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SHRM CEO HR Crucial During ‘Unprecedented’ Economic Time

August 12, 2008
Related Topics: HR Services and Administration, Global Business Issues, Latest News
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At a time of economic turbulence, Laurence G. O’Neil has firsthand experience in the industries that are at the eye of the storm—health care, energy and financial services.

He has been an HR executive in each of those sectors. As the new president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, he wants to help the field contribute to solving the problems facing the economy.

“It is an unprecedented time for our country and our businesses,” O’Neil said in an interview with Workforce Management on Tuesday, August 12. “The need for HR and for SHRM has never been greater. There’s a strong convergence between SHRM’s values and my values and the advancement of the profession.”

O’Neil was named SHRM’s chief executive on Monday, August 11. He officially takes on his new role October 1. Between now and then, he and his wife will be transitioning from California to the Washington, D.C., area, where SHRM is located.

O’Neil replaces Susan Meisinger, who served as SHRM president and CEO from 2002 until June 30. She announced her retirement in January, citing the need to spend time with ill family members.

After reviewing more than 400 candidates, SHRM selected O’Neil, who was most recently senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Kaiser Permanente, a $40 billion not-for-profit health care organization with 158,000 employees.

His experience also includes 17 years at Bank of America, where he was executive vice president and chief human resources officer of global corporate and investment banking. He also directed the bank’s HR functions in Asia.

During his 28-year HR career, O’Neil also has been a managing director at the executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, an HR manager at Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and manager of international compensation at Wells Fargo Bank.

“He’s been in good industries for the future of the economy,” said Fred Foulkes, a professor of organizational behavior at the Boston University School of Management and a member of the SHRM Foundation board.

Foulkes worked with O’Neil at the Human Resources Policy Institute, an organization based at Boston University that comprises 50 top HR leaders. O’Neil served on the organization’s steering committee.

“He’s a very solid thinker,” Foulkes said. “He has a deep interest in learning.”

O’Neil is a good fit for SHRM, Foulkes said.

“He has a passion for HR,” he said. “It’s a great way to cap off a career.”

One of the high points of O’Neil’s arc was the most recent one—his time at Kaiser Permanente. He worked there from 2002 until the second week in January.

O’Neil overhauled the company’s people management practices by implementing HR service centers and improving labor relations. It was part of an overall effort to revitalize Kaiser Permanente to respond to a changing health care market.

“He was a key part of a team that did a lot of positive things,” Foulkes said.

O’Neil, 59, said he accomplished his goals at Kaiser and helped hire and train his successor.

“It was the right time to move on to the next chapter of my life,” he said.

He turned over a new page early this month, when he accepted the SHRM position. He was introduced to the staff on August 11, his first visit to headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia.

O’Neil praised Meisinger for leaving behind a solid foundation.

“My first impression is that I’m a lucky new CEO,” he said. “I’m thrilled to be here.”

SHRM has 245,000 members and generated $105.4 million in revenue in 2007. It has about $160 million in reserves.

“He’s taking over an organization that’s extremely strong,” Foulkes said. “There’s no kind of crisis. He can take it to the next level.”

—Mark Schoeff Jr.

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