Joan Richards

Vice President of Human Resources, Wheels Inc. Des Plains, Illinois | Photo: Samantha Simmons

As a pioneer in human resources with 30 years under her belt, Richards turns to Wheels to create an environment of positive reinforcement

QuoteI have been in human resources for 30 years. I started out in recruiting, and did some employee and labor relations. I also worked as chief diversity officer. Wheels had an HR function prior to my joining the company, but I came in as the first vice president of human resources.

It was an exciting opportunity for me to take a successful company’s human resources department in new directions. Working with the executive team, we focused on leadership development and building strong HR programs and practices that supported the winning culture. We looked at virtually all areas of HR and built the infra-structure and processes necessary to take the company to new levels.

Based on this strong foundation, we win awards each year for our winning culture and successful business. We will celebrate 75 years of business success in 2014. Wheels is one of the top 25 privately owned companies in Illinois, and we probably make the top 200 in the United States.

I would say Wheels is a big company in a little company’s body. Decisions are made quickly and efficiently to benefit both customers and employees. We are one of the few companies where you can feel the goal working: the client really comes first. This gives all employees a unifying vision.

In human resources, it is very important to understand what is important to people. It’s not about a program, but about a personal touch. Employees don’t want to be seen as a number, but they want to know their work is meaningful, and they want to know their work is noticed. It’s not just about raises and bonuses, but the time and attention that a manager puts in. It can be as simple as a thank-you note, a personal touch in thanking someone, a small gift here and there, like a gift card.

Jim Frank, the CEO of Wheels, believes in employee recognition, and we still do many things that other companies have eliminated. We give out Valentine’s balloons and candy, Thanksgiving turkeys, lunch celebrations, and keg parties. It is my management style to make sure that I look for frequent opportunities to thank people, whether they are on my own team or doing jobs throughout the company that have had an impact on me, my team, or the company. We encourage all management to do that regularly and have even done frequent training programs for management on recognition. Quote