At first glance, it doesn’t look like a typical career path for a CHRO.
But, for Jones-Tyson, it makes complete sense.
In 1998, Rodney Jones-Tyson was fresh out of business school when he landed at Baird, a privately held, employee-owned wealth management, asset management, investment banking/capital markets and private-equity firm, headquartered in Milwaukee, Wis. He spent 12 years as an investment banker, then three years doing corporate development for Baird where he worked alongside Baird’s CEO and executive team, before returning to Baird’s Global Investment Banking business for seven years as chief operating officer. Jones-Tyson was named chief risk officer in 2018, where he and his team helped identify and mitigate business and operational risks at an enterprise level. This further enhanced his knowledge of all of Baird’s business activities.
Then, his career in financial services took an unusual turn in early 2022, when he was named Baird’s new global chief human resources officer (CHRO). In this position, he now directs more than 100 individuals in offices in the U.S., Europe and Asia, overseeing human resources, corporate real estate and workplace solutions, corporate travel and assisting with the administration of the Baird Foundation.
At first glance, it doesn’t look like a typical career path for a CHRO. But, for Jones-Tyson, it makes complete sense.
Growth and Transformation
According to Telvin Jeffries, senior principal at Mercer, someone developing a career track to being a CHRO will traditionally start in one of the critical subdisciplines of HR, like talent acquisition/recruiting, compensation, employee relations and training.
“The majority of HR leaders will still grow up in HR,” he said. “However, we’re now seeing people come from other parts of the organization.”
And, while it’s important to develop a portfolio of functional experience in key HR disciplines, it may be more important to develop broader business skills, such as business acumen, analytical skills, expert communication skills, innovation and change management, Jeffries added.
These are all boxes Jones-Tyson can check off, thanks to his extensive background and experience before coming to HR. Reflecting on his previous roles, each one taught him how to build relationships, and how to develop and build influence to achieve outcomes, he said. In his nearly 24-year career at Baird, he has gained a deeper understanding of the company and its business, and most importantly, its people.
In a way, Jones-Tyson still serves as a strategic advisor, he said. Jones-Tyson describes his role as CHRO as being in the “advice business,” where he aids hiring managers and recruiters, delivers multiple HR information systems to support the needs of the organization, and handles benefits, compensation and retirement in order to successfully deliver a total rewards package.
The human resources office is not tactical, Jones-Tyson said, but a function that operates like a team sport. And, as CHRO, he reports directly to Baird chairman and CEO Steve Booth, partnering with him and other members of senior management to further organizational effectiveness and associate development.
“I have a full seat at that table, and that is exciting,” Jones-Tyson said. “I used to be a consumer of HR services. Now, I get to lead the team that delivers expert HR services and solutions. The experience of living in both worlds gives me a unique lens.”
As part of his new role, he’s also excited to dive deeper into using data and analytics. When it comes to hiring, retention, compensation, development and benefits, Jones-Tyson sees the many advantages of harnessing pools of data to better understand their employees, become well-informed and make better decisions.
Analytical skills are a trait that HR leaders should possess, along with business acumen and change management, added Jeffries.
“HR will increasingly be required to link HR outcomes to business outcomes,” he said. “HR has lots of data, and now we have to use more data science activities to inform policies, decisions and improve HR outcomes. For example, the use of Big Data can improve recruiting efficiency to help attract ideal candidates and improve diversity hiring.
“Traditionally, HR leaders were more focused on support, so being a good administrator was important. However, today HR leaders need to have excellent business acumen,” Jeffries continued. “They need to know and understand the financials and drivers of the organization to align policy and HR activities that deliver on the company’s goals and meet profit objectives.
“HR teams are now expected to both drive change and facilitate change. The ability to implement change initiatives, facilitate communication and develop training programs, to name a few, are now becoming required HR competencies.”
Jones-Tyson describes great HR leaders thusly: “They listen and do not pass judgment; they trust their people; and they are flexible.”
Perhaps it is flexibility that has allowed Jones-Tyson to seamlessly make the leap into HR. Or maybe it was his own curiosity.
When asked what important career lessons he has learned, Jones-Tyson said:
“Be curious. Be a lifelong learner. I just like learning, so I keep learning by moving into different roles.” He also shared another tidbit:
“Ask for help. I learned that the hard way, where I did not ask for help and there was not a good outcome … Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I didn’t know,’ that’s what a team is for. There is no shame in asking for help.”
"We have a policy here called ‘the no [jerk] policy,’ … when hiring, we do everything we can to root out anyone during the interview process who will be disruptive to clients and associates, those who only see ‘me’ and not ‘we.’”
The People Revolution
In April, Baird was named one of the “Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For” for the 19th consecutive year. According to a press release, the award is based on analysis of survey responses from more than 4.5 million employees across the U.S. In that survey, 94% of Baird’s associates said Baird is a great place to work.
The recognition is something Jones-Tyson is particularly proud of, and he said it boils down to two things: “We provide the best advice to our clients, and we do amazing work for our associates. We need both to be successful.”
Culture, he said, is the company’s secret sauce.
“We have a policy here called ‘the no [jerk] policy,’” Jones-Tyson explained. “When hiring, we do everything we can to root out anyone during the interview process who will be disruptive to clients and associates, those who only see ‘me’ and not ‘we.’”
In addition, Baird is an employee-owned company, where 75% of the employees (from the mailroom workers to senior managers) own shares, according to Jones-Tyson.
Not only does Jones-Tyson see a positive future for the HR function at Baird, he also sees a positive one for the HR industry.
“HR professionals now have more opportunities to plan strategic items, to use human capital to drive outcomes for organizations,” he said. “HR can help employees and leaders be their authentic and full self at work.”
But Jones-Tyson is also aware there are challenges that still need to be navigated. After all, he served as the company’s chief risk officer at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, so he admits he does not know what the next normal will look like. But he is keeping himself open.
“There are a lot of rippling effects, such as how we are going to keep people connected and how are we going to figure out which benefits matter to people in different life transitions,” he said.
As for Jones-Tyson’s own CHRO future, he said he has an opportunity to have a “front seat of the people revolution.”
To any organization looking for its next top HR person, Jeffries said “companies should seek HR professionals who are first proven business leaders with functional HR expertise. The HR leader should be able to articulate a portfolio of experiences where they have led teams to positively influence business outcomes and create the best work environment to achieve those goals.
“Because the HR functions demands are rapidly changing and the workforce is complex, HR leaders must develop resilience and strategic agility. The last several years have shown the need to be fluid, to be open to rapid change, and quickly update how business is done to navigate competition, social issues, and world events successfully.”
Jones-Tyson also encouraged organizations to “cast a wider net.”
“I knew our CHRO was retiring, but I was not on the list of potential candidates,” he said. “Someone else raised my hand because they wanted to think more broadly and find someone to partner with to bring a new perspective.”