Ron Thomas CHRO

Ron Thomas is the Chief Human Resources & Administrative Officer with RGTS Group. He is currently based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He formerly was Director, Talent and Human Resources Solutions at Buck Consultants (a Xerox Company) and is certified by the Human Capital Institute as a Master Human Capital Strategist (MHCS) and Strategic Workforce Planner (SWP). He’s also worked in senior HR roles with Martha Stewart Living and IBM. Ron serves on the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly Executive Online Panel, and HCI’s Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy. He also serves as a Faculty Partner and Executive Facilitator at the Human Capital Institute. He has received the “Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence” by the World Human Resource Development Congress in Mumbai, India. Find Ron on Linkedin here, or follow him on Twitter @ronald_thomas.

1. Most job postings cite “X” years of relevant work experience and specific education criteria as requirements to be considered for the position. With this in mind, what prior work experiences and degrees/certifications/training helped prepare you for your current role?

First of all, I think when a company places those restriction on a job posting (years of experience, industry experience required), they are closing the door on such a huge segment of the market. My question is what X years of experience makes you relevant. If there is a requirement of 6 years to be considered for a posting, what happens if I have 4 solid years in the industry? I wrote a post recently that spells this out: “Industry Experience Required.”

My current role and selection was based on a broad body of work: published author, blogger, consultant with a major consulting firm, numerous board advisories and a solid level of achievement in the trenches.

Today, you just can’t be satisfied in your role as a practitioner, you must spread your wings in all directions that you can. Jump at any opportunity to broaden the resume and your brand.

1B. What (if any) additional knowledge or skills that you don’t currently have would make you even better at your job?

I am a big advocate of self-development. I do not know what specific knowledge that I would need at this point. Every day I scour the internet to print 5-6 articles that I read once I get home. I used to use that as commuting material, but since I drive to work now, I set aside time every night to read. It is like being an athlete, you have to work out each and every day. So that is my HR workout.

One of the other duties that keeps me sharp is that I am a faculty member for the Human Capital Institute where I teach classes throughout the year. This broadens my exposure to what HR is dealing with, the challenges, success stories and it is great for networking. Since I am out of the country at this point I will now cover international seminars. I have committed to classes in Nigeria, Amsterdam and Dubai over the next few months.

My personal quest now is Data and Analytics. As a matter of fact I am speaking to a Middle Eastern group in Dubai in January on that specific topic. I read everything I can get my hands on relating to the topic.

2. Some jobs require the incumbent to be very analytical. Others require one to be a strong communicator, and others still require traits like patience, the ability to multitask, self-directedness, comfort with ambiguity, and exceptional attention to detail. Are there any behaviors and/or attributes that you would say are essential to performing the work that you do?

In my current role, I use all those traits.  No one is going to be a master at everything. I always caution people that when you read a job description, concentrate on the top 3 or 4 requirements and build up a narrative around each. Most likely the employer force ranked them in the order of importance.

3. Jobs guru Lou Adler says there are only 4 job types of jobs in the world (producers, improvers, builders, and thinkers). Which type of job are you in?

My current role comprises all 4 in this order: thinker, builder, improver and producer. I use the analogy of builder vs. maintainer.

I love chaotic HR departments, so that I can go in and build out a new model. This is what intrigued me about my current opportunity; there was a 1950 style department that leadership wanted to bring into the 21st century. They wanted HR as a partner in the business. If someone had done that before me and I was being asked to come in and maintain it, that would not be my strength. I get bored easily.

4. Does your job involve either directly or indirectly supervising or managing people? If so, how many direct (or indirect) reports do you have?

My department consist of not only HR; that was what I came over for, but I was promoted within the month to cover Government Relations, IT, Facilities and Administration. The total employee population here is made up of approximately 35 people; my direct reports are the 4 department heads.

This also ties back to self-development because I prepared for these additional duties when they came along.

5. How does what you do impact the business? Think complexity (different types of impacts) and scale (degree of impact). Put another way: Who and what would be impacted if your job wasn’t being done well, and why would it matter that they were impacted?

The most impactful department that I manage is Government Relations. GR manages all the visas, passports, entry and exit visas. In this country that is a huge issue because of the amount of paperwork to get people in the country. Saudi Arabia is not like a lot of countries that you can just visit. There is mounds of paperwork needed to get new employees in the country. Once they are in, there is a need for a national ID (igama), Saudi driver’s license, banking, housing etc.

HR as it was being practiced was mostly transactional; outside of the payroll function there was not a deliverable that was having a major impact on the business.

Our new model has changed that in that we have put more rigor into our hiring process, leadership development, succession planning, T&D and partnering with leadership. I am now on the executive committee so we bring our HR expertise into all major decisions affecting the company.

6. Is your job safe? Rate its safety on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being “seated all day in an air conditioned vault” and 10 being “I’m an astronaut going into space”. If your job isn’t safe, what working conditions (specifically) make it hazardous?

Our offices are located in a compound so no one can just walk in unless they have business to attend. Saudi Arabia unlike a lot of countries in the Middle East does not have or tolerate aberrant behavior. I attribute that to the wealth in the country which is enormous.

7. Is there anything I missed that people should know about your job? Is there anything else you want to say about what you do?

Being a CHRO is the culmination of a lot of hard work and being recognized for the role from 7000 miles away was a prideful moment. This is a dream come true job which has allowed me to build a more defined global HR presence. I am now on the speaker circuit which will allows me to build relationships with HR professionals in this region and beyond.

Being at this level allows me to put everything that I have learned over the years into practice. I inherited a transactional HR department and my goal and the company’s goal is to transform it to a real strategic HR department. 

I did the listening tour throughout the HR department. I interviewed all department heads, program managers, the CEO, Vice Chair and Chairman to get input and insights.

These findings were filtered and enabled me to developed my HR Plan “Next Generation HR Plan” The Roadmap to Excellence which is a 50+ page roadmap of what, how and why. This was presented to senior management who agreed and approved the implementation.

As always, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.