Here’s Why Game Changing CHRO Talent Is In Big Demand

Executive recruiters are in hot pursuit of CHROs and other senior level HR leaders across the nation. They are seen as integral strategic advisors to the C-suite and the best ones are now sounding boards for CEOs. Three leading functional search consultants take us inside their work and tell us why demand for HR leaders has reached a crescendo.

March 16, 2017 – Chief human resource officers (CHRO) have made big strides as strategic game changers and sounding boards for CEOs. The best ones are now critical C-suite players. That is making the hunt for first-rate HR leaders a highly competitive business.

Three HR recruiting rivals take us inside their work, one via podcast, serving up an outstanding overview of the chief HR marketplace. Here’s an in-depth look at what they’re doing, who they’re recruiting, and why business is booming in the hunt for top HR talent.

Shelli Herman and Associates

Executive search firm Shelli Herman and Associates, a specialist in the field, has been retained by the San Diego Zoo to lead its search for a new CHRO. President Shelli Herman is leading the search along with her associate, Michele Lyons.

The San Diego Zoo is seeking an experienced, results-oriented CHRO to provide leadership in developing and executing an HR strategy in support of the organization’s overall business plan and strategic direction. Specifically, San Diego Zoo is looking for a CHRO who can do it all, from talent management, succession planning, change management, and organizational & performance management to training & development, staff recognition, benefits, and compensation.

Like many other CHRO searches underway across the country, full-on skills are in high demand, particularly in one big area: strategic business leadership. And, of course, this incoming HR leader will report to the CEO and serve as an integral member of the organization’s executive management team.


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With 20 years of executive recruitment experience, Ms. Herman has developed a well-proven track record of leading successful searches just like this one and building upper management teams for a broad diversity of clients, including Fortune 500 companies. She has completed senior level assignments in a wide range of industries, including consumer products, healthcare, high technology, and finance, as well as for non-profit & cultural organizations.

Ms. Herman has seen a clear uptick in search mandates for senior HR professionals in recent months, and demand, she said, continues unabated. “We are seeing more organizations looking for talent in this vital C-suite role,” said Ms. Herman. “Specifically, my clients want to hire leaders who are smart, who see around corners, who view themselves as part of the organization beyond being ‘just the HR person,’ and who respect that people are everything when it comes to running a profitable organization.”

There is more turnover in the CHRO position, in part, she said, because organizations are demanding much more from these leaders. “These CHRO roles are challenging in a way that is vastly differently from even five years ago,” she said. “It’s not enough to just be good at traditional HR functions; you have to be good at the business side of things, too.” That seems to be the single common denominator that all headhunters now acknowledge as they set out to recruit for this key functional position.

Ms. Herman said she has observed that a number of CHROs have left their positions to pursue more entrepreneurial roles as consultants in areas like succession planning, talent management, executive search, and organizational development & coaching. “The economy is now generally very robust and the need for individuals with expertise in these critical areas is high,” she said. CHROs, therefore, are being actively recruited into professional services firms with a high degree of success.

Ms. Herman noted that CHRO search work has changed dramatically over the last five years. “CHRO leaders now get involved with every aspect of how an organization functions, often engaging in decisions around business practices that may have little to do with traditional human resources practice areas, but have everything to do with people,” she said. HR leaders must have insight and expertise around succession planning and talent management planning, for example. “Five or 10 years ago, these were specialist functions that HR leaders didn’t necessarily have to grasp proficiently.” That’s been the biggest transformation within the function that she’s seen, she added.

“Today, it is essential that a CHRO understands this work at the most basic and ‘boots on the ground’ level,” she said. That allows the best CHRO talent to then take on bigger, broader and more strategic issues like culture shaping and change management, two areas that were once relegated to a search firm or management consultancy. But even that pendulum is swinging back again as top CHROs once installed are turning to headhunting firms for leadership and culture advice.

“This all ties back to people and how they function within an organization,” said Ms. Herman. “In the past, this work was outsourced to professional services firms who were perceived as outside experts. Today, CHROs are intimately involved in this type of transformational work and it often results in better outcomes.”

Hanold Associates

Hanold Associates, one of the nation’s top specialists in the HR field, recently recruited Krischelle Tennessen as CHRO for The Marvin Companies, the world’s largest manufacturer of made-to-order wood window and door products. It was an important search for Hanold, but it was a critical hire for this Minnesota-based company. Ms. Tennessen was most recently SVP of HR with Kum & Go. Jason Hanold, CEO of Hanold Associates, led the search. “Krischelle is an exceptional person and a strong, contemporary HR leader who is already making great progress and having a positive impact within Marvin,” he said.

Mr. Hanold also just placed Will O’Brien as CHRO of Angie’s List. As CHRO, Mr. O’Brien will build upon the company’s organizational capability and culture and will partner with Angie’s executive team to drive key strategic pillars that will be critical as it aligns its talent strategy to enable the company’s scale and results. As the company’s top HR leader, he will effectively design and implement its longer-term vision and brand people practices for the organization. Mr. O’Brien was most recently the VP of international human resources with Equifax. “Will is a perfect fit for CEO Scott Durchslag and his leadership team at Angie’s List,” said Mr. Hanold. “He is hands-on and strategic and will be key in helping to drive the company’s continued growth.”


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Headquartered in Chicago, Hanold Associates is a boutique search firm specializing in HR officer assignments, serving clients such as REI, Patagonia, Nike, UFC, Moderna, Marvin Companies, Medtronic, Fiat-Chrysler, Godiva, eBay, Northwestern, Fossil, Carnival Corporation, Northwestern Medicine, and Outward Bound.

Mr. Hanold and his colleagues recently launched five CHRO searches for companies, including Foundation Medicine, Hygien, and Vail Resorts. “We witnessed an unusual year in that we saw an uptick right before the year-end holidays, and then a long pause, pre and post-inauguration until about the mid-February, and then the flood gates opened,” said Mr. Hanold. “Company leaders were waiting to see how the markets would respond to the early days of the new administration.”

Those leaders, he said, are hiring more sophisticated, proactive, strategic HR leaders with stronger business savvy to drive their people capabilities just as they would a P&L. “CEOs want their HR leader proactively recommending a host of forward-thinking initiatives, whether cost-containment focused, or engagement-elevated drivers,” he noted.

The Christopher Group

Last, but certainly not least, is The Christopher Group. The search firm has been retained by ACI Payments to lead its search for a new CHRO. ACI, the Universal Payments (UP) Company, powers electronic payments for more than 5,100 organizations around the world. This lead HR position offers a compensation package in the range of $300,000 to $370,000, which includes a base salary plus bonus and equity. The company has asked Christopher Group to hunt down an executive who will be responsible for leading programs that will help it attract, retain, and develop talent. The incoming leader will be the primary advocate of policies, communication, feedback, and interaction surrounding the people of ACI. This position will have primary responsibility and accountability for all HRIS activities globally.

The Christopher Group has also been tapped by Sports Clips Haircuts to find its next HR leader. The chief talent officer / vice president of human resources will have point responsibility for crafting and leading the execution of an aligned strategy to ensure engaged, innovative, and industry leading talent who will drive its growth agenda. This position will report directly to the CEO and offers a compensation package in the range of $200,000 to $250,000, which includes base salary plus bonus. “We are searching for a leader with incredible energy and whose values mirror that of Sports Clips, which are to ‘Do Your Best, Do What’s Right, and to Treat Others the Way They Want to Be Treated,'” said Erin Merker, a vice president and managing partner at the search firm. The role, she noted, will shape the organization’s future HR structure, drive critical talent initiatives, build efficiencies and enable significant growth in the field. Sports Clips is a $3 billion-plus fast growing national franchise with 1,600 operations setup in all 50 states and Canada. Haircuts and sports — who knew!

The Christopher Group was also just selected by toy manufacturer Step2 to recruit a VP of HR. Like the others, this position will report directly to the CEO and be responsible for providing overall strategic HR leadership and internal communications for the enterprise, which is a growing, dynamic and innovative consumer product company. The position pays $180,000 to $200,000, which includes base salary and bonus.

“The CHRO market is clearly hotter than we’ve seen in the last 10 years. It’s a combination of forces being led by businesses realizing the fight for talent is greater than it’s ever been,” said Tom Christopher, co-founder and CEO. “Having an HR department that can lead that fight has become a competitive necessity. Having a CHRO officer to do that is a mandate for a lot of companies.”

Strategic Players In the C-Suite


In partnership with CEOs, chief human resource officers (CHROs) are playing increasingly critical roles to ensure companies win the war for talent. CHROs, in fact, are now seen as key drivers to ensure the right strategic environment is in place to maximize talent for competitive advantage. Great companies, according to Tom Christopher in this outstanding podcast, now look to best-in-class HR leaders to solve their problems as much as they would turn to any other C-suite executive. Listen Now.


A hallmark of The Christopher Group is its leadership team, comprised of former HR executives at organizations known for world class HR. Their institutional knowledge, and their long standing relationships, provide them with a unique understanding and perspective on HR careers and the current state of the marketplace for HR professionals.

Mr. Christopher has close to three decades of experience in human resources and executive recruiting. He is an organizational consultant by trade who takes the search for HR leadership one step further by assisting clients in leadership strategy, assessment, comp & benefits benchmarking and managing executive transitions. That work takes place all at the VP, SVP and CHRO level, where he, like his CHRO placements, functions as an integral sounding board on HR leadership matters once an assignment is completed. His firm is now entering its 20th year serving the HR community.

Mr. Christopher said that he’s also seen an increased amount of recruiting activity with CHROs. “Based on my discussions with several hundred CHROs over the last couple of years, I think it’s come down to one main thing: the market has come back. When the stock market was down in 2008, 2009 and 2010, a lot of folks who were planning on retiring weren’t really able to, so they deferred. Now that the market is back and very vibrant, the opposite is occurring. As a result, we’re seeing a number of CHRO vacancies.”

Current day CHROs are also bringing more skills to the table, he said. “They bring a much stronger and acute business acumen,” Mr. Christopher noted. “For years, CHRO directors have claimed to be business partners. Honestly, I think they’ve struggled in that area. But today we’re seeing a new generation, a new breed of business leaders who really are business partners first and HR professionals second.”

The CHRO role, itself, has also changed in the last five to 10 years and that is expected to continue, he said. “It’s clearly going through another evolution,” added Mr. Christopher. “Today, there’s a new world order that centers around servant leadership. That is probably best displayed in the evolving role of the CHRO. Servant leadership is the new wave for the vast and most progressive CHRO officers that we work with.”

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; John Harris, Managing Editor — Hunt Scanlon Media

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4 Comments on "Here’s Why Game Changing CHRO Talent Is In Big Demand"

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John Boyle
Guest

So, let’s use a hypothetical – there’s a candidate that over the course of a successful career has developed differentiating skills with an array of experiences and education that is, say, non-traditional HR. And the HR business partners and/or recruiters don’t screen for the potential or capability cited, and the prospective candidate doesn’t fit “in the box” based upon matching words on the resume to a job description, even though all the requisite capabilities are there, and then some. How does this talent get discovered in “the executive recruiting system”?

Jim Henderson
Guest
John, If I understand your hypothetical properly, my initial thought is that it would be in your own best interest to help others to ‘connect the dots’ which seem obvious to you, By this I mean you should proactively ‘match’ the words in the job description to your resume, to your skills, and to your experience – e.g. by re-crafting your resume to be in ‘their’ language, and/or creating the ‘stories’ which illustrate your successful demonstration of the capabilities they seek (and communicate highlights of these stories in your cover letter, to help ‘get you in the door’). You need… Read more »
Jim Henderson
Guest
As an experienced global HR leader, I am encouraged and invigorated to read these recent perspectives on and developments in the role of the CHRO, and in the expectations of candidates to fill these roles. I have often described my role as CHRO as being a ‘business leader’ first (with the general business acumen AND the intimate understanding of MY business), who brings an “HR tool kit” to the challenges and opportunities facing the business every day – all of them, not just traditional ‘HR’ issues. In other words, a member of an executive team with specialized knowledge, skills and… Read more »
Scott A. Scanlon
Guest

Jim, your comments are much appreciated. Skills, style and credibility — I think you nailed it.

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