There have been major disruptions in recent years that promise to change the very nature of work. From the ongoing shifts caused by the COVID19 pandemic, the impacts caused by automation and other possible disruptions to the status quo, many wonder what the future holds in terms of employment. For example, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute that estimated automation will eliminate 73 million jobs by 2030 .
To address this open question, we reached out to successful leaders in business, government, and labor, as well as thought leaders about the future of work to glean their insights and predictions on the future of work and the workplace.
As a part of this interview series called “Preparing For The Future Of Work,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Robert Sheen, founder and CEO of Trusaic.
Robert Sheen is CEO and founder of Trusaic with an extensive background in law, finance, tax and regulatory consulting, After earning his law degree, he began his career at KPMG, where he specialized in corporate reorganization, mergers and acquisitions and multi-state tax product development and implementation. In 1998, Robert joined BDO Seidman and led the company’s Los Angeles state and local tax practice. In 1999, Robert founded First Capitol Consulting. Specializing in tax credits, data solutions and quality of workplace, the company laid the groundwork for Trusaic’s eventual expansion in areas such as the Affordable Care Act and pay equity.
In 2004, Robert raised $19.6 million in starting capital to launch U.S. Metro Bank, a disruptor in the field of mobile banking, where he served as Vice Chair of the Board until 2013. In 2006, he developed TaxAdvantagesm in partnership with Intuit, providing tax-centric data solutions for Intuit Employment Management Service’s 1.4 million customers. Robert holds a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of Southern California and a J.D. from Loyola Law School. He is a member of the California State Bar Association, has served as a member of the National Advisory Board for the Asian American Justice Center and is a former President of the Korean American Bar Association. He is a former trustee for the USC Pacific Asia Museum, a former board member for MTV’s Rock the Vote and was honored as a Man of L.A. by The Women’s Foundation.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?
In 1977, when I was 10 years old, my family immigrated to Los Angeles from Seoul, South Korea. Growing up in the ’70s and the ’80s, I witnessed and experienced considerable discrimination and racial injustice. This was a time when there was significant backlash against Asians due to a rise in car import competition from Japan. These early experiences certainly contributed to the work I do today and my belief that achieving diversity, equity and inclusion respects our fundamental right to health, safety, and dignity.
After graduating from law school, I was hired by KPMG, where I learned how to productize tax ideas and develop go-to-market strategies. With that knowledge, I founded Trusaic (formerly First Capitol Consulting) in 1999, specializing in credits and incentives services. In 2004, I organized and founded U.S. Metro Bank (which opened in 2006) with a business plan that disrupted the traditional brick-and-mortar branch model by utilizing remote check image capturing. In less than two weeks, we raised $19.6 million in starting capital required to open a new bank and received the necessary federal approvals. I served as vice chair of the board until 2013. Today, U.S. Metro Bank is a full-service, commercial bank with $1B in assets and several locations in Southern California serving a targeted client base.
Shortly after, I was asked by Intuit to help develop a software platform that consolidated 1.4M Quickbooks customers’ information and Intuit Payroll’s 21M employees’ data to provide tax savings for their customers. In 2012, I came back to Trusaic with a very strong vision: to consolidate and analyze workforce data and provide solutions for social good. At Trusaic, our software platform addresses and achieves pay equity; helps companies hire veterans, economically disadvantaged, and “hard to hire” workers; and promotes healthcare for all employees.
What do you expect to be the major disruptions for employers in the next 10–15 years? How should employers pivot to adapt to these disruptions?
Looking back at 2020 and the first half of 2021, it was astounding to see how much change happened so quickly. This offers a great lesson in preparing for a future that I believe will be more uncertain and more unpredictable due to disruptions in the business model, fast paced digital transformation, a huge wave of resignations and the intersection of all these disruptive factors. The effects will be magnified by changes in climate, social dynamics, economics, demographics and geo-politics.
Society’s expectations of business are changing due to circumstances including a global pandemic, a climate crisis that has unleashed one devastating natural disaster after another, intensifying social discourse and widespread activism around inequality and systemic racism and an attack on democracy itself. The pressure that will accompany this profound disruption will reshape the nature of work and every other aspect of business.
Employees, customers and communities are reframing the purpose of business. The narrow shareholder-centered view is giving way to a view that protects and balances the interests of all stakeholders. Employers will have to grapple with their responsibility to society and these new expectations. Shareholders will recognize the long-term benefit of investing in companies that have a positive environmental and social impact.
Greenbiz.com noted, “CSR loosened the grip of shareholder primacy” but did not result in transformative change. Today’s multi-faceted challenges will compel successful companies to “reimagine, reinvent and reset the status quo.” This may finally be the precursor to transformative change.
This change doesn’t in and of itself mean businesses shouldn’t pursue a profit, it means they will need to rethink how they operate and interpret their responsibilities. People are signaling a preference for companies that contribute a positive environmental and social impact. Today’s and tomorrow’s talent will seek a fair, equitable workplace — and one that contributes to this type of transformation.
One of my responsibilities is to prepare my company for events that may unfold in the future. As leaders, we must try see beyond the curvature of our imagination. We must be proactive and look for opportunities rather than be defensive and reactive. This flux mindset can help a company to thrive in the face of unforeseen events rather than flounder. Employers should look at these disruptions as opportunities to better serve society and the planet and build workable strategies around them.
The choice as to whether or not a young person should pursue a college degree was once a “no-brainer.” But with the existence of many high-profile millionaires (and billionaires) who did not earn degrees, as well as the fact that many graduates are saddled with crushing student loan debt and unable to find jobs it has become a much more complex question. What advice would you give to young adults considering whether or not to go to college?
I don’t believe everyone must attend college or get an advanced degree to be successful. My wife, who is the smartest and most creative person I know, never went to college and is a very successful artist. I believe you have to have a good understanding of who you are. Determine what you are good at and what you are passionate about. And then plan on working very hard. Because without talent and hard work, it is impossible to succeed. Ultimately, we want to succeed through hard work, creativity and passion and to lead a life of meaning and dignity.
Despite the doom and gloom predictions, there are, and likely still will be, jobs available. How do you see job seekers having to change their approaches to finding not only employment, but employment that fits their talents and interests?
You enjoy what you are good at. This means that you have to hone your skills and understand your strengths. You cannot expect a job to fit your talents and interests if you yourself don’t know what you are good at. Perform some self-assessment and self-reflection. Lead with your strengths, identify things that spark your passions and a career path will open up to you.
The statistics of artificial intelligence and automation eliminating millions of jobs appears frightening to some. For example, Walmart aims to eliminate cashiers altogether and Dominos is instituting pizza delivery via driverless vehicles. How should people plan their careers such that they can hedge their bets against being replaced by automation or robots?
We all must be agile learners. New technologies in automation and AI are expected to create new high-quality jobs and improve the quality and productivity of workers. Technology is also expected to reduce certain types of work. While the World Economic Forum projects that increased demand for new jobs will offset losses of certain jobs, this will not happen simultaneously and there will be a transition period. It is the responsibility of the company and individuals to proactively invest in educating and training toward these new opportunities.
Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?
I believe a hybrid or flex working model is the future. The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of technology and shaped our behavior to successfully work remotely. At Trusaic, we are planning our next office to meet three essential needs (1) collaboration (2) meetings (3) socializing. We still want our employees to gather in one place to share ideas, bond, collaborate, and build social capital.
What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support the fundamental changes to work?
I see rise of governmental activism as younger people see failures of capitalism to address environment, social and governance issues. For example, the U.S., Equal Pay Act was enacted in 1963. Here we are, 58 years later, and we are still talking about it. Concerns with short-termism and delivering financial results are no longer good enough.
What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employers to accept? What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employees to accept?
Government activism around pay equity is on the rise. In the future, employers will have to grapple with employees’ demand for pay transparency and abide by government regulations requiring disclosure of pay data reporting, or “report and explain.” To address these issues, employers will have to monitor recruiting, promotion and separation for statistically significant pattern of behaviors. Employees and supervisors will have to be trained to understand unconscious biases. Adoption of DEI monitoring into everyday business operations will be a great challenge.
Automation will lead to the obsolescence of many workers. I mentioned this earlier, but employees will have to adopt a flux mindset and be agile, willing and able to upskill and reskill. Employees must see change as an opportunity for the better future.
The COVID-19 pandemic helped highlight the inadequate social safety net that many workers at all pay levels have. Is this something that you think should be addressed? In your opinion how should this be addressed?
Organizations must examine their DEI policies and practices holistically to achieve truly diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces. Social and political discourse around equality is only increasing. Pay data laws, growing public pressure and widespread activism have pushed the issue of workplace disparity to the forefront. Pay transparency advocates argue that secrecy around wages reinforces discrimination and obscures structural inequalities. As you noted, a global pandemic is also inflicting disproportionate damage on the earnings of women and women of color and exacerbating the crisis of economic inequality. We recently sponsored research that highlights the actions that companies who report more success in implementing DEI initiatives are taking. I would encourage all employers to review these practices if they are interested in making their organizations a safer, more welcoming, more representative and more participatory place.
Here is another step we are taking at Trusaic. I believe that our company will be better if our employees have a stake in the game. We are currently working to implement an employee ownership program. I want to know what this company is capable of. I believe we can see what we are capable of as a group when we are all in the game together. Our success will be an indicator of how much societal change we have affected through our work.
Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
The system isn’t working for everyone. The status quo is not sustainable. But more and more influential voices are mobilizing to demand change. We live in a very diverse society and this is reflected in our workforce. Socially good employers that invest in their workers, pay fair wages and provide important benefits such as healthcare will lead us to a better future. I am optimistic that we can look forward to a future where humanity’s freedom will be achieved through equality.
Historically, major disruptions to the status quo in employment, particularly disruptions that result in fewer jobs, are temporary with new jobs replacing the jobs lost. Unfortunately, there has often been a gap between the job losses and the growth of new jobs. What do you think we can do to reduce the size of this gap?
We must proactively invest in educating and training. Reskilling and upskilling. Organizations must accelerate professional development and implement training that helps their employees develop the new skills necessary in a changing world. And employees must be open to the continuous learning that the new economy and jobs of the future demand. Company and employees must both be agile learners.
Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Watch In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
Milton Friedman’s doctrine professed, “The sole purpose of business is to generate shareholder value.” This doctrine is dead. Sustainable businesses that focus on ESG will not undermine the view of the free market; instead, they will set the course for the future of work:
1. The new business environment will require businesses to be accountable to employees, investors customers, future generations and the planet. Businesses that do not adopt this new way of working will find themselves isolated.
2. Businesses will need to evaluate how they impact the world. For instance, while Trusaic operates in the realm of workforce analytics, as a company, we are helping organizations increase diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), and achieve equality in the workplace, a fundamental human right.
3. DEI will become a prerequisite to engaging employees and retaining talent. Managers will be held accountable via goals that clearly measure progress. Inclusion — the feeling of belonging in an organization –will continue to become the most important element of DEI. Without an inclusive environment, employees will leave. As Josh Bersin notes, “Inclusion is the goal, diversity is the outcome.”
4. Younger entrepreneurs will embrace and create different types of purposeful businesses and operate them from a human-centered standpoint, shrugging off the old ways, and holding themselves responsible to the people they serve, starting with their own employees.
5. Younger generations of workers will demand a different set of standards from employers and businesses. They will reject the Friedman doctrine and be wary of companies that they feel contributed to society’s ills — those they fault for contributing to the destruction of the planet, to wage disparity and to economic inequality. They are the generations most impacted by the planet’s trajectory and will increasingly commit to those businesses that act ethically and responsibly.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how this quote has shaped your perspective?
My father taught me everything I needed to know when I was four years old. Perhaps, because of that, I am a very passionate person with a specific point of view. He taught me, “Don’t chase money, let money follow you.” When you chase money, you make bad decisions and perhaps, put yourself in a compromising position. You need passion, hard work, discipline and the desire to hone your craft. At Trusaic, we are here to help the world achieve equity and justice. Our success is a measure of accomplishing this goal.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in business, VC funding, sports and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the U.S. with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Ray Dalio. Talent strategy is more critical than ever as we automate and people are more willing to switch jobs. I believe Ray Dalio’s PrinciplesUs and Dot Collector are fascinating tools to create a great, effective workforce and a culture that promotes truth, transparency, diversity, collaboration, empowerment, engagement, inclusiveness and teamwork.
Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?
They can find what Trusaic is doing at www.trusaic.com and on Twitter at @Trusaic. We regularly publish content that we hope will be valuable to companies and individuals interested in effecting positive change in their workplaces. I am also the editor-in-chief of The ACA Times, which helps organizations with the complexities of the Affordable Care Act.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.