Welcome to another exciting episode of All About HR! This is the podcast & video series for all HR Professionals and business leaders who want to future-proof their organization and learn about the latest trends & insights from industry experts, CHROs, and thought leaders.
What are the secret ingredients of a successful talent acquisition strategy? In this interview, we welcome Hermina Khara, SVP, People & Talent at Alida, to discuss the ins and outs of creating an outstanding candidate experience. Hermina is a People and Culture Ambassador, and an employee advocate with a mission as an HR professional to leave people better off than she found them.
We will travel through time with Hermina’s intriguing insights on current candidates compared to ten years ago. We will also take a closer look at the future of talent acquisition, and what makes or breaks the candidate experience.
In this episode, we talk about:
- The biggest employer branding trends in 2021
- The 3 most important ingredients for successful employer branding
- Creating an outstanding (remote) candidate experience
- The 3 key elements for hiring candidates
- Attracting & hiring world-class talent
- The biggest shift in talent acquisition within the 3 three years
Watch the full video, and don’t miss out on Hermina’s compelling advice on the importance of purpose in talent acquisition, the power of employee’s voice, and the reason why the future of candidate experience is holistic!
Neelie Verlinden: Welcome to another episode of all about HR. Welcome along Hermina to this brand new episode of All About HR. How are you, all the way from Vancouver?
Hermina Khara: I am fantastic, Neelie. How are you?
Neelie Verlinden: I’m very well. Thank you. I’m super excited to have you here with us today.
Hermina Khara: I am really looking forward to our conversation today.
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Neelie Verlinden: Definitely, yes. So, before we get started, perhaps you can just briefly say a few words about yourself, about your role at Alida, and also about what Alida is doing?
Hermina Khara: Sure, fantastic. So I’ve been with Alida for almost eight years now, started in the world of talent acquisition and have been promoted and moved into the role that I’m currently in, which is the Senior Vice President of people and culture. Alida is a CX platform that helps our customers manage their customer experience, the brand experience, the product experience, and most importantly, their employee experience. So we’ve been in business for over 20 years, I like to call us an old age startup. So it’s been a very fast moving, very busy time over the last seven and a half years,
Neelie Verlinden: Sounds like it. So Hermina, you are passionate about all these talents to put it simply, can you maybe share a story with us of when you took a gamble on someone, someone that wasn’t necessarily the obvious choice so to speak? But that turned out to be an absolute talent to have joined your organization?
Hermina Khara: Yeah, that’s a really great question. I think I’ve done it many times in my career, to be honest. But that’s not to say that I haven’t made some wrong decisions. But those are very early on in my career. But yes, there are a few people that I’ve interviewed. And I remember calling the hiring manager with such excitement, letting them know that I found their person. And it wasn’t for other people’s teams, I found them for my own team. But there are specific incidents that I remember that were outside of Alida. You know, I used to work with other customers or other clients in terms of hiring for their organizations. And I remember taking a chance on an individual and who were with a company that I hadn’t had the opportunity to build some trust with because I was newly working with them. And we hired this gentleman that had the right experiences. But perhaps he lacked the number of years of experience, which this company was looking for. And I looked at just his background and his hunger and desire in terms of wanting to work, he had a family. You know, I think he had like four or five children. He was really committed and passionate about the work that he was doing. And so I pretty much fully endorsed his hiring and the hiring partners that I was working with, at that time, were very much looking for another type of candidate that they were interested in, so I took a gamble. I went to the director of HR at that time and told them all the reasons why I think they should hire the candidate that I was working with and kind of endorsing and I gave him my rationale why. First he said no, because of course, I was an external recruiter. But the next day, I got a call and they decided to move with that candidate. The exciting thing about that story is that I can’t obviously disclose the client, but I think six months into the role he received Employee of the Year. And he has received that award consistently for like over five, six years. And that story was probably about eight years ago, and he’s still there. He’s still at that company today.
Neelie Verlinden: So that is an awesome success story, if we can call it like that, right?
Hermina Khara: Yes. Sometimes you have to go with your gut. Right. And it’s like what they say: when you know, you know.
Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, absolutely. I’d like to touch on something. I mean, of course, you have a lot of experience in talent acquisition. And when we look at a talent acquisition strategy, what would you say are some of the most important elements?
Hermina Khara: Yeah, that’s a really great question. I think there are a number of things, but at the basic level, you need to understand the entire lifecycle and journey of a candidate to an employee. And that actually has to be at the core of your strategy. A good understanding of the business goals and the corporate objectives are essential to any successful talent acquisition strategy, streamline recruitment process, and that includes everything from sourcing to hiring and a strategy or process that the stakeholders all buy into and understand. And then the technology that really helps with managing all your candidates and ensuring that you’re getting back to them on a timely basis. But once you have all those things in place in terms of recruitment strategy, the technology, and it’s aligned with your company objectives, you have to have the right talent acquisition professionals, you have to have the right recruiters. They have to be people who think like marketers, but act like sales professionals, everyone thinks they can recruit, but not everyone can. You truly have to love people and what’s best for them in order to be an amazing recruiter. So I think those are some of the elements that are required to have an essential talent acquisition strategy.
Neelie Verlinden: That seems to make complete sense, to be honest with you. I wanted to zoom in as well on the candidate experience, especially in today’s environment, where I think many companies have to shift to a candidate experience that is mostly virtual right now. In your opinion, what makes or breaks candidate experience?
Hermina Khara: Yeah, I think, well, there’s a lot of things that can contribute to that. But I think in order for everything to go smoothly, you need to have a strong interlock with all the people that are involved in providing a strong employee experience. For us as a leader, it means that we have to have a strong partnership and tons of collaboration with IT and facility teams, if you don’t have that interlock those things don’t work well, because it’s not just HR managing the process, right. So it’s working closely with it to ensure that people receive their laptops and their cell phones and those types of things on time. And working with facilities as of course, especially during the pandemic, where there were delays in shipments and those types of things. You know, sometimes we have to apologize, because there were some things that were out of our control. But you have to have a strong interlock between facilities, and IT and HR, there really is a collaboration between various departments.
Neelie Verlinden: Now, this is something I heard the other day when I was talking to someone and basically, what he was saying is that when it comes to candidate experience, we have so much technology nowadays. And so of course, we can say we can have an opinion of whether or not that is a good thing, that technology being there. However, he said that what the technology does bring is it allows us a certain level of personalization when it comes to the candidate experience. Is that something that you see as well?
Hermina Khara: Yes, I think so. I mean, we use an applicant tracking system that allows us to manage older candidates, but also to have those kinds of human interactions with them. But actually, beyond that, we don’t leverage much technology yet as in like AI and those types of things. But as we continue to grow and scale, we will definitely be looking at those types of things. But for me right now, like everything, especially with zoom, it is really the personal connection, right? Because people are looking for that connection. And it’s really hard to give people a good understanding of the vibe of an office because they’re not in an office. Right? So definitely have to leverage technology from that perspective and make sure that, you know, you’re communicating with passion and energy and all those things for that to come across over technology, if that makes sense.
Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, absolutely. So this is interesting that you mentioned that as well. Because when we look at candidate experience, things like for instance, in-person interviews, seeing the offices, being able to feel what it’s like to be in the offices, and also maybe talk to future colleagues. These are things that for many companies at the moment are impossible, but they had a big impact on the candidate experience. Can you maybe share how you have been trying to deal with these things, as a leader when things are now more remote?
Hermina Khara: Yeah, that’s a great question. So over the pandemic, to be honest, we hired over 162 individuals last year. And we did that all remotely, right, we were all sitting remotely, especially in the Vancouver office as of March 13, last year 2020. And we were very fortunate that we had a very strong IT infrastructure in place that we were able to go remotely instantaneously. And so working on Zoom was kind of natural to us. But I think in terms of the candidate and employee experience, I think one of the things that the leadership has really supported us in is that they’ve been actively present in the recruitment process themselves. So when it comes to bringing in some, you know, top talent into the organization, the interviews are not just with myself but also with the leaders of the executive leadership team. Whereas our CEO actually participates in most of the interviews as well, whether it comes to our customer success folks or sales folks, and then our president of product is really an integral part in terms of bringing in software developers and those types of things. So it’s been an all-hands-on-deck kind of approach in terms of everybody taking part in the candidate experience, especially when it is early on from the interview stages.
Neelie Verlinden: Another thing that I found super interesting, and I saw you mentioned it somewhere is that you’re also trying to create really awesome experiences for people when they shift from being a candidate to an employee. And I thought that was interesting because often we spend a lot of time on candidate experience and employee experience, but that shift is actually interesting, let’s say in between. Now, one of the things I think that plays an important role In that shift is onboarding, what can you tell us about that?
Hermina Khara: Yeah, onboarding is make or break for employees. Right. I don’t know this off the top of my head right now. But they say that, you know, depending on the type of experience that an employee has, right, the onboarding stages, allows for a longer retention or the longer engagement within the organization. So from an IT perspective, for us, we do actually have an onboarding portal, that people that once you know, we press higher in our applicant tracking system, there’s this, you know, the API integration between our applicant tracking system and our hrs system. And we use bamboo HR, that kind of kind of kick starts the process internally, and then all the departments get notified, whether that’s IT and facilities and those things and information gets sent to the candidate, they have the opportunity to log into this portal where they can learn more about the organization. And there’s a welcome message there, there are questions that they have to fill out so that they’re prepared before they actually start their first day of work. So all their personal information, all that stuff is kind of filled out. So we take a very active approach on that. And actually we just revamped our onboarding portal, and we’ll be launching it next week for some of our new hires.
Neelie Verlinden: What has been your biggest learning when it comes to onboarding people fully remotely?
Hermina Khara: Well, the importance of communication, and the importance of ensuring that people feel welcome. And so we’re very fortunate, again, we have very active managers who are involved in the hiring process as well, because HR may take the heavy lifting at the beginning, but then it’s up to the managers to ensure that people are kind of assimilated into the culture of the organization. So we do have a buddy program as well. So a new hire will come in and they get partnered with a buddy and that buddy will speak to them about everything that’s not work-related, right? The buddy was responsible for telling them where to go for lunch, the great coffee places, right, and those types of things. Now, it’s everybody’s responsibility to tell them what great Slack channel to jump into, and who to connect with, and those different things. So it’s become different. But we’ve been managing it pretty well. So I think the onboarding portal, the buddy program, and to be honest, I’m a bit biased here, but an amazing HR team. We have, you know, amazing HR generalists who do a really great job of conducting HR orientations on their first day. The IT team also does an orientation so that people know how to use their equipment, making sure that they have the right signatures and those types of things. So when all that comes together, it’s a really great experience for candidates who then become our employees.
Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, sounds like it. So Hermina, I wanted to slightly change tack here and touch on employer branding, something that I’m super interested about. And I think that you have a lot to tell us about employer branding as well, maybe we can start with what would you say, are the three most important ingredients for a great employer branding strategy?
Hermina Khara: You know, obviously, I can say that the culture of the company, the values, and the people are really important. But for me, it really starts with something that is all-encompassing, it’s a unique value proposition. You can feel an employee value proposition that describes who you are, what we stand for, how we do what we do, why we do what we do, and what’s in it for the employee, this message has to resonate with people, and it has to inspire them, it’s all-encompassing, of making sure that your culture is up and center and that you’re, you know, speaking effectively about the experiences that people have with an organization. So I think once you have a very refined, unique employee value proposition that all plays into employer branding, I think the need to have a unique EVP, culture, and awesome people to work with has been amplified. I mean, look at the pandemic, people have really had a time to assess and reflect on what’s important, and they understand the fragility of life and time. So they want to ensure where they work and how they work and their time matters. So it’s become even more prevalent to ensure that our employer brand inspires people.
Neelie Verlinden: Do you feel that there is a difference here in terms of candidates from different generations, for instance, do some candidates from a certain generation, in your opinion, attach a lot more value to what your EVP is and what your values are, and whether or not they correspond with their own core values, or you’re not seeing any differences there?
Hermina Khara: Well, no, I’ve definitely seen that. You know, we work with a pretty young demographic in our organization. And I think mostly, there’s a whole crew of people that are between the ages of 25 and 39. And to those people, it really matters, right? That it has to be purpose driven work, and they have to believe in the product. They have to believe in the company. They have to believe in the leadership. So I think it’s absolutely something that has shifted whereas maybe in the past things might have been a little bit different. But now more than ever, especially during the pandemic, people have to feel proud of what they do and where they work. So I think definitely, that is something that is really important.
Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, this is something I heard from a colleague actually not that long ago, he said to me that where before, candidates may have wanted to work for a tech company, but now apparently, especially candidates from younger generations, they want to work for a tech company that does something that corresponds with them having a purpose in a way and then feeling like they’re contributing to doing some good for society. So it’s interesting to hear that you’re noticing the same thing.
Hermina Khara: Absolutely. I just think, because of the time that we’re in, there’s only so much precious time that we have. So we spend more time at work then especially now with the pandemic, right? People are one door away from their office and their kitchen and their living rooms. So it’s even more important that people have a passion for the company that they’re working with. So now it really, really matters to people and they want to spend their time carefully. So I think you’re absolutely dead right there. Get on with that.
Neelie Verlinden: So we’re slightly moving on here. We talked about candidate experience, and then we touched on employer branding. And now we’re going to get to hiring candidates. Something that I was wondering about is when you’re hiring candidates, what do you feel is most important? Is it potential? Is it skill? Is it culture fit? Or perhaps it’s a mix of all of those?
Hermina Khara: Yeah, I think that’s a really great question. To be honest, really, I think all three are important. For example, during the resume screening process, I assess the candidate’s experience as it relates to our requirements for the role. But when I’m conducting my interviews with the candidates, I’m set on assessing whether or not they have the right DNA. You know, we were very fortunate. A few years ago, we did a little project. And that was really to look at our folks and understand what some of the most successful ingredients are of some of the most successful people in our organization. And from there, we were able to develop a DNA list of attributes some of our most successful employees had. So after conducting the analysis, we realized that people have to possess grit, tenacity, and resilience, they have to act with humility, lead with empathy. They’re passionate about their life, their job, they were naturally curious, wanted to understand the why behind things. They had a sense of urgency, they like change, they had the ability to pivot quickly and think on their feet and reflect and were flexible in their approach. These are an eight, like the DNA is innate, there’s something that you can’t change, you either have it or you don’t. So we built an entire recruitment strategy around these attributes and aligned questions to better assess some of those attributes. Do recruiters conduct the same interviews day in and day out? The questions are all the same. This allows for consistency and removes any type of bias. And we’re really able to assess whether or not the people that we’re hiring have the right attributes to join our organization. So I think it’s a combination of all three, potential, skill, culture fit.
Neelie Verlinden: So interesting to hear that you really were able to build your company’s DNA, and that you’re now able to try and find people that have that DNA. And besides that, there are so many things that I heard you say that I keep hearing popping up a lot these days, like curiosity, and empathy is also something that I keep hearing. So very nice to get to hear that it’s something that you are also seeing at Alida. Now, you mentioned bias very briefly. And I think it’s interesting, because when we are talking about hiring these days, and obviously hiring often goes hand in hand with technology. And then when we talk about the intersection of technology, especially AI driven technology, and hiring, so many companies are now trying to limit bias as much as possible in their selection process. Technology can be a great asset, of course, in that regard. It can help you, for instance, go through high volumes of resumes. And this is a great thing because it opens up the hiring process in a way to more candidates. And so you have a more diverse talent pool if you like. But, to what extent do you think that this technology is better at doing this than a human recruiter? Is it better than humans?
Hermina Khara: Yeah, that’s a great question. It’s an area that I have yet to explore. To be honest, unfortunately, we don’t have the capability or luxury of this technology. But as we continue to grow, we will definitely need to invest in this technology to scale and to kind of speed up our recruitment process. But right now, in terms of removing the bias, we are trying to educate our hiring managers in terms of, you know, ensuring that there’s no similar to me bias or there’s no other biases, by educating them, but we would definitely benefit from a technology that will help us allow us to do that. But we haven’t gotten to that point yet.
Neelie Verlinden: And I think what you mentioned earlier about making sure that all candidates get the same questions and get the same questions in the same order. I mean, that is of course also a great way to minimize bias and at the same time also offer the same experience to each candidate.
Hermina Khara: Yeah, absolutely. And then that way, when you’re benchmarking and comparing the candidates, you’re comparing them on the same level of the same interview and on the same experience. And so that’s kind of the reason why we created that. So from a, I guess, from a traditional standpoint, right now, we’re using a to your point interviews and those types of things. But as we continue to go, we definitely will definitely be looking at some AI tools to help us leverage that.
Neelie Verlinden: So I guess we should touch base, then once you start doing that. Okay, so we are kind of now getting towards the end of our conversation, but there are a few more questions that I still have for you. I mean, as we said, you’ve got quite a lot of experience in talent acquisition. Now, when it comes to the candidates that you see and what they value in a future employer, you’ve touched on this, but what do you believe has been the biggest shift? If you look at candidates today, and candidates, let’s say 10 years ago?
Hermina Khara: Well, I think we already touched upon it. But I think the biggest change I’ve seen is that employees want purpose driven work, they want to make an impact, they want to matter. And they want companies to invest in them, just as employees are investing their employers, you know, 40 hour weeks, sometimes maybe even 50/60 right now in terms of where we’re at in terms of the pandemic that we’re living in. But I think people want to matter, and they want to work at companies that invest in their learning and development. And so those are really some of the questions that we get asked right now, right, like in terms of the employees, what is it that we’re doing for them? How do we contribute to their growth in their careers? Those are all things that people want to understand before they actually join a company. So companies have to work hard to ensure that they’re providing that kind of skills growth and development. We’re fortunate to be partnered with LinkedIn learning. So we’re able to, you know, utilize that and help develop career paths for employees. And sometimes it’s about learning skills that they need for the job. But other times, it’s about learning skills, perhaps for their next job or learning skills for other things that they may be interested in. And so LinkedIn learning allows us to be able to kind of provide that to our employees. So I think learning and development, career growth, development, those are all important things to employees.
Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, totally. That is also something that is popping up a lot these days. And that is important for candidates. If we don’t look back, but try to look into our crystal ball and look ahead a little bit. What do you think will be the biggest shift that we’ll see in talent acquisition over the next two, three years?
Hermina Khara: Yeah, that’s a loaded question Neelie. But there are a few things. I think the biggest shift will be the power of the voice of the employee. I mean, we’ve seen it already in terms of where we are today. But I think that’s going to become more and more powerful. Lucky for me that I work for a company that created a platform that allows us to collect feedback for employees and make decisions accordingly. And I wholeheartedly believe that companies that are truly people-centric will come out ahead, times have changed for the better, and companies truly welcome and embrace the diverse voices of employees. So I think hearing the employee’s voice is going to be important, but I think what we look for in candidates has truly changed as well. You know, as we move forward, we will be looking at candidates holistically and understand their entire life experiences rather than just their work experience. It will be about soft skills and not about credentials, it won’t be about the schools that they did or didn’t attend. And diversity is something that will be top of mind. I mean, it’s finally here now, and I think this will continue to kind of lead the way for us. So I think that’s going to be something that’s going to continue to shift. The second thing will be speed. And this is where you know, we were talking about AI and automation. Right now we’re all recruiting for the same challenge. And the level of speed combined with the amazing recruitment experience will be key differentiators for companies. And lastly, I believe that remote work and virtual recruitment are here to stay, especially with companies moving to hybrid models, companies will need to shift their approach and ensure that they hire candidates who are able to work remotely, and then also managers have to be able to manage people in distributed teams. So those are some of the shifts I think that will take place.
Neelie Verlinden: Yes. Nice. And I think the last shift that you mentioned, that will probably actually be a long-term effect of the impact that the pandemic has had right on talent acquisition.
Hermina Khara: Yes, absolutely. I think, lucky for us, I think as I mentioned, virtual recruitment is here to stay right. The days of the handshakes have gone and it has to be the eye contact on Zoom for even myself. I still have difficulty. I have three screens here and sometimes the cameras are over here and the screens are over there so we have to become better at that and having I think that kind of presence when you’re on the screen and to be able to engage people on screen, because I think it’ll be fundamental. There’ll be some people in the office and some people will continue to work remotely. So managing both will be really essential to company successes.
Neelie Verlinden: And something else that I noticed when you were saying what could happen in the future, it was actually quite interesting as well. And I’m not sure if you notice it, but you said that we might have to get a more holistic view of candidates, and we won’t just look at their work experience and what their life experience is. And that actually beautifully comes back to the very start of our conversation. I mean, because then you were talking about this person that you’re hired who had the right experience but maybe not necessarily long enough. So in a way, what you were doing already back then might be the way forward in a few years from now, broadly speaking, so that was a nice one, I think.
Hermina Khara: Thanks, Neelie. You know, I don’t even realize that you’re doing that. But I think I mean, I think life experiences are really important, right? And then more people are speaking about those things. Sometimes people deal with adversities in life that can really contribute to the person that they become, and somebody could be going to school academically. And they’re really great at that. But if they haven’t had any of those life experiences, sometimes those people have a hard time dealing with difficult situations as they come up, right. So you have to put value on all the experiences that somebody has had, and look at what’s made them become the person that they are. So I think if we can move in that direction, I think that’d be great for companies and be great for employees, because then you have happier employees, you have happier companies, and then everything’s a win-win for everyone.
Neelie Verlinden: Yes, absolutely. I think that is a really beautiful ending to our conversation. I mean, I maybe have one last thing though, because what we like to do as well is to ask our guests for what we call, an epic fail and an epic win. So I’ll give you maybe a few moments to think about it. But so if you could think of anything that really for you was an epic win, or your biggest learning, and maybe an epic fail, which also is a learning moment, of course.
Hermina Khara: Oh, my God, that’s a really great question. Because I do, I truly believe that failures make for better things. Right? I would say for myself, it would probably have to be from a personal perspective, more than from a professional perspective. You know, personally, a long time ago, I made a wrong choice on a partner that let me down. It was a very tumultuous relationship. I will just say, and I’ve never actually probably spoken about it. But I was lucky that I walked out of that relationship, to be very honest, to be the person that I am. That’s the kind of contribution to the person that I am today. So I mean, yes, you can go back and say, you know, that was a wrong choice for the partner that I made at that point. But now, when I look back, I also understand and I’m thankful for that experience, because that mistake of choosing the wrong person allowed me to flourish as an individual. So that’s probably an epic fail, but it’s also been one of my greatest learning moments as well.
Neelie Verlinden: Yeah. Beautiful. That is a beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing that. And then if you have an epic win, anything comes to mind?
Hermina Khara: Well, you know, what I am, where I am today, and where I am right now is an epic win. And what I mean by that is that, you know, for seven odd years, I’ve been working for Alida, which was Vision Critical prior to it becoming Alida. I started off in a contract position, and I have excelled in my career, I think the best story that I have, or the most epic win is the change that happened with the C suite and the leadership, our new CEO, Ross Wainwright, who came into the organization, you know, we had one conversation. And of course, as you know, things change quickly when there’s new leadership coming in. But there was that one conversation that Ross and I had at the very beginning, and we met each other for about maybe 30 seconds, or maybe it was even a minute, I don’t know. But that one conversation changed my entire life, my career trajectory at the company. He took a chance on me, he supported my growth and development, took me out of talent acquisition and moved me into the role of VP People and Culture. And he always says to me ‘you gave me all the reasons why you couldn’t do the job, or why you weren’t the right person for the job.’ But he said ‘have faith in yourself, trust that you can do the job, I think you can do it, you have my full support and backing’ and that one conversation changed my life, you know, I got promoted into a new role. We went into the world of the pandemic, so people working remotely, we went through the Black Lives Matter movement, which was an incredibly painful time for the world and for the companies that we operate in. And so having to do all that during a pandemic, and, you know, managing all the changes that were happening with the new leadership coming into an organization was a lot last year. Like if I look back at some of the successes; being able to hire over 162 individuals, we won two Comparably awards at the end of the year for best culture, for, the diversity, not to say that because we had the most diverse population in the organization, but the diverse population in our organization had great experiences with the company earlier this year, we won, you know, best company outlook. And actually, just today, we announced that we are now officially certified as great places to work. So if I look back at the entire year, and it has been one hell of a year, it’s been an amazing ride. So for me, that has been an epic success.
Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, it sounds like an ongoing epic success, to be honest. Thank you so much.
Hermina Khara: Thank you, Neelie. Yeah, like I said, I’ve been very blessed. I’m really privileged to work where I work and the people that I work with, so it’s easy to speak about it.
Neelie Verlinden: Alright, well, I think that wraps up our conversation! I want to thank you so much for joining me today. I learned a lot, thank you.
Hermina Khara: Well, thank you for giving me this opportunity. It was fantastic to speak with you today.