Changing a Career Course

Laura Jackson shares how unlikely career transitions can lead to the biggest achievements, and how her extensive HR experience helps ISC’s employees on a daily basis

Laura Jackson, International Speedway Corporation

In a typical NASCAR race, drivers will make about eight hundred turns throughout the course of an afternoon on their way to the checkered flag. Throughout her career, Laura Jackson hasn’t made nearly as many, but with every turn she has deepened her skill set, acquired more experience, and changed the lives of the people she works with on a daily basis.

Today, Jackson serves as the chief human resources officer of International Speedway Corporation (ISC), but she wouldn’t be on her current career track if not for a major detour early on. Jackson, who is also ISC’s senior vice president for corporate services, started in the purchasing department at General Electric, buying equipment for power substations and rising through the ranks to become a purchasing manager overseeing a multistate area. She quickly developed acclaim from her supervisors, who appreciated her understanding of the business and her close connections with people in the field. Eventually, they approached her about transitioning to human resources.

“It was actually a step back in the organizational structure,” Jackson recalls. “I went from being a purchasing manager to an HR administrator. But that’s the best move I ever made in my career.”

Jackson excelled in human resources because her extensive experience meant she knew what to expect when it came to employee performance. Her time in the field also gave her credibility within the company and others as she moved from GE to Textron Financial Corporation. In 2009, she joined ISC, which owns or operates thirteen motorsports entertainment facilities nationwide. ISC also owns and operates Motor Racing Network, the nation’s largest independent sport radio network, and Americrown Service Corporation, which provides catering services, food and beverage concessions, and merchandise sales.

“I approach each of my positions as a business person first and an HR leader second,” she says. “If you learn about the business and you learn about the employees within the business, then it provides greater insight into how you guide the organization and the employees.”

As a result, Jackson is always looking to achieve the ideal balance between business needs and employees’ skill sets. She wants to maximize an employee’s potential, which in turn boosts the business. Just as she discovered for herself, that doesn’t always mean encouraging employees to climb the career ladder rung by rung.

“At times in our careers, it might be more advantageous to take a sidestep on an organizational level to round out your skill set and business knowledge versus always trying to go to the next title on the chart,” Jackson says.

That’s not always easy, though, to convince colleagues to make a lateral move or take a step back. In Jackson’s case, supervisors at GE assured her that she could return to her previous purchasing position if human resources didn’t suit her. They also emphasized that there were more opportunities on the HR career track. When asking people to shift gears at ISC, Jackson explains how broadening their knowledge will make them better leaders down the home stretch.

“You really have to show not just the next step, but also how that opens up the step after that,” Jackson explains. “The more you learn about a business, the greater your value and the higher potential you have for promotion within that business.”

And in addition to cultivating current employees, Jackson manages the company’s shared services, including corporate communications and mail services, company administrative services, and management and maintenance of the ISC headquarters in Daytona Beach, Florida. Rather than detracting from her HR role, she says these responsibilities help keep her in tune with employees at International Speedway’s offices and tracks across the country.

Jackson wants to ensure employees at each of the facilities feel as though they’re part of the same team. Heading corporate communications gives her a better sense of how human resources policies affect employees who are states away from the Daytona Beach headquarters. She also gets a better sense of how to effectively convey company news throughout the organization so that team members never have to find out about something that’s going to directly affect them from a news story.

“Whatever we decide here in Daytona has to be viable for everyone,” she says. “We want them to hear it from us first.”

Those human resources initiatives also have to be workable for newly hired millennials, as well as employees who have been with International Speedway for numerous years. Jackson never wants to exclude one group in favor of the other. Fortunately, she’s found many basic human resources principles apply across multiple generations.

“It’s always recognition and reward for employees. It’s providing goals and expectations around performance,” Jackson says. “And it is transparency—providing updates and asking for input on what’s happening within the business across the company.”

Jackson also works with others, including ISC’s director of multicultural affairs, to develop diversity in other areas. For instance, ISC is a partner in NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity Internship Program that places promising interns in positions across the motorsports industry. “We’ve expanded our participation in that by 100 percent,” Jackson says. “And about half of our candidates will come back and end up going to work for us.”

ISC already exhibits gender diversity in its executive offices, where Jackson is joined by CEO Lesa France Kennedy. ISC has two women on its corporate board of directors and several of its managing directors are women, which reflects the fact motorsports has plenty of fans who are women, Jackson says.

“There’s this perception that it’s just an older fan base, but that’s not true,” she says. “Our consumer base is very diverse in terms of race, age and gender, and our goal is to mirror that.”

It’s those types of initiatives that Jackson has helped spearhead that have made all the difference over the course of her career and for the people she helps on a daily basis. Whether she changes direction or mentors others on how to best position themselves in their career, it’s always done with a checkered flag in sight.

Photos: Action Sports Photography/Shutterstock.com (banner), Mike Meadows (portrait)

Don’t be afraid to slow down

It’s human nature to want to succeed and to succeed quickly. Oftentimes, we want to see the checkered flag before we make sure we have the right tools in place to make it to the finish line.

Laura Jackson knows that better than most, as over the course of her renowned career, she has made moves that may have turned some heads, but in the end, the destination was a dream role. Today as the CHRO at International Speedway Corporation, she advises employees on a daily basis to help them maximize their potential, but also let them know that it’s important to slow down and assess what they need before making a jump to the next level.

“In search of career fulfillment, be open minded to the unexpected opportunity that may include a nontraditional organizational path,” Jackson says. “In most careers, we are provided opportunities to learn a variety of business skills. Take as many of those as you can.”

Brown & Brown congratulates Laura Jackson on her many accomplishments. Laura is a strategic leader in a fast-paced industry, bringing human resources expertise to one of the largest sports and entertainment companies in America. She continues to set the bar as a true and trusted business partner.