Connecting More Than Dots at LinkedIn

How Andy Yasutake is using psychology, leadership, and technology to help bring people together

Long before LinkedIn mastered the art of professional matchmaking and became social media’s networking titan, Andy Yasutake was busy building relationships, developing people, scaling technologies, and working to bring people together.

Andy Yasutake, LinkedIn

“I’ve always had an affinity for emerging technologies and cool gadgets, and I’ve always been fascinated with what made people tick,” says Yasutake, LinkedIn’s senior director of global technology solutions and operations. “When I was a young boy, PCs were just starting to become more commonplace, but you had to buy these expensive IBM PCs at the store if you wanted to have one. One day, my neighbor was putting together a PC-clone from parts, and I remember going over there to help and learn and seeing these computer parts strewn all across the table. Ultimately, we were able to make something that actually worked, and it gave me a new passion for building things from scratch and making things work together to accomplish a goal.”

As early as high school, Yasutake began developing his talent for connecting people through technology. “I was always the guy that was reaching out to everyone,” he recalls. “I’d spend hours talking on the phone or paging friends on their beepers to understand what was going on in their daily lives and how I could help provide them with perspective or advice. Most times, we wouldn’t meet up as a group unless I called them all one-by-one on a landline. I was the connector who got along with everyone and brought us all together.”

Although he initially went to college to study biology and premed, Yasutake eventually gravitated to psychology because he was fascinated with human relationships. He went on to earn a bachelor’s in psychology with an emphasis in information systems from the University of Southern California. However, he also still loved technology, and at the time, the dot-com boom was still at its height. During college, Yasutake discovered a mentor in a social psychology professor who published books and led professional talks about interpersonal relationships in the business world. Noticing an intersection between Yasutake’s interests in technology and his passion for people, connections, and relationships, the professor helped suggest that Yasutake consider exploring a career in management consulting, which he said could blend his strengths and passions.

“My professor helped me realize that I could differentiate myself because I not only had the computer information systems skill set, but I also had this focus on human relationships and the psychology inherent in them. A lot of work in management consulting is all about collaborating with people, forming relationships, and working in teams to get things done,” Yasutake says. “It’s not just about cranking out code and building cool things to move the business forward.”

This insight led Yasutake to a role as a high-performing management consultant at Andersen Consulting, where, in addition to managing his core responsibilities, he quickly discovered ways to use a personal communication tool to form an information network across his teams.

“Internally, we didn’t have robust messaging tools yet because it wasn’t ubiquitous like it is today, so I’d use AOL’s free Instant Messenger to reach out and connect people across geographies and teams,” Yasutake recalls. “When Andersen Consulting became Accenture, the chosen stock symbol became ACN, and the joke with many of my colleagues was that it actually stood for Andy’s Chat Network because of the way that I used the technology to connect and get things done across teams, clients, and geographies.”

After consulting many different global Fortune 500 industries and companies across the world, the experience related to customer relationship management, data management, and enterprise technology products and platforms that Yasutake gained at Accenture eventually resulted in a role at eBay. There, Yasutake was asked to help build and transform a product organization while building and owning scalable enterprise applications and tools. Over a five-year period, he created and led teams that developed a truly global mind-set, meaning that they thought globally and acted locally, Yasutake says.

Today at LinkedIn, Yasutake is harnessing his personal and professional life lessons to develop and grow the technological and operational capabilities that LinkedIn uses to help connect members of the global workforce through its platform. On one hand, LinkedIn has members, i.e., people with profiles. And on the hand, it has customers, which includes sales people, recruiters, marketers, and organizations who pay for subscriptions for premium tools and services.

“My role and my team’s function is to help the global customer-operations organization scale with a focus on our members and customers,” Yasutake says. “This includes helping to create all of the knowledge and content around these products and services and scaling the operational functions with people, process, and enterprise systems to make the business more efficient and effective. My team also builds the enterprise technology systems that help connect team members in support operations, and we also provide self-service tools in a members-first way to meet our members’ and customers’ various needs.”

Originally managing a small team of experienced individuals, Yasutake has helped develop his organization into a high performing and collaborative 110-person, global team with passionate team members in California, Nebraska, Dublin, Bangalore, and Singapore.

“We’re an enabling function that helps solve global business challenges with an incredible world-class team that intends to help the business connect the dots and deliver solutions on what problems we are really solving for in the first place,” he says. “We may build a tool and leverage technology as a solution. But we also can create broader capabilities within the organization that scale as the business grows and our members’ and customers’ expectations evolve.”

One such capability that has continued to evolve is the ability to foster a general atmosphere of self-service when it comes to the customer and help-center experience. As Yasutake explains, LinkedIn has roughly 550 million members. From a customer-operations standpoint, self-service is a key and differentiating strategy, not only operationally but also in terms of members’ and customers’ experience.

“Ideally, from members’ point of view, they do not want to contact support if they have an issue or question. But ideally, we would want to prevent the product from ever having issues or help the members and customers get on their journey instead of being caught up in how we are internally organized or how our systems aren’t completely integrated across the enterprise,” Yasutake says. “So, our product-operations teams work collaboratively with product and engineering teams to collectively use our rich trove of data to really work to fix upstream problems before they happen and create an even better overall customer experience, while balancing the operating costs to manage from a company perspective.”

But as with any company in a highly visible space, sometimes the unpreventable happens. In 2012, an experienced hacker compromised LinkedIn user passwords, exposing them to the dark web. Yasutake says it took the customer-operations team about fifteen weeks to recover from backlog of cases after members flocked to customer support for help with resetting their passwords after LinkedIn proactively reached out to them with its findings.

Then in 2016, increased media focus on cybersecurity reignited the issue with old exposure on the original 2012 issue, and LinkedIn saw another influx of support cases related to password security, despite no new hack occurring or any compromising of their important member information.

“We saw a lot of members helping other members for free on our community forums, so that led to a creative solution where we leveraged an Uber-like on-demand concept for member support, leveraging an untapped workforce in the growing gig economy,” Yasutake explains. “Instead of having expert members help each other for free, we leveraged a solution where the expert members on LinkedIn products could be paid or rewarded if their answers were correct from the member’s point of view.”

So, instead of waiting for up to twenty-four hours for help with a password reset from the company’s support center, members could receive answers in 3–5 minutes, which resulted in greater customer satisfaction and better operational metrics. Most importantly, it created a stronger community of engaged members, Yasutake says.

“My team is not just here for support or operations behind the scenes. We have a much broader purpose,” he says. “We’re here to help our members and customers connect with each other and to help them connect to opportunities in line with LinkedIn’s bold mission, vision, culture, and values.”

Photo: Tony Chung/LinkedIn

Inner Circle with Andy Yasutake

Is there a specific moment in time where you knew the internet was going to change everything?

If I reflect on the last thirty years and the incredible industrial progression that has been made globally with incredible businesses and lives being changed, the internet has been at the core for this amazing pace and acceleration of innovation and connectivity. I knew the internet was going to change everything when I was in high school, and I had my first PC and upgraded my modem to the latest 14,400 baud speed over the phone line with America Online logging me in. The internet speeds blew me away, and I suddenly could chat with friends in chat rooms, talk to friends I had met that lived around the world, and form pen pals in real-time vs. the slower paced “snail mail.”

Email was becoming more and more ubiquitous every day, and now I had access to online knowledge vs. my old Encarta CD-ROM or World Book Encyclopedia on my bookshelf. The world shrank before my eyes, and now my natural ability to connect with others just got easier. This, among other events in my life, led me to believe that the internet was more than a new technology fad and rather something that was here to stay.

Directly’s Crowd-Powered AI platform combines messaging, machine learning and gig work to transform and scale customer service for world-class companies like LinkedIn, Microsoft, Autodesk, Pinterest, Samsung, and SAP.