Karen McDonald on the importance of the CHRO and CEO relationship


For the CHRO and CEO to have a successful relationship, they must share the same vision for their people, says Karen.

Karen McDonald, people (HR) director for Bridgestone Southern Africa, believes in the benefits of aligning purpose and values with the CEO.

Karen, who joined Bridgestone in July 2022, previously worked for local and multinational companies across sub-Saharan Africa. Before taking up her role at Bridgestone, she was the general manager of human resources at Air Products. She holds an honours degree in psychology and is a certified change practitioner.

With 20 years of experience in the HR industry, Karen says she has learnt that alignment in purpose forms the basis for a productive partnership. She adds that for the CHRO and CEO to have a successful relationship, they must share a people-oriented vision that is underpinned by a set of values that demonstrates a heart for people.

“The partnership between the CHRO and the CEO is absolutely critical. To make sure that you’re like-minded as far as people are concerned, catapults the people focus in any company,” she says.

Karen’s attraction to Bridgestone was the company’s sheer determination and grit to change and improve itself with an intentional focus on aligning the people and profit agenda. “Coming into an organisation that was and remains committed to transforming itself through a focus on people, is tangible demonstration that the right focus on people, through good leadership commitment, delivers profit.’’

For Karen, the relationship between CHROs and CEOs depends on trust, collaboration, and mutual respect, which aids the co-creation and execution of strategy. She says, “To co-create is to be comfortable with being your authentic self so that your unique perspectives are voiced, but also adaptable to different ways of being and schools of thought’’, adding that these are also important enablers for promoting a culture that is inclusive.

She advises that HR professionals must use their voices to be heard, be it at the shop floor or C-suite. “Having a voice is great, however it means little if we don’t use it to express our views.’’ She adds that it’s also one of the many areas in life where no one is going to do it for you or force you to share your views. Having the courage to speak with truth, through humility while being mindful of being respectful is power personified. ‘’We all owe it to ourselves to make our voices heard,” she says.

Trust, collaboration, and mutual respect go a long way particularly in times where the CHRO and CEO may differ in opinion. For Karen, being able to engage in debate without the worry of the proverbial ‘’career limiting move’’ is not only gratifying but perhaps more importantly, fosters a culture of intellectual curiosity and critical thinking which challenge beliefs and also support continuous learning.

Delivering results, across all spheres of HR is a non-negotiable. She adds that the necessary administrative and other support work that all HR professionals have to do, must be done with precision and pride. Not only does this support the trust that employees and leaders place in HR professionals, but also demonstrates a high say – do ratio, indicating that irrespective of what the task is, as HR professionals what we say is what we will do, without compromising on quality and our integrity.


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