Ara Tucker ’04 was an art history and visual arts major at Princeton University when she decided to become a lawyer. But she also knew that it was important for her to continue to make art.
“I was very deliberate in choosing [NYU Law], because I knew that I wanted somehow for my degree to help enable me to continue my creative pursuits, but also my interest in business,” says Tucker. “I feel like people who went to [NYU Law] were also really engaged in whatever made them happy.”
Today Tucker balances both her professional and creative interests—as vice president and head of talent and culture at Audible, which specializes in premium, high quality audio storytelling, and as a creative writer. There is a common thread in both her business and artistic pursuits: Tucker says she is driven by a desire to be an attentive listener and a teller of stories.
“I think stories are the things that allow us to either see ourselves, or see the things that scare us, or see the things that inspire us,” Tucker says. Her documentary Black Like Us is an intergenerational story of affluent black Americans, and she has recently completed a novel, How to Raise an Art Star. Her role at Audible allows her to see how the collective stories of people at the company shape both the company’s culture and its goals. “Companies are like the big outgrowth of all the people coming together to work there together,” she says, “and I think it's just amazing that so many people come together every day across the globe for Audible, to serve people by bringing them their stories.”
As head of talent and culture, Tucker says her role is “part screenwriter and part psychologist.” The creative process comes into play when she’s working with her teams to design employee experiences—for example, to ensure that new employees feel incorporated into existing teams. She says she also spends much of her time listening to team members and colleagues and addressing their concerns, so that employees feel both seen and inspired. This has included providing trainings that teach empathy as a leadership skill, and recruiting new employees who have proven track records of supporting and championing a broad spectrum of voices.
“I think a lack of diverse voices—not just culturally diverse but cognitively diverse—is almost a liability in the corporate world,” Tucker says. A breadth of perspectives, academic interests, and backgrounds prevents costly errors, she adds. For example, Tucker says, when companies have more cognitive diversity among their directors, boards are more likely to adopt policies and practices that serve the needs of customers, employees and shareholders.
While at NYU Law, Tucker was a member of BALSA, OUTLaw, and the Review of Law and Social Change. She says the highlight of her experience was being able to share it, years later, with her sister Alexis Tucker ’12, who is now counsel at Netflix.
Tucker’s path to Audible was not traditional. After working as an associate in the business and finance practice group at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, she returned to her undergraduate alma mater, Princeton University, first as a special assistant in the office of the provost and then as an associate director for academic and administrative planning in the office of the executive vice president.
In 2008, her former firm, Morgan Lewis, offered her the newly created position of director of diversity. She was a little surprised, she says, to be hired in a non–revenue generating role when many of her peers were losing jobs amidst the financial crisis, but she knew that she was in a unique position to create cultural change in an environment she knew intimately. One of the areas she focused on was helping improve and enhance the way assignments were made.
“[In a law firm environment, the assignment process] is a key lever in driving careers. It can help determine who has access to client relationships, who gets the hours, and monitor whether they’re the right types of hours,” she says.
After Morgan Lewis, Tucker worked as the head of employee engagement, communications, and operations for diversity and inclusion at Morgan Stanley, drawn by an opportunity to combine her D&I work with larger-scale communications. “I love being able to tell stories,” Tucker says, “which is a basic function of any good communication strategy.”
Tucker moved to Audible in 2016 as their head of employee experience before becoming the head of talent strategy and then the head of talent and culture.
“Ara once told me that just because you’re talented at something, it doesn’t mean you have to do it forever,” says her former classmate Danielle Carter ’04. “I think about that when I look at her career trajectory…She is so talented in so many areas, but she let passion drive the direction of her career, and I find that inspiring.”
Posted March 27, 2020