Puryear's Perfect Evolution

Pamela Puryear

Greatest Challenge: In her words, "creating an organizational mind-set that transfers ownership of one's engagement, development and career management from the company to a shared responsibility of the company and the employee."

Greatest Achievement: In her words, "building a brand, 'Ignite, Spark the Fire Within,' to increase employee awareness of, and access to, processes and tools that drive employee engagement in, and ownership of, their own careers."

This article accompanies Meet Some Future CHROs.

By Kristen B. Frasch

If ever there was a walking, working ambassador for the merits of changing course in one's life and career, it is Pamela Puryear. Not only has the vice president of organization development for Lake Forest, Ill.-based Hospira Inc. done it once. She's done it multiple times.

Raised in the Bronx, N.Y., by two parents with doctorates (her father's focus, business; her mother's, social work and public administration), Puryear was almost instinctively independent, with strengths in, and profound respect for, education, entrepreneurship -- and, "from my mom's influence," she says, "a commitment to helping those less fortunate . . . and a sense that you have a responsibility to try and make a difference."

With a bachelor's degree in psychology from Yale (focusing on organizational behavior), an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and an early career in the pension-fund-advisory business (focusing on real-estate), Puryear -- in the late 1990s -- went on to found her own consulting practice specializing in business strategy before eventually moving on from there to organization and leadership development in 2005. In 2008, she rediscovered her "earlier passion for psychology," as she puts it, and pursued and earned a doctorate in organizational psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology. Loaded with such disparate and far-reaching expertise and experience, she joined Hospira in 2009 and proceeded to do what her gut always told her she could do: She started changing the world, at least her corner of it.

When Hospira, a provider of injectable drugs and infusion technologies, acquired Chennai, India-based Orchid Pharma in 2010, the company found itself straddling cultural differences and conflicts between Hospira's primarily U.S. workforce and Orchid's some 4,000 India-based employees. Puryear dug into the problem and spearheaded and developed a comprehensive cross-cultural intervention and sensitization process with input from leaders of both companies. She even flew to India to strengthen the support of the president of the new Hospira India. With the help of an online training tool by RW3 called Cultural Wizard and the co-leadership of Hospira India's senior vice president of HR, Puryear successfully improved the partnerships and performance of both companies.

Following Hospira's creation -- as a 2004 spinoff of Abbott Laboratories' hospital-products division -- and its acquisitions of Salisbury, South Australia-based Mayne Pharma and Orchid, the company embarked on a several-year transformation to become more nimble and global while growing into the almost-15,000-employee organization it is today. Knowing change is driven by leaders, Puryear created a leadership-development curriculum to help them navigate the transformation and excite and unite employees behind it. Through her two classroom-based modules, Leading@Hospira and Leading Growth@Hospira, more than 500 leaders have become change agents at Hospira.

As impressive as all this seems, if you ask Puryear what she is most known for and proud of in her relatively short stint at Hospira, she'll tell you it's the Ignite program, launched in 2010. Crafted by Puryear as a much-needed approach to employee-owned development and employee-driven engagement, and marketed as Ignite: Spark the Fire Within, it provides an umbrella brand for primary employee-facing programs led by HR, including performance management, learning and development, employee engagement and total rewards. One of the programs within Ignite is the Ignite Grant, which allows teams of employees to apply for up to $5,000 to fund a development program or experience currently unaddressed by some other internal company initiative.

In Kevin Sheridan's book, The Magnetic Culture, Ken Meyers, Hospira's senior vice president and chief human resource officer, describes Ignite as "a way for employees to 'connect the dots' across many employee-facing programs, which drive engagement."

As Puryear describes it, when she came to Hospira, she was "seeing that people were really still separating running the business and managing the people. There really didn't seem to be as strong a partnership between business leaders, employees and HR as there could be," she says. Through Ignite, employees are now excited about developing, contributing to and owning their own careers, and business leaders "want us involved in talent management and planning," says Puryear. "This is what I have really poured my passion into."

In fact, passion is the very thing she advises anyone considering a career in business, or HR, to have. It's "the essential ingredient" for sustaining commitment and energy, she says. "My advice is to choose a business sector or company that you are proud to support, curious to know more about and committed to continuously improve through [your] work. I feel that way about working in the healthcare field, and about Hospira specifically."

How far is up on her career ladder? "I hesitate to speculate," she says, "because if you had asked me where I would be in 2012 five or 10 years ago when I was an independent external OD consultant based in sunny California, I would never have thought I would be leading an internal OD practice at ... Hospira."

Wherever she goes, count on her being a success, says Meyers. She has "every ability to grow as a chief talent officer within Hospira or some other company ... . [She could even] be the next CHRO at Hospira if she chooses . . . ."

Count on her also self-evaluating. Throughout her earlier careers, when she "was always the youngest [this], the first African-American [that]," and then a busy consultant, she enjoyed success, "but always felt [the job at hand] wasn't really my calling."

"Really smart people can do a lot of things and do them well," she says, "but you need to be true to your feelings about what you're doing and how you're doing it." It won't set you back, not even as an HR's Rising Star nominee.

Jul 17, 2012
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