In this series, we’re focused on the humans who make up Sagent. We’re fortunate to have a team that is constantly evolving – both professionally and personally – folks from all over the world who bring a variety of experience, education, and perspectives to advance our challenging mission. We’re excited to introduce you to some of these talented people who make Sagent a vibrant, productive community.
For most of us at Sagent, Michele Mursten was one of the first people we met during onboarding. As VP of People Operations, she continues to be a reliable figure throughout our time here, but her impact goes far beyond new-hire orientation, town halls, and employee engagement. Her instrumental role in building a battle-tested team of servicing experts along with an industry-leading engineering team drives our mission to modernize America’s $13T servicing industry. And she’s earned high praise along the way, including a recent HR Superstar award from HRO Today. We sat down with her to learn about the motivation, experience, and personality behind this award-winning leader.
Hi Michele! First off, I’ve seen during our meetings that you have a fur baby. Tell me about that pup!
He’s a 75-pound Golden Retriever named Ollie Dash after “Dash” from The Incredibles because he runs that fast. We got him for our son as a Christmas present in 2019, which, in hindsight, was a smart move because it was right before COVID hit and he had a companion during lockdown.
I imagine that relieved the isolation for your family. Will you share a little about them?
My husband Scott is in technology sales for government entities, and we live in Orlando, Florida. We were told that we couldn’t have children, so we tried all the medical workarounds for that — unsuccessfully — and after those didn’t work, we took some time off from that effort and decided to adopt. But then, at the ripe old age of 40, I found out I was pregnant! So, because it was a high-risk pregnancy, we decided not to go through with the adoption, and I gave birth to our son, who is 9 now.
What an amazing surprise! You have your hands full, then.
Yes we do. Our son Harrison (he’s named after his grandfather) is quite the brainiac — he started reading at age 2 and currently is working on geometry even though he is only in the 4th grade. We found out the hard way that we have to be mindful about how we challenge him intellectually — he can get into a lot of trouble if we don’t. The way he interacts with other children is a challenge too. So, our biggest concentration for him is to develop socially, have sleepovers with friends, and generally have a good childhood experience. As a parent, I always want him to have a better experience than I did growing up.
What does a typical day at the Mursten house look like?
Harrison is learning to golf right now, so we spend a lot of time doing that. My husband and I are huge trivia buffs, so you might find us on a date night at a trivia match… plus we watch Jeopardy! without fail every day. But more than that, we’re all really big Disney enthusiasts. Living in Orlando, we go to Disney World all the time — it’s really kind of sickening — but we’re also huge Disney+ fans because of their partnership with Star Wars. I grew up watching Star Wars, and we watch all the shows, from Bad Batch to Clone Wars. I get texts from colleagues asking “Did you see what happened in Mandalorian?” I’m a total sci-fi geek, and in fact, one of the items on my bucket list is to go to Comic-Con in San Diego. I’m a bonafide nerd and I’m proud to admit it.
With your responsibilities and the demands on your time, how are you able to achieve a “work-life balance” so you have time for important things like Star Wars?
My family is where I get most of my validation and energy, so it’s one of my priorities… I call them “non-negotiables.” Working from home, it’s difficult to keep work from totally impacting our home life, so for myself and my team, I ask “What are your non-negotiables?” For me, it’s the fact that I’ve carved out a specific time every evening for my family. You won’t find me online and I won’t be answering emails. This is where I set my boundaries because, otherwise, I won’t have the energy and ability to meet my obligations.
I think we all need boundaries in order to be successful. But I don’t call it “work-life balance.” For me, it’s about work-life integration.
I learned early in my career about the tough things that need to be done, and the sacrifices that sometimes have to be made if I want to be successful at something bigger than me. It forged my fortitude about what it truly means to be relentless.
Speaking of your career, I see that you started working at your first “real job” during college. Is that right?
There’s a little more to that… My mom raised 4 of us by herself and things were tight, so I needed to find gainful employment to assist the family early on. Before college, I started a temp job at a professional services company called ERS Group where I was temporarily assigned to a specific project. Within a couple of months, one of the VPs approached me and said “We really like your work ethic, we like what you’re doing, would you be interested in a full-time position?”
This was so huge for me that I actually cried in his office, and he took me under his wing as a mentor, helped me traverse through college, and continued to guide me — almost as a father figure — until he passed away not long ago.
Is that where you became interested in Human Resources?
In a way. I was a statistical analyst for the company (though I was studying biology because I wanted to go into medicine). But I had an aptitude for statistical analysis and I LOVED data… I was a total data geek. What ERS did was provide expert witness testimony in cases that involved discrimination around hiring and termination practices. So, part of what I was doing was looking at massive databases and using statistical analysis to provide evidence in those cases that was used by Ph.D. consultants who testified on the witness stand. As part of this, I learned several programming languages to work with the data, but I also became very familiar with every HRIS system under the sun.
Then, between ages 25-30, I had a “quarter-life crisis” and realized that I had hit the top of that career path without investing in a lot more education in the field, which I really didn’t want to do. So, I looked at my skillset and experience and realized those were assets that would set me apart in the Human Resources field. At the time, ERS was going through some reorganization which was taxing the HR department, so I said “Well, listen, I’ll help you guys overhaul your current HR system from paper-based to digital.” We did that, then completely revamped our HR procedures, so it was a good place for me to cut my teeth in HR and learn a lot about myself. So that was the beginning of my HR journey.
You covered a lot of ground between statistical analysis and human resources. But how did you go from the professional services industry to fintech?
ERS Group was part of a larger corporation, and I had worked directly with the corporate HR department as an HRIS Analyst and HR business partner. A few of them had gone to Fiserv and told me that fintech was booming, so I should take a look.
I started doing my research on Fiserv and fintech in general and thought it was fascinating, being the geek that I am. Plus, coming from a professional services company, I was excited about the idea of working at a technology firm because there was, and still is, a certain pride in working for a tech company. (Even now, I think our country puts tech companies on kind of a pedestal.) So, I made the drive from Tallahassee to Orlando for the interview, and I remember the very first time I walked into the Fiserv building, I thought, “Yep, this is where I belong.”
You started at Fiserv in 2014 and remained until Sagent was carved out as a standalone company. How did that happen?
I started in Fiserv’s Bank Solutions department and was traveling more than 50% of the time. On top of that, we’d moved to Orlando with a newborn baby, without a support system of family, so that was tough. Fiserv’s Lending Solutions business unit had an HR vacancy which did not require as much travel, so I took the opportunity to move to that division, which really helped, because I had a two-year-old at home.
Then, after about a year, the president at the time approached me and told me that they were going to carve out as a separate company. That concept really intrigued me… I had never been a part of something like that and thought it would be great for my resume, but I was also really interested in creating, building, and driving culture from the beginning. So I said yes.
Which brings us to Sagent, and I know we’re only at the beginning of that story. I specifically wanted to ask about your leadership in the transition from a Human Resources department to People Operations. What does that mean to you?
HR is very transactional, and it’s about building relationships within the business. You have HR business partners that work with business leaders to understand their needs, so it’s very focused on driving the business.
People Operations takes a different approach to find out what associates’ needs are and looks at everything you’re doing to influence culture as a product: Performance management is a product, compensation review and job architecture are all products that have consumer groups, and those consumer groups are the business and associates. So while a Human Resources department focuses on driving business, increasing revenue, and impacting costs and EBITDA, People Operations ties it all together with the understanding that you can’t drive culture if you don’t understand what drives the people who are in your operations.
Sagent has recently introduced a new mission, vision, and values. Looking at our three values (reliable, relentless, relevant) how do you relate to those in your role?
Sagent’s People Operations team is relentless in determining a roadmap that creates the best value for everyone involved, then delivering on that roadmap to build trust with our associates, and all of these things must be relevant to changes happening within society, the market, the economy, and the technology we work with every day.
After our discussion, I asked her team members to tell us a little about what it’s like to work with Michele, and they shared this tribute:
“Bill Gates defines successful leaders as “those who empower others.” This exemplifies Michele’s leadership style not only with her team but alongside her stakeholders. She is a passionate, empathetic, and focused leader consistently delivering the best outcomes for both the Company AND its workforce.”