Michelle Suwannukul

If you’ve worked anywhere—from a sandwich shop to a Fortune 500—for any length of time, you know that corporate culture totally matters. At Instacart, a tech company that’s revolutionizing how we get our groceries, that culture is so important that they hired Michelle Suwannukul to proactively foster it. Now that sounds like a pretty cool gig at a pretty cool company.

In her role as director of culture and engagement, Michelle is tasked with enhancing and promoting company initiatives and values within the company culture. If you’re thinking that sounds like a busy, everchanging job, you’d be right. Add to that the fact that Michelle is a one-woman department and you’ve got a busy, exciting and downright interesting career path. So how did she do it? Read on to find out how a lot of hard work, some all-important networking and avoiding the lunchtime BBQ has helped Michelle make big changes in her workplace.

Being in diverse environments or experiences give you perspective, and that perspective makes you a better, smarter and kinder person.

Tell us a bit about Instacart. As women on-the-go, the idea of grocery delivery sounds right up our alley!

Instacart eliminates the time and hassle of grocery shopping by delivering your groceries straight to your doorstep, in as little as one hour—giving you precious time back in your busy day. Through our convenient app and website, you can order fresh groceries and other home goods from some retailers like Whole Foods Market, Smart & Final, Kroger, Target, Costco (no membership required), and more.

What does your position as director of culture and engagement involve?

As the director of culture and engagement, I work hard to make sure our business initiatives and core values are upheld in Instacart’s overall company culture. My duties touch many areas, but recently, I’ve been very focused on driving diversity initiatives forward. This has included unconscious bias training for our employees, hosting events that highlight diversity with organizations like Girls in Tech and Women Who Code, and updating job descriptions to have inclusive verbiage—as a few examples.

How has your previous experience helped you achieve success in your role?

I’ve been at Instacart for three years and have always felt at home here. Instacart’s in my blood! That passion has helped me stay excited about everything I do. I do believe that my entire career has prepared me for my current role. Throughout my previous jobs, I’ve taken it upon myself to listen as much as possible, figure out what underlying issues need to be addressed, and then establish goals based upon what I’ve learned. This process has helped me set clear objectives here at Instacart, such as the diversity goals we’ve created as a company, along with actionable tactics to drive them through.

We hear you’re a one-woman department, do you find that challenging? How do you manage that workload?

As the sole person maintaining company culture at a startup, I can vouch that it is a big job. As more companies are realizing how critical a component culture is to a happy workplace, they’re also trying to learn how to best approach it. Here at Instacart, we take advantage of our resources wherever we can—from working with colleagues in different departments to accessing our network outside of the company. There will always be someone who has a past experience that can help you solve a problem—networking is key.

What is a day in your life typically like?

My dog, Petrie, is my alarm clock. She gets me up at 7 a.m. daily with a lot of enthusiasm. The first order of business is always her breakfast. I like to check out social media and my flipboard—usually no more than 15 minutes—on topics ranging from politics, world news to Justin Bieber’s latest antics and what Beyonce wore yesterday. I read my kindle on BART; it makes the 20 minutes fly by. Then it’s work time! Once I get to Instacart, I take advantage of us having coffee, tea and even an espresso machine. A few of my amazing colleagues have hidden barista talents, so they’ve taught me how to make my own almond cappuccino when I get in. After that, every day is different. It’s fast paced, we are always working on something new, and it’s one of the big reasons I enjoy my job. To unwind, it’s usually exercise, then dinner with family or friends and some evening emails. I feel accomplished when I can be in bed by 10:30 p.m. I’m pretty bullish on getting a minimum of 8 hours of sleep.

Are there any challenges keep you awake at night?

Not messing it all up. During tough moments, I reflect back on previous career advice given to me: “Try things—you’ll only get into hot water if you don’t confront failure.”

What does work/life balance mean to you?

It means flexibility and that is different for everyone. If every day you feel healthy stress from being challenged at work, then that is great. If you have chronic stress and you aren’t sure why, then there isn’t a balance, (and stress doesn’t look good on anyone). You shouldn’t ever feel guilty, unless you are actually not doing your job. If you feel like you need to go for a run at lunch, you should be able to do that.

Was there ever a moment in your career where you’ve thought, “I made it!” What was it?

I’ll let you know when that happens.

What are three pieces of career advice you’d like to share with our readers?

  • Don’t ask for the things you want—kill it at what you do.
  • Come up with a solution and back it up with facts.
  • Being in diverse environments or experiences give you perspective, and that perspective makes you a better, smarter and kinder person.

Any last advice for readers who may say, “Hey! I want her job!”

Be resourceful (never let the status quo stop you from finding a solution), and be generous (talk to people and help them make the best of themselves).

We lied, one more question! We hear you’re a trivia aficionado. What’s your best quirky fact for us to share at our next happy hour?

  • A person who makes women’s hats for a living is a milliner.
  • Our fossil fuels are a result of a bunch of dead plants that built up from the carboniferous period and over time didn’t decay because there was no fungi at the time that could decompose it. (We have that now, thus we have a finite supply of fossil fuels).

Person I’d love to grab coffee with: Brene Brown (living) or Prince (RIP).
You’ll find these three things on my desk right now: A large stuffed dinosaur, a ZZ plant and a half eaten RX bar.
My go-to office outfit is: Black pants, boots, grey sweatshirt.
You can find me lunching at: The Instacart office where we bring lunch for everyone! If it’s BBQ day—I really can’t handle trying to do work after BBQ – then I run over to Google, which is one block from our office, and there I will have lunch with my best friend of 20 years and take advantage of their broth bar. It’s genius.
I can’t live without: My family, a toothbrush and access to a shower.
My favorite way to unwind is: Hiking among trees with dogs.
I feel my best when: I get a snack of cheese right before bed.