Conrado Paiva grew up in Recife, a city in the northeast of Brazil known for the best Carnival in the world. Brazil was his home, and he stayed there for college during which he worked at a local Coca-Cola bottler, dreaming of one day completing an MBA.
His career progressed at Coca-Cola—he occupied a number of financial roles over nearly ten years—and he moved around various cities in Brazil. He says he kept postponing the dream, though, until one day he found himself at a crossroads.
Conrado (pictured below, right) had moved into his first HR role at Coca-Cola, when along came a job offer from a private equity fund. He was at a career crossroads, and it became clear that the road ahead was leading to an MBA at HEC Paris.
He is now part of the Johnson & Johnson Human Resources Leadership Development Program, a two-year rotational program that enables recently graduated MBAs to gain a full immersion in the world of HR.
“The program’s objective is to foster future leaders who will fuel the HR senior leadership pipeline of J&J, and shape the future of work for our company,” he explains.
Conrado fits a trend noticed by the Career Center at HEC Paris—an increasing demand for graduates in HR roles, and more companies designing HR development programs for MBAs.
Indeed, it was the Career Center that suggested Conrado reconsider HR while he was on the MBA. When he was unsure of his path, his career counsellor asked him right away, ‘What are your feelings about coming back to HR?’
“I realized that I still had a lot to learn in the field, and that I could have a great value proposition—finance background, HR experience, and soon a top-notch MBA,” he says.
“The moments that mattered the most for me as a manager were related to the development of my team: coaching individuals to achieve their goals and become their best self.”
The HEC Paris MBA, Conrado explains, was instrumental in preparing him for the J&J program, helping him develop the learning agility needed to succeed, alongside the skills to find and quickly digest information from a certain industry or market.
“J&J has a relationship-based culture,” he adds, “which is very similar to the HEC Paris environment. The small, diverse, and collaborative cohort of the school has pushed me to build strong connector skills, which I believe are essential for an HR leader.”
MBAs are looking at HR more and more as a potential career path, explains Caroline MacDonald (pictured below, right), international employer engagement manager at HEC Paris.
“The roles are becoming much more creative. There’s a need for innovators, people with business skills who can come in and use their people skills,” she says. “You still need people dealing with people […] to make things happen in these large companies.”
As well as Johnson & Johnson, Caroline confirms the HEC Paris MBA graduates have recently also started HR careers at Amazon, American Express, and other companies.
“It’s not a massive wave, but it’s a new area of opportunity for somebody who has come from finance or another industry background and thinks, ‘I want to have a greater impact on people’,” she says.
Clodimir Bogaert (pictured below right), an HEC Paris MBA graduate from 2016 who works as the HR business partner of the advisory arm of KPMG Singapore, is at the forefront of the changing face of HR.
“HR is getting more and more relevant to companies,” he says. “I think an overarching reason is the fact that in today’s context, being innovative is key to differentiating from your competitors in the market.”
For Clodimir, disrupting the market with innovative products or services will not depend only on your top six C-Suite executives.
It is going to be your front-line managers, who interact every day with customers, that understand best the future needs of their clients. To create an environment that fosters innovation and attracts/keeps your best talent onboard, you need a strong HR function aligned with the company’s strategy.
The MBA plays an integral role in that. “Through an MBA you can understand better what the needs of a business are,” Clodimir explains. “HR needs to become more and more proactive in matching the right roles with the right employees. If you don’t understand the business, you won’t be able to match well.
“Prior to my MBA at HEC Paris I had a relatively good understanding of HR, but not an understanding of how the other parts of a firm are related to each other. It helped me gain an understanding of the overall strategy and the HR strategy within.”
That understanding will only become more important as technology continues to push companies to adapt to the challenges posed by automation and artificial intelligence.
“The workforce is changing at a rapid pace […] and the higher leadership positions will need a broad understanding of how all the elements come together,” asserts Clodimir.
“In HR, you need to be able to look into the future and know what skills will be most in demand, and link that to recruitment, learning and development, talent management, and predict how all of that will come together.”
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