Towanna Tindall, chief human resources officer at Trulite Glass & Aluminum Solutions, thrives when she’s pushed out of her comfort zone. Fortunately for her employer, that proved especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic.
After earning a degree in English from the University of South Carolina, Tindall landed a job in HR supporting staffing initiatives for Tupperware Manufacturing. “That experience solidified that HR was where I really wanted to be,” says Tindall, who went on to earn her master’s degree in HR at USC’s Darla Moore School of Business.
An internship at General Motors led to a full-time HR generalist role in GM’s Small Car Group. “GM’s HR leadership was incredibly focused on the deliberate development of its next generation of HR leaders, so I was fortunate to have very broad, diverse, and challenging HR assignments,” she explains.
Her first opportunity was being a production supervisor at one of GM’s largest facilities. She began to understand the importance of labor relations as a competitive advantage, and the relationships she built made her a better labor relations representative. “I had a different sense of urgency in resolving issues, more empathy for what it took for our supervisors to get things done, and a solid grasp of the production floor that allowed me to be knowledgeable in dispute resolution,” she notes.
While at GM, she also spent three years working in Italy as regional HR manager first with the company’s joint venture with Fiat (Fiat-GM Powertrain) and then with the start-up operation of GM Powertrain Europe. “I didn’t know anyone there, and I didn’t speak the language,” she says. “But I was so excited to take a leap of faith. The world seems so much smaller to me now after that experience.”
Tindall moved to Boeing in 2012 as HR director for business development, and six years later, she joined Trulite as its CHRO. Moving from a $58 billion aerospace company to a multimillion dollar architectural and structural metals manufacturer “was like stepping off a cruise ship onto a speedboat,” she says with a laugh.
“Trulite is much leaner with far less resources than Boeing, but less layers enables us to move very fast,” she explains. “We can try out a new idea, fail safe, and then quickly use the lessons learned to pivot to an alternative if needed.”
In a business that moves as fast as this industry, Tindall highly values collaboration, decisiveness, and diversity of thought. She creates an environment that offers a safe space for feedback, debate, and ideation. “At the end of the day, as the CHRO, I have to make the decision, but I want to be sure everyone on my team feels seen, heard, and valued,” she notes.
During her tenure at Trulite, Tindall has transitioned her team members into strategic HR business partners. “Towanna has taken HR at Trulite to a whole new level,” notes Porter Wright’s Jim Curphey, outside legal counsel to Trulite. “She is smart, creative, and always well-prepared to tackle any problem. Her leadership clearly extends beyond HR; she is a force and a key to so much that happens at the company.”
The HR department is still evolving, but Tindall is proud of the progress.
“I am very fortunate to have amazing business partners in the CEO and CFO,” Tindall says. “We have a close working relationship and discuss all facets of the business. I see myself as a business partner first.”
But nothing in her experience fully prepared Tindall for the COVID-19 pandemic. “This was outside my comfort zone,” she says. “The one thing HR leaders across the world had in common was that none of us had led through a global pandemic during our careers.”
Tindall canvassed her personal network for ideas, thoughts, and suggestions. Then she distilled best practices, figured out what she could accomplish at Trulite, and with the help of her team, developed a playbook for the company-wide response. “The leadership team was proactive and highly engaged in preparing and when we had our first case in March 2020, we were able to put our plan in motion right away,” she says.
An ongoing challenge is the evolution of Trulite’s response to the pandemic. “We want to continue to be as transparent as possible with our workforce to keep them informed and remain vigilant in our efforts to mitigate the spread,” Tindall says. “Our primary concern is always the safety of our employees and customers. It all begins and ends with our people.”
Other events of 2020 took an emotional toll on Trulite’s workforce. The realities of mask mandates, police shootings, political rallies, and worldwide protests seeped into the workplace. “People were really raw psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. As leaders, we could not turn away to what everyone, including myself, was feeling,” Tindall explains.
Trulite chose to face the issues head on, creating safe spaces for employees to talk about what they were feeling and how it was impacting their mental health. Leaders were encouraged to “take the temperature” of their teams and partner with HR to facilitate those conversations.
“Having those conversations was sometimes difficult, but the risks and costs of not having them was far greater,” Tindall says.
Though Tindall didn’t have experience with pandemic responses, she leaned into her discomfort and helped Trulite through the COVID-19 pandemic. Being agile was key, and it’s an important skill for HR professionals across the globe, Tindall notes.
“You will need to evolve and change to stay ahead of the ever-transforming HR landscape to adapt that to your business,” Tindall says. “Don’t hesitate to challenge yourself with new and different opportunities. Experience and exposure are the keys to growth.”