When you meet an HR executive, you don’t always expect them to have a background like Frank Wilson. He started his career in the United States Air Force before heading to community college classrooms as a math professor.
However, that unique journey not only made him the perfect fit for his HR role at Maricopa Community Colleges but also taught him a valuable lesson that he hopes to instill in the leaders of today and tomorrow: there isn’t one pathway to success.
“Don’t write someone off just because they’re not following a traditional path,” the executive vice president and deputy chief human resources officer (CHRO) advises. “People can bring talents and abilities from a completely different pathway into a new space and be successful. As leaders we need to keep our eyes open for those folks.”
That’s what a Maricopa leader did for Wilson in 2020, offering him a district director HR role even though it had been more than twenty years since he had worked full time in HR. What he had was a deep quantitative understanding and expertise, having served as a math professor for decades. The then-CHRO knew Wilson could leverage those skills to beef up HR’s long-term planning efforts.
When Wilson took on the role, he made an immediate impact, bringing fresh eyes to organizational challenges and helping to identify solutions to them—something he continues to do in his current role.
“As I stepped into my executive roles in HR, I learned that there hadn’t been a lot of compensation and benefits strategic planning and because of that, decisions have been made on a year-to-year basis, which created some huge problems organizationally,” he says. “My colleagues and I have collaborated with key stakeholder groups to address these challenges. Our Strategic Compensation Plan, which details a $19.5 million investment in employee compensation over five years, is one example of success.”
As analytical and goal-oriented as he is, Wilson understands how life is filled with unexpected twists and turns, bringing both challenges and opportunity. He’s reminded of something an Air Force general told him when he was a twenty-four-year-old officer: “When the door opens, it’s too late to pack your bags.”
That meant he had to be in continual preparation for the next opportunity because he’d never know when it would come his way. But Wilson seemed to take this approach to his career even before he gleaned this wisdom from the Air Force leader.
After graduating high school, he got a scholarship from the Air Force to study in mathematics at Brigham Young University. Wilson knew that he wanted to be a teacher and made sure to put himself in the best positions to achieve that goal. He was soon offered a graduate assistantship, allowing him to pursue a master’s degree and serve as a teaching assistant.
From there, Wilson went on to work in military personnel and computer-based training before landing a faculty position at the US Air Force Academy. After two years in that role, he came to a decision point.
“I knew I loved mathematics teaching, and I knew I couldn’t stay at the Air Force Academy forever to do that because they would move me around to other assignments,” Wilson recalls. He eventually made the difficult decision to separate from the Air Force and to advance his teaching career. After leaving the military, he found a home in the community college space. Its mission aligned with his—to help others be better, no matter what their background is.
“The big universities screen people out, saying, ‘If you’re good enough we’ll let you in.’ The community college says, ‘We don’t care how good you were in high school and if you’ve been out of school for twenty years. Our door is open to everyone and what we care about is you,’” Wilson explains. “And that inclusive policy is core to who I am. I believe in taking people where they are and helping them grow.”
After the air force, he spent the next twenty years working at Green River Community College and Chandler-Gilbert Community College, supplementing his teaching with leadership responsibilities and shared governance experiences. He joined Maricopa’s HR team after critiquing a market study on the district’s full-time faculty pay.
“I found that the study was filled with logical and empirical errors, so I wrote a rebuttal and challenged them on the validity of their analysis,” Wilson recalls. “After that, the chief human resources officer asked if I could come over and help.”
Since then, Wilson has helped the department develop a five-year compensation plan, a benefits plan, and a performance success plan.
He advises other leaders to lead their own teams with what he calls “professional humility.” As he explains it, “it’s a willingness of a leader to say, ‘I’m human and when I make mistakes I own it and I move forward.’”
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The Alliant experience uncovers new possibilities for your organization and ensures you capitalize on opportunities where it matters most—in the reduction of healthcare and administrative burdens. We listen to your needs, taking the time to understand your culture, your goals, and your employee population. Connect with us: (949) 660-5952.