Driscoll’s CHRO Lynne Oldham is connecting the dots and creating business leaders who can thrive in any environment
Lynne Oldham’s mother, as a child of the 1930s, “knew” that only a few careers were open to women. “Mom thought that nursing would be great for me,” Oldham said. “I could start, take a break, start a family and easily go back into it.”
Although she tried to follow her mother’s advice, “I realized that science really wasn’t for me,”—the epiphany came during an 8 am chemistry class, she recalled, laughing—“and I ended up earning a degree in Business Administration and Finance.”
Oldham landed in human resources (HR) at Star Expansion, where her medical knowledge meshed with her work in health and welfare plans. During the next decade, she managed various HR functions at Simon & Schuster, Castrol and HR Fundamentals Inc., an entrepreneurial spin-off of her work at Castrol providing shared benefit services to employees.
Bonjour, Global HR
It was Oldham’s 10 years at BNP Paribas that proved to be most transformative. The French bank provided many opportunities for professional growth, including a sudden chance to work in Paris.
“One Friday, the head of North American HR offered me an assignment with BNP’s Global HR Head,” she said, “and gave me until the following Monday morning to decide whether I wanted to move across the Atlantic, even though he couldn’t tell me what the job would entail.”
Many would balk at those terms. Then again, Oldham isn’t like many of us. She said yes. In France, Oldham collaborated on a program to identify and develop high-potential talent across the globe.
“I had never done that kind of HR work before,” she said. “But I called on every resource I could, from professional contacts to leadership books, and spent the next year working on the project.”
And she nailed it. Her talent system is still in use within BNP.
Moving & Growing
After eight years of continued success, Oldham decided to move on. She didn’t feel quite ready for a Chief HR Officer (CHRO) slot, and joined SunTrust Banks in 2012 as Senior Vice President, Organizational Effectiveness and Transformation.
“I started working under SunTrust’s CHRO, and soon realized that in fact I was ready for the most influential human capital role at an organization,” Oldham said, “and that I was ready for a seat at an executive team’s table.”
So when Oldham’s personal grapevine told her that Driscoll’s, the global market leader in fresh berries, needed a CHRO, she pursued that chance. In 2013, she joined the company.
Much like her stint in Paris, assuming this role was a leap of faith, but Oldham knew in her gut that Driscoll’s was a special company. After decades in the blare of Manhattan, she transplanted her roots to the sunny Pajaro Valley in rural California, about 95 miles south of San Francisco.
Hiring & HIPO
One of Oldham’s first actions was to assess the strengths of her staff and ensure that the current team has the skill set to help the company be transformational.
“Because we had hired many of our former interns, I had a team with plenty of enthusiasm but less practical experience in progressive HR,” Oldham said. “My key hires now manage our business partners and global HRIS, Change & Analytics. They’ve helped our junior team members become stronger professionals.”
Driscoll’s senior management recognizes the importance of investing in human capital, approving HR budget increases and implementing development programs. One was a two-day seminar led by Results Based Leadership Group (RBL).
“We used it to develop a general leadership model; certain qualities are relevant to every type of business leader. Now we are building up differentiating leadership skills that are specific to Driscoll’s. We want our staff to see opportunities and be ready to take advantage of them,” Oldham said.
The general demand for high-potential (HIPO) employees outstrips the supply, so these development programs are essential to Driscoll’s future success. And the needle is moving. An early company goal was to position about 30 percent of its HIPOs in stretch roles; just seven months later, the target has been surpassed.
That figure is less surprising when you consider Driscoll’s exhaustive hiring process. “We have a strong culture here, and it’s influenced by family ownership,” Oldham said. “Prospects are repeatedly interviewed by people from different parts of the business. There’s a values-based aspect to it as well. We feel very strongly about preserving our culture and take the time to make sure that new hires fit.”
Connecting the Dots
Under Oldham’s guidance, Driscoll’s HR Department has changed its stance. “There’s lots of security in simply doing transactions, but that sort of work can be outsourced,” she said. “I wanted my team to concentrate on strategies to move the business agenda forward and be true partners to their business leaders.”
She has her staff focus on four key areas:
- Building a strong foundation for global growth;
- Developing trusted and transparent leaders who can empower people to reach their full potential and enable the right environment;
- Ensuring talent is ready for today and tomorrow; and
- Preserving values and culture in the face of global expansion.
Most of her team is scattered throughout the company’s headquarters. “I want them to be physically near their business partners so they can learn exactly what goes on,” Oldham said. “That will make them understand how and why their own work connects with our strategy.”
Networking & Nets
Oldham also connects with other professionals through the RBL Institute, a senior executive think tank dedicated to strategic HR and leadership for top global companies, such as Northrop Grumman, Siemens and BASF Corp.
“I attend at least one CHRO Summit Meeting every year,” she said. “In addition to the formal sessions, I can meet with other HR executives and discuss the topics that tend to plague us. I always come back with two or three new things to think about.”
Throughout her career, Oldham has benefitted from unexpected opportunities. “That impacts me when I think about people,” she said, “and I try to push people out of their comfort zones in similar ways. I’ve assigned a Comp Team Intern to some talent and leadership work—things that she’s not normally involved in. Another talent specialist is going to work on our Netherlands HR team for four months to get some cross-geography experience.”
“But I encourage initiative, too,” Oldham added. “When people are ready to make a leap, they’ll have my support and guidance. They need to use their own minds, but a safety net is always in place.”
Frederick Jerant is a freelance writer based in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Lynne's Key Partners:The RBL Group (Leadership Consulting)
Latest posts by Frederick Jerant (see all)
- The Leap of Faith That Led to One of the Best Learning Experiences - September 25, 2015
- How Taking the Indirect Path Can Lead to a More Fruitful Career - August 24, 2015
- Stark Choices That Lead To Sustainability and Success - April 1, 2015