4 Things I Learned in My First Year as CEO

Criteo's Megan Clarken shares learnings from her first year as CEO and provides insights on how to lead during a crisis.
Updated on February 23, 2023

When I joined Criteo as a first-time CEO just over one year ago, I knew there would be challenges, but I never could have anticipated how complex 2020 would be. This was a pivotal year that transformed how we live, work, and connect, and it taught me more than I could have imagined about how to lead during a crisis. I know I will carry the experiences from this year with me for the rest of my life.

From a leadership perspective, I found it extremely important to stay focused, roll up my sleeves, and lean into tactical leadership to get things done strategically and efficiently. While that may not be the typical day-to-day of a CEO, it taught me a lot, including the following four key points:

1. Ensuring employees’ well-being encompasses much more than physical safety

While employee safety always has been and always will be a CEO’s number one priority, the realities of 2020 added complex layers to keeping employees safe. For Criteo, we already had a flexible work-from-home policy, but still needed to transition all employees to 100% remote work. This included setting them up with the necessary technology, as well as ergonomic home office equipment.

Our employees are currently working from home through June 2021, but my team and I continue to monitor the pandemic and amend this policy accordingly. This includes conducting all meetings virtually instead of face-to-face to protect employees, as well as our clients, partners, and suppliers. It’s been difficult not to see everyone in person, but I hope we don’t have to wait too much longer until we can all be reunited.

On top of physical safety, it’s also vital to maintain employees’ emotional and mental well-being amid so much change. To do this, we stay in constant communication with our teams, providing health and safety updates, as well as conducting surveys to assess employees’ comfort and morale while working from home. Their feedback has been invaluable as we assess the current remote work policy and evolve it for a post-pandemic world.

2. Strong company values are critical to stay focused during a crisis

At Criteo, our company values guide everything that we do and keep us focused on what is most important. These values are Open, Together, and Impactful — and we’ve lived all three of them simultaneously this year. We remain virtually connected while being physically apart through open communication, demonstrating kindness and empathy towards our coworkers (and all people). And we continue to stay focused and motivated towards driving impact for our clients and our company.

And values shape company culture, which requires more of a commitment to maintain while working remotely. It’s up to both the company and each employee to prioritize helping company culture thrive during this time. To do this at Criteo, our teams work tirelessly to create opportunities for connections through online game nights, nutritional workshops, workout classes, and mediation sessions. And in turn, we enable and encourage our employees to take the time to participate in these activities and events.

To help live Criteo’s values, one thing I started doing at the beginning of this year is having several “coffee breaks” per week with groups of 15 people who are randomly chosen from Criteo’s 28 global offices. These meetings are the highlight of my week, since they give me a chance to chat with our teams and listen to what’s on their minds. This lets me hear employee feedback firsthand and build deeper relationships with these incredible teams.

3. Building a diverse and inclusive environment starts with self awareness

The unrest of 2020 also opened many people’s eyes to how they can contribute to ending racism, sexism, and discrimination against marginalized groups. In my eyes, the first step in doing this is through self-awareness and being open with yourself to recognize your own unconscious bias — as well as calling out when you see acts of bias or discrimination from others. To do this at Criteo, we established a diversity and inclusion team who help educate our employees on unconscious bias through listening sessions, speeches from outside experts, company surveys, book clubs, and more.

While we have a way to go, we’ve made progress in further building our inclusion and diversity programs with community groups to better support our BIPOC and LGBTQ+ employees, as well as women at Criteo and people with disabilities. It’s critical to us that everyone at Criteo, including future employees, feel safe and comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work and we’ll continue to bring impactful and lasting social change to Criteo and the communities we touch.

4. Advertisers need to be agile to adjust to shifting consumer behavior

This year we saw how quickly our way of life can be disrupted, and how that affects overall consumer behavior. It’s shown how important it is for advertisers to always be clear on the value their brand provides, so they can adapt to consumers’ changing needs. This includes getting them what they need safely and efficiently through ecommerce.

While ecommerce was already on the rise, a massive number of consumers pivoted to online shopping during the pandemic. According to our recent “Peak to Recovery” Survey of more than 13,500 consumers worldwide, 39% of respondents purchased from online stores for the first time during the peak of COVID-19. These new digital shoppers represent an opportunity for advertisers to expand their existing audiences on digital channels.

We also saw the impact of ecommerce growth during Black Friday. Looking at three billion transactions in Q4 2020 from more than 5,500 retailers we learned that Black Friday sales were up 139% globally when compared to October 2020. And consumers aren’t just buying more — they’re buying earlier. Sales in the first three weeks of November were up 17% globally. In 2021, we’ll continue to use our enormous data set to help our clients reach the people they need and drive performance at all stages of their customers’ journeys.

Looking to the new year ahead

Becoming CEO of Criteo has been the proudest moment of my career. And despite the obstacles of 2020, it’s been an absolute pleasure to lead this team and I’ll carry a huge sense of accomplishment into 2021. It’s been such an inspiration to see our teams come together to help each other, and help our clients navigate every twist and turn.

As we bring 2020 to a close, I want to say thank you to our amazing employees, whose resilience and perseverance during this year have blown me away. I would also like to express my deepest thanks and gratitude to our incredible clients and partners. This year has reminded all of us that plans can change, but it’s our commitment to helping each other that remains a constant. I have hope that 2021 will be a brighter year for everyone, but no matter what happens, I know we’ll be able to surpass any obstacles by working together.

We’ll have a lot of exciting things to announce next year, but until then, I wish everyone a peaceful holiday season and a happy new year. Stay safe and take care.

Want more insights from Megan? Find out her point of view on the flexible future of work.

Megan Clarken

Megan Clarken is the Chief Executive Officer at Criteo. She previously served as Chief Commercial Officer of Nielsen Global Media, where she spent over 15 years in a variety of roles leading initiatives that allowed the 90+-year-old company to adapt and prevail in a time of change. Before she was ...

Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

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