Given reign to organize his department, Prudential Financial Head of HR Ronald Andrews talks about the seamless fit that’s kept him at the organization for 34 years
Ronald Andrews’ rise to the head of human resources (HR) at Prudential Financial was not a path he had set his eyes on as a young man. When offered a senior position in HR, Andrews remembered, “My heart sank in my stomach. Why would you want to waste me in an HR job?”
Andrews recalled that the general internal attitude toward the HR Department at the time was far from positive. “‘No’ was the word of the day most days,” he said. Little did Andrews know then, but his winning attitude, empathetic leadership and organizational awareness made him an excellent fit to scale the HR ranks at one of the world’s largest financial services institutions. He now has spent 34 years at Prudential, where he serves as Vice President of U.S. Businesses and Head of HR.
Prudential Financial has more than $1.1 trillion in assets under management and approximately $3.5 trillion of gross life insurance in force worldwide. The global financial institution operates in the U.S., Asia, Europe and Latin America. Andrews helms HR for all of Prudential’s domestic businesses, including insurance, mutual funds, retirement, annuities, asset management and relocation services. Each of the five businesses has an HR executive, and they all report to Andrews.
A Surprising Impact
After taking the weekend to consider the offer for his initial position in what was then referred to as “Personnel,” Andrews decided to accept. He remembered thinking, “If I do that job, I’m not going to do it the way I see it being done. I’m going to raise the relevance of the function of this division.” Andrews accepted under one stipulation: “Give me free reign to organize this thing the way I think it should be organized.”
After moving into the senior HR position, he immediately changed the name of the department from “Personnel” to “HR Management.” “It wasn’t long before I realized that HR was an amazing place to be,” Andrews said. “I had more opportunity to impact business outcomes in HR than when I was in the business.”
Throughout his three decades-plus tenure, Andrews has had a half dozen offers to go to other companies. He consistently found, though, that he not only loved the company he was working for—he also loved the work and excelled at it.
A Singular Approach
The marriage of Andrews’ business mind and organizational awareness helps him see how macro issues affect the business and people. His Dartmouth Business degree plus a tireless work ethic and warm personality have helped him see HR issues from all angles. He had a knack for fitting the right talent against the right issues. He anticipated where challenges would arise and saw what people needed to be their “best selves” at work. Andrews’ authenticity, too, has served him well over the years.
“I relate very effectively to the most senior people as well as people who take out the trash in my office. I can say things to leaders a lot of people can’t because I try to be very consistent. I don’t have a different persona or approach to different people. That adds to credibility,” Andrews noted.
That accessibility has contributed to the horizontal sense of connectedness he focuses on implementing at Prudential. Andrews prioritizes staying connected with the HR leaders for all five major businesses within the company. Not only does he meet with them regularly, he also communicates with team members across the globe through a regularly updated blog and video messages. “It’s all designed to build a greater sense of connectedness,” he said.
Andrews was not always sure that his personality would serve him in corporate America. Early in his career at Prudential, he encountered a group of cutthroat young professionals. “They were not nice. They had huge egos. And I wasn’t like that at all,” Andrews said. “I began to get concerned that I was out of place—that I would have to be like that if I was going to be successful. It worried me.”
The “cutthroat” colleagues made Andrews doubt his future at Prudential. Then he was charged with working with John Strangfeld, who now serves as Prudential’s Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President. Strangfeld was a breath of fresh air for Andrews.
“He was thoughtful, caring, low-key, and he was doing really well,” Andrews said. “That gave me hope that I could still be myself and be successful in this firm. I committed from that point on that I was not going to not be myself.”
Leading By Example
Andrews’ authentic and warm personality has bled over into his unique leadership style, on display every day at Prudential. He has implemented an “open-dialogue” relationship with his team. He explained the department’s stance on feedback: “A developmental need is not a bad thing. We all have them.”
In fact, Prudential’s HR leadership team has a pact to offer informal, real-time feedback to one another. “I’ve had to, as a leader, demonstrate that first and often,” Andrews said. “[I ask], ‘Can you coach me on what I can do better?’ I do that a lot with the group. That has helped folks emulate the same behavior. People look at it through that lens: How could you help me be better in where I live and work every day?”
Openness and engagement have become hallmarks of Andrews’ career at Prudential and continue to make the financial institution’s HR Department a standout. “People often will say to me, ‘Are you sure you’re in HR?’” Andrews said with a laugh. “You’d be surprised by the talent in HR. I don’t think I’m such an aberration.”
Hilary Sutton is a freelance writer and Principal of HSL Creative based in Lynchburg, Virginia.