Hanna Resource Group is pleased to profile 2008’s Lyle Hanna Volunteer Spirit Award recipient, Julie Burwell! Julie currently works for Lexmark, International, Inc. as a Human Resource Business Partner. Julie is also the past president and a current board member of the Ronald McDonald House of the Bluegrass.
Tell us a little about your background.
I’ve worked in various HR roles for more than 35 years. Before I joined Lexmark in 2004, I served as HR Director for four Lexington companies, including Kentucky Educational Television and Good Samaritan Hospital. I also ran my own HR consulting business for two years.
I’ve held volunteer SHRM leadership positions on the local, state and national levels, and am currently a member of the SHRM Ethics Hearing Committee. Outside of HR, my key volunteer work has been as a board member (and one year as president) of the Ronald McDonald House of the Bluegrass in Lexington, Ky.
Can you tell us about your current job?
For the last 12 years, I have been an HR business partner at the corporate headquarters of Lexmark in Lexington, Ky. Currently, my client groups include global supply chain, supplies marketing, and managed print services. I’m essentially the HR manager for these organizations, helping the leadership team reach their strategic business objectives through applying effective HR principles. It’s a particularly gratifying role because of its breadth. On any given day/week, I could be working on leadership coaching and development, employee relations, compensation, strategic workforce planning, talent management, performance management, and/or succession management. I am grateful to be a trusted confidante of our leadership team, using my knowledge of HR and their business to help them achieve their mission.
How and when did you get into the HR field?
After graduating from Tates Creek High School in Lexington, I headed to the University of Colorado Boulder for business school. There were three degree options: finance, marketing, and business administration. I wasn’t great at math, so business administration it was! I later transferred to the University of Kentucky and focused more on HR-related courses, for which I seemed to have an immediate affinity. I worked full time as a night manager at a Burger King and went to class during the day.
When I graduated from UK with a degree in Business Administration, I set out to find a job the way it was done in 1980: with the phone book. I sent a cover letter and resume to any company I thought would be large enough to have a department then called “personnel.” I didn’t care if there was a job opening; I just wanted them to know who I was when they did have a position.
I started at the beginning of the Yellow Pages and sent hundreds of letters, but I hit the jackpot at “Hospitals and Hotels.” Robert Baker, the HR director at St. Joseph Hospital, didn’t have any openings but he remembered what it was like trying to get his first job, so he agreed to an interview. Several months later, he was seeking an employee benefits coordinator and he remembered me. I was put in charge of new employee orientation, workers’ compensation, and employee benefits. I met every single new employee, so the employees knew me and sought me out with their questions. That responsibility meant a lot to me, and I owe it all to Mr. Baker!
What did winning the Lyle Hanna volunteer Spirit Award mean to you?
The award was tremendously meaningful for two reasons: First, it is important for me to give back and support organizations whose missions go beyond just making money. Second, I’m honored to receive an award named for Lyle Hanna, whose decades of work in HR have helped to elevate the profession.
What is a way you have seen HR positively impact a company?
When it’s done right, an organization with robust HR creates a fair and equitable workplace where people want to come and do their best work. An effective HR organization has the ability to see across the entire organization and to apply people solutions to the business so that the company’s objectives are met. One personal recollection of HR’s tangible effects occurred when I was the HR director for a Lexington benefits administration company. Acordia of Lexington, Inc. grew from 50 to 500 employees in about three years and so, for the first time, the president could no longer stand up and see all the company’s employees from his desk. He was a gifted leader, but now had to answer the question, “How do you lead when you can’t see everyone and don’t know everyone?” HR could help with that, and we did.
What is your favorite thing about human resources?
I’m grateful that I’ve been a part of many wonderful organizations, and I find it gratifying to work behind the scenes to help a company succeed. My first HR director role at Good Samaritan Hospital was incredibly stressful — hospitals deal in the delicate management of patient care and are like their own cities, with all the amenities and are open to the public 24/7, 365 days a year. At the same time, we were working hard to remain financially solvent, so I learned there that when you have a “burning platform,” people will work together like no other time.
What advice do you have for newbies in the field?
The first is something I also learned at Good Samaritan: You can be effective or you can be liked by everyone; you can’t be both.
Second, be scrupulous about who you hire. Everything starts there. No matter what kind of company, hiring the right people for the right jobs and creating an environment where they can do their best work is the most important thing that you can do.
What do you forecast will be important to this field moving forward?
I think the future of HR will include a renewed emphasis on ethics. Broadly, of course, this means helping ensure that companies are doing the right things even as they struggle in increasingly complex and competitive global environments. It also means being scrupulous about the vast amount of private information we collect about our employees, ensuring that it’s adequately stored and protected. Those are just two examples that underscore the increasing importance of the field of HR.
Hanna Resource Group is so grateful that Julie took the time to share so much HR-related wisdom with us, and we look forward to sharing more insights in future profiles!