HR Influencers

HR Generalist in a Creative World

By Lisa Gordon

When Jennifer King started working with Toronto-based entertainment design company FORREC Ltd. in 2010, the company had just 70 employees. Today, the workforce has nearly doubled at the unique, privately held company, which designs theme parks, water parks, mixed-use and entertainment spaces, visitor attractions and resorts.

King told HR Professional that FORREC works with big brands like Universal Studios and Legoland, creating exciting front-end concepts and designs that attract fun-seekers in droves.   

“We’re the coolest Canadian company you’ve never heard of,” said King. “Ninety per cent of our projects are international, and we do a lot of work in China and the Middle East, as well as the U.K. and Korea.”

Implementing HR structure and processes in a company full of creative types is sometimes a challenge, but on the flip side, King says the energy and vibe at FORREC is what keeps her engaged and excited to go to work every day.

“We need to make people feel like they’re in the loop and invested in what we’re doing as a company.”
– Jennifer King

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

Jennifer King: I was still in university when I decided I wanted to get into human resources. I knew I always wanted to deal with people and I also liked business. I wanted to pair my fascination for business with people. HR was a great career choice for me.

What was your first HR job?

JK: After I finished my undergraduate degree, I went to Seneca College to do my post-grad in HR. Fresh out of Seneca, they had posted a job for an HR generalist position at a small accounting firm. It was my first job and it was also my dream job, because that position encompassed everything in HR: benefits, compensation, recruiting, even payroll. I touched on everything. That gave me really good exposure to every aspect of HR.

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

JK: I’m the director of human resources at FORREC. I am lucky to still have a generalist position here where I’m responsible for strategy, while managing benefits, compensation, recruiting, succession and talent planning. I’m working closely with senior leadership to develop the HR strategy in line with the business strategy. I think you need to have a hands-on perspective to do this job properly in a company of this size.

What do you love about your job?

JK: I love the variety. I’ve been lucky, because the generalist role has been a theme throughout my entire career. Every day is completely different; it’s very interesting and meaningful work that impacts my entire team and the entire company. Plus, this place is just cool! I work with the most creative and interesting people. They’re very passionate about their craft and there is such a great feeling about working here.

What are the challenges you experience in your job?

JK: The recruiting is challenging because we are very niche-focused. It’s hard to find senior level people with the right experience – most people do not have theme park experience. So we look for people with an eye for design and hire those people, and they learn the rest with us. The other part that’s been challenging is that when I joined, we had 70 people and now we’re around 135. You need more structure and process as you grow, and implementing structure can be challenging with designers and creative types who don’t like to be put into a box.

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

JK: I have to go back again to the challenge of recruiting and retention. We need to keep our skills and talent in-house and allow people to grow into leadership roles. You have to be able to listen to your employees, be transparent and communicate action plans. You want to share the good, bad and ugly with everyone to reduce the rumour mill and foster engagement with your employees so you have their support when you need it. We need to make people feel like they’re in the loop and invested in what we’re doing as a company.

What skills are important for success in HR?

JK: I think the number one skill is that you have to really understand the business side. You need business acumen and an understanding of the bottom line, how the business is run and also what investments will garner the biggest return from an HR perspective. I think it’s even more important as you grow in your career and start taking on more senior positions.

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

JK: I think you have to be open-minded. You have to be willing to take on anything to gain experience and exposure in the field. When you’re in school, they teach you textbook examples and you need to be able to adjust the different structures and strategies because every organization is different. You have to be able to manage in the “grey” and be okay with it.

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

JK: Personally, I’ve been involved with the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) over the last couple of years, working with them on some of the changes surrounding HR credentials and the new employment law exam. I’m excited about the added rigour around credentials in the HR field. I think it’s really important and will make the entire profession more respected and recognized.

What’s the future of HR?

JK: In Ontario, the proposed changes to employment standards and labour laws will be huge. You really have to stay on top of these things as an HR professional so you can understand how to apply compliance to your business so you’re not at risk. I also see a generational shift as Baby Boomers retire and Millennials become more prevalent. As a company, we have to shift our thinking to adapt.