CEOs Say HR Plays Critical Role in Growing Businesses Globally

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What do CEOs want from HR?

That question was posed to two chief executive officers Sept. 27, 2010, at the 13th World Human Resources Congress held in Montreal, where the theme was “HR Without Limits.”

The answer was simple for the two CEOs interviewed by a noted Canadian journalist on the first day of the conference, where attendees discussed the impact of social media, leadership in Africa, global diversity trends, and a host of other issues.

The CEOs said they want HR to be part of a team of corporate executives who spend time with customers, understand their multinational businesses, and who are prepared to rotate through other functions to get the breadth of experience necessary to make their companies successful.

Zoe Yujnovich, president and CEO of Iron Ore Company of Canada, the country’s largest iron ore producer, and Dave Perkins, president and CEO of Molson Coors Canada, a 225-year-old brewery founded in Montreal with locations worldwide agreed that in recent years, they have come to rely on HR as more of a strategic partner in growing their businesses globally. For example, Yujnovich and Perkins said their HR executives report directly to them.

In a discussion moderated by Canadian journalist Stephen Bureau, Yujnovich and Perkins said they rely on HR to help determine the direction their growing businesses take by making sure they find and retain the right types of talent around the world.

“I think HR used to be very rules bound,” said Perkins, who, according to Molson’s web site, leads a team of more than 3,000 employees at one of Canada’s largest brewers. “They were the folks who, in my estimation, were the ones who created rules,” he said. “But it has [in recent years] become an enabler—engaging and unleashing people in a way in which we can succeed.”

He added: “I’ve become a big fan of what HR is capable of and the challenge is for HR to live up to what it’s capable of.”

Yujnovich, who has been president and CEO of Iron Ore since February 2010, said she sees HR as a key motivator of talent and wants that to continue.

“There’s a lot of research that talks about what motivates each of us,” said Yujnovich, whose 55-year-old company employs 1,700 people across Canada and is operated by Rio Tinto. She said some are motivated by salary and shareholder value. Others might be motivated by work-life balance or being able to contribute to their communities through work. She said it’s up to HR to find out what motivates employees and use that to drive improved performance.

“I really look to HR professionals to be coaches and business partners with line management,” Perkins said. “I want my HR people to come to the table with a strong point of view to enable me to be successful.”

He added that HR should have a broad, strategic understanding of the business so they can help build the competencies needed to respond to the challenges his corporation faces.

The CEOs said their HR staffs report directly to them and that they turn to them to make sure they’re making the most of their talent.

“For me, what I’m really looking for is for people to come to work and genuinely enjoy their day,” Yujnovich said. “There’s a lot of frustration and challenges, but at the end of the day I want people to enjoy their day,” because satisfied employees mean productive employees.

“If we can have fun and meet our potential then we have a business that is undoubtedly going to be successful,” she said.

Perkins agreed adding, “it’s helping people meet their potential to make a difference for themselves and for the company.”

Said Yujnovich: “A good HR department can be the difference between surviving and not surviving. It’s recruiting, attracting, training and meeting the needs of our customers. HR is critical to our business success.”

When asked what were the top qualities they’d like to see in HR departments, Perkins said he’d like them to “have a strong point of view on the business, and having the confidence to express that point of view and advocacy. HR has transitioned from a process orientation to a place where they are business partners and advocates of the employees.”

Yujnovich echoed that, adding that she’d like for HR to have the “thirst to continue to learn,” about the businesses they’re in as well as be open to reinvention, change and adaptation—particularly as the world’s economies move out of the recession and realize that a “skills gap” continues to plague recruitment efforts worldwide.

“Under stress and adversity comes great innovation,” she said. “We’ve seen innovation in technologies and the way we connect to customers. We’re looking to HR to unlock the markets of the future.”

About 3,500 HR professionals from as far away as Singapore converged on Montreal for the conference, which continues through Sept. 29, 2010. Sessions were held in English and French and translated simultaneously in Russian and Spanish.