Passion to improve work life fuels HR veteran (National HR Awards)

Winner: Lifetime Achievement Award

Passion to improve work life fuels HR veteran (National HR Awards)
Fiorella Callocchia has provided HR expertise to more than 1,000 businesses during her career. Courtesy: Fiorella Callocchia

Fiorella Callocchia — a nearly 40-year HR veteran and consultant — was given the Lifetime Achievement Award for years of dedication to excellence in the profession and helping the profession to excel through her volunteer work, training and frequent public speaking.

“I’m truly touched and moved. This is beyond monumental for me,” she says, adding that at 61, she’s nowhere near finished her lifetime work.

That’s no surprise for a go-getter who, in 1987, was awarded the Ross A. Hennigar Award for outstanding contribution to the HR profession. Not only had Callocchia obtained her CHRM (Certificate in Human Resource Management) and PIR (Personnel and Industrial Relations) designations through part-time studies after graduating from the University of Toronto in 1979, she’d accelerated up the corporate HR ladder at the same time.

Starting as a personnel assistant at Lever Brothers (Unilever Canada), Callocchia took on increasing responsibility at companies such as General Instruments as HR manager, Avery International as HR director, and finally Citigroup Canada as assistant vice-president of HR — a major coup.

After that transition, Callocchia learned two key things that would influence the rest of her career, she says.

The first was at a conference where she was asked last-minute to do a presentation. Before going ahead, she popped into the washroom — not realizing her microphone was still on.

“I thought, ‘I can either get in my car and drive far away or walk into the room and face these 400 people.’ It was a do-or-die moment and I thought, ‘Fiorella, are you a woman or a mouse?’”

She walked back in. And received a standing ovation from a supportive crowd. She managed to even crack a joke: “You got the audio, thank God you didn’t get the video… That was when I realized I truly loved conference speaking. I could be terrified and still do it and learn from it.”

Switching sectors to finance, Callocchia also learned how transferrable HR skills are between industries: “We fundamentally struggle with the same people changes no matter what sector we are in.”

This enlightenment would play into her decision a few years later to leave her job and launch an HR consultancy, HR Impact, in 1989. Effectively, Callocchia was providing interim HR management services at a time when outsourcing did not exist.

“That decision was one of the biggest risks of my career,” she says. “I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and it took me a while to figure out how to grow my consultancy.”

Fortunately, she continued to work part-time for a friend developing leadership conferences — while also welcoming a son and acting as a volunteer police officef for Peel until 1997. By 1999, she had an office with a few employees.

“Hey, HR is not about the money,” says Callocchia. “It was really about finding the passion, what I loved.”

The founding of HR Impact helped her reconnect with a love of HR that was fading in the corporate world, and since opening its doors — aside from a short period when she consulted for Deloitte — Callocchia has provided HR expertise to more than 1,000 businesses.

“Honestly, there is nothing better than HR, because of the things we end up being a part of,” she says. “People spend their lives at work, and we can change those work lives by helping them find fulfillment and feel valued and appreciated. When people have more joy at work, they help build a better company and better companies build better communities, and better communities build better relationships. HR are really like everyday heroes.”

Because of her love of HR, Callocchia has spent countless volunteer hours giving back, such as being president of the Halton HR Chapter (1989), giving presentations and speeches to peers and the community, as well as many hours of educational time, including teaching CHRP (Certified Human Resources Professional) courses for almost 20 years.

In 2006, Callocchia authored the first HR Audit toolkit and, in 2008, she developed a one-day workshop for the Canadian Payroll Association called “HR Fundamentals.”

“If you have knowledge, it’s incumbent to pass it on. I want to influence aspiring HR professionals,” she says. “Teaching is also the best way to learn.”

Callocchia continues to push herself and has obtained her Certified Management Consultant (CMC) designation, and is a certified facilitator on numerous leadership and team-building assessment tools including leadership styles, Myers-Briggs, Hogan, and team management systems.

These days, she’s keen to tackle a book on emotional intelligence, and is enjoying just how much her love of HR is influencing family members.

“My son, who never asks me for anything, was shortlisted for Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College (and was ultimately accepted). He came to me and said he would really love my expertise to help him prepare for his behavioural style interview — that was one of my proudest moments.”

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