one piece of advice you would offer leaders during this time?
Listen and be intentional in your interactions. It takes extra effort right now without the chance moments in the hallway to check in and some of the body language we miss on video calls.
One of the best leaders I have had in my career used to finish meetings with simple questions: What’s one thing I can do for you today/this week? What’s one way I could make your day better before we wrap up? Is there anything you’re waiting on or need from me or someone else that you don’t have to get to your goals? Those questions are designed to be a specific ask. Those intentional questions can give you a meaningful sense of what people need.
Looking back at your more than a decade at 2U, what inspired you to join 2U and what has kept you here?
I remember my first visit to the Maryland office, the famed (or infamous!) Metroplex. During that visit, I realized that within a few short hours, I had met some of the most dedicated, caring, and business-focused people who were passionate about addressing the question “What if online education could be great?” If you are given the opportunity to work with a group like that for a company whose mission you can get behind, then you take it. Because it’s rare and beautiful.
It’s the same reason I’ve stayed. I believe in our mission as an organization as much today as I did in 2010. The people I work with every day challenge me to be better at what I do, and 2Utes truly want each other to be successful.
What’s your favorite 2U guiding principle and why?
This answer has changed for me over the years; that’s one of the reasons the Guiding Principles are so powerful. In any given moment, I try to tap into the most relevant principle.
At this moment it is “Be Bold and Fearless,” which I interpret as embracing the opportunities the current time has presented our business. It is looking across our employee life cycle and questioning where we can improve or evolve. As I take on this exciting role, those are what my day-to-day and long-term goals for the People organization are about.
Learn more about us.
At 2U, we’re on a mission—to eliminate the back row in higher education and help universities thrive in the digital age. To learn more about who we are and what we do, follow the links below.