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The coronavirus crisis thrusts corporate HR chiefs into the spotlight

In a pandemic, a chief people officer can make or break a company.


The Economist | March 24, 2020


The Economist

The Economist article, “The coronavirus crisis thrusts corporate HR chiefs into the spotlight,” cites the Russell Reynolds Associates study, “Fortune 100 CHRO Market Trends Between 2012 and 2019.” The article is excerpted below.

When the financial crisis rocked the business world in 2007-09, boardrooms turned to corporate finance chiefs. A good CFO could save a company; a bad one might bury it. The covid-19 pandemic presents a different challenge—and highlights the role of another corporate function, often unfairly dismissed as soft. Never before have more firms needed a hard-headed HR boss.

The duties of chief people officers, as human-resources heads are sometimes called, look critical right now. They must keep employees healthy; maintain their morale; oversee a vast remote-working experiment; and, as firms retrench, consider whether, when and how to lay workers off. Their in-trays are bulging.

A higher profile entails new expectations. HR was once the domain of history graduates and masters in labour relations; nowadays plenty hold business degrees. Although most firms recruit them from HR jobs, more are choosing outsiders or unconventional candidates. According to Russell Reynolds Associates, an executive-search firm, HR heads appointed to Fortune 100 companies between 2016 and 2019 were around 50% likelier than earlier hires to have worked abroad, in general management or in finance.

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