Profile: An HR Journey Leads to Insights on Asia

By John Scorza Jul 1, 2013

Danielle Monaghan never expected to be where she is today, but she's loved every step of her journey.

She was born in South Africa, and her early career goal was to be a diplomat or to work in public service.

On her long and winding path, she started as a computer trainer for International Business Machines Corp. in Johannesburg. After IBM divested from South Africa, in the mid-1980s, she ended up in New York City and then North Carolina, where she worked for a headhunter that did placements for Microsoft Corp. When Microsoft moved its recruiting function in-house, the company hired her, and she moved to Redmond, Wash. That led to work in China, which she called home for several years.

Then, as HR director for Cisco Systems Inc. in North Asia, she delivered a range of HR services to more than 7,000 employees in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. Back in the U.S. since last year, Monaghan is director of human resources overseeing leadership development, organizational design and workforce planning for Cisco's Technical Services Division in San Jose, Calif.

What attracted you to international assignments?

The excitement and adventure of doing something different, building a career, going where nobody in my family had gone before because we were South Africans for many generations.

What special HR challenges do you face in Asia?

The hukou (pronounced hoo-ko) system—a permanent-household registration system—has become a key issue in mainland China. The government implemented it in the 1950s to control workers' movement between rural and urban areas. It's an internal passport issued to a worker in his or her hometown. Retirement benefits, social services, education are all tied to hukous. Without a hukou in the city where they work, employees can't buy houses or put their children in school, or they pay out of pocket for benefits they are constitutionally entitled to.

Companies can sponsor a set number of hukous, but they are generally reserved for people with unique or desired skill sets. Companies lobby for these coveted hukou quotas every year.

Worldwide employers say they can't find qualified talent. Is that the case in the Asian countries where Cisco operates?

Let me give you a quote that I love about China: "Scarcity among plenty." There are a lot of great people, but not a lot of employees who are qualified and experienced enough to work for multinational companies. And there certainly aren't a lot of qualified leaders and managers. This is no different in any of the Asian countries we recruit in. The talent is great, but companies need the patience to hire right and grow talent.

Danielle Monaghan

Education: 2012, MBA, Jack Welch Management Institute, Chancellor University, Cleveland. 2006, Bachelor of Science, information technology, University of Phoenix, Bellevue, Wash. 1982, attended Rand Afrikaans University, Johannesburg.

Current position: 2012-present, director of human resources and human resource partner, Cisco Systems Inc., San Jose, Calif.

Career: 2010-12, director of human resources, North Asia, Cisco Systems Inc., Beijing. 2009-10, senior director of talent acquisition and diversity; 2006-09, senior director of human resources; 2004-06, director of staffing and head of executive recruiting, Microsoft Corp., Beijing and Redmond, Wash. 2003-04, senior manager of Americas sales, T-Mobile Inc., Bellevue. 2002-03, senior manager and program manager; 2001-02, senior recruiting manager; 1999-2001, recruiting manager; 1996-99, senior recruiter, Microsoft, Charlotte, N.C., and Redmond. 1995-96, recruiting manager, Compcontech, Charlotte. 1993-95, recruiter, Rhotech, Charlotte. 1988-93, international sales manager, CCI (Computer Corporation International), Charlotte. 1983-88, PC and software trainer, salesperson, IBM/ISM Corp., Johannesburg and New York City.

Personal: Born in Johannesburg; married; three children.

Diversions: Traveling with family, sailing, squash, two dogs and an occasional 10k run.


Do talent acquisition strategies differ significantly from region to region?

The approach in Japan is wildly different from the approach in China. In Japan, it's ingrained that you should be approached by a third party and not post your resume all over the place for people to find. So our use of third-party headhunters is probably higher in Japan than elsewhere. There's just a certain way of "doing it right" there. If you don't do it right, then your company loses face.

China is more like the Wild West. In many ways, it's similar to the U.S., especially among the youth. They are social and huge users of social media. And they're willing to be approached directly by a corporation or a recruiter.

Are there generational differences among workers in China?

The older generation grew up under a strict communist environment. It's a top-down environment: Decisions are made, and people implement them. The youngest generation—folks coming out of school now—have never lived that way. They typically are from one-child families. They're spoiled. They have never been told no. Money is important to them, but they're also much more socially conscious, and it is important to them that companies are helping China. They really do want to help build China.

What do you expect to be the top challenges HR professionals will face in Asia?

Attracting and retaining talent until they're ready to be the top leaders. Education is a problem across Asia, with some exceptions. Generally, graduates don't walk in work-ready. They need training and development—soft skills building, teamwork building—before they are productive.

Also, the rise of workers' rights and unions. If you're an HR professional in China and you're not thinking about the unions, you're going to be caught by surprise.

How has organized labor in China changed since you began working in Asia?

There are no independent trade unions in mainland China. The All China Federation of Trade Unions, a government-controlled organization, oversees the largest trade union in the world—with almost 200 million members.

When I started in China, seven years ago, the union acted as a social club focusing on employee morale-building activities. Today, we see a strong drive for unionization, collective bargaining and more representation on labor issues. Urge multinational HR and business leaders not to fight the inevitability of active trade unions in their companies but to build mutual respect and a partnership early in the relationship.

What advice would you give someone who is interested in practicing HR overseas?

Do it. It will enrich your life. It will enrich your career. You'll make lifelong friends. It gives you insight into culture and human nature and people.

John Scorza is associate editor of HR Magazine.


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