As senior vice president and CLO of one of the world’s largest banks, Ron Garrow was at the top of the heap.
With 1,200 learning and development professionals in his department at Bank of America (BofA) and the resources of the
highest-revenue bank in America at his disposal, he had the ability to do things other CLOs can only theorize. So when a new opportunity came knocking from MasterCard Worldwide, Garrow thought twice before taking the plunge.
“In no way, shape or form did I have a need to leave,” Garrow said of his work at BofA. “It’s a great company and I miss the people tremendously.”
But the opportunity to take on a new role as group head of global talent acquisition, management and development for MasterCard Worldwide, coupled with a new CEO eager to transform MasterCard into an industry innovator, was too enticing to resist. The move was more than just a new job at a new company. It was a chance to fulfill the promise of strategic learning and development and tightly integrate it into broader talent management initiatives.
From Drama to Development
Garrow found his passion for learning and development in a somewhat unlikely place: the stage. As a child growing up in Buffalo, N.Y., Garrow attended a theatrical school called Studio Arena Theater, participating in productions and even trying out for a few television commercials.
That interest was reignited when he found himself in a training role later in life and had to adapt to the differing needs of learners. It was a different sort of stage, but the skills and abilities from his drama education translated to leading education sessions and training others.
“It then moved to really understanding the impact one could have on individuals through the right communication [and] through different styles of learning and communication,” he said.
Garrow started his career in financial services in item processing — sorting and reconciling checks — while he was an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and took a job with First Union bank, which later merged with Wachovia, as a service center procedure writer after graduating.
“When I was an undergrad, I knew that I wanted to be in the HR and training space, but unfortunately, back in the early ’80s you didn’t have the options around the HR degrees that you have today,” he said.
Working as a procedure writer, while not the typical career entry point for learning professionals, led Garrow directly to the path he’s still on today.
“At that time, back in the early to mid-’80s, there wasn’t a lot of formal training that was done on the job,” he said. “People just shadowed somebody at their desk. So I started creating training for a number of the large projects that I was working on and writing the procedures.”
Garrow moved into training design and development, supporting customer service representatives, and ultimately leading bank manager training. He worked at Wachovia for 19 years, eventually serving as the company’s CLO before joining BofA in 2004. There, he held a series of HR roles in the global human resources department, marketing and consumer affairs departments and business line units before being named HR executive for the chief financial officer group. Garrow was promoted to senior vice president and corporate CLO in September 2008.
It was a particularly challenging time to be in the role. The financial crisis hit, and BofA found itself, along with every other major American bank, at the epicenter. Garrow oversaw a massive influx of new employees from the acquisition of mortgage lender Countrywide in July 2008 and then the acquisition of investment firm Merrill Lynch in September 2008. The challenge was to build out the bank’s unified learning organization among the many rapidly moving pieces. The end result was a hybrid model that capitalized on the company’s global scale but also maintained a team of learning executives who work directly with BofA’s business units.
“It has a decentralized feel, aligned with the business so that the learning executive is very much sitting at the table with the business,” Garrow said of the BofA learning approach. “But we leverage the power of centralized processes such as design [and] development so you’re not doing separate processes with separate tools, but you’re really harnessing the power of that.”
Learning is a critical lever supporting business objectives, but it reaches its fullest potential for impact when integrated with talent planning, recruitment, leadership development and succession planning. It was the promise of that integrated talent management approach that sparked Garrow’s move to MasterCard.
New CEO, New Opportunity
Garrow joined MasterCard in April 2010 close to the time the company named its next CEO, Ajay Banga.
“What attracted me to the job was it was truly a role that you had talent acquisition, talent management, all your executive development and learning in one job,” he said. “The second piece that was attractive was a new CEO starting July 1.”
Banga, formerly the company’s president and chief operating officer, took over the reins from outgoing CEO Robert Selander. Garrow met with both men as he considered the move.
“I was very energized by Ajay,” he said. “You see his vision of really transforming a company that five years ago was an association; [the company went public through an initial public offering in 2006]. The opportunity to be part of the cultural change that was taking place with this company was attractive.”
But it was also what was possible with MasterCard’s 5,000 employees that drew him to the job. After managing a department of 1,200 serving BofA’s 280,000 employees, Garrow looked forward to working in depth on a smaller scale.
“I felt like I could really get my arms around the top 200 leaders of this company, have a point of view and really help drive some changes through leadership,” he said.
Since taking over, Garrow has been working on developing a strategic human capital plan aligned with Banga’s vision for transforming the company.
“Ajay has been very clear around what we’ll call his ‘competing to win’ leadership behaviors,” Garrow said, adding that these include empowerment, accountability, thoughtful risk taking and a sense of urgency. “Those behaviors are the cornerstones of the cultural change he’s creating here at MasterCard, and then you frame that up [with] how that will help us be a better company.”
Integrating Learning, Talent and Culture
Banga’s vision formed the starting point for Garrow’s approach to an integrated human capital strategy for MasterCard’s entry-level employees all the way to senior leadership.
“It’s foundationally tying that into the way we assess our talent as we’re bringing [it] in, [as well as] to how we on-board the [and] develop their skills and capabilities,” Garrow said.
At BofA, Garrow said he was largely working within the realm of training and development. But at MasterCard, he has the opportunity to view the whole process and system and create meaningful changes to the company’s talent strategy.
“It’s very powerful to be in that place where you can thread all that together,” he said. “That’s where the role of the CLO [or] chief talent officer needs to go. It’s got to be somebody that’s looking holistically from the talent acquisition side all the way through the executive development side of the house, including the learning, [so] that you’re able to respond to the business needs and to the changes you’re trying to drive in the business.”
Today’s learning professionals, with their ability to pull the talent levers to drive business, are just the people needed to fulfill the vision.
“The capability is there,” Garrow said. “The struggle is in order for us to really get there, you’ve got to break down the walls between the talent acquisition side and the learning side of the house and you’ve got to look for those opportunities to drive that integration.”
“The risk we have still in our industry is too many people specialize in one side of it — pure learning — or the other side of it, which is more the LD, OD, talent management side. What I’ve found in my past roles is that the people that played between those two spaces were much better learning professionals because they understood both.”
Garrow is in the midst of an organizational assessment, so his plans are still in the early stages.
“But what’s going to be important as I lay out my organization structure is what are those integration points that you’ve got to solidify around acquisition, learning and all of your talent management activities,” he said.
Taking a long-term strategic view of talent has been difficult, if not impossible, during the past two years. With organizations focused on execution and carrying out the basics in a challenging market, strategic thinking doesn’t come easily. Garrow said that’s starting to shift.
“There’s a renewed focus on retention of talent and how to develop talent,” he said. “Employees have gone through a lot the past couple of years, and they’re tired. They’ve had to not only deal with the emotion of a tough couple of years in the corporate environment; they’ve also dealt with their own personal situation — their economics, everything that’s come with it. So whether you were at work or at home, you could not free yourself of the pressures going on.”
Early numbers indicate the long-anticipated exodus of workers from their current workplaces has begun, particularly the skilled, highly educated professionals that make up the pool of high-performing, high-potential employees. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the quits rate — defined as the percentage of people who have voluntarily left their jobs — has crept steadily upward in private industry over the past year. In April 2010, nearly 2.1 million people voluntarily left their jobs, up from just the prior month, when 1.5 million quit.
“There’s all this concern that if the market turns, people are going to start moving around,” Garrow said. “We all know that movement costs a lot of dollars as far as the loss of key talent.”
Garrow said MasterCard weathered the recession well, but that doesn’t mean the company, or its talent managers, can sit still.
“What we do have to do to focus on our business is [ask,] ‘How do you create the innovation and the excitement in the workforce so that people start feeling like they’re contributing again to the future of the company?’” he said. “For us, it’s going to be about innovation — what are those products and services that consumers really want from a payments perspective, and how do we meet that need? That does bring certain renewed energy.”