Marla Allan didn’t plan on a career in human resources,
but one of her early managers thought it would be a
While in university and working part-time at the
Hudson’s Bay Company, she was tapped for the company’s leader-ship
training program and identified as a “people person.”
After more than 20 years working in a variety of industries in
Canada and the U.S., where she enjoyed many VP roles, Allan
returned to Canada. Today, she is vice president, HR at Grand
The 136-year-old Canadian company evolved from a retail and
commercial office products supplier to a commercial and online
provider of business solutions and services – including technol-ogy,
furniture, cleaning and break room supplies and traditional
For seven years now, Allan has been managing a full-service HR
department that delivers a complete range of programs and ser-vices
to Grand & Toy’s 1,000 Canadian employees.
HR Professional sat down with her recently to talk about the
fast pace and diversity of her HR career, and the challenge
of staying ahead of today’s digital curve – particularly in an
When did you decide you wanted a
career in human resources?
Marla Allan: I wanted to be a teacher; however, the year I was aca-demically
ready to apply, there was a surplus of teachers and the
college I applied to did not accept any applicants. For a couple of
years, I attended college, worked in social services and continued
to work part-time at the Hudson’s Bay Company. I knew I wanted
to work with people in some capacity, and fortunately I was guided
into the HR field early in my career. I was selected for the Bay’s
leadership training program, a blended classroom and rotational
program. In those days, the company decided where to place you.
Someone assigned me to personnel, and I’ve remained in the field
because the variety of work and opportunities are extensive.
What was your first HR job?
MA: My first job was an HR assistant, primarily responsible for
recruiting, payroll and HR admin – and getting coffee for the boss.
Tell me about your current job. What are your main
areas of responsibility?
MA: At Grand & Toy, I lead a great team of HR professionals
who run a full-service HR function. My team is involved in set-ting
strategy, aligning culture, talent management, organizational
development, learning and development, HR services (compensa-tion,
payroll and benefits), internal communications, translation
services and corporate social responsibility. The team of 18 sup-ports
a national organization focused on business-to-business,
e-commerce and distribution of office products and services.
Grand & Toy is a separate banner within the Office Depot fam-ily.
We operate fairly independently and we also participate in and
leverage many of the corporate team’s great programs.
What do you love about your job?
MA: I love being an HR exec because of the variety of the work
we do and the multiple stakeholders we support. I learn something
every day. The pace is fast and we have the opportunity to run an
HR organization that is involved in everything from influencing
culture and change to enabling people to become the best they can
be and make a great contribution.
What are the challenges you experience in your job?
MA: At Grand & Toy, our company is constantly innovating so we
can help Canadian companies stay competitive. We are reinvent-ing
how we go to market and how we continue to add value and
provide great service to our internal customers (the employees),
while enabling the organization with the right skills and culture to
transform and innovate.
What’s key to leading HR during a difficult time for a
MA: It’s a blend of being curious about what is happening in the
business world and having solid business acumen and passion for
how your company serves its customers and makes money. What
levers can HR push to increase profitability and manage expense?
In today’s environment, HR teams must be out in front of that.
We must provide solutions that support the business as the work
environment transforms. HR needs a broad skill set to be credible
and to add the most value to the organization; we must be aware
Photo courtesy of Marla Allan
HRPROFESSIONALNOW.CA ❚ OCTOBER 2018 ❚ 53