Career Lessons from Coretha Rushing: Always Re-Create Yourself

By Desda Moss Jan 25, 2017

Coretha Rushing, SHRM-SCP, says she hasn’t had any "bad" bosses. That’s because even the difficult managers she worked for had something important to teach her. "They made me bring my ‘A’ game and become skilled at communicating in an effective way so that I could be heard," she says.

It’s that openness to learning and growth that has helped Rushing build an impressive career. She is currently the corporate vice president and chief human resources officer at Equifax Inc., a $2.5 billion Atlanta-based information and credit monitoring company with 10,000 employees in 24 countries. She has global responsibility for the Center for Excellence that includes human resources, compensation and benefits, global talent management, and leadership development. She also serves as a member of the Equifax Foundation board.

Previously, she served in several senior HR roles for The Coca-Cola Co., culminating in her being named senior vice president of human resources in charge of all human resource functions for the organization.

Rushing, who has been an active member of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) since 1998, began serving a two-year term as board chair in January.

She recently spoke with HR Magazine about her career journey.

New in Town

My first job out of college was as a corporate recruiter with R.H. Macy’s & Co. It was a new experience for me. I had never visited New York City, and I loved the diversity and energy of the city and the fact that the people who came into the store were from all over the world. Macy’s had a global customer base—which made it interesting and dynamic. It was a great place to start an HR career.

A Change in Course

In college, I started out majoring in occupational therapy. But I became interested in HR during my second practicum. I was on a team with an HR professional who was working with a man who had been injured on the job. The man was an outstanding employee, and his employer was trying to determine if he could return to his role or would need to take another position.

I was struck by the impact I could have on someone’s life by pursuing human resources. The experience also showed me that for a person to be successful, he or she must find a way to acquire new skills. It’s a constant process throughout your career. Right now, our country is facing the challenge of how to retrain people to take on new roles and learn skills that will serve them in today’s economy. Both employees and HR professionals must be open to those opportunities. Being resistant to re-creating yourself will be problematic to advancing your career.

At the same time, we in HR must realize that people’s work plays a strong role in their identities. We need to be sensitive to that and make people feel valued at every point along their journey.

Cutting Through Complexity

Our profession has become more sophisticated, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is that it is still HR’s responsibility to make sure that the best people are focused on doing the work that the organization needs. Our roles are both tactical and strategic. The increasing demands on business and how we operate in the world have made every job more complex. At the same time, that heightened level of complexity has made people see the importance of human capital and HR. Business leaders see the value of what we bring, and they are asking us to do more.

What Her Parents Taught Her

I grew up in the Tidewater area of Virginia. My dad was in the Navy, and my mother was a nurse. They influenced my leadership style by being very direct. They both believed that hard work drives excellent performance. They expected me to do my best.

Ready, Set, Grow

I approach every new job the same way: I focus on learning as much as I can about the business, the culture and the decisions that are actually made (as opposed to how people say they’re made). At Equifax, we have a "growth playbook" that outlines our business strategy over a three-year period. Each area of the business develops its own playbook. HR does its last, since our development is an outgrowth of what others are doing. We look at where we are and the progress we’ve made on our goals and determine whether we need to make course corrections to get where we want to be. Equifax is a 117-year-old company; while it has changed with the times, it wasn’t always a high-growth enterprise. After I was hired in 2006 by CEO Richard F. Smith, we worked to create a more agile organization.

Being on Boards

I’ve served on the boards of both publicly traded and nonprofit organizations—including the board of SHRM Atlanta, Atlanta’s Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Equifax Foundation. In every board assignment I’ve had, I’ve seen that it takes great talent to make a great organization. Even though companies are different in the way that they retain and motivate people, their leaders all want to leverage employees’ strengths and address issues where they could improve. People serving on boards should speak the language of business and help those running the company to apply their resources strategically in order to exceed the organization’s goals.

We in HR must realize that people’s work plays a strong role in their identities. We need to be sensitive to that and make people feel valued at every point along their journey.

Learn from Everyone

I’ve been very fortunate to have the right boss at the right time. Even when I had bosses who were difficult, they still had something to teach me. Working for them made me be clear about the work and the deliverables that I had to produce. Those are lessons I still apply.

Recommended Courses for Those Starting Out in HR

Take business classes and develop a strong background in financial knowledge. I also recommend writing courses, because you’ll spend a lot of your time writing and trying to get your message across to people at all levels of your organization. HR is an art and a science, and being grounded in business helps you across all of those areas.

Her Favorite Business Book

I have two: The First 90 Days (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013) by Michael D. Watkins and Presence (Little, Brown and Company, 2015) by Amy Cuddy. I recommend the first book because it provides great advice about how business leaders can rethink how we get people up to speed on the job. I suggest the second because cultivating presence is so important to one’s career. Half of what people do, whether they work in HR or another profession, is determined by how they show up. Individuals who we think of as smart are usually comfortable in their own skin. You may be in a situation where you are "the only and the lonely"—for example, an HR department of one—but you can demonstrate your value by how you approach your work.

The Legacy She Wants to Leave As SHRM Board Chair

I’d like to make sure our profession gets the recognition it deserves. Our discipline has become so broad that there’s a tendency to undervalue the basic elements of HR—whether it’s payroll or training or performance management—and it takes all of these components to make a business successful. I want us to expand our work with senior leaders and continue to provide the best resources to people in every phase of their HR careers. Finally, I think we can share our experiences and learnings with each other. It’s easy to get overwhelmed in our day-to-day jobs, so being part of a professional network where we can talk to others who may be having similar challenges at organizations that may operate differently than ours can give us fresh insights. 

Desda Moss is managing editor of HR Magazine.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Benchmarking Human Capital Metrics]

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