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Darla Moore School of Business

MHR alumnus learns to value the power of data

Sept. 25, 2018

Gary Donald (MHR ’17), Organizational Design Project Manager, The Boeing Company

What did the Master of Human Resources program do for your career?

The MHR program exponentially propelled my career. After undergrad, I worked for a staffing agency doing pretty mundane work in an atmosphere where I felt my opinion wasn’t valued. After two years in the MHR program, I’m now part of a leadership development program at a Fortune 100 company where executives are pulling me into meetings with other business leaders to help solve critical challenges. I’ve come into a company — still in my 20s — at the same level as employees who have worked here for five or 10 years or more. And, not to boast, I more than doubled my starting salary from undergrad. This, if nothing else, quantifies the value the MHR program has given me and so many other graduates.

What was your most influential experience in the program?
My most influential experience in the program was being selected to attend the National Academy of Human Resources conference in New York City. This organization is committed to recognizing HR thought leaders, advancing excellence in the profession and impacting the experiences and education of those studying HR. I was one of two students selected from my program to go so to get this experience was truly gratifying. We were given business cases and provided an opportunity to talk through our recommendations and current HR trends among some of the brightest HR practitioners.

For me, the most rewarding part was the dinner reception. We were able to casually converse with chief human resource officers (CHROs) while some of the best practitioners were recognized for their contributions to the field. It was also during the reception that scholarship recipients and students were recognized. I was proud to represent the University of South Carolina as we won more awards and had more students there than some of the country’s top schools.

How did the program help you succeed or prepare you for success?
The MHR program is designed to give us practical experiences. Our professors created an environment where we could consult with companies, interview CHROs and present our projects to senior business leaders.

First semester, many of us worked with local companies to help reduce attrition or redesign workplace engagement strategies. During my final semester, as part of our strategy course, we had CHROs from GE,  Boeing,  Chevron and HP present how they aligned their HR strategy to the business. Events like these were essential to my development as a business professional because they taught me the importance of tying strategy back to the business and made me comfortable speaking to senior business leaders.

How do you use your degree day-to-day in your job now?
I’m part of Boeing’s HR Career Foundation Program, where I rotate into different HR functions every six months for two years. From an academic standpoint, it’s advantageous to have a solid foundation in various HR disciplines since I only have six months to make an impact in a given role.

However, I think I really see my degree put to use when I’m pitching recommendations to business leaders. Having taken HR metrics, I learned how to analyze data to create a compelling story. I see this at work as I filter through Excel spreadsheets, trying to distinguish between what is and isn’t important.

The MHR professors also taught us to be cognizant of the outcomes and the potential risks of our recommendations. I truly take this into every meeting I attend because it’s not plausible to implement anything when you don’t understand what you’re trying to solve.

What was the most valuable thing you learned in the program?
As I noted earlier, I think the most valuable thing I learned was the power of data. I had taken statistics in undergrad and did well in it, but I don’t think I understood how statistics could be applied to human resource management. I now have a better understanding of what to filter through when I’m working in spreadsheets and how I can use that information to provide a recommendation.

Today, HR is no longer transactional. It’s a strategic part of the business, so it’s in my best interest to back every business recommendation with data. People can refute opinions, but they can’t refute numbers.

What is your fondest memory of the Moore School?
My fondest memory by far is the study abroad trip to Singapore. I spent the majority of my childhood in Italy, and though I grew up in a very diverse community, I never gave thought to how companies operated internationally. In Singapore, we were exposed to companies such as GE, Exxon,  Shell and Singapore Airlines. I’m not sure how many programs offer this kind of practical experience, but I’d advise any MHR candidate to jump on this opportunity.

Aside from the business exposure, we had a phenomenal tour guide in Professor Dalzell, and because of his familiarity, we really saw Singapore up close. The architecture, food and culture were some key highlights for me.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
I’d like to point out the MHR program’s growing commitment to diversity. Research shows that the number of minorities and women significantly decreases at each level of seniority in corporate America. This is the glass ceiling. As a young black professional, I don’t see many people who look like me in corporate America, but I’d like to thank the MHR program for committing to bringing in diverse HR executives. I think it’s important to hear from these various perspectives that are often overshadowed.

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