Silva Describes His Not-So-Straight Path to Success

A commitment to continual learning leads the way

By Beth Mirza Jun 21, 2016
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2016 Annual Conference & Exposition
2016 Annual Conference & Exposition
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For his final address to a Society for Human Resource Management Annual Conference & Exposition crowd, outgoing board chairman Brian D. Silva, SHRM-SCP, shared his insights on how to achieve success.

Speaking at the June 20 general session, Silva reminded the audience that the path to success is seldom—if ever—straight. There are lots of curves, backtracking and short leaps forward along the way. His own path to a senior HR leadership position was particularly circuitous.

“As time went on, I experienced some learning moments that proved to me that achieving success takes more than just hard work,” Silva told the crowd.

In one of his first jobs after graduating college, Silva earned a spot in a management-rotation program at an insurance company. A three-month assignment in HR recruiting data entry specialists and administrative assistants got him hooked on the human resources profession.

“I loved it. It was my first exposure to HR, and I decided at that moment I wanted a full-time HR job,” Silva said.

But pursuing HR meant leaving the security of his current job, where he was on track for a leadership position. Yet he was ready to take the risk—the first learning moment of his career. He landed a position in HR at a new company. He sat down at his desk on the first day … and quickly realized how much he didn’t know:

  • How to interview job candidates.
  • How to set starting salaries.
  • How to explain employee benefits.
  • How a business functions.

These realizations led to his second learning moment: committing to continuous learning. He went to graduate school and earned a master’s degree in HR, and he took and passed his HR certification exam (for the first time—after he worked his way up into the C-suite, he let his certification lapse.)

“At that moment I realized that, if I was truly committed to continuous learning, I needed to get off the professional equivalent of the sofa and get back into the gym,” Silva said. He took his senior and global HR certification exams, and he passed.

Which brought him to his third learning moment: saying “yes” to doing more. In 2010, after he had gotten recertified, he learned that SHRM was looking for certified CHROs to join its board of directors. He said “yes” to joining SHRM leadership. In 2014, he had the opportunity to become board chair. After a period of hesitation—evaluating his heavy workload as CHRO and senior vice president of administration for Fresenius Medical Care, but also encouraged by his wife—he said “yes” again.

Now, as he wraps up his time on the SHRM board, Silva reflected on the current state of HR in a fast-changing global economy, with “constant, never-ending disruption [that] has become ‘the new normal.’ … We could see this as a threat. But I see it as an opportunity. In fact, more than any other time in the history of our profession, I believe we are positioned to enhance the performance of people and institutions.”

It’s up to HR, Silva said, to source the best and most diverse talent; shape organizational cultures that innovate and adjust rapidly to change; and, as company leaders, propel organizations forward.

“If we take smart risks, keep learning and say ‘yes’ to new opportunities—and encourage the people we work with to do the same—I’m confident we will get there,” he said.

Beth Mirza is director of online news operations at SHRM. 

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