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Meet SHRM's New CEO: A Q&A with Johnny C. Taylor

Johnny C. Taylor on brand recognition, the importance of certification and being a good dad.

A man in a blue suit smiling in front of a brick wall.
​Johnny C. Taylor Jr., SHRM-SCP. Photo by Delane Rouse

​When Johnny C. Taylor Jr., SHRM-SCP, was 15, he applied to be on “Teen Wheel of Fortune,” a TV show taped before a live audience in California. Taylor, who lived in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a letter from the producers welcoming him to try out if he was in the area.

Although there was no guarantee he would be selected, he told his father he’d already been chosen, so they flew to California. The pressure was on.

“I got there and thought, ‘Somehow, I’ve got to get on this show,’ ” he recalls.

Not only did he make the cut, he won the final game.

It was easier for his parents to forgive his fib, which he later confessed to, after he took home prizes that included a sailboat, a pop-up camper and miscellaneous items such as a porcelain cat, which his mother still has.

“I was so excited I could hardly breathe,” he says.

The story is an example of the drive and determination that have fueled the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM’s) incoming president and CEO throughout his life.

At 20, he earned a bachelor’s degree, with honors, in journalism from the University of Miami. But after interning at the Miami Herald, he decided he needed a better-paying career—perhaps as an attorney specializing in First Amendment law. So, at age 23, he earned dual degrees, with honors—a law degree and a master’s in mass communications—from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. He is licensed to practice law in Florida, Illinois and Washington, D.C.

Taylor went on to hold several legal and executive positions, including high-level roles in human resources.

He was senior vice president of HR for the media company IAC/InterActiveCorp., litigation partner and president of the HR consulting group for the law firm McGuireWoods, general counsel and senior vice president of HR for Viacom’s Paramount Pictures Live Entertainment Group, and associate general counsel and vice president of HR for Blockbuster Entertainment Group.

He serves on the board of directors of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and became president of the organization in 2010. It represents nearly 300,000 students attending publicly supported historically black U.S. colleges and universities. 

Upon joining SHRM in December, he’ll remain on the boards of the college fund, Gallup, The Cooper Union and the University of Miami.

Taylor, who is divorced, lives in Washington, D.C., with his 7-year-old daughter. She accompanies him on overseas business trips and attends a Chinese language immersion school, where she has been studying Mandarin since age 4. 

“Mandarin is the language of business for the future,” he says.

You were president of SHRM’s board of directors in 2005 and 2006. How do you view that role relative to becoming CEO?

I like being engaged 24/7 in the day-to-day business of the organization. When you’re a board member, your focus is on high-level strategy about once every quarter. As a staff member—even a CEO—you live, eat and breathe the issues every day.

How do you think your time on SHRM’s board will inform your work in your new position?

It may scare people to hear this, but I don’t think there is a whole lot I can bring from a decade ago. The workplace and the profession have changed dramatically. The concepts of predictive and people analytics didn’t exist back then. DACA [the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program] wasn’t an issue. Diversity and inclusion were about black and white. Now they’re about black, white, brown, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, et cetera. When I was on SHRM’s board, we talked about defined benefit plans; they essentially don’t exist anymore.

What would you like to focus on as CEO that you did not have time to accomplish while on the board?

My top issue is to continue to engage the HR executive segment of our profession. We’ve got to find a way to ensure that these leaders appreciate the potential value of partnering with SHRM to shape the future of the profession.

Secondly, how do we get policymakers to more fully understand how critical SHRM’s contributions and voice are to enacting effective workplace policies? They don’t move without hearing what AARP thinks about the Affordable Care Act, for example. SHRM is the organization to turn to for all matters related to employment and people, and that needs to be better known.

In that vein, we’ve got to continue to make industry and employers recognize how our association represents them on policies related to the workplace.

[SHRM members-only platform: SHRM Connect]

What’s HR’s biggest challenge today?

Changing the perception that we are a lightweight profession. SHRM must somehow raise awareness around why HR certification matters. And not just among HR practitioners. It’s important that those in the general public should see the value of HR certification as well.

What do you think is the biggest misperception about HR?

That it’s easy. People think anyone can do it. Everyone thinks HR is intuitive, and, as we know, so often it’s not. It’s as much science as it is art, and it takes time to learn it and become proficient.

What advice do you have for someone starting out in the field today?

Become an expert. There are many occupations you might choose if you’re a people person. So why HR? Someone starting out in the profession must consider how to impact the workplace in a meaningful way; when you can articulate that to an employer during an interview, you’ll get the job every time. It’s so compelling to be able to tell what you are going to bring to the table in an HR role and how you will help grow the organization.

What about getting HR certification when you’re new to HR?

Certification is incredibly important and necessary. Ideally, after getting a year or two of experience under your belt post-college, new HR professionals should obtain the SHRM-CP designation. It says to an employer that you understand the SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge and can use that to help the organization implement a high-impact human capital strategy.

What can you tell us about your personal life and interests?

The most important thing I will ever do is be a good dad. It’s what I am proudest of and where I put most of my attention. It’s just my daughter and me in this town. I empathize with how single parents must balance everything. With a very demanding lifestyle, being a dad puts everything in perspective. 

Kathy Gurchiek is an associate editor on SHRM’s online news team.

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