Meet Our Advisory Board Member: Mark Englizian (Senior HR Roles with Walgreens,, Microsoft)

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Brittany Hink

Mark Englizian recently joined the Advisory Board for Human Resources IQ. Englizian has extensive experiences in retail, technology and hospitality industries. Most recently, Englizian was the Chief Human Resources Officer for the US division of the global enterprise Walgreens Boots Alliance.
During this Q&A I asked Englizian about his past experiences in the HR world, what some of the challenges that HR professionals are facing today, what the future of HR looks like and even how mobile transactions will impact human resources.
I want to welcome Mr. Englizian to Human Resources IQ and I am truly looking forward to putting his expertise to great use!
BH: I love to hear the background stories of how individuals got into the role of HR. Not many people thought right off the bat ‘Oh I am going to be an HR professional’
ME: No, actually when I was getting my education in the 70’s HR didn’t exist. Companies had personnel departments and it wasn’t exactly something that you aspired to do. So a lot of people my age kind of fell into it-in one way or another. Either because they went through a purposeful transition like I did, or because they were working for an employer that needed somebody who had some credibility and was a good performer and leader. Of course now you can go to school and major in it and get a masters degree from a number of really good schools.
I was an "on the job" learner. I walked into something that I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I describe myself as a lifelong learner and I continue to feel that way today. I’m at a point that I feel like I have a lot to offer other people and a lot to contribute, but I still feel like I am learning every day about human behavior and organizations and I am an avid reader so I love learning through reading.
BH: So, how did you get into the HR profession?
ME: I was encouraged by some of my friends to get into business through human resources. So, I started my HR career having no background in HR at all. I had some life experience and 10 years in education. Over the next 27 or 28 years, I worked as an HR professional, thoroughly enjoyed it and found my niche.
I loved learning about business and had some excellent coaches and mentors not only who knew HR but who knew business. The interesting thing is, when I look back on it, these opportunities came my way either because something that happened as a company…or a subsequent employer found me or knew me and gave me the opportunity.
BH: In your experience what has been the biggest impact on the HR world? Where did you see the most changes throughout your career and how has the profession changed?
ME: Big differences. The visibility of the function has literally came out of the basement and it’s now a legitimate profession. There is still a lot of administrative work in HR that needs to be done, but it is much more than that. There is work in HR that has significant business value. Companies like GE and Pepsi and others have been really good with the CEOs saying ‘probably the most important leadership selection I can make is my HR leader.’ There have been huge advances in technology and innovations in performance management and pay; it is a very robust field. A very broad discipline and a lot has changed over my years in HR.
BH: You touched on technologies. Right now what do you think are the top 4 or even 5 technologies that most HR leaders or HR professionals would be most interested in learning about?
ME: It depends on the size of your organization. If you are in a large company, lets say 50,000 employees or more, you are very focused on some kind of enterprise solution. An ERP, where you can bring a lot of systems, technologies, tasks, machine running time and machine calculating etc. all added into a single system. So everything from time and attendance, to pay, to benefits, to leave administration, to a robust database where you can report on your workforce and do all of the compliance reports that you have to do, along with all of the ad-hoc requests for data. Having that big of a system that does all of those things is very, very important and it’s on the mind of almost every HR leader I know. Either they are trying to figure out how to make what they have work, or they are trying to find a better solution than they have, or they are trying to bring together all of the piece parts.
Then you have all of the vendors. You have a vendor to run your 401k plan, your stock plan, your benefit plan, and trying to bring all of these together under one roof. You have a learning management system, you have a recruiting system, applicant tracking, and you’re trying to get all of these pieces to talk to each other and be integrated with payroll and it’s just a huge headache. It’s probably the biggest thing on the mind of HR leaders in large companies.
If you’re in a smaller company you tend to have niche problems. I am working with an education company of charter schools and they have a need for using technology for scheduling classes and teacher resources. I was absolutely astounded at how many systems solutions out there in that market. I just started doing Google searches, I wrote down two pages on my yellow-pad of different vendors and products, and that barely scratched the surface. Where there use to be one or two products, now there are hundreds. There are little start-up companies everywhere trying to find a niche.
BH: Yes, there is defiantly an expansion, or I guess I should say explosion of different start-ups within HR Technology… It’s amazing to look at the different vendor categories, things I couldn’t even wrap my head around and more and more are being developed every day. Then you have some of the leading smaller companies being bought up by the really big players.
ME: There’s a lot of interesting things happening on the consulting side too, that supports HR. It used to be there were three or four firms and now over the last 20 years or so, there’s been an explosion of all kinds of firms doing: IT consulting, benefits consulting, you name it. If you’re an HR leader of a large corporation, you are at the hub of a wheel that is incredibly complex. You have the disciplines, the technology, the leadership challenges, and you are trying to be relevant to your workforce and be visible. It’s a pretty demanding job for sure.
BH: What has been one of the most accomplishing things throughout your career that you achieved?
ME: There would be a couple of things that come to mind. One: the success of the pay strategy that we put in at Amazon, I think has been really-rather remarkable. The other thing I would go back to would be at practically every one of these employment opportunities, I have had the opportunity to take a look at what a company was doing or what they were spending and find opportunities to repurpose or optimize the activity or the program or the spend to more closely align it with the strategy of the business. It always amazed me to go into a new company and find things that were mismatched.
I think the other contribution that I would feel really good about is really bringing a style to everyone of the opportunities that I had. It was basically a servant= leadership model. Where I did everything I could to spend time with teams, and employees in the workforce, with leadership, to really be a person. To let people know that I wanted to learn from them as well as have them learn from me and basically set a model for good character, good ethics, integrity, and all of those things. I saw a lot of people, especially a lot of leaders who were anything but that. I felt like there was an opportunity for me to step in and say ‘here’s what an authentic leader acts like, here’s what a person with integrity acts like, here’s an example or a model for what leadership behavior should and could be.’ I feel very good as I look back on all of those years about that.
BH: You mentioned you brought your own style. Before you went into different organization, was company culture something that you looked at? Or once you started at the organization, did you revamp the HR culture?
ME: Culture was something I would typically have very close to the top of my mind when I considered an employment opportunity. When I left hospitality after 9 years I very deliberately said I wanted to get into the technology industry, because I was fascinated by it-this was the mid-90’s. You had all of these new companies coming on the scene and it was kind of the hot new industry and I felt like that’s where I wanted to be. Of course, when I looked at Microsoft I spent a lot of time talking to of people who worked there or had worked there. It wasn’t like I made a decision necessarily on what I heard, but it prepared me for what I found and what I thought would be the path to be successful once I got there. Amazon in the early 2000’s didn’t have a great reputation, especially in HR, I almost didn’t go there, and they had to twist my arm a little. I was thrilled they did. At Walgreens, one of the reasons I went there was because I thought it would be fantastic to work for a 100-year-old company. With all of the history and the success and having a footprint of over 8,000 stores in the country. Every one of these companies had a unique flavor to it but then once you get there you find all kinds of sub-cultures you didn’t know existed and you say ‘how can I make this better? What are our engagement surveys telling us? Where do we think the culture could be improved? Would it be important for everyone to know how leaders should behave? There were companies that I chose not to go to work for based on my experience with their culture.
BH: What kind of changes do you anticipate over the next 5-10 within the HR world?
ME: You know I have been thinking a lot about that and I am a little bit conflicted. I think that one option is that we will just kind of continue on the path that we’ve been on. Which is basically continuing to evolve organically, as business goes, so HR will go. There have been a lot of organizations that have gotten bigger through consolidations and mergers and acquisitions in their industries. That has made for a lot of complexities. Whether it is domestic or global and HR organizations will have to adapt to that. That would be the one path, just more of the same knowing that as another decade goes by things will just get bigger and more complex and more challenging.
I think the other option is that we will see some kind of revolution due to a lot of changes in the economy and in the workforce. A lot of people are choosing to work for themselves, they are choosing to work for smaller companies. Big isn’t necessarily better anymore like it used to be. I think HR organizations are going to have to get much more flexible, they are going to have to innovate a lot more. Leaders are going to be demanding that you find talent and you are going to have to be a lot more flexible with talent in order to get them to work for you. I just think that there could be some really big things happen that could just change the way we do HR.
BH: There is a big transition for retailers to go more towards paying for items with mobile devices or even preordering and paying on a mobile device versus going in store. How is this going effect the HR for those companies?
ME: I love to see technologies emerge. The whole retailing model has been revolutionized in the last 20 years by big ecommerce players as well as ecommerce in general. And what you described is kind of expected and pretty soon that will be commonplace and that will be the way you pay for things. That changes some of the demographics of the workforce. All of the sudden somebody that might be 18 years or age and doesn’t have a lot of skill who could have gotten a job as a cashier at McDonalds before, that job isn’t there because it’s been automated away. I think that there will be a premium put on education for people coming into the workforce. And I think that HR organizations will do themselves a favor by reaching out into schools and really help students at the high school and college level better prepare for the kinds of jobs that are there and the kinds of education and experiences to get. That is something that I did 25 years ago in the hotel business. I would go to career fairs and talk to people that were interested in hospitality careers and what it’s going to be like. I think that reaching out to the youth and helping them prepare for careers would be a very helpful and proactive thing for HR professionals to do. Especially if they are in the talent acquisition space.
Organizations are going to have to think differently about retention because expecting to retain someone for 10-15 years is just not realistic anymore. Organizations are going to have to figure out a way to have realistic objectives for what retention looks like. They are going to have to be much more open minded about letting talent spread its wings and go do other things. The whole definition of loyalty needs to be redefined- organization by organization. Frankly, people in their 20’s and 30’s want to spread their wings and want a lot of different kinds of experiences. They want not-for-profit experiences as well as for profit experiences and there’s a lot of philosophical shifting that is happening very subtlety and I think a lot of this does impact how we do HR.
BH: For someone looking to get into a senior level position within Human Resources, what advice would you give them?
ME: Well I think having a solid education is very helpful, regardless of the discipline. I think that the habits and the background and the ability to exercise and grow your intellect; be able to reason, and use logic- all of those are skills you use in higher education would always encourage people to do that.
Another thing, make sure you’re always learning. And you really can’t fake character. I am not aware of any industry where character isn’t important. For people regardless of their age to be respectful of others and to always represent the truth, and to take responsibility for themselves and their own actions. Those characteristics are really important and I always encourage people to really sharpen character attributes. Whether its through a mentor, through taking courses, its really important.
One other thing, this is one of my pet peeves- a lot of people think of advancement in a very ladder- traditional way. Up and to the right. A bigger job, a bigger title, a bigger pay: that’s how you grow a career. I really try to encourage people to think about growing a career with a diverse set of experiences, rather than bigger jobs and bigger titles. I have lost count of how many hundreds of people have looked me in the eye and go ‘well that’s a lateral move-why would I do that?’ Well the reason you would do that is because you get to learn something you don’t know how to do today.
Everything isn’t always ‘up and to the right.’ Building a portfolio where you’ve had a lot of different experiences in different geographies, different business units, and different industries, working for different types of managers is really the best advice I could ever give anyone. You’re a little bit running uphill always in HR when you are dealing with business people. Business people don’t expect HR people to have business acumen or to know the business. But one way to solve that is to establish credibility from having been there. From having worked a year in marketing or having worked 2 years in sales or having done a finance analyst job for some time-whatever it is. That not only helps round out your portfolio of skills, but it helps establish business alignment and more instant credibility with leaders. Anything you can do to improve the chances that you will be heard and listened to and sought after, I think is really good.