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What TED Can Teach Employers About Company Culture

We’ve all seen videos of TED talks—those inspiring speeches by great thinkers that blow your mind in 18 minutes or less. Not only is TED a clearinghouse for powerful ideas that change attitudes, lives and the world—it’s also a great place to work with a fantastic company culture.

We spoke with Dana Viltz, TED’s Theater Events Producer, to find out what employers everywhere can do to embrace their own TED spirit and create a better company culture.

company culture
Dana Viltz
Producer at TED Conferences

Mediabistro: What do you do at TED?

Dana Viltz: I oversee the theater at TED Headquarters in Soho, and I produce live stage productions both inside our theater and externally.

MB: What’s it like to work at TED? Why do you like working there?

DV: Where to start! TED’s super-diverse and passionate staff, coupled with our nonprofit’s rotating door of brilliant thinkers and speakers, make TED a pretty inspiring and unique place to work with an amazing company culture.

There is an undeniable entrepreneurial spirit deeply ingrained in the company culture at TED, and as a producer, it’s been extremely rewarding to work within a nonprofit that allows a ton of creative freedom as we search for new ways of furthering the mission.

There is consistent encouragement from the top down to both experiment and take big risks here at TED, which I’ve never seen quite as genuinely in other companies.

People who work at TED are passionate about our mission of sharing “ideas worth spreading” on a global scale. Personally, I love that our mission is universally appealing and inclusive of people from all walks of life. The heart of our mission crosses social and political lines in ways are unique to TED.

TED’s theater was built smack in the middle of our office in Soho, which spans two floors on Hudson Street. The theater was intentionally built to be a central hub of office-activity, and the open-concept design of the space lends itself as a place to meet and talk with colleagues in a way that fosters a collaborative environment.

MB: How did you end up working at TED? What was your career trajectory?

DV: I majored in theater and dance at Trinity College in Hartford, and quickly fell in love with stage production. Post-college, I worked at The Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. Soon after, I accepted a full-time position tour managing with American Ballet Theater’s junior company, and a year later, I landed a job at Blue Man Group, where I managed and produced special appearances & projects.

I then landed a steady gig at Jack Morton Worldwide, a global design and experiential production agency where I produced a broad spectrum of live events and installations. I started producing the design and build of TV studios with Jack’s Emmy-Award winning broadcast team.

Immediately before joining the team at TED, I briefly dipped my toe in the tech world by accepting an offer to manage industry events full-time at Yahoo. I had a great two-year run working on the fantastic Yahoo events team (and the free lunch and perks didn’t hurt!) but I eventually began to miss the agility and ability to take big risks at the smaller-sized companies I had experienced earlier on in my career.

MB: How did you decide to work at TED? What did they offer that other employers didn’t?

DV: Given the current political (and social) climate, I was looking to work for an organization that was proactively addressing the issues we’re currently facing as a country, in ways that encourage productive conversations and finding solutions.

As a fan of TED, I’ve appreciated its neutrality when it comes to prioritizing ideas over any specific agenda, and I try to keep that in mind in the work I do here. I feel like it’s an important approach that makes TED a trustworthy source of information during an age where it can be difficult to separate facts from opinions.

MB: How did you get your foot in the door at TED?

DV: After identifying TED as an organization that interested me, I set up a job alert on my account so that I’d receive an email anytime there was a new posting on the job board with “TED” in the title. When a producer position finally opened up, I applied immediately.

Additionally, I sent a cold email to TED’s Director of Content, Kelly Stoetzel (who is now my boss) introducing myself and expressing my interest in TED and the role.

Looking back, that move could have very-easily backfired, but luckily Kelly is one of the most genuinely kind people I’ve ever met, and she wasn’t totally put-off by my pushy New Yorker tendencies.

MB: What type of employee does TED attract?

DV: One of my favorite things about working at TED is the diverse array of passionate and thoughtful people who work for the team. We have folks from many different countries and backgrounds here at the office.

When I read the job description for my current job, I loved that they wrote at the bottom that TED “only hires extremely nice people.” I’ve definitely found that statement to be true.

MB: What can employers do to help snag great talent like you?

DV: TED is a growing team with a very low rate of turnover, largely because the staff is super passionate about spreading big ideas and given the freedom and trust to try new things and take big chances. And, most of all, that we’ve got an amazing company culture!

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