Profile of Tara Shawel, a Walgreens’ business partner

Business Partners: ‘Spend Time Building Relationships’

By Robert J. Grossman Sep 1, 2010
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September coverWalgreens’ HR operation established business partners after cutting back on the number of HR staff members about a year ago. The first year has been a learning experience for business partners—such as Tara Shawel—as they define their roles within a shared services structure. “I’m laying the groundwork,” she says. “It comes from a lack of definition and role clarity.”

Shawel was a natural for her role. Her HR experience includes training design and delivery and organizational development. Grounded in retailing, she began as a Walgreens store employee. In addition to HR Magazine, she reads The Wall Street Journal and follows CNN Money online. “When the opportunity came up, I knew I could bring a lot of value,” she says. “I could speak the language of the business and relate to the line managers.”

Shawel serves the Finance and Accounting, and Online business units in Deerfield, Ill. She has dotted line reporting relationships with the chief financial officer and e-commerce senior vice president and a direct reporting relationship to a senior HR executive. The financial officer and Shawel gelled from the beginning: “He spends one-third of his time focusing on people,” she says.

Business partners control their destiny, Shawel says: They must resist the transactional role. Don’t blame others—or the lack of resources—for diverting your time or attention, she advises: Spend time building relationships and trust; demonstrate that you understand the business.

“I was spending about half of my time doing transactional things; now it’s about 30 percent. I quickly realized that I had to move the needle because I was drowning. When people come to you with routine matters, you have to make a judgment call. Do I send them to the shared services center or not? The sooner you send them away, the better off you are. It’s my job to divert people away from me by helping them find alternative ways to get what they need.”

When she joined the financial officer’s strategy team with heavy hitters such as the treasurer and chief strategy officer, Shawel faced a steep learning curve. But she was undaunted. “They have great technical knowledge, but … they realize that I bring knowledge that they don’t have and that can help them be better.”

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