HR Influencers
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It’s been said many times that we are a product of our environment.

This may be particularly true of the university experience, when young people are exposed to exciting new ideas and possibilities they’ve never considered before.

Such was the case for Amato Della Vecchia, whose chance enrolment in a university labour relations course was the catalyst that sparked a lifelong passion for human resources.

Now 29 years later, Della Vecchia is the Canadian human resources director at WestRock Company of Canada Inc., a global paper packaging company operating paper mills, corrugated and folding plants, label printing plants, design centres, merchandising display plants and corrugated paper recycling facilities.

Based in Montreal, he is responsible for 3,600 employees in 22 locations across the country, many of them unionized.

After 18 years with WestRock, he can safely say that no two days are ever the same – and that’s one of the aspects he loves most about his job.

HR Professional connected with Della Vecchia to discuss how he got “hooked” on human resources, the challenges of working for a rapidly expanding company and how communication and a cool head are critical to successful HR management.


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

Amato Della Vecchia: In university, I took a labour relations course and in one session they showed a documentary of Bob White, founding president of the Canadian Auto Workers union. He was negotiating a labour contract with GM. I found it fascinating in the documentary when they showed the whole psychological aspect of getting a labour contract. I started taking additional HR courses and then while I was going to school, I worked part-time for ADP, the payroll company.


What was your first HR job?

ADV: After I graduated, ADP offered me a full-time job implementing HR management systems. I was there for about seven years in total; in 2000, I left and moved to St-Laurent Paperboard to work in HR at the corporate office. So that was my first true HR job. We handled organizational analysis, succession planning and talent management. That’s how I got my toes in the water with HR.


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

ADV: I manage the HR supervisors across WestRock’s Canadian facilities and have been in this role since 2006. I’m responsible for consulting to management, strategic staffing, safety, compensation, training and development, labour relations and everything in between.


What do you love about your job?

ADV: I like working with people. I also like the instant gratification when the job is done right. When you help someone in HR, you see the problem immediately, resolve it for them and get instant feedback. I also like that I’m always doing different things. The day starts and I think it will be a certain type of day, and then something unexpected happens and the day changes drastically.


What are the challenges you experience in your job?

ADV: We have internal and external challenges. Internally, WestRock has grown by leaps and bounds through mergers and acquisitions, so that is challenging. Externally, we are trying to keep up with the different legislative changes happening across Canada – there are changes in employment standards, safety, human rights, payroll and the list goes on. If you’re not up to date, the company can be liable with huge fines. We must make sure our policies and practices are up to date, our managers are trained, etc.


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

ADV: There are two things. First, be patient. I think patience in a stressful situation is a must. You need to stay calm. If you’re calm, you can help steer a ship through rough waters. If you start panicking, the situation gets worse and people around you pick up on that. As they say when you fly on a plane, put your mask on before helping others! It’s the same concept here. Secondly, be thorough. Make sure you have all the facts in front of you before making a decision.


What are the necessary competencies for success in HR and how do you think those have changed throughout your career?

ADV: In HR, there are a few necessary competencies. Communication is important, particularly listening. You have to get all the facts. You need to manage your relationships and have an open dialogue with management, employees and the union. And, you need to be ethical. Do the right thing and do what you say you’re going to do. If you lose respect in this role, you can forget about making any changes. Next, be a critical thinker. Think clearly and logically. You also need to be able to lead a team and organize them to move forward. Business acumen is also important. You need to have knowledge of accounting, finance, data analysis, the law and have HR knowledge. Those are the critical competencies.


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

ADV: I think HR needs to be a partner. To be a partner, you need to know the business. You need to spend time in operations, spend time with the sales folks. They are your clients. Get to know the business like it’s your company. The more you know about the needs of your internal clients, the more you can help them and the more indispensable you become to them. If you speak their language, they will respect you more.


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

ADV: For sure, technology is going to cause a revolution in HR. Mobile technology and apps will impact HR a lot in the way we recruit and the way we train; it will help us onboard people and make sure we give them the proper training. It will help us tap into different talent pools. HR is always being asked to do more with fewer resources and I think technology will help us do that in the future.


What’s the future of HR?

ADV: I think HR is becoming more and more critical to how businesses run. HR has been given a seat at the table. Long gone are the days when HR was only required to administer employee files and place help wanted ads. Now, we sit at the table when critical decisions are being made. If HR is not working, your company is going to fail. So I think that the future of HR will be critical to a well-run business, especially with the limited talent pool we are now facing. HR needs to be there to attract, retain and motivate the workforce, and lead the company forward.



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