WP Engine CEO talks about inclusive company culture

Michelle Zhang

Heather Brunner, CEO and chairwomen of WP Engine, discussed how to build an inclusive and diverse work environment in the tech industry Thursday night in GDC 2.216 to students who are interested in startups. 

The lecture started with students pitching startup ideas or talking about ongoing projects. Then, Brunner introduced the background of WP Engine, the ecosystem of WordPress and the importance of accommodating company culture.

“One of the things I really believe in is the power of diversity, and diversity comes from all different kinds of factors, your backgrounds, your education, where you come from,” Brunner said. “One thing: Promise me, when you are a CEO, that you take the time, as early as you possibly can, to define your core value for your company.”

WP Engine is a worldwide WordPress website service provider started by UT alumni and headquartered in Austin. Prior to WP Engine, Brunner spent about 20 years working in technology companies, including Oracle, Trilogy and IBM.

This lecture is part of the UT Longhorn Startup Seminar, a cross-disciplinary course under the Department of Computer Science where students can pitch their ideas to the public and interact with leading entrepreneurs in the technology industry. Following this semester’s seminars, Longhorn Startup Lab features real startup project development and one-on-one mentorship for the spring.

“I’ve known Heather for a long time, and she is one of the most impressive CEOs I’ve ever met,” said Joshua Baer, the instructor of the Longhorn Startup Seminar. “I know this is a topic that is really important to her, and [it’s] something that’s very important to me and something that more and more people need to learn about and to be aware of.”

Music composition junior Alex Byrnes said it was a great chance to meet a CEO at Brunner’s level, and although she said she supports the idea of promoting diversity in companies, she admits it is a tricky process in reality.

“I’m all for it,” Byrnes said. “It’s such a hard topic, especially with the protest that was going on yesterday for the affirmative action. Sometimes you think of five white guys, they said, ‘Yeah, we wanna be more diverse, we don’t want to be so exclusive.’ But then the next person they hire, how are they going to evaluate it?”