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From Finance to HR: Janet LeClair

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From acting as general accountant in the controller's division of First Atlanta Bank to holding a series of financial accounting roles to working as the budgets and planning manager at First Fidelity Bank in NJ, Janet LeClair lived and breathed accounting. For more than ten years, in fact, LeClair worked in accounting and finance. So how did this marketing and accounting major from Leigh University become an HR president?

Of her role at Fidelity: "[it] interfaced directly with the HR director, which was my bridge into the human resources field," explains LeClair. "When HR realized the need for an HR CFO function, they asked me to build and lead the department. I then built an HR CFO function for a successor organization (Wachovia Bank) and was subsequently asked to lead their internal HR service center."

She was in. And she loved it.

"This was a great opportunity to provide end-to-end HR services to a dynamic and growing organization and to appreciate the value of the HR services business," she continues. "I really enjoyed the challenge of providing best-in-class service in an efficient and cost-effective manner."

For eight years, LeClair managed the internal HR service center. Next, she became a human resources outsourcing (HRO) provider, until finally she began as a consultant with HR XCEL. And after the former president "decided to take her career in a different direction...she and the company owners asked [LeClair] to assume the presidency of the company."

Today, as HR XCEL's president, LeClair is responsible for "ensuring that HR XCEL is providing best-in-class HR services to [its] clients and…that [its] employees view HR XCEL as a great place to work."

"I keep a very close eye on client satisfaction, operational excellence, and growing the business," she continues. "As such, my focus can range from strategic planning to coaching an employee...the diversity of the work is very interesting."

Headquartered in Charlotte, NC, HR XCEL was founded in 1998 by Todd Wiebusch and Barbara Sheridan. "There are many companies out there that desperately need HR expertise but simply can't afford to hire the internal resources to gain that expertise," writes the company's co-founder, Barbara Sheridan. "And many times companies choose to invest in other areas that directly contribute to the bottom line — leaving a void in a very critical area." HR XCEL's mission is to fill that void.

Of her job, LeClair enjoys numerous aspects, including the "challenge of providing great service to [her] clients." She also enjoys "continuously improving [their] operational model to ensure that [they] are delivering services in an efficient, customer-centric, yet cost-effective way." And the employees — "every day I'm amazed by their knowledge, their adaptability, and their desire to be the best service provider in the industry," she says.

But LeClair's interests are grander than her own presidency. Providing good HR, no matter where, is important to LeClair.

"The bulk of my HR experience has been in the internal HR shared services area, providing end-to-end HR transactional services to clients and employees. That being said, I have a huge respect and appreciation for this work as it is the critical underpinning of an effective HR model. My experience has shown that HR's real impact is driving performance in an organization which entails aligning the right resources at the right opportunities in total alignment with the company's strategic and business imperatives," she says.

However, as with most good things, challenges inevitably follow. And one of the most difficult challenges LeClair has had to face includes being profitable in the HR outsourcing business. "As the business space matures, pricing pressure increases, and our clients have become more sophisticated consumers. It is incumbent on HRO providers to effectively and efficiently manage their operations in order to meet their clients' increasingly higher service expectations."

"[And] HR still has an image crisis and is often times not positioned to influence and drive change in an organization," she continues, when asked about important issues facing the profession today. "When it comes right down to it, companies are as good as [their] people, and companies on average spend anywhere from 50% to 75% of [their] entire expense base[s] on human would think this would get someone's attention! Compounding the challenge is that your traditional HR professionals are not necessarily businesspeople and may not possess the business acumen necessary to apply the principles of human performance to the business issues."

"Additionally, HR career paths have significantly been altered in the last 5 to 7 years as a result of the maturity of the HRO space, resulting in fewer HR professionals garnering experience through traditional HR jobs. That being said, I'd like to see more and more senior HR professionals surface from non-traditional sources such as line and operational management positions."

LeClair also believes HR is still "coming into its own." Many of the financial and business disasters, she explains, are direct results of poor decision making on the part of individuals and organizations. However, LeClair understands that while disasters of any kind aren't good, it is nearly impossible "to legislate and eliminate poor judgment." Her solution?

"We as HR professionals must continue to build the infrastructure and environment that encourage and guide people to make sound and sustainable business decisions that result in increased shareholder value and ensure stable and healthy work environments for generations to come."

Q. What do you like to do outside of HR? Any odd hobbies/interests? Are you married? Do you have children? Can you explain a little about your personal life outside of work?
A. I am married, and my husband John Bragg and I have four children: John, 23; Matthew, 21; Lauren, 18; and Michael, 13.

I am a very active member of the community and currently serve on the Mint Museum's board of trustees and am the past chair of the Mecklenburg Catholic School foundation board. I am also a member of the St. Matthew Catholic church finance council and a member of the Assistance League of Charlotte.

I like to play golf, tennis, read, and spend time with family and friends.

Q. What CD is in your CD player right now?
A. Mary Chapin Carpenter.

Q. What is the last magazine you read?
A. Fortune.

Q. What is your favorite TV show?
A. CSI and Law & Order.

Q. Who is your role model?
A. My mother, who recently passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer's. She was an incredibly brilliant, warm, and loving person who instilled in me a strong value system and a deep appreciation for life. As I face challenges in my life, I often draw on her strength, her wisdom, and invaluable life lessons...her legacy gifts to me.

Over the years, people — whether co-workers or employees — have played significant roles in LeClair's life. In fact, mentoring employees has been one of her greatest accomplishments.

"Nothing," she admits, "has given me greater joy and satisfaction than seeing someone mature as a business leader and contributor and knowing that I played some part in making that happen."

But LeClair gives specific praise to Pete Morrison. Morrison, who acts as senior vice president for compensation and benefits at First Fidelity Bank in NJ, "taught [LeClair] the fundamentals of managing through complexity and the art of problem solving in to break things down into manageable and workable solutions."

"He single-handedly had the biggest impact on me professionally and as a leader," says LeClair. "I draw on that experience each and every day and value his business acumen and judgment immensely."

From finance to HR, LeClair offers eager individuals seeking an HR career this advice:

"I would encourage anyone interested in pursuing a career in HR to secure a business degree coupled with a strong HR curriculum. I can't emphasize enough the importance of HR professionals understanding fundamental business principles — risk management concepts, as well as human performance dynamics. I also believe some time spent with an HRO outsourcing company would be invaluable."

On the net:HR XCEL

Leigh University

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