Marian Rhodes, SVP and Chief HR and Diversity Officer of the Arizona Diamondbacks, passes on promotion and perspective advice, for contemporaries and young professionals alike
In making a career transition from finance to human resources (HR), Marian Rhodes’ goal was for coworkers to know her by her name instead of by the label “the Auditor.” As Senior Vice President and Chief HR and Diversity Officer for the Arizona Diamondbacks, she certainly has accomplished this, creating an exciting company culture and helping to keep the D-backs consistently named one of the “Best Places to Work” and “Most Admired Companies” by the Phoenix Business Journal, Best Companies AZ and AZ Magazine.
Rhodes began her career in finance as an Internal Auditor for Anheuser Busch. At that time, Anheuser Busch also owned the St. Louis Cardinals and Rhodes’ first contact with the team was in doing an internal audit for them. It was during this audit that Rhodes became aware that the Cards had an opening in the Finance Department.
Although Rhodes knew of the position, it didn’t spark her interest at the time. But at the request of the Executive Vice President, Business Operations, Rhodes later was offered and accepted the position of Financial Analyst. In this role, a great deal of the work she performed involved government compliance; Rhodes said her auditing background came in handy making sure the Cardinals remained in compliance. Quite a bit of this work was HR related, so Rhodes was moved to oversee the function of the HR Department.
“It was really a pleasant turning point in helping me start to build my career and begin to accomplish some of my goals,” she said. The main thing that made her want to make this transition, she added, was having the opportunity to influence and develop people’s careers.
As an Auditor, she was selected by Anheuser Busch to teach a course to employees called Managing Personal Growth. She recalled “really enjoy[ing] this course, as it was the beginning of accomplishing her goal of assisting in the development of people.” This experience made it even more apparent that she wanted to pursue a career in a field that dealt more on the positive side of dealing with people, instead of being an Auditor, “which sometimes has negative connotations.”
Shortly after serving as a Financial Analyst, Rhodes was promoted to Manager of HR, a position in which she received a lot of on-the-job training with the Cardinals and learned from the experts at Anheuser Busch across different departments, like Legal and Benefits.
“For the most part, when you work under a corporation, you are responsible for the administration aspect, with the major decisions being made at the corporate level,” Rhodes said.
This helped her to gain the knowledge needed and to form a strong foundation, so when the team was sold and she was no longer the administrator, she knew how to make the major decisions, create the policies and establish an HR Department. Rhodes also has been instrumental in fostering diversity, an effort that initially came about when the Cardinals were building a new ballpark. From the beginning, she was aware that there had been some issues regarding minority- and women-owned businesses on another local project; she made it her mission that the Cardinals would not encounter the same pitfalls.
Rhodes voiced these concerns to President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mark Lamping, and he agreed that the organization needed to be successful not only in building the new ballpark but in including diverse partners and seeing that they would be successful long after the project was completed. To accomplish this, Rhodes enlisted the help of community leaders and acted as the liaison between the team’s owners and outside partners, which was particularly important because, as she noted, “Getting their involvement would make hard it for them to criticize the plan, as people support a world in which they help create.”
Ultimately, they not only met but surpassed their goals and “exceeded the numbers for anybody building a facility in sports at the time.”
New Baseball Endeavors
After building a new ballpark, establishing an excellent HR Department and winning a World Series with the Cardinals, Rhodes thought about what she wanted next. The D-backs had recently split from the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, and with the Suns went the HR Department. Rhodes saw an opportunity to create another strong department with the D-backs, and not only were her HR achievements important, but more so was her role in creating company culture.
This was one of Rhodes’ main objectives, and in speaking with Derrick Hall, the Diamondbacks’ President and CEO, she learned that he believes the No. 1 aspect at a company to be its people; he and others at the D-backs wanted to ensure the organization maintained a great culture.
The first thing on the agenda was to determine where the current culture stood. To accomplish this, they performed a “culture audit,” and the results indicated that employees loved working for the company. The organization used the culture audit as a foundation to ensure they are “doing the things for employees to make them successful, but also letting them know that we value and respect them, and that they are part of something bigger than just their everyday jobs—they’re part of an organization that strives for greatness.”
In keeping with Rhodes’ philosophy and values for her employees, her leadership approach is built around teamwork. “If one of us fails, we all fail,” she said. Rhodes coaches employees, and one of her objectives is to “create an environment that employees enjoy working in and in which they will thrive.”
She explains that her leadership style is a product of how she was raised. Her dad ran an organization that supported the underserved and her mother was a college professor, and she and her sisters were always expected to give back and not to stand on the sidelines. They were encouraged to roll up their sleeves and help no matter what the project or task at hand. They also were taught that if you want to accomplish a goal, you should do what it takes to make it happen, not wait for someone else to make things happen.
Waiting for Your Pitch
In developing young professionals, Rhodes stresses the importance of expectations, resources and reinforcement. The D-backs employ a great deal of young talent, many of whom want to move up in the organization quickly. In order to help them succeed, Rhodes says expectations need to be very clear and the necessary tools need to be provided.
“You give people the goals, you give them the resources, and then celebrate when they succeed,” she explained. She reiterates that when she was building her career at the Cardinals, her title remained Director for about 10 years, but her boss gave her new challenges every year, most which fell outside of HR. This was important in allowing her to diversify her skills and her experience.
“Don’t be too quick to want a title,” she advised, “because a title without the skills set it is just that, a title.”
Rhodes encourages this in her employees as well, explaining that it will diversify one’s skills and abilities and help create a unique brand. “Your brand is what you stand for,” she said. “People decipher things from how you carry yourself, and you get to choose whether your brand is good or bad.”
The HR leader also encourages young professionals to seek out mentors who can help them understand what their brand is and how they bring value to their job. Furthermore, she stresses the importance of networking and continually growing personal experiences.
“Never pass up an opportunity because someone is not paying you or you don’t have time,” Rhodes said. “You should always look for those opportunities in order to develop yourself.”
Stuart Meyer, President of the Cardinals, was a great mentor for Rhodes. His model of constant communication is what Rhodes uses with her own employees. She does not save problems for a set evaluation time, but instead addresses them immediately; once an issue is resolved, it is not brought up again.
Meyer taught Rhodes that as a boss, her attitude should be, “I’m here to make you better. I’m here to teach you. I’m here to help you improve. And if I’m not giving you the tools to be successful, then I’m not doing my job.” Another particularly important takeaway Rhodes gained via Meyer was the way he interacted with his employees. She says he knew everybody’s name and did not put himself on a higher level than his staff.
“Derrick [Hall, President and CEO of the D-backs] is like that, too,” she said. “He is personable and respectful to everyone. And that’s what I try to accomplish in my everyday dealing with employees and colleagues. My title does not set me apart. It’s a title I’ve earned, but it’s not what makes me who I am.”
Diverse Business is Good Business
Rhodes has worked to promote diversity in sports and says that diversity should be viewed as the best thing for business. “[Diversifying] used to be seen as the right thing to do, but now people understand that it’s essential for the success of businesses. The makeup of people is crucial in the decisions made in a business, as they have different ideas and thoughts coming from different people and sources.”
Rhodes has been working in diversity with Major League Baseball since she started with the Cardinals in 1987. Then, it was being a part of a diversity initiative with building the new ballpark, where they were able to provide mentoring opportunities and stimulate new business.
At the D-backs, Rhodes and Hall introduced a diversity plan and explained how important the concept is and how they go about implementing it. Their Diverse Partners Program works with the purchasing side of the business and meets with different organizations to communicate the purchasing opportunities available.
They are branding themselves in the community through this program, Rhodes said, letting everyone know that “the D-backs are open for business and want to be diverse in all phases of business.” A lot of people had never thought it was a possibility to do business with the organization, or even to be employed by us. So this is really how we have taken charge and made people aware of our brand.”
Rhodes has made it her business to create the best company culture out there, and to make the D-backs a viable business partner in the community. “If people are never invited to the party,” she said, “they can never play the game.”
Amy Fisher is a freelance writer based in Chicago, Illinois.
Marian's Key Partners:Willis (Human Capital) | Miller Russell Associates (Investment Advisor)
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