When F5 first called Ana White to see if she wanted to lead the company’s human resources division, she said she wasn’t interested. “I loved my job at Microsoft and planned to stay.”
Undaunted, the recruiter suggested that White at least have dinner with F5’s new CEO François Locoh-Donou before making her final decision. When she did, she started to rethink her initial reaction. Locoh-Donou told her F5 was undergoing a major transformation from a hardware business into a multi-cloud application services and security company, and he wanted to strengthen F5’s culture as the company made this transition. “I realized this was a CEO who wanted to see transformation on every level,” White says. “I like change and transformation, and I felt this was an opportunity to make a big impact.”
During her tenure at Microsoft, White participated in Microsoft’s transformation into a “learner” culture, which encourages employees to embrace a growth mindset. As she talked with Locoh-Donou, part of what attracted her to F5 was the fact that he’d spent a lot of time thinking about culture as the linchpin of F5’s organizational success. “Working with François has been one of the highlights of my career because he, like Satya [Nadella at Microsoft], puts culture at the top of his agenda—and I think that’s really important for a CEO to do,” White says.
Since joining F5 as Chief People Officer in January 2018, White has been partnering with Locoh-Donou and F5’s senior leadership team on an ambitious plan to reinvent F5’s culture. “It’s really important to know what your strategy is and what your aspirations and goals are,” White says. “But culture is how you do it—the behaviors you live every day. It’s what leads to ideal employee engagement, which is key to business success.”
F5’s “people promise” is to build a global and diverse team that’s both human-first and high-performance and attracts and grows amazing talent. In working toward this goal, White and her HR team have focused on everything from increasing employee diversity and inclusion to reducing employee burnout to building a global philanthropic program based upon employees’ enthusiasm for giving back.
White has been spearheading this cultural transformation during a time of enormous challenges. In March 2020, the COVID pandemic shut down F5’s offices for two years, disrupting life for F5 employees around the globe. And like many other companies, F5 has been forced to weather societal disruptions, such as the war in Ukraine and the collective awakening toward Black racial injustice in the U.S.
At the same time, F5 has been acquiring multiple companies—four in three years—requiring HR to assimilate more than 800 new employees into F5’s culture. Despite these hurdles, F5’s cultural transformation has been paying off—both in terms of employee satisfaction and F5’s industry recognition as a great place to work. “It’s been an intense few years, and HR has been at the center of it,” White says.
A math major at Seattle University, White got her first post-college job as a benefits consultant at Watson Wyatt Worldwide, where she quickly discovered that “while I love numbers, I love people more.” A few years later, she made her way to Microsoft where she held multiple roles over an 18-year period, eventually becoming General Manager of Human Resources.
At Microsoft, White helped to create a powerful people strategy that aligned with the company’s business strategy—and when she started work at F5, she immediately began using those skills to help F5 with its cultural transformation.
One of White’s first goals was to develop a set of behaviors that defined F5’s culture. While the company already had a set of values, White noticed that they were the same as those of many other companies. “Most companies have values like integrity, customer-focus, collaboration,” she says. “Yet studies have shown that companies need to differentiate their values and behaviors for them to really mean something.”
Under White’s leadership, F5 landed on the theme, “BeF5,” a set of five behaviors that define how employees interact with each other, customers, partners, and the broader community. Some of these behaviors, such as “We help each other thrive,” were already a part of F5’s culture but hadn’t been formally written down. Others, such as “We make F5 more agile,” were behaviors the company needed to develop as it sought to accelerate growth and become more agile.
To make sure these behaviors resonated with workers, White and her team held virtual focus groups with employees from around the globe to gather their feedback so F5 could “co-create what we thought the future culture of F5 should be.”
Once the BeF5 behaviors were finalized, White wanted to make sure they weren’t just words on a slide. “That would be a joke,” she says.
For a human-first culture to truly take hold, it was critical that these behaviors be embraced by everyone at F5, starting with the company’s senior leadership team. It was also important they guide every aspect of what F5 does on a daily basis—how the company hires, the way it evaluates performance, and how it recognizes and rewards employees for their achievements.
Over the next few months, White led the development of LeadF5, a series of principles for leading and engaging other F5ers. She also revamped F5’s recruiting, performance management, and employee recognition programs to align with the BeF5 behaviors and LeadF5 principles. “Culture is everything, and you need to start with that,” she says. “Once you’ve defined your culture, only then can you develop the right people programs.”
With this foundation in place, White and her team turned their attention to making F5 both human-first and high-performance. “Some companies are too focused on the bottom line, and this comes at the expense of employees,” White says. “Other companies do not focus enough on performance. At F5, we think it’s important to do both.”
As F5 navigated the global COVID-19 pandemic, White and the senior leadership team saw an opportunity to reinvent the workplace. In surveys and focus groups, F5 asked employees what they needed and how the company could support them. Using this feedback, F5 created a more flexible workplace, which allows all employees whose jobs don’t require them to be physically present to choose how much time they spend in the office.
“Whether they have childcare and elder care needs, a class to take, a volunteering opportunity, or anything in between, radical flexibility lets F5ers make time for the things that are important to them,” White says. Not only does this hybrid work model help F5 to retain existing employees, but it also enables the company to “recruit the best talent in the world rather than the best talent living within a reasonable commute to our offices,” she says.
The data the HR team gathered showed that COVID had put many employees at risk of burnout as they struggled to establish clear boundaries between their work and home lives. To address this issue, the company increased access to mental health resources for employees worldwide. It also started offering quarterly days off to give employees time to rest and recharge. Eventually, F5 expanded this offering into “Wellness Weekends,” a quarterly four-day weekend with two companywide paid days off, enabling F5 employees to take a collective break from work. “This initiative has been wildly popular among our employees, and I believe the ability to recharge has made us all more productive,” White says.
From her time at Microsoft, White already knew the positive impact that a “learner” culture has on business performance, and she wanted to establish this same growth mindset at F5. While she realized that learning happens in people’s daily work, she wanted to give F5ers more time to invest in themselves, while connecting with their co-workers and helping them to thrive.
The result was “Learning Days”—a dedicated day each quarter when employees are encouraged to step away from their day-to-day work and focus on professional development. “Each person has the autonomy to spend the day learning what matters most to them,” White says. “We also offer live events to help people connect and learn together, which is especially important in a hybrid world.”
Under White’s leadership, F5 has also stepped up its efforts to create a more diverse and inclusive culture. For example, the company has been expanding its employee inclusion groups (EIGs) with new chapters around the globe. F5 currently has six EIGs: F5 Ability, F5 Appreciates Blackness (FAB), F5 Military Veterans, F5 Connects Women, F5 Latinx e Hispanos Unidos, and F5 Pride. Sponsored by different F5 executives, these EIGs provide connection and community as well as opportunities for professional development and mentorship—and their EIG leaders receive company bonuses and leadership training for their EIG work. “It is very important to us as a company that we give back to the EIGs, because they certainly provide enormous value to everyone at F5,” White says.
In 2021, F5 led a “Black Leaders in Tech” conference aimed at helping Black leaders throughout the tech industry overcome challenges and advance their careers. And in April 2022, the company held its first internal Diversity & Inclusion conference focused on leadership development for Black and Latinx F5ers and creating an inclusive work environment for employees around the globe. Sponsored by Locoh-Donou and F5’s senior leadership team, these conferences drew thousands of participants who gave these events high marks.
Over the last few years, F5 has revamped its hiring program to make the hiring process more objective and increase the diversity of its interview slates. The company implemented mandatory unconscious bias training for all employees and inclusive leadership training for senior leaders. It is also working to increase workforce diversity—with an emphasis on hiring more female, Black, and Latinx employees. To ensure its progress, F5 has been measuring its results, with a portion of executive compensation tied to this goal. “Throughout the year, we check in on our progress as an executive team to determine what actions we will take each quarter,” White says.
With White at the HR helm, F5 also built an employee-led global philanthropy program called F5 Global Good. Whether it’s providing STEM grants to NGOs that work with women and girls of color or helping nonprofits bolster their technology infrastructure, Global Good enables F5 to invest in local communities worldwide—and employee grant committees choose the grant partners. Moreover, F5 provides grants to nonprofits that employees are already supporting in recognition of the impact they have made through volunteering. It also offers a 100% company match for all employees’ nonprofit charitable donations while matching their volunteer time hours.
Global Good has grown quickly in its first four years, with more than half of employees participating in these efforts in FY 2022. Together, F5 and its employees donated more than $4.6 million in FY 2022 to more than 3,000 nonprofit organizations worldwide.
Thanks to these efforts, F5 recently earned Benevity’s prestigious 2022 Bestie Award, which celebrates a single company for its best-in-class approach to social impact. “I’m thrilled that Benevity recognized us for this award,” White says. “And I have to say, I’m continually amazed by the energy and passion employees bring to the causes they support.”
As F5 continues to reinvent its culture, the results are adding up. In a recent employee survey, 95% of employees gave F5’s COVID response a favorable rating. In addition, 90% said they trust their manager, and 90% said F5 is an ethical company. “Our recent survey results were the best in F5’s history,” White says.
F5’s Glassdoor ratings reveal that 92% of employees approve of Locoh-Donou as CEO and 86% would recommend F5 to a friend. Moreover, employees rate F5’s culture and values as 4.4 on a scale of 1 to 5.
White says F5’s human-first culture has been key to the company’s impressive business performance. In FY 2022, software surpassed 50% of total product revenue, marking a significant milestone in the company's transformation. Security products also crossed $1 billion in annual revenue, reinforcing F5's position as an industry leader. in application and API security.
F5’s culture is also attracting industry recognition. F5 has been certified as a great place to work in the U.S. and in India by the Great Place to Work Institute. Earlier this year, GeekWire chose F5 as one of five finalists for its 2022 “Great Place to Work” award. And White’s alma mater Seattle University recently named her Alumna of the Year for her exceptional leadership.
White says F5 has built a culture that sets it apart from other companies, and F5 CEO Locoh-Donou agrees. He calls White and her HR team “a new source of energy in the company” and says her work has been transformative. “I cannot stress enough the impact that Ana has had by her individual, personal actions,” he says. “She’s retained and recruited a great team, and their ideas and creativity have translated into programs that have made a big difference to our culture.”
While F5’s culture is now one of the company’s key strengths, White says more remains to be done. She and the senior leadership team will continue to work toward creating a more diverse and inclusive company, while increasing leadership opportunities for underrepresented groups. They will strive to achieve F5’s goal of being one global and diverse team that is both human-first and high-performance that attracts and retains great talent. And they will continue listening to employees and implementing their ideas for making F5 a great place to work.
“Creating a great culture is a never-ending journey,” White says. “There’s no room for complacency. There are always unknowns, and we have to continually raise the bar for ourselves as we move closer to our goal.”