People of SU

Alumni Spotlight: Ana White, ‘95

Written by Tina Potterf

April 17, 2023

Photo of Ana White, Alumna of the Year

Image credit: Yosef Kalinko

A Q&A with the Alumna of the Year.

What drew you to Seattle U to study Mathematics.

“Both of my parents went to SU. My mom was an English major and my dad was an Electrical Engineering major, and they loved it there. So, I applied to SU and many other schools. SU gave me a generous merit-based scholarship which helped a lot, as I was paying for most of the tuition myself. I had merit scholarships from other schools, but SU had great academics, small class sizes, and I liked the great sense of community and connection. I originally was going to be in Electrical Engineering or Computer Science major (following in my Dad’s footsteps), but I quickly realized that my passion and strength was in Math. SU has exceptional math professors.”

What were some of your favorite classes and professors as an undergrad and why?

“I had many favorite classes and professors:

"Dr. Andre Yandl taught many of my advanced Math classes, and we kept in touch until he passed away in 2019. I had such respect for him and visited him and his wife a few years before his passing. I loved Topology (he called it rubber geometry) and really enjoyed going to his house with other math students while I was a student to play ping pong. Dr. Yandl loved sports and learned to play table tennis from the troops during the allied occupation in 1942. He would beat all of us! Also, he would come to watch my tennis matches and cheer our team on, which I really appreciated.

"Dr. Donna Sylvester was also an exceptional professor and she is still working at Seattle U. I loved taking Differential Equations from her and, much to my husband’s dismay, I still have both my Differential Equations and Topology books as I liked those classes so much!

"I minored in Economics and loved macroeconomics with Dr. Dean Pederson and microeconomics with Dr. Tim Sorenson. They were exceptional teachers and I ended up tutoring students in economics and math.

"I also recall really enjoying Father Jerry Cobb’s English class. He was an exceptional teacher and I had the good fortune to run into him again during the opening of the Sinegal Center for Science and Innovation.”

What are some of the skills you learned as a student that carried into your professional life? 

“I learned so many things from being a Math major at SU. I got my first job as a Compensation & Benefits analyst in an actuarial consulting firm and later joined Microsoft as a Benefits Manager. That’s the start of my 20+ years career in Human Resources. The skills I learned from Math apply every day in my work in technology including:

  • How to solve very difficult problems by using creativity and thinking outside the box. HR doesn’t seem like a very technology focused role. However, advances in machine learning have allowed us to create solutions such as predictive attrition and daily employee sentiment models, which we can utilize to influence leaders to make data driven decisions to achieve their people goals. 
  • A very disciplined approach to tackle big challenges through logical argument skills, abstract thinking and breaking things down into manageable pieces.
  • Tenacity, perseverance and hard work. This served me very well in Math, tennis and in my professional career. I also played tennis for Seattle U and while I was not the top player, I was fortunate to make the team and enjoyed every minute of. I learned never to give up, even though the longest matches. I treasured my time playing tennis with the SU team and really enjoyed being the co-captain my junior and senior years.
  • Time management. I started my day early with Math and many other classes, then went to tutor students in Math and Economics then did my homework, then worked out (many times running the stairs with my roommate Jenny DeBord or working out at Connolly Center), then went to SU tennis practice at the Amy Yee tennis center starting around 9 p.m. I loved being busy and productive and this has transferred over well to my life and work now—having three teenagers, back-to-back meetings, context switching all day, volunteering at Childhaven (a non-profit board I’m on) and so much more.
  • Teamwork. If you can’t solve difficult mathematical proofs in your homework by yourself, you can work with others to help brainstorm ideas for the assignments. This was true in math and is very true at work.”

Immediately following graduation, did you go into the tech space? 

“No, my first role was for an actuarial consulting firm called Watson Wyatt (doing both benefits and compensation consulting). I worked there for about 4 years then went to Microsoft, where I spent more than18 years across 10 different jobs trying to do every part of HR both in the U.S. and the UK.”

When did you start at F5 and what attracted you to that company?

“I joined F5 in January 2018. I did not want to leave Microsoft, as I loved it and thought I would stay there my whole career. However, the recruiter called and when I said I wasn’t interested they encouraged me to just meet with the F5 CEO. I agreed and once I met with the F5’s CEO, François Locoh-Donou, I realized he was an exceptional CEO. François is human-first, bold, smart, innovative, kind and curious. He wanted to transform F5 from a people, business and technology perspective and the role he wanted me to do was my dream job—owning the people function as well as Corporate Social Responsibility, which we call Global Good. Also, the people of F5 were extremely kind and thoughtful. François wanted me to renovate the culture to meet the needs of the future. After a lot of consideration, I decided to leave Microsoft to drive transformation at F5 with a phenomenal CEO.”

What does your work entail as F5’s Chief People Officer? 

“Every day is totally different. I’m in back-to-back meetings with a lot of interesting context switching, but overall, I spend my time trying to make F5 the best possible place to work for our F5 employees. The scope of my role includes working with the CEO, his direct reports and my team on our human-first and high-performance culture, compensation and benefits; Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Allyship (IDEA); recruiting/hiring, learning and development; and how we can best contribute to our communities in need around the world.

"I have a wonderful HR and Environmental Social Governance team and I love to see them grow and develop and make a positive impact on the environment and non-profits around the world.

"My best days are when I can recognize my team’s great work and see them shine while making an impact on our employees and F5’s business results. More recently, the CEO and I have been meeting with our customers to share our culture renovation and learnings. I love doing that.”

What do you find most rewarding about this role? 

“Making a difference in F5ers’ lives, especially during times of challenge (like COVID, the war in Ukraine, racial injustice and more). And making a difference in the community through Global Good. We were awarded the 2022 Bestie Award from Benevity, which recognizes the company with the best-in-class approach to corporate purpose, driving impact for their nonprofits, communities. And making a difference for our customers by sharing our cultural renovation and lessons learned.”

As someone who has been in the tech space for many years, what do you see as the most exciting or innovative happenings in this space and if you could look ahead what excites you about the future? 

“I think tech companies are very privileged and have a responsibility to give back to the community. I love seeing technology used for good. Technology can and should dramatically help under-served communities and non-profits. One thing my team is rolling out in the coming months is something called Volunteer Sprints where F5 employees can take off one to two weeks to use their technical and professional skills to help nonprofits. I want F5 to be a platform for our employees to leverage their superpowers and make a big difference for the causes they care about the most.

“It’s very cool that so many apps have moved to no / low code. This breaks down the barriers to using technology and will allow for further innovation and tech advancements. I’m excited about app creation being open to more people and I’m grateful that F5 is focused on Bringing a Better Digital World to Life.”

Shifting gears, you have been very active with Seattle U, particularly the College of Science and Engineering and involvement with the Sinegal Center. What moved you to stay connected to your alma mater? 

“I received so much from SU. I loved my time there and wanted to give back in some way. It’s important to me to support SU and I try to do that in a variety of ways. I loved connecting with the math professors to facilitate Gallup Strength Finders for them several years ago.

I was a Seattle University Center for Science & Innovation Task Force Member from 2016-2021. I have been contributing to Seattle University through the STEM Diversity Fund, the Tiny Home project and the establishment of the James and Donna Knight Endowed Scholarship (my parents’ names) for students that need assistance with tuition over the past several years."

What are your thoughts on the Sinegal Center and what it will mean for the future of STEM and STEM education at Seattle U? 

“It was exciting to be involved in this from the very beginning, and I want to give kudos to Dean Quinn for his hard and impactful work in making this possible. The Sinegal Center is truly amazing, innovative, and modern. I think it will be leading edge for other universities as well I particularly like the Billodue Makerspace, in part because it is open to all Seattle University students, not just students in the College of Science and Engineering. This encourages creativity and innovation for all. And last but not least, the Stephen V. Sundborg Center for Community Engagement (CCE) connects campus and community to empower leaders for a just and humane world.”

Congratulations on being named Alumna of the Year. What does this honor mean to you? 

“It means the world to me, and I’m beyond grateful, humbled and honored. I wish my Dad was alive to see this. He was the first person I would call when something amazing like this would happen. I’m proud to be an SU alumna.”

What do you like to do in your free time? 

“I love to spend time with my family, going to the kids sporting events or actually playing sports or working out with them. I like to play all racquet sports, volleyball and love to hike in nature with friends and family. I also like to travel to other countries as I love to learn about other cultures. My family and I lived in London when I headed up Skype HR in 2012-2013 and I visited many countries across Europe both for work and for fun. I’ve hit my 50th country this year—Poland. I went there to thank my HR team and our F5ers in Poland for their exceptional impact in helping Ukrainian refugees. It was so meaningful. The war in Ukraine is so devastating, and I hope it comes to an end as soon as possible.

“A random fun thing I love to do is decorate cookies especially around Christmas. My broader family and I have a cookie decorating contest and I love to win! My tip to winning it is quantity—most of my family decorates a few cookies then gives up but I decorate several and end up winning at least one category given the high number of cookies I decorate and I try to really think outside the box (leveraging some of my learnings from my time at SU.)” 

This is an extended version of a story that originally appears in the spring edition of Seattle University Magazine, out now.