SHRM CEO Jackson: ‘People Around You Make You Successful’

By SHRM Online staff Sep 14, 2010
Hank Jackson

Henry G. “Hank” Jackson, CPA, brings a history of leadership, an athlete’s discipline and finance officer’s rigor to his new role as president and CEO for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Jackson, who has served as SHRM’s chief global finance and business affairs officer since 2006, held progressively senior positions at Howard University in Washington, D.C., with the most recent function as senior vice president/chief financial officer and treasurer. In this position he had among his responsibilities: 11 schools and colleges, a hospital, a public television station and a commercial radio station, and several business operations, for a combined budget of almost $800 million. He also oversaw investments totaling almost $1 billion. A central administrative responsibility of Jackson’s included oversight of the human resource management function. Other positions held at Howard included controller and system accountant.

As a young professional, Jackson honed his financial and technology skills working with Hurdman Main and KPMG as senior auditor and computer auditor specialist. He was also a consultant for the Southern Association of College and University Business Officers, providing guidance and technical advice to educational institutions looking to upgrade and computerize their management information systems.

Jackson earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting from Stonehill College, a Catholic school near Boston, where he played point guard for the basketball team.

Jackson assumed his new position at SHRM in July 2010. He sat down with SHRM Online to share his insights on leadership and the direction of the world’s largest HR organization.

Preparing for the New Role​

In the early stages of his career, managing projects to design and implement computer systems, usually on a bare bones budget, taught him how to marshal resources and manage people, Jackson said. As a young professional, Jackson had excellent mentors, so very early in his development he learned how to exercise discipline, how to set clear expectations and how to motivate a team to succeed. These experiences, coupled with an immeasurable education acquired throughout the course of a professional career that required the highest degree of accountability, helped prepare him for his new role at SHRM.

“I saw early in my career how important [people management] is,” said Jackson. Working as a consultant underlined the value of listening to people. “You’ve got to listen, see what the client needs … and satisfy those needs.”

Jackson credits retired Air Force Col. Wilbur Jones, a mentor at Howard University, as a major influence on his professional life.

“He taught me about leadership early in my career.” As a young man, Jackson said, he occasionally was impatient for results but observed how Jones consistently put the employees first and the resulting value for both the employee and organization. Jones believed that professional leadership training was critical and set a high standard, said Jackson. Following Jones’ example was “probably the key to my early career success.”

Measuring Success

To SHRM members and others who don’t know Jackson, he said he would describe himself as a servant leader whose priority is to serve first and to make sure that other people’s highest needs are being addressed. He has tremendous respect for the military, for their dedication to service, their practice of leadership and for their ability and commitment to work toward a common goal.

He indicated that, “If I’ve had any measure of success, it is because I have been fortunate enough to have had the most important people in my personal life and my work environment believe in me and support my vision for the future. The people around you make you successful.” One of those persons is his wife, Deborah, who holds a doctorate degree in education and is the principal of McLean High School in Virginia. “She views most problems as opportunities to educate, and I have learned a lot from her approach,” he said. To stay physically fit and to “clear his head,” Jackson bikes 25 to 30 miles a week.

Expansion Beyond the U.S.

SHRM has a good strategic plan that will guide its efforts to meet the HR community’s needs in the United States and abroad, Jackson said.

“HR professionals are business leaders who are essential to the successful long-term management of a workforce, so if we are to impact employees around the world, we don’t have any choice but to become more global.”

As evidence of this need, Jackson noted, SHRM through its India office signed a multiyear contract in early 2010 with two major multinational corporations. These contracts bundle HR professional development, certification and individual memberships for the employees of those organizations through our India office for training in several countries. Similar proposals are in the works in India with some U.S.-headquartered companies and non-U.S. multinational corporations. He sees SHRM providing more HR departmentwide training to complement its individual training to service companies worldwide.

“We’re learning from them as well,” Jackson said of SHRM’s partners as SHRM gains access to HR best practices around the world.

SHRM India continues to invest in developing case studies that practitioners, academics and students can use. SHRM Member Forums have been formed in Cairo; Lagos, Nigeria; Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago; and Dubai, United Arab Emirates to share best practices and develop local SHRM communities.

SHRM is taking steps to increase its global visibility and outreach in many other parts of the world, Jackson noted. For example, in June 2010, SHRM sponsored a corporate social responsibility conference the Chinese Ministry of Commerce held. In addition, SHRM has taken on the role of Secretariat to the World Federation of People Management Associations, whose members represent more than 400,000 HR professionals.

SHRM and Its Affiliates

Jackson said that SHRM and its affiliates—the HR Certification Institute and the SHRM Foundation—have taken steps to make sure that all three work together well. “We function as closely as we can without being a single organization,” with all three groups represented at management and operational meetings, he noted.

As SHRM extends its global reach, the HR Certification Institute, for example, will customize certification needs to reflect a country’s culture and mores, and SHRM will provide training and customized products in the global markets that the HR Certification Institute enters. Research that the SHRM Foundation conducts is currently made available to SHRM members.

Public Policy Debates

Jackson said the Society will continue to be active in public policy debates in Washington, D.C., on HR-related issues such as health care reform and mandatory paid leave.

“Our goal is to be nonpartisan on any issue. However, our role is to influence policies that benefit employees and at the same time are not overly burdensome to business.”

He views SHRM’s role as an “honest broker” of business information and advice.

In 2010, SHRM engaged members as well as advocated on the public policy front. For example, SHRM:

  • Provided members with a web page on health care reform resources, including an interactive web-based timeline explaining when each of the stages of the health care reform law take effect; added several sessions on health care reform to the Annual Conference in San Diego; and offered a free webcast after health care reform became law.
  • Hosted the forum “State of the Workforce in the New Economy” with CQ-Roll Call, which examined legislation addressing job creation.
  • Submitted comments on four pending federal regulations pertaining to HR public policy issues and submitted amicus briefs on three court cases affecting HR’s role and responsibilities in the workplace.
  • Participated in the White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility and testified before the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections. Workplace flexibility “will become even more important as the economy improves,” Jackson said, because it is a retention issue that illustrates an organization’s commitment to its employees and helps employees commit to their organization fully.

SHRM Annual Conference

Jackson said that the 2010 Annual Conference in San Diego was a big success and that he welcomed the comments he received from attendees. He said SHRM created a premium package for attendees so that the content could be available for a limited time after the physical conference ended. Jackson said that this is an example of how SHRM responded to the needs of members who could not participate in every session they wanted to attend.

Additionally, SHRM devised ways to make its large international contingent feel at home; more than 800 persons from 73 countries outside the United States attended the conference. It revamped the international lounge into a site for international networking receptions and held invitation-only receptions for partner organizations, such as the Society of Latinos in Human Resources and National African American Association of Human Resources, “to make the conference feel small and intimate” for those attendees.


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