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HR Protects People and Land at Wyland Galleries

March 1, 1997
Related Topics: The HR Profession, Featured Article
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You’ve seen those whales. Big blue ones swimming along a gigantic wall in California or maybe, Hawaii. They’re the creation of Wyland—a pioneer in the marine art movement since 1971. To date, he has completed more than 68 landmark murals, the Whaling Walls, throughout the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, Mexico and France. Below, Dorothy "Dotsy" Bookout talks about what it’s like to apply human resources practices in the art retail industry.

How did you end up with this particular job in this industry?
I received a telephone call from Wyland’s mother, who is the vice president of the company. I had known her previously when I was personnel manager at Odetics, a high-tech firm based in Anaheim, California. The person doing accounting for Wyland at the time was also doing HR, and she was leaving because she was recently married and was moving out of state. So Wyland wanted someone heavier into HR, but who also knew accounting. Wyland’s mother called me and asked if I’d be interested in interviewing for the job. I was flattered, of course, and came out to see only what it was about. I really liked the company. I was so impressed by Wyland’s art, and his beliefs in clean environment and thought what a wonderful way to end my HR days—working for someone who believes in a cause and supports it. I was so impressed, and ended up quitting my other job and accepting this one about 1 1/2 years ago.

What is your background?
After my first year of junior college, I got a job at Seal Beach, California-based Rockwell International Corp. and continued to take night classes. I needed them because I was in the secretarial area and worked with engineers. Later, when one of the engineers started Odetics, he asked if anyone was interested in a position. He got my name, remembered me and hired me as a Girl Friday. That’s how I got into personnel. When the company first started developing products, there was just cash outlay. Then, as the company grew and hired more employees, it found the need for a personnel function. Because I was new in this area, and I was naive, I learned the greatest lessons in HR by talking to personnel staff in aerospace firms. We had to do creative recruiting. So I got into personnel and really loved it and continued taking HRclasses and grew with that company. It all starts with knowing the company’s product, then knowing the employees and how to motivate and keep them.

What are the biggest challenges of your industry?
Trying to hire qualified sales people. We have five galleries in California. Retail sales tend to have a high turnover. When you’re looking for sales people, you have to motivate them differently than you do in other areas. We have bonus programs to motivate our sales people. But you also can’t lose sight that you have other human support systems helping to make sure the business gets done. It’s impossible to put in bonus systems for everyone in such a small type of environment. So motivation is a major growing area.

What challenges are universal for human resources?
I believe everyone today has basically the same problems in trying to maintain a happy workforce. You want a productive workforce, but you also want your workforce to be happy. There’s lots of stress. So trying to eliminate those things that create stress for them is one of the challenges—keeping everything productive and well-balanced.

How is human resources viewed in your organization?
In many different ways. The HR department is primarily viewed as a place where anyone can come and air a grievance, comment or discuss a problem. And our employees know I will act on their concerns. They also know that if an issue seems self-serving, I’ll address that too. You never just listen and backburner an issue. If you want to be a successful HR manager, you have to have an open door. You have to allow people to state whatever they have to state, and then you have to act. It may not always be in the way one expects, but you have to act and always explain why the outcome is the way it is.

What about your job and/or organization makes you most proud?
The thing I like best is when—on a single or group basis—there’s a problem through misunderstanding or misinterpretation, and we all meet and go over the area together. Everyone then voices their opinions about how something will or won’t work. Then we have an agreement about how it will work; we implement [the plan] and become successful. That’s when I feel best because people can have input to correct a problem.

What is special about HR at Wyland Galleries?
I get to see beautiful things. I get to go down into the galleries and get a feel for whether we have a team effort on the floor. I also get to visit the other galleries to see what’s going on. There aren’t a lot of places where you can get the same aesthetics we do here. I can have something troublesome—and I know you can’t rectify it right away. But then I can go down into the gallery. And being around the sculptures and paintings has such a soothing effect.

Which are your favorite pieces of Wyland’s art?
I have different pieces that I like for different reasons. I like the picture "Tails of Great Whales." You can see the water surging off of the tail. It’s that point that shows the power and strength of the creature. Then Ilike "Endangered Manatees" because manatees are real gentle and trusting creatures. Wyland has captured them through his painting and sculpture. And my favorite bronze is "The Friendly Dolphin." There’s something tender and whimsical about it.

What is he like as an employer?
As an employer, he wants a positive working environment in which everyone is happy like a family. He also wants everyone to have input into change. Another thing is that at Christmas, he took us out on a whale-watching boat, and the meal was catered. When a pod of dolphins came to us—nearly 1,000 of them—they were swimming in the wake created by the boat. It was one of neatest experiences. And Wyland wants all of us to be able to share the excitement he feels for ocean life.

How has your HR department changed over the last five years?
I’ve only been here a relatively short time. Wyland Galleries never had an HR department before. In that light, things used to be handled in reprimand mode. But you need both sides—the [discipline] and recognizing employees’ positive side. People need to know their work is being recognized.

What are some of your plans for the department’s future?
Because HR is relatively new—I’ve only been able to dedicate a short time to HR. But I’m starting to bring in benefits. Things to attract people to our employment and keep them here. The way I envision our direction is that customer service should be our focal point. We need to maintain a good record and continue to grow.

With Wyland, because he’s so diverse, it takes quite a bit of energy to keep up with him. That’s exciting for me. We all run in the wake of him.

Workforce, March 1997, Vol. 76, No. 3, pp. 105-106.

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