01 Dec 2016
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Inside Modern HR

Talent Show
Re: Matt Breitfelder (MBA 2002); Nitin Nohria; William George; Linda Hill; Boris Groysberg; Ranjay Gulati
by Julia Hanna

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Matthew Breitfelder (MBA 2002)
(courtesy Matthew Breitfelder)

Young Hee Yoo (MBA 2017)
(courtesy Young Hee Yoo)

Once relegated to the back office, human resources has seen dramatic change (think data analytics) as global competition for skilled workers increases. Matthew Breitfelder’s (MBA 2002) transition to the field came midcareer, after stints as an international economist at the US Department of Commerce, a corporate strategist, and a management consultant. Now chief talent officer and managing director at New York–based BlackRock, the world’s largest asset management firm, Breitfelder talked to Young Hee Yoo (MBA 2017) about an area that isn’t always seen as a match for MBA skills.

YY: Why do you think you were attracted to HR?

MB: As a kid, my father was the head of an IT consulting company, and my mother was a therapist. I grew up with a real love and understanding of what it takes to build a business brick by brick, as well as a deep curiosity for what makes people tick. At HBS, whenever we had the opportunity to talk to different CEOs about their careers, so many of them brought up the issue of talent when discussing big decisions. I found that fascinating, and as a management consultant I saw there could be a gulf between a strategy and the human dynamics involved in execution. I felt like I spoke both languages.

YY: What makes it exciting?

MB: Being pulled into the middle of a difficult business issue or a white-hot decision moment as a kind of internal coach. That is incredibly fulfilling from an impact perspective—being trusted as an advisor when it matters most.

YY: What’s new in talent management?

MB: Big data has enabled HR professionals to go head-to-head with other corporate functions to bring more analytical rigor to talent decision-making. For example, we can look at our hiring data over the last five years and correlate a college major or a previous workplace against performance review results. The science doesn’t replace the art element of a hiring decision, but it helps reduce uncertainty. We’re learning so much about how employee well-being drives engagement and performance, and I think organizations will operate differently in the future from a work-life perspective.

YY: What should I do if I decide to focus on HR for my job search?

MB: There are amazing professors at HBS doing cutting-edge research in this space, so you don’t want to miss the opportunity to learn from people like Nitin Nohria, Bill George, Linda Hill, Boris Groysberg, and Ranjay Gulati. Some of the most exceptional leadership experts in the world are right there on campus. Find ways to build your expertise in areas that pertain to individual development and decision-making, such as behavioral science and behavioral economics. The entire MBA skill set has become incredibly valuable to the HR profession. In fact, a lot of companies will take a bet on an HBS graduate who has no direct experience in the field, but who has a strong business background and a deep interest in how talent and organizational decisions drive performance. The game changers in this field will have strong business acumen, analytical horsepower, excellent coaching capabilities—and an ability to influence at all levels. Come join the revolution!

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