HR Influencers

Professional evolution

By Lisa Gordon

From the launch of her human resources career in South Africa to her current position as director of HR and corporate services at Express Scripts Canada, Anthea Gomez has been guided by professionalism, an enthusiastic desire to learn and the pursuit of innovation in the workplace.

Gomez works at Express Scripts Canada’s head office in Mississauga, Ont. The company’s core business is the adjudication of health benefit insurance claims. Through its Active Pharmacy division, Express Scripts Canada provides pharmacy services to thousands of Canadian patients while working with large insurance companies, including Health Canada.

When HR Professional spoke to Gomez, she shared how her strong professional values have helped her steer the course through constant evolution at Express Scripts Canada – and how the company’s significant growth demands nimble flexibility from both Gomez and her team of 13 HR professionals.

When did you decide you wanted a career in human resources?

Anthea Gomez: I worked for a textile manufacturer in South Africa and I was hired to work in payroll as part of the HR function. My exposure to HR through payroll and another opportunity in training at the same organization was my first exposure to the profession. After that, I decided I wanted to seriously study the field and continue my career.

What was your first HR job?

AG: At the job mentioned above, I was hired into the payroll function and I also got to conduct interviews, which provided my first experience with recruiting. Then the organization decided to establish a training function and I was hired to support the training manager. We developed organization-specific training that included skills-specific training as well as management training

Tell me about your current job. What are your main areas of responsibility?

AG: Currently, I’m director of human resources and corporate services. I was hired by Express Scripts Canada 13 years ago this November to establish the HR function. The organization was at a point where they determined they needed an HR leader. The organization and the HR function have grown over that time to this particular juncture where my role includes talent acquisition, payroll, benefits, employee relations, organizational development including management development and skill-specific training. On the corporate services side, I have responsibility for our privacy and compliance functions and translation services as we publish in both official languages, as well as corporate administration.

Sometimes HR leaders need to be provocative and rock the boat; but do have a sense of humour along the way.

What do you love about your job?

AG: I love the continuous evolution of the business. From being hired to establish the HR function, to the launching of the new Active Pharmacy business, to a different way the organization is beginning to manage projects, it all has an impact on how we manage HR. At the end of the day, it’s variety as a result of the constant evolution.

What are the challenges you experience in your job?

AG: The biggest challenge would be managing organizational change. Specifically, I’m referring to the impact on employee engagement. An example is managing prescription drug plan spend. Being in the business we are, we have an insider’s view of what drugs cost and how those costs impact group health insurance plans. As much as we provide guidance to our clients on how to better structure their plans, we must take the same internal view. Recently we made changes to our Group Health plan, resulting in increased out-of-pocket expenses and reduced coverage in some benefit areas. It’s the first time we changed the plan in six years. Everyone is averse to change and especially if it’s impacting your pocket. It’s those kinds of challenges that I experience as a leader. The key to managing the change is how we communicate those changes for employees to clearly understand the rationale behind the change.

What’s key to leading HR during a difficult time for a client organization?

AG: Remaining true to the values of the organization and your personal values is important. Through all the changes at Express Scripts Canada, I always say you cannot be a candle in the wind. You have to be firm in your view; you have to consider all facets of the change and know that once the decision has been made, you move forward with it. As an HR leader, you have to be rock-steady during those difficult times. Even your leaders need you as that calming influence through the madness that happens at times. Of course, you always must keep the end goal in mind, but you should not be afraid to course-correct along the way.

What skills are important for success in HR?

AG: HR professionals must take the time to understand the business and how it makes money, the competitive environment in which you operate and the remaining focus is on employee engagement. I also believe that as an HR leader, we must keep abreast of the political and business environment in which we operate. An example is reading The Globe and Mail on a regular basis. Scan the environment – what do you have to pay attention to? Also, have the courage to make the tough decisions. Sometimes HR leaders need to be provocative and rock the boat; but do have a sense of humour along the way.

What tips do you have for new grads or those in entry-level HR jobs who want to move up the ladder?

AG: Move through different industries. Try to gain some generalist HR experience to then figure out if you want to specialize in any one area. Moving between industries provides HR professionals with a very broad perspective of the business world. I have done that; I was very deliberate about moving through different industries and identifying what I needed to learn from each opportunity. When I got to that proverbial “seat at the table,” my past experience allowed me to bring forward recommendations and make sound decisions.

The HR field has been evolving. What changes excite you the most?

AG: I would say the broad recognition that we need to have more discussion around mental health. HR is playing a key role in bringing those discussions forward in an organization. I have identified that we need to implement training for our managers on mental health, so there is a basic awareness that equips them to be more effective leaders.

What’s the future of HR?

AG: The future will be about an innovative approach to the HR function and how it guides the business. I link that back to my comment about mental health. We constantly have to be innovative about what is happening in the world at large that impacts organizations. 



IN A NUTSHELL


First job: I worked at a clothing store in high school to earn some money for Christmas gifts. I did not enjoy retail! I don’t think I lasted more than three weeks.

Childhood ambition: To be an elementary school teacher

Best boss and why: Every boss has taught me something valuable

Current source of inspiration: It’s always my mother for her positive attitude and outlook on life. I also have to honour my father for the legacy he left me on how to live your life to the end with grace and dignity, regardless of your suffering.

Best piece of advice ever received: As long as your actions have the right intent, ask for forgiveness and not permission. It has served me well, for the most part!

Favourite music: Jazz from artists Gregory Porter and Jamie Cullum

Last book read: It’s called Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. The key message is identifying the “vital few” from among the “trivial many” things we have to do in life. We have to focus on the essentials.