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Business Officer Magazine
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Back Story

Profiles of individuals in roles that support the work of the chief business officer—and who represent the majority of the Business Officer reading audience.

By Margo Vanover Porter

Pride, Passion, and Talent

Matt Hawks
Matt Hawks

Director of Human Resources
Rollins College
Winter Park, Florida
25 years in higher education

The day he stopped by his campus placement office, Matt Hawks happened upon an advertisement-and his eventual career in higher education. "I was coming out of my graduate program at Michigan State, and the University of Michigan was interviewing for an entry-level role in the HR department," he recalls. "We clicked."

After gaining a decade of valuable experience in Michigan, Hawks began to miss the year-round sunshine of Florida, where he'd spent his teenage years. When a position opened at his mother's alma mater, Rollins College, he applied. That was 16 years ago. He's now the director of human resources.

"I enjoy vacationing with my wife in the Florida Keys," he says. "Winter Park is a charming little urban village. Within a short walking distance of our home are cafes, restaurants, and cultural events. We live a few blocks from campus, so we can take advantage of athletic and arts events at the college."

How can an institution keep faculty and staff engaged and motivated?

Hire people who are a good match for the mission and culture of your organization and who are working in jobs that fulfill their occupational passions. Assuming you have done that, you then create the conditions where they can thrive.

What kind of conditions?

Model great workplace practices. Offer flexible and inclusive policies and practices. Community is very important—your employees have to be able to create connections, not only with your mission but also with everything about your organization and the people in it.

How has the economy influenced the HR profession?

We've seen the impact in different ways. A lot of employees have family members who have been laid off. I've seen an increase in the number of issues coming to my office involving family challenges, such as bankruptcy or foreclosure.

When we fill positions now, we're dealing with applicant pools that are sometimes upward of 700 to 800 people, many of them displaced workers applying for anything and everything because there are no jobs at the level they were accustomed to.

Is diversity still a hot button on college campuses?

Yes. Diversity is very much a strategic imperative at colleges and universities today, and although we are making great progress, there is still much work to do.  At Rollins we're doing a pretty good job, but we're a liberal arts college in the heart of a very diverse metropolitan community. In some areas, such as our faculty and upper management, we are not as representative as we should be of the faces of the people in our classrooms and community.

Helping employees develop their cultural competence—the ability to examine their biases and act with sensitivity when interacting with people from other backgrounds and cultures-is an important component of our diversity efforts.

Name a personality trait that has helped you.

I have a diplomatic style that I think helps me tremendously in my role. I can see the shades of gray in the issues that arise in the workplace, which allows me to keep an open mind and look at all angles of a situation before forming a judgment.

What do you find challenging about your job?

When you bring together a large community of people, they all bring their own unique personalities and styles to the job—which can be a definite strength but can also give rise to employee conflicts. When you work in HR, you have to navigate those normal conflicts.

What gives you the most satisfaction in your work?

Helping to create the conditions that allow people to perform at their very best. Many see HR as a support function, but I would argue that it's that and a whole lot more. HR must play an important leadership role in helping the institution leverage the pride, passion, and talents of the workforce in support of the institution's mission.

MARGO VANOVER PORTER, Locust Grove, Virginia, covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.