Tesco Ireland’s recently appointed CEO Natasha Adams comes into the role after four years as the parent group’s chief people officer, while Musgrave’s former group human resources officer Noel Keeley was promoted to the top job at Musgrave just before the pandemic. had gone.
n In December the luxury giant Chanel appointed Unilever’s Chief Human Resources Officer Leena Nair as its new chief executive, despite the fact that Nair had no background in fashion.
In an era where many companies see attracting and retaining talent as their biggest challenge, HR is increasingly strategic to the business as a whole, according to Mark O’Donnell, managing partner at recruitment firm Oders Berndson, who is a senior executive at Recruits for the “C-Suite”. and board level roles.
“The HR function has traveled a lot in the last 20 years. It has really become a strategic part of the business now, which was not always the case,” he says.
“What you’re really seeing now is the most [companies] A Chief Public Officer, a HR Director are sitting at the top of the table. This is usually a woman or man on the right hand side of the CEO with the CFO.”
It is a small step from that level of seniority to the role of CEO. The experience of COVID, when people management in many companies was tested to the limit and followed by recruitment challenges for firms across the globe, has implied that further organizations need to have a clear understanding of employee needs and Opt for leaders with a proven ability to nurture talent. ,
While the path to chief executive officer was traditionally well-travelled by a CFO or COO, chief public officers (CPOs) or chief human resources officers (CHROs) are also likely to be in the running for the top job.
Deirdre O’Shaughnessy, senior partner at top headhunting firm Korn Ferry, says, “CHROs are the trusted coach for some CEOs and the architect of talent strategies when it comes to implementing a CEO vision, so when it comes to putting together a CEO succession slate Then they will be seen.” ,
Pandemic caused rapid changes within firms
Before the pandemic, the link between people and performance was clear to organizations, she says.
The pandemic hastened that change and made employee relations even more necessary when leaders are no longer face-to-face with co-workers on a daily basis.
According to O’Donnell of Odgers Berndtson, companies are now looking for senior management with “this understanding of the people agenda, hybrid agendas and engagement with remote teams.”
O’Shaughnessy echoed this: “The ability to develop and retain people, especially in the current war for talent, is critical.”
The first step for HR leaders looking to move into top corporate leadership roles is joining a board of directors. It is here at the board level that the demand for people with people-focused skills is most noticeable for the dominant-hunter.
“Exposure to investors, boards and chairs means they will have increased ability to move up to the CEO level,” O’Shaughnessy explains.
However, it is also clear that further skills are needed before HR leaders can be considered for the top job, she says, with experience in financial accountability being paramount.
“Boards that replace CEOs still tend toward finance, commercial or perhaps operations,” McDonnell explains. “HR directors are only coming to grips with being at the top of the table. They must clearly demonstrate that they understand the economic drivers of the business.” This becomes especially relevant in this era of rising prices and supply chain challenges.
Time spent in another department can also alienate HR leaders. People from other departments can equally benefit from a stint in HR.
A good example of this is Maggie Timoney, the US CEO of Heineken. Timoney spent three years as senior vice president of HR in the US before becoming managing director of Heineken’s Irish operations in 2013, before moving back to a more senior US role.
Different skills but a common thread
Aisling Tillard is the chief executive and co-founder of our Tandem, performance management platform, an Irish company with clients in 53 countries.
Tellard has over 25 years of experience in HR prior to setting up his business, including time as an HR Director at both O2 and SAP.
She says leading her own business has allowed her to observe the differences between a human resources chief and the leader of an entire organization.
,[The change] Really quick was very eye opener in terms of skills required to learn. They are different skills but beneath this, there is a common thread. When you think about areas like finance, marketing, products, all these areas need people to run. Ultimately, if you can bring out the best in your people, they will really do the good work that needs to be done.
“That’s why HR is well positioned to take on bigger positions – it’s always about bringing out the best in people.”
The post-Covid spotlight on HR within firms could quickly fade unless sector leaders work to champion the function, she says.
“HR departments need to budget, focus and demand that we change the way we work in organizations.”
She welcomes the prospect of more CPOs moving into the top job in a time of increased cultural awareness and a push for diversity and inclusion.
“There will be a huge recognition of how important the agenda of the people is.”
Human resources leaders moving into the chief executive role still remain the exception – not the rule – but their skills are in demand right now at the board and CEO level.