Carlos Aguirre was most recently Vice President Human Resources at Honeywell. He is a seasoned human resources executive with extensive experience driving business and people transformation within multibillion-dollar organizations operating across the globe. He earned his B.S. in Information Systems from UNIVA in Mexico as well as an MBA and a Master’s in Information Management from Arizona State University. Carlos is a Six Sigma Black Belt and Lean Expert and currently resides in Arizona with his family.
What have been some of your career highlights and why?
One of my career highlights was an experience that taught me how to set up a strategy and execute it, while also transforming the culture of an organization.
I was asked to build the HR shared services organization for Honeywell in Mexico in order to serve close to 80,000 Honeywell employees in the Americas. This was an international assignment that required me to relocate with my family to a small city in Mexico called San Luis Potosi. When I started in the role, there was a small team of 17 people providing payroll services to a few sites in Mexico. After three years, I grew the organization to more than 120 team members offering payroll, benefits and employee data administration, among other services, for employees in the US, Canada and Latin America, and eventually call center services for Europe. We leveraged a continuous improvement program originally designed for manufacturing environments (called the Honeywell Operating System) to this service environment which helped tremendously in enabling the needed mindset.
This led to my next career highlight, as the Strategy and Transformation Leader for the human resources function of Honeywell, globally. This role allowed me to interact closely with the HR senior executives of the company to drive the HR strategy and initiatives that transformed the way HR operated across the globe. As a result of my achievements, I got promoted to Vice President Human Resources for Canada and Latin America, a fascinating role overseeing the HR organization that supported 23,000 employees in the region, reporting directly to the CHRO of the corporation. I was able to sharpen my executive communication skills as I had direct interaction with the company CEO during his visits to the region, as well as with the Presidents of the different business units.
To round off my HR career, I then moved to a business HR role supporting two Presidents within Honeywell’s Aerospace Division with a combined revenue of more than $4B and a global footprint. This role allowed me to work closely with senior business leaders of the company to influence growth and drive profitability. I also participated in Board of Directors meetings for one of the business units that operated nuclear facilities on behalf of the US Government, a very unique business model that required me to understand the world of government contracts and to obtain a security clearance.
To what do you credit your success from your background or work or life experiences?
Like many successful individuals, I owe who I am today to my parents. My dad was in education and started teaching when he was 16 years old. I always admired his well of knowledge and his passion for learning, and that is what motivated me to excel at school and to pursue a master’s degree and other advanced certifications.
My mom was entrepreneurial, and she instilled that in my two brothers and me. All of us started working when we were in our early teens. During my high school and college years, my older brother and I had a business selling custom-made suits, which funded my expenses throughout that period. Our mom also encouraged us to take risks in life and that pushed me to make tough decisions that shaped who I am today. For example, I dropped out of college for an adventure in Europe, studying English, working, and learning how to live on my own and to better value what I had. Later in life, I quit a successful job working for a global retailer and having the highest-ranked position for a Mexican national to go back to graduate school as a full-time student. That was not easy as my son was 1 year old and I had to borrow money to pay for school tuition and my living expenses, but the risk paid off. Honeywell hired me upon graduation and that started a very successful 18-year career with the company.
What’s a tough career lesson you had to learn and how did it serve you?
I started leading teams right out of college, and at that time my perception of the ideal manager was the one that had a happy team where every member wanted to stay in the team forever. It didn’t take long for life to teach me a lesson on how to effectively manage teams and to correct the flawed idea I had of the ideal manager.
I remember vividly that day when, as a young Merchandise Manager in the retail industry coming back from a two-week vacation, the store manager called me to his office to let me know that a couple of members from my team went to his office to complain about me while I was out. I was shocked. I felt betrayed and could not believe it! “How could they complain if they’re always happy in our weekly meetings and never bring any issues to me?” I asked my boss. “Well, it seems you’re not letting them move to another department where they could have a better commission and make more money,” he replied. “It’s not that. I just tell them that we have a great team and that they won’t be able to find any other team like ours in the store,” I explained. “Are they good salespeople?” he asked. “Yes, they are, two of the best ones in the team,” I responded. “In that case, they should have the opportunity to grow their careers and be promoted to another department where they can increase their income,” he solemnly said. “OK, I will initiate their transfer to the other department,” I hesitantly replied, and with that we closed the conversation.
It took me some time to realize that my goal as a manager of the team was not to create a happy environment but to form a successful team capable of meeting or exceeding its objectives. This implied understanding the needs of each team member and supporting that accordingly. Some of them may want to grow their careers and move to bigger jobs, including mine. This required me to understand their skill gaps and coach them to improve where needed. It also meant to develop a successor who could take my job as I moved to whatever was next for me. Other team members may want to stay in the team longer as they liked what they were doing and their career needs were satisfied. For them, I would need to ensure they stayed motivated and find ways of leveraging their skills within the team so they felt valued. And finally, there were always other team members who didn’t have the capabilities needed for the job. In those cases, I’d coach them to close the gaps, and if they couldn’t or didn’t want to close them, I’d find them another role within the company or outside.
This early lesson in my professional career, while it was painful when it happened because I took it personally, helped me enormously to form the leader I am today. I became very passionate about building teams and developing people and proudly have former team members who I coached and mentored and who became successful leaders and role models for others.
What one (or two) bits of advice would you give someone regarding work or career?
Whatever you do, do it very well. It doesn’t matter if you’re performing a task for your boss, helping your peer, or answering a question for someone at a lower level of the organization. You’re developing your brand and everything you do matters. If you always conduct yourself with integrity and create output of good quality, that’s how people will recognize you and that will pay off in your career.