Traction Through Empowerment

Brad Thomas discusses why Guardian Life’s commitment to its staff is paying off for the 153-year-old company and how HR is a key driver for the initiative

As the helm of Guardian Life’s HR team is Brad Thomas, whose mission is to bridge a cultural commitment to empowerment with the company’s long-term strategic goals.

Growing up, discussions around the Thomas household were often centered on topics such as union strikes and salary negotiations. This is because Brad Thomas’s father was director of personnel for his town and school system. Thomas found his father’s line of work so intriguing that he would not only enter the same field, but thrive in it.

Today, Thomas has more than 25 years of experience as a human resources executive under his belt, having held senior leadership positions at public, private, and mutual companies, including GE, PepsiCola, and Citigroup. Thomas, whose current role is executive vice president of human resources at The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, recently spoke to Profile about HR at Guardian and the best strategies for empowering employees

HR appears to be changing rapidly in many companies. Tell me about Guardian’s HR department, what is its critical differentiator?

Brad Thomas: Guardian is a 153-year-old organization. At every step along the way, the company prepared for the future. Guardian has a very capable executive leadership team that establishes long-term strategy, and we work to keep HR priorities directly aligned with that direction and the changing needs of the business.

How does empowerment play into Guardian’s culture? Why is this important to the company?

Thomas: Empowerment is definitely part of the broader cultural discussion. Each company has its own unique culture. When I think of empowerment, I think of giving employees the confidence and encouragement to do what’s needed to move the company forward, no matter what their position or department. The profile of our company is always changing as people both retire and join. We have a great mix of both deep experience and new ideas. Guardian’s culture is distinguished by great dedication and loyalty. We have very capable people who take pride in being part of the company, and it shows in how they approach their work and how they collaborate with each other. The input from our employee surveys and focus groups help us focus on what to work on.

Why is the HR team crucial to the work you do and, more broadly, to the success of Guardian?

Thomas: Our team has a broad range of skills and expertise needed to operate within a fast-moving business agenda. They work tirelessly to help maintain the capabilities of the organization and to maintain the Guardian culture. The agenda spans all HR disciplines and this team does a great job collaborating and supporting each other.

What attributes do you believe are necessary to be a successful HR leader at a company the size of Guardian?

Thomas: The first is having the ability to understand the business and link HR’s agenda to what matters most to the company’s success. It is always a challenge to balance the short-term operating priorities with building long-term capability. The ability to work across functions to get the best results and the technical HR expertise to deliver the agenda are also high on the list.