Since 1991, Maura Richardson has been creating human
resources strategy and driving execution for top con-sumer
brands such as Estée Lauder, Shoppers Drug
Mart, L Brands and Sephora.
She has led HR teams and developed people and talent strat-egies
– including talent attraction, training and retention plans
– for various organizations during periods where business has
doubled or tripled in size.
Richardson is certainly no stranger to the challenges posed by
During her 27-year human resources career, she has often
been tasked with creating a nimble, flexible HR strategy that
will mature with a rapidly expanding company.
HR Professional connected with Richardson while she
was transitioning to her next role as chief people officer at
Woodbridge, Ont.-based VetStrategy. The conversation cov-ered
lessons learned during her career and the importance of
developing sustainable, scalable HR strategies for organizations
of all shapes and sizes.
When did you decide you wanted a
career in human resources?
Maura Richardson: I was naturally drawn to coaching, training
and helping others. Through that interest, I started my official
HR career as a specialist in the training function. It was a bit
of an accidental choice. I gravitated towards anything related to
teaching and supporting people.
What was your first HR job?
MR: I was a regional trainer with Estée Lauder. It was my first
corporate experience and I spent 10 years with them, work-ing
in two countries and three cities: Toronto, San Francisco
and New York. I would say that first human resources job is
where I learned how critical it is to connect HR functions to
the business. The company also taught me the importance of a
handwritten note. Even in today’s day and age, nothing replaces
a handwritten note to show appreciation!
What do you love about HR?
MR: I feel HR is like the funnel for the business. You need to be
connected with what’s happening across the organization. That
feeds through your talent strategies, design and programs. It’s a
critical function in the business; I love the diversity of HR. You
can go very deep as a specialist or very broad as a generalist.
What are the challenges you’ve
encountered in your HR career?
MR: I’ve worked at four organizations that went through very
aggressive growth periods: Estée Lauder, Shoppers Drug Mart,
L Brands and Sephora. There’s a big theme for me around how
you scale and grow your talent strategies in parallel with rapid
growth. Is what you are doing today sustainable, scalable and
adaptable? Also, how can leaders let go of responsibility and
reassign it in high-growth situations? You can’t lose what made
the company successful in the early days, so how do you keep
those elements while evolving and growing rapidly?
What’s key to leading HR during a difficult
time for a client organization?
MR: Two things stand out to me. One is transparency: be as
honest and open as possible. I think if you’re not transparent,
people tell themselves stories, and those stories are often far
worse than the truth. The other thing that stands out to me is
that businesses often have to make difficult decisions. How they
communicate those difficult decisions is where HR adds value
and supports employees through change. Employees can often
accept the “what,” but if the “how” isn’t handled properly, people
don’t forget that. To me, that’s the heart of great HR.
What are the necessary competencies for
success in HR and how do you think those
have changed throughout your career?
MR: I think honesty and integrity are the foundations of HR,
and I don’t think that will ever change. The traditional inter-personal
skills – how you motivate, develop people, build
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