At the University of Missouri, Lisa J. Paschal was in a degree program that focused on counseling and human resource services. “I was intrigued by human and organizational psychology—I loved classes in sociology and management principles,” she recounts. “I was fortunate enough to have a number of intern experiences that led me to know I wanted to work in a corporate environment rather than a government setting or clinical setting.”
Paschal also knew she wanted to work on behalf of a company’s greatest asset: its people.
“One of the things I love about HR is that it’s constantly changing,” explains Paschal, who is currently chief human resources officer at Chicago-based Ryan Specialty Group. “From new laws affecting the workplace to technology and the ever-evolving employee expectations as the generations evolve through the workforce.”
She began her career in HR in the retail industry with National Convenience Stores before earning her JD at South Texas College of Law in Houston, Texas. Having already worked in HR for five years, she saw law school as a measure to further her career. She only worked in law for a bit because she was told that if you don’t practice right out of school, odds are you’ll never go back.
“I knew I wanted to get back in the corporate environment, but how would I know for sure if I never tried the other?” she shares. “After a couple of years practicing, still true to my interest in the employment space, I just knew in my heart that a corporate environment was a better fit for me.”
So she returned to the corporate world, managing employee relations for Hess Oil. In the late ’90s, her husband was transferred to the Chicagoland area, so she had her entry into the insurance industry.
Paschal continued padding her HR résumé with experience at Hartford Financial Services and then Argo Group before joining Ryan Specialty Group, an international specialty insurance organization, as its CHRO in 2014.
“The opportunity to work for Pat Ryan, an icon in our industry, as well as the Chicago community was extremely attractive,” Paschal says. She was also drawn to the culture of the company—one of innovation, client centricity, integrity, and teamwork.
As CHRO, Paschal is responsible for strategy and operations for the global HR function, such as compensation, benefits, talent acquisition, talent management, organizational development, and more. “Because we’re so acquisitive, the HR work that accompanies M&A is a big part of the role,” she adds.
“It’s through that diversity that we as a team make better and more innovative decisions leading to better outcomes.”
All her experiences have helped frame her leadership style, which she describes as collaborative and approachable in the way she frames and analyzes issues.
“Like anyone who has been in the workplace for a while, my style has evolved over time,” Paschal explains. “The first step is building the right team. I have learned over time to hire exceptionally bright people but also those with diverse backgrounds and experiences. It’s through that diversity that we as a team make better and more innovative decisions leading to better outcomes.”
Mentorship is important to Paschal, and she considers herself fortunate to have had wonderful mentors who helped shape her experiences.
“It was suggested to me early on that we all need our personal board of directors—a group of people to provide guidance, advice, and perspective on matters of significance, whether that’s career or personal,” she shares. “I found that to be so helpful in my own journey, life, and career that I am passionate to pay it forward.”
Over the course of her career, she’s mentored many young professionals, both within HR and other business functions. And mentorship doesn’t need to be a formal program, she notes, but something as simple as talks over coffee breaks, lunch meetings, sharing articles of interest, or just being that sounding board outside someone’s normal chain of command.
“I also have a particular passion for seeing women develop. Within the insurance industry, I’ve just been so pleased to see, over the time I have been in it, the progress that has been made with women in executive positions,” Paschal says. “Last year, we launched a monthly women’s networking luncheon, providing a platform for women to discuss leadership development and lessons learned in a safe environment. It provides an informal networking opportunity for women within our company who might not meet during the normal scope of what they do.”
Outside the office, Paschal is passionate about animal welfare and community service. She volunteers at her local hospital doing animal-assisted therapy, visiting patients with her Goldendoodle, Huntlee, as well as serving as a board secretary for a local pet shelter.
And she gets just as much enjoyment from her job.
“The most enjoyable aspect to me is watching people grow and meet their potential,” she says. “It makes the challenging times more rewarding.”