Monday, March 30, 2009

Getting to CEO via HR

There was an interesting article in the New York Times, on March 21st, 2009, titled, "The Keeper of that Tapping Pen."  I found it interesting as Anne Mulcahy, the Chairwoman and CEO of Xerox, spent time in Human Resources prior to becoming CEO.  By the way, she has done very well in turning Xerox around during her time as CEO.  She had also spent time in sales as well. 

I thought she had some interesting thoughts on what she had learned from HR:

1) That everyone needs honest feedback but that it rarely gets done
2) Importance of Talent Management

I think that spending time in different areas of the business is a great idea for leadership.  By understanding how HR, sales, finance, accounting, operations, etc, works, the individual can better understand challenges and learn something like Anne Mulcahy. 

I also thought her answer to "her most important leadership lesson" was great:
We talk a lot about execution and the importance of it. But I actually think it’s a lot more about followership — that your employees are volunteers and they can choose to wait things out if they don’t believe. And that can be very damaging in a big company. So it is absolutely this essence of creating followership that becomes the most important thing that you can do as a leader.
I really believe she gets it..followership.  "Employees are volunteers," that is definitely a different point of view.  I would like to think that was also learned in HR!

So may times we hear, "Why we hate HR" and "Why not to Trust HR", I like hearing some good news about HR!  Thank goodness Xerox doesn't hate or distrust HR.

Do you know anyone that has gone to CEO via HR?


Eric Brinson said...


Thanks for passing the article on. A couple of thoughts....

While the CEO ranks seem to be relatively absent of people who have been HR practitioners, one can see that the tide is turning to favor the truly strategic HR player. The looming talent crunch is still a major problem that business will face in the not-to-distant future (although the current recession seems to have temporarily shifted the focus away from this shortfall). Corporate boards are just starting to realize the value of having a person well-versed in talent development at the helm.

Human Resources is undoubtedly morphing into a strategic role. HR practitioners can look to the history of the finance profession, and see how the strategic elements of accounting grew into its seat at the table. Likewise, HR will grow into two separate fields (where the administrative division will retain the benefit administration, policy enforcement and workers compensation responsibilities).

While at GE, Jack Welch prided himself on having their ranking HR officers 'at the table'. In his book _Winning_, he states "...if you managed a baseball team, would you listen more closely to the team accountant or the director of player personnel?" Today's strategic HR executive must display all of the characteristics of a successful Chief Executive. They must know the business, the industry, and the company's customer. Once you know the business, you can create a vision and cultivate an environment that will attract the successful talent to fulfill that vision. Those companies that succeed in talent attraction and development will win in tomorrow's marketplace.

Today's HR practitioners are clamoring for the "seat at the table". Clamoring will not get you or the profession there. Only proving the value as a business partner through results will achieve this.

Best Regards,

Unknown said...


I appreciate your reading and comments. I can always couint on you for great comments! I can't agree with you more on your analysis of the strategic and transactional split of HR. Thanks for your feedback!