Recognizing a Great Career

5/6/13

It was announced this week that Randy MacDonald would retire from his position as Senior VP of Human Resources at IBM. After 13 years in the position, serving 3 CEOs, and building IBM to be one of the most widely recognized companies for building leaders, he has finally decided to call it quits. I just want to share a few of my thoughts from having had the pleasure of working with Randy over the past 15+ years.

I met Randy when he was the CHRO at GTE and came to guest lecture in my Strategy class. I was struck by his transparency and candor. Even without knowing me or my students, he was incredibly straightforward with the challenges his business faced as well as some of the challenges he had faced in his career. With Randy, what you see is him, not some fa├žade he puts on to please someone else.

Then I had the honor of serving as the Center for Advanced HR Studies (CAHRS) Director while Randy was the chair of our Advisory Board. My favorite memory of him was a few months after 9/11 when we talked about organizing a conference exploring how companies had coped after the attack. We usually had a 6-month lead-time but this conference would be held in 6 weeks. Randy simply said "Just move quickly and get it done. That's what we have to do in business." I know that it was this style of holding people accountable for pushing themselves that enabled him to lead IBM's function successfully over the past 13 years. It certainly made us better at CAHRS, and me better as an academic.

Finally, I was able to observe Randy, albeit from afar, while he battled life-threatening health issues. In typical Randy form, when his doctor told him that people suffering from his condition had a 5% survival rate, his response was "I'm going to be in that 5%," and today he is. When Randy puts his mind to something, he accomplishes it.

So, now he's putting his mind to other challenges (running a ski resort is one of them!) His authenticity, leadership, and drive will lead him to succeed there just as they have throughout his career. Those in or aspiring to CHRO roles could do far worse than to emulate Randy.