Newspaper article International New York Times

Coping after Chief's Sudden Death ; SurveyMonkey Aims to Keep Workers Focused during an Emotional Time

Newspaper article International New York Times

Coping after Chief's Sudden Death ; SurveyMonkey Aims to Keep Workers Focused during an Emotional Time

Article excerpt

SurveyMonkey's executives have had to navigate the process of replacing Mr. Goldberg, while running a company on the cusp of significant growth.

On the first day back to work after the death of Dave Goldberg, the chief executive of SurveyMonkey, employees at the Silicon Valley company gathered to mourn.

"Let's be up front," Bennett Porter, the head of marketing communications, said at the hastily called companywide meeting. "This is going to hurt. Everyone is going to cry. It is only the start."

Since that meeting on May 4, SurveyMonkey's leadership has had to navigate the process of replacing Mr. Goldberg, while running a company on the cusp of significant growth -- and managing the emotions of the 550 people who work there.

Mr. Goldberg, 47, who had led SurveyMonkey since 2009, had died the previous weekend while on vacation with friends in Mexico. Married to Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, he was a popular figure in Silicon Valley and had gained national celebrity through his wife's best-selling book "Lean In."

Along the way, he also built SurveyMonkey into a company valued at $2 billion that was expected to double its number of workers in the next two years.

And though employees and friends of Mr. Goldberg may have wanted to pause after his death, the rest of Silicon Valley was not waiting. Within days, recruiters for other tech companies were calling employees to see if they were interested in leaving.

"I hate to acknowledge it, but it's a fact," said Becky Cantieri, the head of human resources at SurveyMonkey. "We've all gotten them," she said, referring to the calls.

There has been an intense effort to keep employees focused on their jobs, aided by the good will Mr. Goldberg had engendered over the years.

Zander Lurie, a longtime friend and executive at the sports camera company GoPro, has stood in as temporary executive chairman. Donald E. Graham, the former owner of The Washington Post and a friend of Mr. Goldberg, spoke to the staff for two hours about managing loss and his mother's experience in taking over the newspaper after her husband's suicide.

Eighteen other executives, including the top leaders of GoPro, LinkedIn and Twitter, agreed to be matched with senior SurveyMonkey employees for a few hours of mentoring. A week of companywide volunteering has been planned for late August, followed by a final celebration of Mr. Goldberg. And there have been regular staff surveys to see how people are coping.

SurveyMonkey was started in 1999 and remained small for a decade, offering online and email surveys on various topics. In 2009, private equity investors acquired it, and Mr. Goldberg, who had sold a small music company to Yahoo for $12 million, was brought in soon after to run it. Starting with just 14 employees, Mr. Goldberg began his recruiting. …

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