How Sonny Terrill Combines Business with Compassion

At ResCare, the CHRO inspires his team to be hard-nosed when it comes to business imperatives without losing the care and compassion that brought them to the human services company

Sonny Terrill, ResCare

Human services companies such as ResCare—which has been in the business of improving the lives of individuals through a variety of services such as community living for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, in-home care for the senior population, and job skills and training to underprivileged youth for more than forty years—tend to attract team members who identify primarily with the organization’s humanistic mission.

That’s important, of course, says Sonny Terrill, but it’s equally essential that those who work for the company are held accountable for the day-to-day work they do. Perhaps it’s than less romantic work, such as meeting budgets, that keeps the company thriving and able to continue to serve its clients and carry out its mission to help people live their best life every day.

“When you are a leader in a great company like ResCare, you have to have a servant heart. But you still have to operate with a high level of accountability,” says Terrill, executive vice president and chief human resources officer. “We make sure our clients are served, but we also have a customer—the people who invest in us—so we have to be good stewards of the money we spend.”

Terrill began his business career in human resources with a manufacturing company. He was passionate about human resources and was making an impact with the people at the company, but not with the community at large. As a result, he decided to take his skills to a mission-driven company that was making a difference in people’s lives. “I realized that when my time is done, I want all of my work and effort to have made a difference in my community and with the people we serve,” Terrill says.

He earned his first opportunity to accomplish that goal when HealthSpring, a start-up in Nashville that worked with senior citizens, reached out to him. At the time, everything in the business was siloed, with small companies scattered across different states. There was no HR department, so Terrill built one. That sense of gratification he received from seeing what happens when the proper systems and people are put in place, giving employees tools to serve a group in need, solidified his belief that he had found his calling.

Terrill worked at HealthSpring for twelve years until it was bought out by a major conglomerate. Shortly thereafter, recruiters began contacting Terrill, who became one of the top HR executives in the country. Of the many calls he received, ResCare was the most attractive. He loved the company’s mission and its vision to improve people’s lives. That passion and vision of the ResCare team, led by top healthcare executive and ResCare CEO Jon Rousseau, aligned perfectly with Terrill’s own ambitions.

“I saw a great opportunity to help the company get even better at what it does,” Terrill recalls. “Now, I’m driven to help ResCare become the employer of choice in the human services industry. With that, we will be attracting more of the best and the brightest employees to take care of the individuals we serve daily. I see heroic work at ResCare every single day, and I’m proud to be a part of it. I absolutely love what I’m doing and who I’m doing it with.”

Terrill leads the company to achieve greater success by showing that it’s possible to have a servant heart and still be accountable for helping the company financially. Under Terrill’s guidance, it’s not enough to have one without the other. It’s that hybrid that he looks for when making hiring decisions, as well as when determining when someone isn’t a right fit for the company.

“When we think of someone who has a servant heart, often times we think of a person who is soft and compassionate in general,” Terrill says. “What we teach here is that we are focused on people and are bulldogs when it comes to compliance, quality, budgets, and to stand our ground about things that would not be good for our customer. Our heart is driven to serve the elderly, the youth, or that person with a disability. At the same time, we have to be accountable to how we run the business.”

It’s a tall order to get people to have a corporate mentality without losing their passion for service, but Terrill gains the confidence of team members by practicing what he preaches. By doing so, he gains their trust. They not only know that he means what he says, but that he also does it himself. It’s that modeling of what he wants from team members that has helped him build a culture at the company where service and accountability go hand in hand. And that’s something that ensures the company will thrive and be able to provide consistently better services for its clients.

“People will say you have to do one thing to be successful, but there are multiple things, and you have to do them all well,” Terrill explains. “You set that culture and drive it down the organization. Not every single person will be a hybrid, but everyone knows that is the expectation. We have to be versatile, to be servants for sure, but also hold ourselves accountable.” 

Photo: Nick Noura

Alight Solutions is proud to be a trusted partner in benefits administration with Sonny Terrill and his team at ResCare.  We value Sonny’s role as a leader in the healthcare industry. Alight continually works with Sonny and the ResCare team to develop innovative solutions that help their business continue to grow and thrive.

Delta Dental congratulates Sonny on his impressive and dynamic career in human resources. He displays a commitment not only to his employees, but to the community through his inspiring ministry work. We are proud to partner with Sonny and extended ResCare team.