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Making a Difference

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Capital One's Matthew W. Schuyler took dramatic, and somewhat unique, steps to help employees . . . and even soon-to-be employees.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007
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Hurricane Katrina threatened to sabotage the planned acquisition of New Orleans-based Hibernia Bank by McLean, Va.-based Capital One just days before the deal was set to transpire on Sept. 1, 2005. Hibernia's severely damaged assets and displaced employees might have proven a deal breaker for another company.

But that wasn't about to happen on Matt Schuyler's watch. Capital One's chief human resource officer and one of this year's HR Honor Roll inductees took it upon himself to lead his organization's recovery efforts in meeting both the financial and emotional needs of Hibernia employees. Although the acquisition had yet to be consummated, Schuyler says, "We just felt that we ought to treat those associates the same way we would treat our own associates."

Directing the "war room" in McLean, as it was called, Schuyler monitored 20 Capital One associates on the ground in the devastated area as they located and even rescued displaced Hibernia employees. He arranged for the delivery of generators and mobile phones to re-establish banking operations.

To get operations up and running, he located office space, even in the face of increased demand as other organizations sought to do likewise. He worked to staff a 24-hour call center, allowing Hibernia workers to report their status until all 3,095 of those in the greater New Orleans area were accounted for over the course of five weeks.

Schuyler provided temporary housing at no cost for affected workers, many of whom had lost everything. Additionally, he offered $1,000 emergency grants to those in need.

"I think this is what human resources is all about -- making a difference in people's daily lives," says Schuyler, 42.

Sallie Larsen, managing vice president of human resources at Capital One, concurs. "As leaders, values really guide our decisions at Capital One," she says. "And Matt put our values on display.

Schuyler's thoughts are always focused on Capital One's workforce. He's been instrumental in developing innovative programs designed to keep employees engaged, challenged and productive. His innovation led to a portal constructed at Capital One that enables them to work more effectively and efficiently via an intranet site.

Employees can log onto the portal and directly access other applications, such as a document-management and payroll systems without having to log onto them. They can access a learning channel using iPods and download content from Capital One and sources such as Harvard Business Review to listen to on their daily commutes. "It's been a big hit, although initially, people were skeptical about it," Schuyler says. Employees can now access video content as well, he says.

"Matt's made sure that, in terms of innovation, we are always pushing the envelope," says Larsen, adding that Schuyler "keeps solutions simple and practical, listening carefully to business needs."

His creativity also resulted in the development of an integrated technology and workspace approach produced collaboratively by HR, Corporate Real Estate and IT. Via his "running real estate at Capital One," Schuyler built upon the connection of "space planning with people planning" in the Future of Work. Its strategy "allows workers to come and go as they need to," Schuyler says.

FOW enables employees to sit in a "hoteling"-type spot, locating in a random place at work where they can "plug and play," according to Schuyler. They can be productive no matter where they are through wireless technology, voiceover iPods (a new type of Bluetooth connectivity that allows a two-way conversation to occur via a short-range Bluetooth signal that replaces the current iPod track), BlackBerries or laptops, Schuyler says.

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"[FOW] really reflects the needs of a knowledge-worker workforce and a mobile workforce," Schuyler says. The resulting work environment has produced a positive response, with the concept receiving 80-percent satisfaction scores. The environment has both reduced collaboration time and increased productivity, he says.

Schuyler's success in HR stems from viewing himself as a "business leader first and an HR specialist second." Promoting the HR function as an integral part of Capital One presents a daily challenge. "I have to demonstrate my knowledge of the business every day," he says. "If I can talk the talk with the business leaders, that's a big step in the right direction."

To do that, he says, he makes concerted efforts to listen, anticipate needs and make sure he's "cutting-edge in coming up with solutions -- and being incredibly flexible."

One of Schuyler's key attributes, enabling him to "focus on what needs to be done" and arrive at solutions, Larsen says, is his commitment to teamwork. "There's not a hierarchy; there's a team orientation toward a common goal."

Schuyler says honing his management skills is a "growth experience." He finds it's critical to "spend more time listening and less time talking."

"I hire great people around me so that I can focus on the development and growth of our team members and make sure I'm laying out the business context to them," he says.

Intent on HR innovation and cutting-edge initiatives, Schuyler remains committed to ensuring he is "properly positioned as a business leader and strategic enabler" to share best practices. "We've always had a seat at the table at Capital One," he says. "Once you have that . . . what you do with it is so critical."

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