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Aon's Besio Blazes New Path to the CHRO's Office

From global head of strategy to chief information officer to chief administration officer -- where both the human resource and information technology functions reported to him-- Greg Besio has been in the center of Aon Hewitt's most recent strategic moves, including its post-merger integration.

Sunday, October 2, 2011
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When asked to recall their first official job in human resources, most HR executives will laugh ruefully and wax nostalgic about their experiences as a low-level HR worker at a small company that may no longer even exist.

But not Greg Besio.

For you see, Besio's first "official" job title in the world of HR is also his most current: chief human resource officer for the Chicago-based consultancy Aon Corp.

Besio was named to the position in July after Jeremy Farmer, senior vice president and global head of HR, announced his retirement.

Lest you think Aon tapped some Johnny-come-lately to lead its global HR function and drive its talent strategy, Besio, who joined Aon in 2007, has spent years leading strategic initiatives and serving in a variety of roles that can often be linked to the HR realm.

From global head of strategy to chief information officer to chief administration officer -- where both the human resource and information technology functions reported to him -- Besio has been in the center of the organization's most recent strategic moves, including leading the post-merger integration of Aon and Hewitt Associates.

With a Ph.D in chemical engineering from Princeton University and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago, Besio's route to the top HR spot at Aon has certainly not been a run-of-the-mill one.

"I would have to say that my background is definitely a non-HR one," he says. But Besio's track record -- prior to joining Aon -- also describes an executive who is comfortable speaking the many different languages of business. After all, prior to joining Aon, he led Motorola's mobile-device business' global team of 4,500 software developers, a role he assumed after leading that company's corporate strategy team.

"If you look at what some of the characteristics are to be successful in this [CHRO] role," he says, "you have to be a confidant of the CEO, because you have to be able to influence business leaders. And technology is really important to understand, as well." But he also says that having "financial acumen" is a necessity for HR leaders

in today's multi-layered business economy.

"If you're not grounded in some of the aspects of finance, you might have to delegate to advisors, and that's not where you want to be," he says.

Besio's unique background is also what his boss believes will make him successful in his new role as guardian of the organization's talent pipeline.

"The commitment to our 60,000 global colleagues and to developing our talent has never been greater," says Greg Case, president and CEO of Aon. "Greg Besio has been an active and key participant in Aon's most important strategic business priorities since joining our firm, and I am delighted that he will now lead our global HR function and drive our talent strategy."

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Going forward, Besio says he learned a few important lessons while integrating Aon and Hewitt Associates earlier this year.

"We tried very hard to do two things," he says. "One was to move quickly and decisively on the [new] structure and leadership, so there was certainty around how we organized ourselves and who was in charge.

"The other thing was that we tried to really work hard to over-communicate to our employees," he says. "Our team did an excellent job putting together materials and schedules so people knew what was going on, and that certainly helped to minimize uncertainty."

With a top-story view of the organization and its business environment, Besio says, he can now better understand his company's position.

"We look a lot like our most sophisticated clients," he says, "in that we're global, operating in 120 countries, and we also have to be able to attract the best talent."

When asked to dispense a little of his own advice to aspiring HR executives who wish to reach the same heights, Besio lists what can be called his Three P's: Passion, Paying attention and Perspective.

For young HR executives, he says, "regardless of what role you're in in HR, make sure that you are really paying attention to what the business is trying to do: Do you understand the objectives? Keep your eyes open and really be aware of the environment. What's the competition doing? What are your leading clients doing?

"If you really want to excel, you need that business perspective," he adds. "Build your networks, look for opportunities as you rotate into client-facing or business-responsible roles, and that will create lots of options and opportunities for you."

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