‘Dragon’ slays crowd at BC HRMA (Editor’s notes)

Kevin O'Leary touts importance of HR
By Todd Humber
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/09/2011

HR professionals from around British Columbia — and across the country — descended on Vancouver in April for the annual B.C. Human Resources Management Association conference and tradeshow.

On the schedule were some big names — including Douglas Merrill, Google’s former chief information officer (who shared secrets with HR professionals on how to be organized in the Google age), and forecaster/futurist Richard Worzel.

But it was a “dragon” that stole the hearts and minds of most HR professionals. Kevin O’Leary, star of the hit CBC show Dragon’s Den, kicked off the conference with an opening plenary that left the Vancouver Convention Centre buzzing.

O’Leary talked about how market forces have made HR’s job much harder. Every single hire is critical and organizations simply can’t afford to make hiring mistakes, he said.

Top management is under fire from shareholders, who don’t have much patience for poor returns and won’t hesitate to push the CEOs and CFOs of underperforming companies out the door. If HR isn’t doing a good job, odds are the company is underperforming, he said.

It was interesting to hear O’Leary — who is about as bottom-line, numbers-driven as they come — talk about the importance of good HR practices. A decade ago, O’Leary admitted he didn’t know or care about HR as a function and probably would have dismissed it as a touchy-feely cost centre.

But now he knows there is a strong correlation between how good an HR department is and the size of the dividend cheque he receives. That kind of attention and pressure from shareholders has turned the heat up on HR — something every HR practitioner I spoke with in the wake of his presentation said was welcome. It’s a challenge HR is more than prepared to meet.

The reaction to his presentation wasn’t exactly a watershed moment for HR but it was notable. At one time, O’Leary’s right-wing business rancour would not have landed well with the HR crowd. And guys like him would have had next to zero interest in speaking to HR professionals.

But how times have changed — O’Leary and HR now speak the same language and are using the same playbook.

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