HR is Leader, Follower, Trainer & Student

I went to college and majored in Secondary Education.  I had dreams of being a basketball coach and an English teacher, in that order.  I had no clue what Human Resources was, let alone, making a career out of it.

After graduation, and a brief career in new home sales, I took a job in Charlotte, NC as a technical recruiter.  I had no clue what I was going to do, but it got me to Charlotte with my then girlfriend, now wife.   So, here is an Education/English major recruiting IT professionals for Y2K projects, AS400 gigs and the occasional Powerbuilder and Visual Basic/Oracle assignments.  I had no clue what I was doing but I really enjoyed putting people to work.  I learned the value of “smiling and dialing” and the numbers game.

I recruited for a while and then got promoted to sales.  Although I didn’t know it, this was my first lesson in leadership development and talent management Just because someone is good at one role does not necessarily translate to success as a manager.  I had early success as sales person working with prospective clients and building solid relationships.  I guess where I failed was the part where I actually listened to my clients and did my homework.  If they told me they have never used consultants, will never use consultants and are too small to even consider consultants, I documented it and respected their wishes not to call them.  My sales manager’s had different a different view.  They insisted that you continue to call and call and call.  That may work for some, but I was not cut out for that type of work.

I went back to recruiting.  After a few months continuing the agency recruiting path, I took a role as a corporate recruiter for a large property/casualty insurer in downtown Chicago.  This was an eye-opening experience for me to be on the other side of the table.  I found my experience as an agency recruiter helped me create a sense of urgency in my hiring managers, but I also realized why I was not getting a call back in 2 hours or feedback on my candidate submission in 3 hours.  I realized the massive amount of emails, responsibilities and meetings my hiring managers were responsible for and what they had to deal with.

I was ready for a change and ready to grow my skillset.  At the time, the company didn’t have a path for recruiters within the staffing organization.  If a recruiter wanted to advance, they would apply for this role called and “HR Generalist.”  I had no clue what that was, but at the time we were creating a new eBusiness team to build tools to book and bind policies online.  We had to attract the talent during the dotcom boom.  This was supposed to be a small organization with a lot of focus on staffing, so I applied for the role and got it.

This was great for about 2 weeks.  We had foosball tables and planned great events and after-work parties.

Then came the day when an employee wanted to meet with me.  She comes to my office and starts talking about how her manager is being unfair to her.  She’s crying and upset and all I can think of is, “what in the world is she doing in my office?  I’ve got a happy hour to plan.  She needs to go see HR.”  After explaining this scenario to my mentor, he chuckles, slaps me on my back and says, “John, you are HR…welcome!!”  And 3 months later, I’m going through my first RIF and reorganization.  I continued to learn on the job for the next several years — and I feel this is one of the best ways to learn HR.  I was given amazing tools to do my job and the opportunity to learn about many functions like IT, Accounting and Legal.  I was involved in a lot of decisions and felt valued as an HR professional.  I learned about talent development and leadership training and organizational development.  I got my fair share of employee relations and the value of a great HR legal team.  And most of all, I learned the value of strong relationships with my client groups.

I left this company and spent a short time at PepsiCo to work as a generalist on a major SAP implementation.  This was an incredible experience and my first “taste” of working for a major brand and global organization.  I saw how passionate employees were about the products they developed and how much they believed in the work that they did.  They were fiercely loyal to the product and very protective of the brand.  There was great care in how they were perceived in the marketplace and that really resonated with me.  To this day, I am loyal to their products.

I could have stayed there forever, but I received an offer I could not refuse.  I had the opportunity to work for Harpo Studios as an HR manager.  While I was not a loyal viewer at the time, I realized I had a chance to work for one of the most influential people in the world.  I always thought if it didn’t work out, I could always go back to “Corporate America.”

After spending the past 5+ years with Harpo, OWN and Discovery, as well as my previous employers, I realize I have been blessed to be able to work for some of the best brands and some of the most talented, creative people in the industry.  I have gotten more hands-on in all aspects of HR and have really enjoyed it. I’ve worked for large, multi-location organizations, matrixed to no end and I’ve had the chance to work with a small group where I doing every part of the HR discipline.

What I’ve learned from all of my experiences, and especially in my time the last few years, is that you must be willing to do any part of your job function at any time.  When your boss calls and wants to know how many candidates you have for a position in a region, or needs a report for all active employees in the organization or wants to know who the best “up and coming” employee is, you better know that answer.

There is all this talk in the industry about being more “strategic.” I agree we can be, but there is also a lot of other work that just needs to get done. It may not be the most glamorous work, but it serves a purpose in the grand scheme of the organization. 

I’ve always viewed the role of HR as one behind the scenes.  It is my job to give managers and leaders tools and advice to be successful.  It is my job to guide an employee through difficult situations with their manager or a co-worker.  When they succeed, I succeed.  I realize that a lot of what I do day-to-day will not always be viewed as strategic and I am fine with that.  Not every role can be strategic 100% of the time.  What I do does not necessarily generate a profit.   But, what I do and the advice I give will lead to leaders and employees being better at their job.  When an employee is given the tools to do their job better or put in a better role to thrive or is able to navigate through a difficult relationship with their boss, as a result of the work I have done, then that is when the fantastic content is created. This is where the great deals are done and where the best user experience is developed.

From the beginning of my career, I wanted to be an educator.  I was going to be a teacher and a coach and I was happy when I provided instruction or guidance to a student or player and they “got it.”

Now, that’s my job.  I analyze situations and try to provide solutions so employees and leaders can succeed.

I am part counselor, sounding board, problem solver, paper pusher, policy maker, strategic thinker, party planner, recruiter, leader, follower, trainer … and student.


John Hudson is currently an HR Manager with Discovery Communications and Harpo Studios in Chicago, Illinois. He has been with OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network and Harpo for the past 5+ years and has over 14 years of experience in the Human Resources field.  He provides consultation and expertise in the areas of performance management, employee development, employee relations, compensation and recruiting.   John has also worked in the insurance and consumer products environments supporting various departments including IT, Finance and Operations.  John has a Bachelors degree in Education from Indiana University and the SPHR certification.

Connect with John on Linked In and follow him on Twitter






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