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The Right Career Forecast
Vol. 57   No. 6
 

Interview by Bill Leonard  6/1/2012
 

Sylvia Taylor is clearly pleased with the direction her career has taken.

"Even if I approached my career decisions in some other way, I don't think I would've chosen differently," Taylor says. Her career has brought her to the northwest suburbs of her hometown, Atlanta, to a corner office on the fifth floor of the offices of The Weather Channel LLC, where she is executive vice president of human resources.

Sylvia Taylor

Education: 1984, Master of Business Administration, labor management relations; 1981, Bachelor of Arts, sociology,

Howard University, Washington, D.C.

Current position: 2010-present, executive vice president of human resources, The Weather Channel LLC, Atlanta.

Career: 2004-10, vice president of human resources, Cox Enterprises-AutoTrader.com, Atlanta. 2003, southeast region HR manager, Target Corp., Atlanta. 2000-01, manager, staffing and development, Asia Pacific; 1998-2000, HR manager, Singapore refineries, ExxonMobil Corp., Singapore. 1988-98, human resources manager, Mobil Oil, Fairfax, Va. 1987-88, HR manager, PepsiCo-Frito Lay Operating Division, Atlanta. 1985-87, labor relations representative, General Motors, Warren, Ohio.

Personal: Born in Atlanta; married; one daughter.

Diversions: Reading, traveling, being a foodie.

Connections: www.weather.com; staylor@weather.com.

Below Taylor's window, traffic weaves across 10 lanes of Atlanta's beltway. And probably not one of the thousands of drivers who pass every day, or the approximately 700 employees at The Weather Channel's headquarters, have a better sense of direction than Taylor. Throughout her career, Taylor has taken deliberate steps to become an effective business leader and to cultivate her 27-year career in HR management, including three years in an international assignment.

The Weather Channel was looking to enhance its online footprint and expand into the emerging digital landscape when the company recruited Taylor in 2010. Her experience as vice president of human resources at AutoTrader.com grabbed executives' attention. Now Chief Executive Officer David Kenny says he relies on Taylor's abilities.

"Sylvia makes sure we are growing the team to meet our growth potential on multiple fronts–television, digital, mobile and business to business," Kenny says. "We're running fast, and Sylvia is always staying one step ahead to make sure we have the human capital needed for tomorrow."

Here's what Taylor had to say about her career and the HR profession during a recent interview with HR Magazine.

What advice would you give someone starting an HR career?

Having a vision or good idea of what you want is essential. I started with an end in mind and created options for myself as my career progressed.

You were working toward a degree in social work at Howard University when you decided that career was not what you wanted. What led you to that decision?

That was the early '80s, and there was a recession and the job market was weak. The best jobs coming out of college generally required degrees in engineering, computer science and business administration. I knew that a business degree would fit me better, so I decided to go for an MBA.

How do you measure HR's contribution to an organization?

Becoming a true strategic and valued partner doesn't happen overnight. You must demonstrate that you know and understand the business and that you can be a trusted advisor.

What have you learned from your toughest challenges?

In the 1990s, the head of corporate HR at Mobil at the time reshuffled the staff and put me in charge of a department that needed to make a process change across the entire company. Following the reorganization, I learned that my former boss would now be reporting to me. I was excited, but at the same time I knew it would be high-risk, given the tough decisions I needed to make to successfully implement change. I discussed the change with my new boss, the head of HR, and he told me that he had confidence in me and that I needed to trust my instincts. I implemented that change and at the same time worked through some tough issues with my former boss and found solutions that worked. I grew tremendously from that assignment, and that experience gave me confidence in my abilities.

You worked on developing performance scorecards for senior executives at The Weather Channel. Why?

Executive scorecards demonstrate that everyone is accountable for achieving business goals and that senior-level management supports and lives by the same corporate value system. We want to develop HR processes that give every employee a sense of ownership. Ownership and pride in your organization are essential to employee engagement.

What are your predictions about the top challenges HR professionals will be facing in the next five to 10 years?

HR professionals must ensure that our organizations are agile and can quickly identify and adapt to growth and to new revenue streams. We must clearly understand our business strengths and have a good handle on what's happening internally within our organizations and externally in the industry and marketplace so that we can position our companies for continued growth. One of HR's primary roles will be to design and implement strong talent strategies. We have to be prepared to leverage technology and identify ways technology can make our workforces more productive. Finally, we have to provide sound advice to senior leaders.

The interviewer is a senior writer for HR Magazine.

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