Darrell Ford is tasked with leading a dedicated HR team as a global organization adjusts to market needs.
By Kim Shanahan
Darrell Ford was recruited to Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), a global technology company, as SVP and CHRO three years ago in the midst of a comprehensive turnaround. A Fortune 500 company that competes directly with Intel and other global semiconductor players, AMD has more than 10,000 people in 50 locations across 31 countries and reported 2014 annual revenue of $5.5 billion. As Ford knows all too well, a turnaround CHRO requires a different type of skillset. He or she needs the courage to drive change and encourage stability while facing competing pressures and intense scrutiny on a daily basis.
Describe AMD and the current market conditions the company is facing.
Darrell Ford: AMD has a 44-year history of innovation in the semiconductor space. We operate in a volatile, highly competitive market. We are historically known to be tough and scrappy, and we employ some of the best and brightest minds that I’ve ever known.
Recently, the PC market has seen declines…and that’s bad for our business because we have traditionally been highly dependent on this market. We are re-engineering the company to have a much more diverse product set and pursue strategic growth markets. This will lessen our dependency on the PC market, and allow us to be more stable and profitable.
This transformation has significant implications for the HR function. We need to recruit and develop a new set of talent with new skill sets, organize differently for success and growth, and champion a culture of agility and accountability.
AMD has been going through this turnaround over the last few years. Describe your experience as the CHRO helping to lead this effort.
Ford: My HR team has been an integral part of AMD’s turnaround process, on a number of fronts.
First, the new product set and growth markets that we are focused on required a different skillset within the organization. It was imperative that, over time, we lessened our dependency on the PC market and increased our focus on growth markets. That shift has had major implications for our recruitment of new talent, as well as the development of our existing talent. First, we needed to source and recruit best-in-class architects for both CPUs and GPUs to serve as an anchor for new design and development. The team was able to successfully onboard two of the very best industry architects to fill this need, and it’s been a game changer for our business.
Another large shift we needed to drive was a better balance between the hardware and software skillset across our organization. We had traditionally been very focused on the hardware side of the coin, but we needed to couple that with the software skillset to really make the end-user experience come to life. This had implications for recruitment as well as organizational design to make it all come together across the global organization.
The transformation has also required us to change the shape and structure of our organization a few times. To support this, we introduced the Organizational Human Resource Planning process to drive conversations with the business regarding their strategy, and the readiness of the structure, skills, and capabilities to enable that strategy, both today and in the future. We implemented that “Strategy to Structure to Skill” conversation process throughout the entire organization, to ensure solid alignment from our board of director level through the talent ranks of the organization. We also launched thennovation Technology Committee to review the key technical skills required now and in the future to enable our strategy to come to life.
AMD’s culture is the underpinning of all of our work, so we’ve spent a lot of time there. Building a culture of alignment across global functions, accountability from our teams and leaders, and above all, agility to respond to our dynamic markets has been paramount for us. We call this the AMD Way, and it’s been at the heart and soul of our turnaround efforts. We introduced Speed of Trust workshops as one of the key components of the AMD Way, with the intent to improve trust and transparency throughout the organization. Doing so has allowed us to increase the speed and quality of our decision making, which is vital in our volatile industry.
What are the most important elements of HR teams in a turnaround? What else did you look for when you reengineered your team?
Ford: First, I should note that, while AMD was in the midst of re-engineering the business, my own HR team was undergoing its own functional transformation too.
When I walked into AMD, the CHRO position had been open for some time. The existing team needed an infusion of confidence and successes to build on. It took a different kind of leadership style than I had anticipated. My team needed to be motivated and inspired, versus simply directed to reinvigorate that winning spirit.
I needed to create an HR team of business-minded, change agents. It’s really important to have independent thinkers, who will stand up and challenge the status quo. You can’t transform a company if your team is made up of people who just ‘go with the flow’. I needed strategic thinkers, who had the courage to stand up to our executive team and bring new, innovative ideas to the table, backed by data and smart analytics. A great example of this is the global footprint consolidation work that my team helped to lead. HR analytics helped us understand the size, skills, and capabilities that we employed by geography, as well as local market dynamics as it pertains to talent. By taking a hard look at this data, we were able to centralize our global footprint, increase efficiencies, and most importantly, ensure that we were established in the right markets to leverage key talent sources in support of our strategy.
At the end of the day, I expect all of our work in HR to be rooted in creating value. By truly understanding our business and the value-drivers, we can correctly align our human capital strategy.
Kim Shanahan is CEO of accelHRate. She can be reached at kim. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Darrell Ford offers advice for HR leaders going through a turnaround:
- Understand the value drivers for the business and what it will take to turn the business around. By having a deep understanding of the drivers, and where they sit currently, you will have a better appreciation for the amount of work and time involved in the turnaround efforts.
- Drive a clear vision of what success looks like, and how each audience can play a distinct role in the turnaround. Leverage your leadership team to continuously inform and engage the global employee base around this vision of success and the key milestones that are required to get there.
- Quickly assess, develop, recruit, and upgrade your leadership teams to ensure they have the desire and capability to drive meaningful change. Leading through transition requires courage and tough decision-making. Your heart has to be in it. This doesn’t get easier over time, so make sure your team is up for the challenge.
- Partner closely with communications to help get the message out about the what, how and why of the turnaround. Remember, you are trying to reconcile an entire organization to a new reality. This requires a strategic communications effort to make sure each person is reached with your message and well aligned to the goal.
Darrell L. Ford is AMD’s senior vice president and CHRO and is responsible for leading all areas of the company’s human resources function. This includes an ongoing effort to align the company’s global employee population around a culture of commitment to help create enhanced value for AMD customers and shareholders.
His career has spanned both operations and HR roles at AT&T, Honeywell, Shell and now AMD. The variety of roles that he has held, and the global nature of those roles, has been essential to Ford’s development as an HR leader. Ford spent some time on compensation design, in talent management, learning and development, and organizational effectiveness, and as a senior HR business partner to the C-level for various businesses. He has held roles within the HR function, and has also been a client of HR. Being on both sides has helped to shape his overall philosophy of HR.