First-Person Account: Introducing the HR Triumvirate

Three HR professionals share leadership duties usually tackled by one person.

By Maureen O. Hurley Jul 1, 2013
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I joined Rich Products Corp. in 1984 as an intellectual property lawyer, I never envisioned I would someday hold the role of chief administrative officer of this dynamic family-owned company. Through the years, developing and enabling great leaders has been our most critical competitive advantage.

We expect our leaders to adhere to 10 behaviors we call Great Leader Drivers. Two of the tenets require leaders to:

  • Focus on "fit." Choose assignments and roles that link our associates' strengths to organizational needs.
  • Assemble "the best." Create the magic that happens when highly talented associates work together.

It is within the context of these drivers that I tell the story of Rich's three-person HR leadership team that shares responsibilities normally tackled by one person.

Local Focus, Family Owned

Founder of the nondairy segment of the frozen-food industry, Rich Products is a global supplier to food service, in-store bakery and retail marketplaces. Rich's annual sales exceed $3 billion, and we employ 9,200 people on six continents. The Buffalo, N.Y., manufacturer operates 36 facilities that produce 2,000 products sold in 112 countries. We tailor our innovative foods to each region to satisfy local tastes.

Even through the company's growth and expansion, Chairman Bob Rich Jr. has remained committed to family ownership with a "connected" culture that enables our people to bring our values to life. This commitment is for the benefit of our company, the people who work here, the communities we do business in and our customers.

Likewise, our organizational excellence strategy focuses on leadership to drive high levels of performance and engagement. Our Great Leader Drivers are behavior-based, observed, modeled and reinforced. All leaders are expected to demonstrate these behaviors authentically and consistently throughout their careers.

The Opportunity

In 2011, our executive leadership team began planning the next steps in our evolution, with watchful eyes on the volatility and globalization we predict will continue to shape opportunities and threats. We plan to continue evolving in response to these forces as we build on strengths and relationships as a global company.

In support of this strategy, in January 2012 we transformed our North America and International business groups into one entity with five regions. I viewed this approach as an opportunity to tap the strengths of a talented group of senior HR professionals.

From 2005 to 2011, Rich Products had a single senior vice president of human resources, who reported to me. He planned to retire, so we needed to create a succession plan that would address growth and achieve three goals:

Equip HR professionals in business units to provide strategy and execution support to leadership teams.

Strengthen our Center of Expertise in Organizational Development, where HR professionals design people programs and policies.

Rely on an HR Shared Services Center to provide cost-effective services for associates and to lead compliance, risk mitigation and other initiatives.

Instead of naming one person as head of HR, we created a team, reporting to me, to take advantage of the skills and experience of three talented HR professionals already on our leadership bench.

"Shared leadership in HR is a leading-edge practice that can deliver a significant competitive advantage when implemented well," explains consultant Merle Ballaigues, president of Thomas International USA Inc. "In practice, it's a challenge to implement because of the commitment it requires from each team member to set ego aside, embrace collaboration and recognize the significant business opportunities that a shared-leadership model delivers."

Once I communicated the proposed approach to the prospective leaders, in 2012, they worked deliberately to define accountabilities, decision-making and expectations, and determine "how this would really work." We knew this approach would come down to trust, confidence in one another's strengths and an overwhelming passion to help leaders across our enterprise drive business.

During a period of days, the four of us created a list of major HR responsibilities and divided them among ourselves. We looked at every HR function and the related leadership decisions. We identified decisions that each of the three leaders would make and those we would make as a team.

In general, I continue to be responsible for governance and strategy issues within the HR strategic plan. Collectively, we define HR metrics and how they are displayed on Rich's balanced scorecard. Together, we assess talent across the HR team and set annual priorities and objectives.

I meet with each of the three HR leaders individually and as a team, and they meet together. They have individual and shared goals. They have individual development plans, different levels of experience, different titles, and different salaries and bonuses. Yet they do not operate in a hierarchy; they have truly figured out how to share responsibility.

Each of us concluded individually, and we have concluded collectively, that three heads are better than one when it comes to enabling an HR organization's strategic support of a global enterprise.

Our associates and customers are better served as a result of our ability to review an issue or opportunity from multiple perspectives and to reach consensus around decisions. If we are unable to get to consensus, I break the tie. Shared leadership enables dynamic, real-time decision-making. Instead of having one senior HR executive as my contact, I have three leaders committed to adding value to our growing global organization. That's an enviable position to be in.

I will let them tell you about their jobs in their own words.

Meet the Team

Shared leadership "challenged us to recognize each other's spheres of influence and roles that we hoped would bring tremendous value to the organization," says Judy Campbell, global vice president of HR. "We are not interchangeable but significantly dependent on each other to accomplish our goals."

Campbell, previously vice president of HR for our International Business Group, oversees HR business partners in the United States. She shares dotted-line responsibility with global business-unit leaders for HR business partners outside the United States.

In her 22 years at Rich Products, Campbell has built trusting relationships with other executives. Before joining the company, she spent five years in Calgary, Alberta, as an HR professional in the oil industry and 10 years in HR at Travelers Insurance in Toronto. Campbell strives to make sure our HR business partners have the tools to help leaders meet their goals.

Stephanie Argentine, director of talent management and organizational development, reflects: "We have gone through the standard phases of team formation—'forming, storming and norming'—to get to the 'performing' level. The work that was required to do that was not insignificant.

"The storming phase was difficult for us all personally. And the norming phase was where we agreed on our ground rules," she continues. "We do have to revisit those ground rules from time to time, but the payoff was significant in terms of team dynamics and the ability to leverage our respective strengths for the good of the organization."

For Argentine, who joined Rich Products in 2010 to build the foundation for a Center of Expertise in Organizational Development, "the greatest challenge was that I had to step out of the role as newcomer and into a role of equals."

Argentine's previous HR experience with global companies and college teaching and as a practicing lawyer positioned her to shape the center and bring a fresh perspective to Rich's tools for talent management, change management and leadership development. She shaped our Great Leader Drivers and translates complex organizational development practices into easy-to-use designs.


Jill Bond, senior vice president and general counsel, assumed leadership of our HR Shared Services Center in 2009, later expanding her responsibilities to include the Total Rewards Department. She helped redesign processes and train talent to position the center to support the global organization and future acquisitions. Bond's legal team led the due diligence, negotiation and purchase of 15 acquisitions in 10 years. Her Associate Services team has rapidly integrated many of those companies into our payroll, compensation and benefits programs.

Bond says, "The shared leadership concept has given the three of us an opportunity to leverage each of our strengths and compensate for individual weaknesses. To succeed, we had to jointly commit."

Bond had been on Rich's legal team for 20 years and was accustomed to making decisions without checking in with many others. Although that's no longer the case, she has found that the shared-leadership model has greatly helped her support the acquisition process and integrate those companies into Rich's HR platforms. She and her staff are evaluating what parts of our total rewards program will be appropriate for the acquired companies.

Rich Products Corp.

Products and services: Global frozen-food manufacturer and supplier to the food service, in-store bakery and retail marketplaces; sales in 112 countries.

Ownership: Privately held.

Top HR executives: Maureen O. Hurley, executive vice president and chief administrative officer; Judy Campbell, global vice president of HR; Stephanie Argentine, director of talent management and organizational development; Jill Bond, senior vice president and general counsel.

Employees: 9,200.

2012 revenue: $3 billion.

Locations: Headquarters in Buffalo, N.Y.; regional headquarters in Canada, China, South Africa and United Kingdom; 36 manufacturing facilities across the globe, including 20 in the United States.

Connections: www.richs.com/about/careers; www.facebook.com/RichProducts; @RichsNews.


Shared Leadership Benefits

By focusing leaders around critical areas of HR, the function is well-positioned to accelerate corporate growth. Furthermore, the team has established communication methods, team norms and effective approaches to problem-solving.

"This is not about the three of us being in every meeting with senior leaders or being [copied] on every e-mail," Campbell says. "It's about understanding our strengths and the needs of our business leaders to deliver value and results."

In addition, our HR shared-leadership model is just one example of how the HR team has become essential to the execution of our overall business strategy.We've had several years of outstanding business performance. Our survey research shows that overall associate engagement is in the "best-employer range," as Aon Hewitt defines employee engagement, and we have minimal turnover compared with industry peers.

When it comes to focusing on "fit" and assembling "the best," our HR leadership team remains strongly positioned to help this innovative company thrive for generations to come.

Maureen O. Hurley is executive vice president and chief administrative officer of Rich Products Corp., overseeing its Legal, Human Resources, Corporate Communications and Corporate Services functions.

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