LinkedIn CEO and VP of HR Discuss Talent, Transparency, Authenticity and Critical HR Skills

“LinkedIn, by virtue of being about talent and that being the core focus of our products and services, we’re in the unusual and advantageous position of offering the same brand promise to members that we offer to our employees which is to transform the trajectory of their careers.”

—Jeff Weiner 



SANTA CLARA CONVENTION CENTER—(MAY 13, 2014)—LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner and his top HR leader took center stage at HR Symposium 2014 to discuss how strategic HR initiatives, transparency and speaking plainly have helped propel the 11-year-old company to become the world’s largest and most powerful network of professionals.

Close to 600 attendees were on hand to hear Weiner and Pat Wadors, senior vice president of HR, executives share what has propelled the growth of the global talent company and the integral role that HR leadership has played in its evolution.

Since Weiner joined LinkedIn in December 2008, the company has grown its global platform to 20 languages and 26 offices around the globe. Membership has grown from 33 million to more than 300 million and revenue has increased more than 10-fold to more than $1.5 billion in 2013. Revenue this year is expected to top $2.02 billion.

“Above all else, HR helps support our team and our world class talent,” Weiner said. “Our top priority at the company, No. 1, is to build a world class team and that wouldn’t be possible without HR. Without the talent that we have, the platform would not be where it is today, we wouldn’t enjoy the scale that it does; we wouldn’t be able to create the value that we do for those members.”

If some top executives don’t see the real value of partnering with HR, Weiner clearly isn’t one of them. Everything about talent, he said, from recruiting, to learning and development and performance evaluation is critical to building the successful company.

“I’ve been doing this over 20 years and I’ve never seen the kind of competitive intensity that we’re seeing today for top talent, so it really begins there,” he said.

At LinkedIn, 72 percent of the employees were hired in the last two years and 68 percent of the company is under the age of 35. Onboarding, learning and development and performance evaluation are simply critical to continued success.

“Pat and her team have been doing an amazing job making sure people can come in and fully understand the context of what we’re doing and be equipped with tools they need to start adding value from day one,” Weiner said.

The company has been able to attract and retain some of the world’s best talent.

“And, that’s a big reason we’ve been able to reach 300 million members and counting,” Weiner said.

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Culture of Transparency

Employees, who praise Weiner’s culture of transparency, put him at the top ranked CEO on Glassdoor, an online career website. Weiner received an unprecedented 100 percent approval rating.

It’s a place where employees have ongoing opportunities to transform themselves and pursue their passions at the company, Wadors said.

“A lot of that has to do with the culture you’ve created with the leadership team,” she said to Weiner. “You’re very transparent as a company and as a leader.”

The company, with just over 5,000 employees, holds hands-on meetings every two weeks, a tradition of open communication that Weiner said he has been able to maintain even after the company went public in 2011.

“The leadership team and every member of the company is absolutely pivotal in not only developing and codifying the culture but manifesting it and living it day in and day out,” Weiner said. “Our culture has become one of our most important competitive advantages, if not our most important competitive advantage and that’s a testament to the entire team.”

That said, if leaders don’t walk the walk, an organization has a low probability of upholding a company’s culture and values, he said.

“It’s on leadership as a responsibility.”



The hands-on meetings are a way to cultivate trust. The reality, Weiner said, is it’s virtually impossible to withhold information from employees in this day and age. Open communication, especially during tough times, builds a sense of proprietorship and stems leaks as well. People feel like the information is theirs, he said. When things aren’t working, it is a way to get the collective intelligence of the organization to try to fix it as well.

“We’re all in it together,” he said. “And, in a very practical sense, people get insight into what’s working and leveraging those best administrative practices on a global basis which becomes increasingly important as you get larger.”

The employees love it, said Wadors, who joined the company in January 2013.

“They so appreciate the honesty and the leadership commitment to that,” she said.


Unicorns, Purple Squirrels and the Perfect Fit

Weiner, who handled the HR function himself for several months before hiring Wadors, said he had a keen idea of what he was looking for in an HR leader. He told Wadors during her job interview that he was looking for a unicorn. (She said she thought she might be a horse but not a unicorn.)

“I wanted to be as aspirational as possible,” Wiener said.

The person needed to be more than specialist, she needed to be equally adept at all domains of HR—operations, learning and development, compensation and benefits—and passionate about them. The HR leader needed to hold her own within a bold executive team, be agile, open to change, data-driven as well as deeply passionate about talent to serve as a global evangelist in the world of talent.

She needed to stand up at the largest annual recruiting event of the world, Talent Connect, and express a vision of the industry. This person needs to understand how talent is evolving and what it will look like in the future and be able to work with the services and product development teams and talk with customers.

“That’s a very unusual thing to ask in addition to all the other stuff,” Weiner said. He emphasized several less traditional leadership qualities he needed in his HR partner—agility, adaptability, analytical and authenticity


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“The speed with which the company can make high quality decisions is ultimately one of the most important determinants in whether or not that company can create long-term value,” Weiner said. An HR leader needs to be open to change and able to see outside of conventional wisdom to move quickly and assist with assist high quality decisions.

“HR sits in a position throughout the entire organization where it can help accelerate those high quality decisions and remove friction or it can materially slow them down,” Weiner said.



HR and all managerial areas need to be very comfortable with change and avoid following outdated practices or those that might be tailored for another company’s culture.

“The rate of change is the fastest that I think I’ve seen and there is no slowing in sight.”

We should look at best practices at other company but we should be doing things the way we want them done, he said.

“Pat has really embraced this if not led this,” he said. “That kind of adaptability is hard to find.”



Weiner urged HR leaders to work with emerging data and analytics to come up with recommendations and predictive reasoning for powerful solutions. HR teams are known for their high emotional intelligence but there’s more data available than ever and they can “marry the art with the science in ways that just weren’t possible before.” he said.


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How we communicate with each other has a huge impact. Weiner urged HR leaders to forego traditional, technical HR-speak and replace it with simple, clear language in conversation, contracts and emails. Avoid cryptic language altogether. Speak casually and don’t be afraid to have fun.

“HR-speak can come across as cold and bureaucratic in an area that should be the least cold, the least bureaucratic and the most human,” he said.

The byzantine language in the world of compensation particularly mystified Weiner.

“It’s almost like it was created by a group of people that wanted to keep people from understanding what they were talking about.” When people read and understand what you’re saying, they can internalize it and act upon it, he said. Get creative and innovative; use video. “It pays huge dividends.”

Start with compensation, he said. “I think you’ll find that the dialog changes almost overnight.”

Speaking plainly helps reduce resistance to change as well, said Wadors.

“I struggle sometimes with that challenge of not speaking HR and I find that if I talk in a casual tone with the leadership at LinkedIn, they have less resistance to the change,” she said. “They get the spirit of what we’re trying to do.” The reality is that most people don’t know the difference between job skills and competencies. “I have to keep reminding myself, and often ask my peers, to back me off the ledge of HR. I want to be heard.”


The Impact of LinkedIn’s Talent Solutions

As the company expands its Talent Solutions division, job seekers, recruiters and companies looking for talent will find more data available to them than ever before on LinkedIn. Talent Services, a $1 billion business last year, makes up about 57 percent of the company’s revenues. It has revolutionized the recruiting business by providing new tools to link recruiters with passive job seekers who voluntarily update their professional profiles.

“What we found that really transformed the industry is that people invested very heavily in their professional identity, their professional brand,” Weiner said. “They were filling out their LinkedIn profiles when they weren’t looking for a job. People were constantly updating their profile with their latest speaking engagement, a skill, a recommendation, a volunteer opportunity they’re proud of… As a result these profiles existed in a way and scale that recruiters and hiring managers could then search.”

The company is expanding is investing in data and relevancy sciences. The new information, never before available, has changed the game.

“It’s not only about our members finding the right job, but it’s about your jobs finding the right member.”

Weiner said people will see a significant increase on the number of jobs listed on the site.


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Working From the Inside To Secure Talent

One of the ways LinkedIn is able to consistently fill even the most technical positions is by embedding recruiters in the teams they are supporting. Recruiters have a clear understanding of the position they’re trying to fill. They know the job and the culture.

“So when they’re out there recruiting, they just come at it with a completely different energy, a completely different level of authenticity,” Weiner said. “You can see it in the results. I’ve never seen it before at any company I’ve worked with that was consumer web-oriented.”

The fact that we’ve been able to fill those seats so consistently over time is in part a byproduct of how well that team understands the kind of person they’re trying to recruit.”


The Will To Get It Done

These days it’s not about product in these companies but about talent and understanding the urgency of that is crucial to success.

“All of our companies exist because of talent,” Weiner said. “This isn’t the industrial revolution anymore. It’s not about how much steel you can manufacture and how cheaply you can manufacture it. It’s about people and it’s about ideas and it’s about collaboration. It’s all about talent and if we don’t have the talent, we can’t get it done. Treating recruiting with the same sense of urgency you would treat keeping your site up and running, for example—that has to happen. The best recruiting teams, those that are most effective, will stop at nothing to get the job done. They’re not going to see an obstacle and say, ‘oh, we’re not going to be able to get to that today because this has to be dealt with and that’s someone else’s responsibility.’ They’re just going to get it done.”


Challenges of a Leading a Young, Green Workforce

Leading a workforce that is predominantly under the age of 35 and hired in the last two years has not been a distinct challenge for Weiner, he said.

“I don’t treat millennials differently than I would treat anyone else on the team,” Weiner said. “They’re people. We all want the same thing. We all want to be inspired, motivated, have the autonomy to make a difference.”


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Compile Your Greatest Hits

At the end of the panel, Wadors asked her boss, How do you do it? How do you continue learning?

“It starts with curiosity,” he said. “I’ve been intellectually curious for as long as I can remember. My mom taught me how to read at a young age and that was one of the greatest gifts she could’ve possibly given me.”

It taught him he could learn, ask questions and to pay attention. If you want to learn, surround yourself with the best, he said.

“You have to ask the right questions and you have to listen.”

One of the greatest resources is the team around you.

“It’s like compiling a greatest hits album,” Weiner said. “Just by virtue of paying attention to what they do.” Weiner said he brings their wisdom back to the rest of the team, and to the rest of the company. “It’s our greatest hits and I’m learning constantly from my team. It starts with being really interested and passionate about learning.


About Jeff Weiner

Weiner earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He went on to work six years at Warner Bros. where he helped oversee the company’s online efforts and developed the initial business plan for Warner Bros. Online in 1994. He joined Yahoo! In 2001 and served as executive vice president of the Yahoo! Network Division. He became an executive-in-residence at Accel Partners and Greylock Partners where he advised consumer technology portfolio companies and evaluated new investment opportunities for the firms.


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About Pat Wadors

Wadors joined LinkedIn in 2013 to lead its global talent team. She is responsible for hiring, retaining and inspiring top talent as well as all employee-related HR programs at LinkedIn, including compensation and benefits and performance management. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Business administration from Ramapo College with a major in Human Resources Management and a minor in Psychology. As senior vice president of Human Resources at Yahoo!, she led the company’s HR Business Partner function, supporting 14,500 employees in more then 17 locations. From August 2011 to August 2012 she served as the HR Executive Advisor to Twitter, working with the head of HR, CEO and Board of Directors to guide workforce talent strategies to scale the business and attract and retain key talent. She served as senior vice president of Human Resources for Plantronics, heading up the facilities and human resources programs globally before joining LinkedIn.


Lynn Boone Memorial Scholarship Program Awards $22K to Six Outstanding HR Scholars

Total Scholarship Awards Tops $350K To Date


“Most critical in the selection of our recipients are balance and passion…We seek to identify budding leaders in human resources who will be an asset to any organization by bringing a lot more than facts and theories into the work place.”

— Deanna Fairchild


Lyn Boone Memorial Scholarship Program


SANTA CLARA CONVENTION CENTER—(MAY 13, 2014)—The Lyn Boone Memorial Scholarship Program has awarded $22,000 in scholarships to six standout students in the greater San Francisco Bay area, bringing the total awarded to more than $350,000 in the its 28 year-long history.

Providing scholarships to deserving students in the field is one of the key missions of the HR Symposium, said Sharon Winston, Symposium chair.

The award selection criteria includes a broad number of factors guided by the wise and generous legacy of early Symposium leader, Lyn Boone, who advocated balance and passion as critical leadership qualities.

“We are honored to continue Lyn’s legacy of supporting the growth of leaders in HR by introducing this year’s recipients,” said Deanna Fairchild, who chaired the Scholarship Committee this year.

There were four scholarships awarded to graduate students.

  • Elena Khokhlova is studying Business Administration at University of California, Berkeley.
  • Mattson Hill is studying Business Administration at St. Mary’s College of California.
  • Bonnie Nguyen is studying Industrial and Organization Psychology at San Jose State University.
  • Garima Singh is studying Human Resources at Golden Gate University.

Undergraduate scholarship recipients included:

  • Thi Van, a Human Resources student at San Jose State University; and
  • Michael Khoshaba, a Human Resources student at California State University Stanislaus.

“Our selections are never exclusive to solely highlight a student’s grades or extracurricular activities,” Fairchild said. The committee also considered students’ career goals, work experience, philanthropic activities and passion to make an impact in the profession.

“It is in considering this balanced approach that we seek to identify budding leaders in Human Resources who will be an asset to any organization by bringing a lot more than facts and theories into the workplace,” Fairchild said.


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About Lyn Boone

Lyn Boone, an early member of the HR Symposium Steering Committee and former chair, also served as a member of the Board of Directors of Human Resources Inc. Her distinguished career included roles at Intel as corporate staffing manager, at Lee Hecht Harrison as vice president of Client Relations, and at Cadence Design System, where she was as senior staffing manager. She has left the HR Symposium a rich legacy that is reflected in our scholarship winners.



Carol Dixon of Overland Storage Wins HR Leadership Award 2014

“We are the glue that holds the organization together. It’s the HR organization that handles all the sticky situations in the workplace. We offer solutions. We challenge the status quo. We bind the teams and we stick to our guns when making a decision. I would not choose any other career.”

— Carol Dixon

Vice President of Human Relations

Overland Storage

SANTA CLARA CONVENTION CENTER—(MAY 13, 2014)—The HR Symposium Leadership Award 2014 was presented to Carol Dixon, vice president of Global Human Resources for Overland Storage.

The HR Leadership Award acknowledges pioneers in the industry who articulate vision and embody excellence. Recipients are the problem-solvers, the legends in the industry who leave a legacy of empowerment and strengthened business performance, as well as show a commitment to social responsibility.

At Overland, Dixon is part of the executive team responsible for global HR initiatives and serves as the strategic partner and internal consultant to the executive team and frontline managers throughout the world. She is also a student favorite among Golden Gate University students where she teaches as an adjunct professor and a consultant to the San Jose African American Community Services Agency.

“Carol provides leadership by implementing activities and programs to provide the best talent, position the organization as an employer of choice in the industry and manages organizational culture transformation and change efforts,” said Katie Scott, director of Global Compensation for LSI Corp. Scott, a recipient last year of the HR Excellence Award, presented the awards this year. Dixon, she said, generously shares her knowledge, skills and abilities when and where needed.

Dixon joined Overland in January 2011. Prior to joining Overland, she worked in a number of human resources leadership roles supporting global organizations for Flextronics and Solectron. She is a graduate of San Jose State University and earned an HR Executive Leadership certification from ClC Would be good to spell out CIC. I AM NOT SURE WHAT THE ACRONYM STANDS FOR.

“I look around this room and I see people working at small, medium and large these companies in the HR field,” Dixon said. “We all know that whatever the size of the organization, it’s the HR team that holds it all together. We are the glue that holds the organization together. It’s not the finance department, we know they manage the money, right? It’s not even the marketing department that brands the company. It’s not the sales department and we know that we would not be here without revenue for the company, but it’s the HR organization that handles all the sticky situations in the workplace. We offer solutions. We challenge the status quo. We bind the teams and we stick to our guns when making a decision. I would not choose any other career.”

Dixon thanked her boss, President and CEO Eric Kelly, and the executive team at Overland Storage for keeping her busy—very busy, she added with a laugh.

“I am passionate about the work that I do not only for the HR organization, but all of the volunteer work that I do out in the community,” Dixon said. “It is important that when you find something to do, you work really, really hard at it and do your best.”


HR Symposium Seeks Nominations for 2015

The HR community is invited to nominate candidates for next year’s leadership and excellence awards.

“These awards recognize extraordinary achievement in the human resources profession,” said Deborah Morton, chairwoman of the Symposium Awards Committee.

This year’s HR Symposium Awards Committee included: Debrorah Morton of Anritsu (chair), Gina DeCarlo of DataDirect Networks; Karen Prince of Adobe; and Patty Woolcock of Woolcock Consulting and the California Strategic Human Resource Partnership. Award recipients from the previous year also participated on this year’s committee. Bryce Williams, vice president of Wellbeing for Blue Cross Blue Shield, won the HR Leadership Award. Recipients of the HR Excellence Award included Amelia Merrill, vice president of Global Talent Acquisition & Employee Engagement for RMS; Dorothy J. Smith, director of the HR Academic Program for Golden Gate University; Katie Scott, director of Global Compensation for LSI Corp.; and Tiffany McGee, vice president of HR Global Sales for the Enterprise Group at Hewlett Packard.

Nominations are accepted throughout the year. For more information, visit


Eileen Nelson of Cupertino Electric Embodies HR Excellence


“I’ve been so fortunate in my career. I think success for me has been the result of two things: one, is having had wonderful HR teams throughout my career and being able to hire and mentor some of the best HR professionals in the industry…and, another factor has been choosing the right company and the right CEO.”

 — Eileen Nelson

Senior Vice President of Human Resources

Cupertino Electric, Inc.

SANTA CLARA CONVENTION CENTER—(MAY 13, 2014)—Choosing the right companies where she could develop great teams and contribute as a strong HR leader has made all the difference for HR Symposium Excellence Award 2014 Eileen Nelson, senior vice president of Human Resources for Cupertino Electric, Inc.

“I appreciate this more than I can tell you,” Nelson said upon receiving the award. “I’m thrilled to be accepting this. The HR departments I have led did really excellent, innovative and high value work and they made me look good in the process.”

One of two Excellence Award recipients this year, Nelson was credited for transforming the company’s human resources function from a reactive, execution-focused group to a strategic organization operating at the highest level.

“As a member of the executive team, Eileen has earned the respect of her peers and has been able to navigate the challenges associated with an established company in a traditional industry that is positing itself for the next phase of growth,” said Katie Scott, director of Global Compensation for LSI Corp. Scott, who received the HR Excellence Award in 2013, presented the awards this year at HR Symposium 2014.

The Excellence Award recognizes a team or individual that has championed an innovative HR program, idea or system that’s produced a fundamental change or led to a major business impact in the organization.

Nelson not only raised the bar on performance expectations and feedback to help drive profit, she helped strengthen executive leadership abilities and helped crystalize a strategic vision for the next phase of growth, Scott said.

“Most importantly, her compensation design ensured that the company’s plan aligned with a critical corporate focus on rewarding improved margins without sacrificing volume.”

Nelson, who joined the company about two years ago, noted that the compensation plan had been in place since 1978, “and was working just fine,” according to some people.

On a more serious note, she said the award was particularly gratifying because she was nominated by her CEO at Computer Electric, John Boncher.

“I have been so privileged to partner with some of the best in the valley in my opinion,” she said, noting Boncher as well as previous bosses—Eric Benhamou, Meg Whitman and Ken Denman.

“These CEOs all cared deeply about building great organizations and they actively sought out a strong HR leader to partner with them to drive the success of the business. It’s what we’re all looking for. And, if we’re lucky enough to join companies that have that vision and see the critical role that folks that do what we do for a living can play, I think it’s the first step on the way to a truly happy career. It’s been my privilege to go along for the ride.”

Nelson, who has been in the field for 30 years, joined Computer Electric’s executive team two years ago. Prior to that she served as senior vice president of Human Resources at Openwave and led HR organizations of several of Silicon Valley’s most successful companies, including eBay and 3Com.

She attended City University of New York’s Queens College, completed the Advanced Program in Organization Development and Human Resources at Columbia University and serves on the board of CSHRP. She has previously served on the HR Executive Forums Advisory Board and on the boards of several nonprofit organizations, including the eBay Foundation, Ballet San Jose, Thrive Foundation, TheatreWorks and Junior Achievement Northern California.


Gap’s Severson Earns HR Excellence Award 2014

“I consider myself merely the ambassador of the GAP Inc. HR team, which earned this award by working feverishly over the past several years to realize our global vision of ‘unleashing human potential to unlock business performance.’”

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 — Eric Severson

Global Talent Solutions and Co-Leader of GAP Inc. HR

GAP, Inc.

SANTA CLARA CONVENTION CENTER—(MAY 13, 2014)—Eric Severson, who headed up the first HR team to implement a Results Only Work Environment in an apparel retail organization, received one of two HR Symposium Excellence awards this year.

Severson, senior vice president of Global Talent Solutions for Gap Inc., has contributed significantly to business results at the company as a role model, respected leader, and advocate for employees, said Katie Scott, director of Global Compensation for LSI Corp., who presented him with the award.

“He has been a valued counselor for the business, approaching talent issues with a focus on delivering great business results in fiercely competitive environments,” Scott said. “He has identified balance as a core value and shifted Gap’s approach” to help employees pinpoint and maximize leadership qualities by managing physical, emotional, mental and spiritual energy.

Severson, who joined Gap Inc. in 2000, is responsible for enterprise talent management for the company’s 135,000 employees, including strategy, total rewards, technology, performance, engagement, development, organizational effectiveness, and recruitment. He also oversees HR for Gap Inc.’s business in China and the Growth, Innovation and Digital Division.

He has led implementation of an innovative new performance management system, replacing traditional rating systems with simplified goal setting, monthly coaching and rewards closely connected to business results. The company has experienced decreased turnover and increased employee engagement as well as a strong company performance. Gap was named Company of the Year by Yahoo! Finance.

In accepting the award, Severson praised HR Symposium for its many years promoting the best ideas in the industry and thanked Eva Sage-Gavin, his former boss and HR leader at Gap Inc., “for the past 10 years of showing us the meaning of HR excellence.”

“Don Fisher, founder of the Gap, used to tell all of us, ‘Do what you love,’” Severson said. “I certainly do. I hope you do too.”

Severson is also a well-respected speaker on HR innovation and has been featured on the cover of HR Executive, as well as in Business Week and in several books and other publications reporting on innovation at Gap Inc.

“The GAP Inc. HR team realized this vision by believing in our common mission to ‘Do more than sell clothes’ by implementing a Results Only Work Environment where employees can work whenever they want, wherever they want as long as the work gets done,” Severson said. The company has recently raised the minimum wage in stores to $10 and built a “brain-friendly” performance management system with no ratings “that treats employees like adults.”

Before entering his current position in 2013, Severson was senior vice president of Talent for Gap North America and head of HR for the company’s Outlet Division. Innovations include Gap’s Performance for Life program, which drives employee performance by promoting individual and organizational wellbeing, and Gap Inc. Outlets shift to a Results Only Work Environment. He also started the Gap Inc. Diversity Council, launched the Gap Inc. Diversity department, and led the re-development of the company’s Flexible Work Arrangement policy. Prior to the GAP, he worked at Macy’s

Other contributions include serving more than 10 years on the Family Service Agency of San Francisco Board of Directors where Severson is currently chair. He has led numerous HR-related initiatives for the nonprofit agency and, with colleagues, won the Gap Inc. Founder’s Award for work creating FSA’s breakthrough early psychosis prevention and recovery program. Severson has a bachelor’s degree in English from Pennsylvania State University and a master’s degree in English from Arizona State University.


Juniper CEB Study on Performance Management

As discussed by Steven Rice (Juniper Network's Executive Vice President of Human Resources) at our 2014 HR Symposium, Juniper has taken a cutting edge approach to the traditional Performance Management process. Mr. Rice has graciously offered to share the white paper from the Corporate Executive Board Council: Classic Performance Management System, A Barrier To Disruptive Innovation.

Please join us in thanking Mr. Rice for sharing the article with all of us. Enjoy!


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