28 May 2023 |

The HR Advantage

By Hebba Youssef

In the last decade we’ve observed a shift in the boardroom

Gone are the days of HR being viewed as a “support function.” Now, HR leaders are being looked to as strategic partners. What a time to be alive!

It’s like organizations woke up one day and realized their people were their most important asset. Ick at treating employees as possessions but you get what I mean! 

IMO, HR leaders possess one of the most valuable and versatile skill sets and ensure organizational success. 

If you’re doubting HR’s greatness, remember what HR is responsible for:

  • Recruiting
  • Office Management
  • Onboarding
  • Payroll 
  • Compliance
  • Learning and development 
  • Compensation and benefits
  • Performance management 
  • People Analytics 
  • DEI (not where it should live but that’s for another day) 
  • Organizational development
  • Internal communication 
  • Offboarding 
  • IT (sometimes)

It feels like the list keeps growing… 

TBH, HR is one of the most interdisciplinary departments. One minute we’re tackling a sensitive employee issue, then next we’re mapping our career paths, doing a compensation analysis, and solving a complex org problem. 

Sometimes, all of that in one day. 

Spoiler alert: the skills you learn in HR are super transferable! 

In fact, folks who have worked in HR would make great CEOs.

Don’t believe me? Here are three CEOs who also worked in HR. 

Leena Nair

Currently: Global CEO, Chanel 

Previously:

  • Chief Human Resource Officer, Unilever
  • SVP Leadership and Organizational Development / Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion, Unilever 
  • GM of HR, Unilever
  • HR Manager
  • Employee Relations Manager

Throughout her 30 year career at Unilever Leena Nair held various positions across HR and had many notable achievements. She was the first female, first Asian and youngest CHRO for Unilever. Triple whammy! She has been passionately outspoken about gender balance across management. When she started at Unilever women made up 3% of the workforce and upon her departure, Unilever had achieved gender balance across management. PRAISE

Now serving as the Global CEO of Chanel, Nair is the first Indian woman to be at the helm of a luxury fashion brand. Upon appointing Nair as CEO, Chanel praised Nair for her progressive and human-centric approach to deliver business impact. 

Cough HR cough 

In her first year Leena visited 25 regional offices, 40 manufacturing locations and 100 retail locations proving people are at the core of any successful business. 

Anne Mulcahy 

Previously: CEO of Xerox 

Anne Mulcahy started at Xerox in 1976 as a field sales representative. In 1992 she became the Vice President of Human Resources and held that position until 1995. Displaying both a deep understanding of the customer and the employee Mulcahy was a smart choice for the role of CEO. 

IN 2001 Mulcahy was appointed CEO of Xerox during a tumultuous time where the company was 18 billion dollars in debt and facing an SEC investigation

Glass cliff anyone?

While facing financial and operational challenges Mulchay guided Xerox through a major company restructure, implemented cost cutting measures and streamlined operations. 

Mulchay’s leadership style featured a focus on transparency, employee experience, and feedback. As CEO she sought out feedback from employees across the company and met personally with other executives. 

By the time Mulchay retired in 2010 Xerox had undergone a corporate 180 and been rescued from the edge of oblivion. 

Mulchay made history once again when she passed the position of CEO over to Ursula Burns

Burns became the first black woman to be a CEO of a fortune 500 company. 

Nigel Travis 

Previously: CEO of Dunkin Donuts 

Nigel Travis has worked for some of the most recognizable brands like: Blockbuster, Burger King, Papa John’s, Dunkin and Baskin Robbins. 

But did you know he got his start in HR?

He spent 19 years across various firms in HR before taking on roles like Managing Director, COO, and CEO. 

When he took over as CEO of Dunkin’ Donuts Travis focused on expanding Dunkin’s core products and locations. 

Under Travis Dunkin Donuts:

  • Released a mobile app 
  • Entered new markets
  • Expanded globally 

Dunkin became a household name! 

Travis also focused on the culture of Dunkin and built strong relationships with franchisees to ensure business strategy was aligned and the brand was consistent across locations. 

Fun fact: when Travis retired in 2018 the company added 3,300 more Dunkin & Baskin Robbins locations. 

What about you?

If Elle Woods can get into Harvard, you can do anything. 

I do think sometimes HR leaders doubt our greatness. We forget that without us a lot of companies would crumble

It reminds me of this quote: 

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” 

I believe HR leaders are powerful beyond measure. 

Our positions have taught us some of the hardest skills to learn and when it comes to our possibilities, they are endless.  

Don’t forget about me when you’re a big shot!