Senior Vice President of Human Resources Pam Turay describes how HR helped Harry & David become profitable again.
By Charlene Oldham
Whether working for a guitar maker, a boating supply retailer or a purveyor of handcrafted gourmet gifts, Pam Turay’s product has always been people.
“No matter what industry you are in, companies want good people. And, regardless of the industry, companies with the best people win,” said Turay, Senior Vice President (SVP) of Human Resources (HR) at Harry & David. “You can replicate a process. You can replicate a product. But I believe people are the single biggest competitive advantage a company has because you cannot replicate them.”
Keeping a Pulse on Company Needs
HR professionals should learn as much as they can about products and processes, though, because finding the best people takes fully grasping your company’s current and future needs.
“I believe that HR has to have a seat at the table,” Turay said, “and how you earn that seat is by understanding the business.”
To foster that level of understanding and boost Harry & David’s recent financial turnaround, Turay last year implemented a new business partner model. In it, a representative from HR participates in leadership meetings within a specific department, such as the company’s Orchards Div. Through this partnership, the HR expert can add value to the individual department by ensuring that everything from full-time hiring and training to benefits and work safety compliance questions are handled with integrity and understanding.
“So it’s been a good model for us because it’s an [HR] go-to person for that department and its employees,” Turay said. “It’s also been a great career development step for my department because I’m building people within my team who get to interact with every aspect of HR.”
The system can be time-consuming because of the constant collaboration it requires between HR and the company’s departments, but while others might rely on email and instant messaging to make the business partner model work, Turay finds that verbal communication typically trumps technology.
“I’d much rather spend time talking to someone face to face than sit there reading emails. Many times, you can convey twice the information in half the time,” she said. “So it does take time, but I think it’s a necessary investment.”
She also invests in her own staff by “giving them runway” when developing creative solutions to problems and encouraging them to provide feedback on departmental decisions. Even when she isn’t on the same page, she makes a point of explaining her thinking.
“I think leaders are collaborators. At some point, I have to own a decision, but you can’t be afraid to coach and develop people,” she said. “That means sharing information and the why behind the decisions you make.”
People First, Always
In her role as HR chief, those decisions also include choices related to workplace security and occupational health for the omni-channel retailer, meaning she even has a hand in what is served at the campus cafeteria. But, whether she is helping make the workplace safer or ensuring employees have tasty and healthy lunch options, Turay’s disparate duties do not stray from her core mission of finding and keeping the best staff.
“All the diversity of the departments I have is really about providing services to our employees,” she said. “Job functions are job functions, but for me it’s all people-centric.”
The same can even be said for the decade Turay spent in sales, marketing and finance. While she loved the “thrill of the hunt” and big paydays of a successful sales career, what she enjoyed most was building a rapport with clients and others on her team.
“What I found really brought me fulfillment was the relationship side of sales,” she said.
The revelation and discussions with friends and colleagues led her to earn a master’s degree in Industrial Organization Psychology from Missouri State University and move into HR. But Turay does not regret the time she spent in sales or the experiences she has gained from making lateral moves or working in wildly different industries. Her resume includes jobs at Gibson Guitar, West Marine and two separate stints at Harry & David, among others. As a result, she sometimes advises young people to consider taking a step down the ladder if it means earning valuable knowledge and insights that will help them in the future.
“I think that adds to the richness of someone’s career,” she said. “Because if you’re really smart and work really hard and love what you do, that money and advancement will come, but it’s not always a direct arrow.”
Charlene Oldham is a freelance writer based in Saint Louis, Missouri.
Pamela's Key Partners:McAleer Gray (Senior Level Executive Search) | CEB (Member-based advisory firm) | Madison Executive Search (Ecommerce and Multi-Channel Experts) | Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon (Health benefits) | Towers Watson – (Benefits Consulting)
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Very informative and really helped my decision on where in my degree I would like to focus on.