By Katheryn Sillo
Kevin Horan, Vice President of Human Resources and Corporate Services at International Lease Finance Corporation, joined a panel of peers at the 2013 Human Capital Leadership Forum in San Francisco this past spring to discuss leading a global HR business and the unique talent challenges international organizations face across cultures. Today Horan dives under the surface on managing multiple geographic regions, as well as uncovering essential leadership skills. Horan joins Argyle Executive Forum again at the upcoming Human Capital Leadership Forum on October 31, alongside Varun Bhatia, SVP & CHRO, Levi Strauss & Co.; Bina Chaurasia, Senior Vice President and Head of Group Function Human Resources, Ericsson; Dianne Mills, SVP – Global Head of HR, PayPal and other HR leaders.
[Katheryn Sillo] Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
[Kevin Horan] Immediately prior to ILFC, I served as VP, Human Resources for TechnoServe, an international NGO whose mission is to eliminate poverty through entrepreneurship and business development. At the time this innovative organization was experiencing significant growth and needed to establish the HR function globally, covering all of 24 developing nations where it operates. I led this exciting initiative, challenging my team to truly think “outside the box” in search for a solution that would position HR as a strategic partner with the local leadership rather than merely an Administrative or Personnel function.
Prior to TechnoServe, I spent 23 years in the airline industry – working for legacy carriers such as Pan Am, American, and US Airways as well as regional carriers, e.g. American Eagle. I held a variety of operational and leadership roles – always believing that the best leader knows the business from the ground up.
Can you talk to us a little bit about your role at ILFC and your history with the company?
I joined ILFC about 18 months ago as the final member of a new executive team. ILFC has gone through an incredible transformation over the past three years – and continues to evolve today. In my multi-faceted role, I oversee the company’s global Human Resources team in addition to Corporate Real Estate, Communications and Flight Operations teams. In short, no one day is like the last – nor will the future be anything like today!
What are some tactics to help manage so many geographic regions?
Key to managing a global function of any kind, not just HR, is to “suspend your traditional thinking.” Over the years I have learned that asking questions, often very detailed ones, is critical for understanding various regions of the world. It is also important to study cultures and history. Often, learning the political history of a nation gives you a better sense of the employment legislation and mindsets that are at play in that region. For example, when working in locations in Africa, I looked to the nation’s colonial history and tried to understand workplace customs, as they would be based on the English, French, or Dutch system. Being able to recognize those similarities often makes it easier to start the conversations and discovery.
“In short, no one day is like the last – nor will the future be anything like today!”
What is the most important skill needed to be in a leadership role for the HR department?
The ability to think like a businessperson who understands the job at hand –not to think only like an HR person solely grounded in “Best Practice.” Best Practice is just that – something that worked best for someone else. To be an effective leader in HR, you have to recognize the intricacies of the business and understand the goals the organization is setting out to achieve. The right approach for the organization is always best drawn based on your knowledge and experience. HR people often think the other way around (i.e. Best Practice says it should be this way, therefore we should do it this way) – and too often that approach causes us to lose our impact at the executive table and in the Boardroom.
What are some of the skills you look for in your employees?
We look for leaders. The key competencies for success at ILFC are entrepreneurialism, strong business acumen, comfort with ambiguity, and a great sense of humor. We believe in hard work, but also in having a good time.
What is the best part of being the Vice President of Human Resources and Corporate Services?
Aside from working with the best and brightest team in the business, being on the leadership team tasked with taking the organization to the next level is what makes this the best job anyone could have. My job is also ever changing – it keeps me focused and excited about what I do every day.
“The ability to think like a businessperson who understands the job at hand –not to think only like an HR person solely grounded in ‘Best Practice.'”
Can you tell us one past experience you had and the lesson you took away from it?
When I first started my HR career – I was a Labor Relations supervisor, working primarily with union representatives. While many would run away from such a role, it grounded me in a way that is often forgotten by leaders (not just in HR, but throughout an organization). The lesson is to always think about how a decision will read and/or play out at any level in an organization. HR’s role is to be there for the employee – not just in Benefits or Compensation – but also as an advocate at the executive or board table. Remembering we are entrusted to speak up for all only makes us, and our organizations, stronger and more inclusive.
I think an important takeaway from any HR-related story is the recognition of the great things people are capable of accomplishing when as an individual or as part of a team they are led and supported with inspiration. As HR professionals, we can never lose sight of the value and role leadership and motivation contribute towards accomplishing an organization’s goals.
Kevin M. Horan is Vice President, Human Resources and Corporate Services at International Lease Finance Corporation (ILFC).
Mr. Horan joined ILFC in March 2012. He is responsible for ILFC’s Human Resources and Corporate Services, including workforce management, employee relations, compensation and benefits, and diversity and organizational development. He also oversees ILFC’s Flight Operations, Communications, and Facilities.
Prior to ILFC, Mr. Horan served as Vice President, Human Resources for TechnoServe, an international non-profit focused on economic development and entrepreneurship initiatives aimed to support the poor in developing countries. He led the development of a global approach to Human Resources management and streamlined processes in each of the 24 countries TechnoServe operates. Simultaneously, he served as an adjunct professor for Global Human Resources at Georgetown University.
Prior to TechnoServe, Mr. Horan spent 20 years in the aviation industry serving in various positions, including Managing Director, Human Resources and Benefit Services at US Airways, where he was involved in the re-design of Human Resources during the merger between US Airways and America West Airlines. He also worked in various capacities in Human Resources and Operations at American Airlines, AMR Eagle, Pan American World Airways, and People Express Airlines.
Mr. Horan earned his MBA in International Human Resources from the University of Dallas and his B.A. from Davidson College in Davidson, NC.