When Opportunity Knocks…from CHRO to President of Operations

By Joe Gonzalez, Human Capital/Talent Executive Search & Advisement


Our firm has the privilege of working with exceptional CEOs, Private Equity Firms and CHROs in placing Human Capital/Talent leadership nationwide. The interview I am about to share with you is what I refer to as “The Holy Grail”. For decades one of the most significant challenges for human resources leadership is their level of business acumen and the alignment of their function with the desired business outcomes.

In my multiple conversations with Doug Battista for this interview, he always exuded a humble appreciation for the opportunities he has been given in his career. His early experiences with Aramark under exceptional HR leaders like Ed Evans, provided the insights needed to understand the business needs and desired outcomes. While leading talent acquisition for Nestle USA, he was given the opportunity to be the CHRO for their Jenny Craig division, which was eventually spun off to private equity. After which, he opted to stay with the company.

He will be sharing a story of courage, a willingness to take intelligent risk, and an approach that brought significant business outcomes.

Under Doug’s strategy as President of Operations, Jenny Craig was able to grow their revenue by 27% and improved EBITA from <0 to a multi-million dollar improvement, which led to a successful event for their PE partner.

JOE: What prompted you to believe you could transition from CHRO to VP of Operations during a challenging time of transformation?

DOUG: Our business was operating in negative EBITDA territory. I recognized that our businesses turnaround needed to be fueled by a human capital plan that aligned with the company strategy. Based on my experience and passion for leading human capital initiatives, I believed I could do the job. Fortunately, my assumptions were correct. Having the right people, focused on the right things in a highly collaborative way, would be a winning strategy for us.

JOE: Describe your process and business transformation strategy?

DOUG: I traveled to 50 markets throughout North America, engaging a range of people which included: front line employees, board members, and industry experts to devise our new Service Strategy. The delivery model, prioritizing customer success in a new way through consultant coaching, would enhance repeat customer visits and improve revenues. Although there was substantial evidence of what customer success looked like, it was a test of my resolve to implement the changes needed. There would be a significant investment of time and resources required, which tested my level of courage. I have newfound respect for business leaders going through significant change efforts.

JOE: How much support did you receive initially from the Executive Leadership Team and PE firm?

DOUG: Although my CEO Monty Sharma was a bit surprised when I raised my hand for the role, he was extremely supportive. Putting me in front of his Board of Directors with my proposal took a lot of courage as well. It took a while to get the backing of the Executive Leadership Team and a couple Board members, but after completing round table sessions with leaders, including the PE firm, we gained alignment. Once we began seeing results, they became more supportive. The process would take time, which seemed like an eternity when we were going through it. Effective leadership requires patience.

JOE: What were the critical turning points? Those that reinforced your strategy was working? 

DOUG: Once the financial metrics in the pilot markets significantly improved, we knew we were on to something. The higher levels in our revenue-per-client visit, client value, and labor efficiency were undeniable. We spent a lot of time setting the vision, getting the right talent, training up our teams and constantly communicating our objectives. Once the strategy began to work, people really bought in, we were winning! People love to win.

JOE: Describe your organizational design/talent transformation?

DOUG: Aligning the organization and talent with our new model was a massive change management effort that included:

  • Redesigning the role of front line employees
  • Training and certifying front line employees, equipping them for the new strategy
  • Aligning the compensation/rewards programs
  • Implementing new metrics to measure our results

Finally, we had to make those tough decisions. Removing those unwilling or unable to make the change was critical to our success.

“Understanding talent implications as the President of Operations is vital.”

JOE: Explain the culture needed to achieve the desired business outcomes.

DOUG: The culture we drove was driven by coordination, commitment, and accountability. To be successful, I needed to have my direct reports 100% coordinated and committed around our Service Strategy. Once the team was committed and coordinated, we began driving commitment throughout the organization. My team and I spent 6 months on-the-road building relationships and conducting round-table discussions with our 1,800 front-line employees throughout North America.

Finally, we drove a culture of “Supportive Accountability”, challenging our team to overcome any obstacles. I oftentimes asked, “what actions are we going to take to overcome this challenge and achieve our goal?” In short, I challenged them to be great, providing the support they needed, but not allowing any excuses to get in our way.

JOE: What personal/professional development did you go through? 

DOUG: I’ve been fortunate to go through this tremendous development process. First, learning the financials: cash flow, balance sheet, and income statement. Second, understanding how to succeed in the Private equity world. As I continue my growth, with the help of my business coach, my focus is on the importance of setting a future state, project planning, and creating/executing specific actions to achieve that future state.

I must recognize those in my career/life that have been instrumental in my development:

Ed Evans, who taught me that sometimes we must sacrifice doing things the “right way” to do the “right thing”.

Tom Horn, for hiring me after earning my degree at Niagara University, then mentoring me on recruitment and selection.

Andy Martin, for teaching me how to be a business partner.

Monty Sharma, for believing in me and teaching me how to run a business.

John Young, who guided me in the creation of our Service model and stood by me during the journey.

JOE: You mentioned you added quants to your team. What led to that decision?

DOUG: I added quants to help me answer key questions about the business. For example, we needed to know how successful each employee was at delivering on our Service strategy. We wouldn’t have achieved our success without the analytics team creating the correct metrics and analysis.

JOE: Alignment of the business and human resources can often be challenging. Will you provide us insight on what both sides can do to partner more effectively when it comes to achieving their needed talent strategy?

DOUG: We all know that getting the right talent is so critical for business success. We all say it; however, we’ve all experienced business leaders who don’t walk the talk. My guidance is for business leaders is to make talent a priority and engage the HR team in the business. Insist that HR attend the company training sessions, business reviews, site visits, etc. Without understanding the business, they won’t be able to establish talent strategies that move the business forward. If you have given them the opportunity to learn the business and they are not getting it, you need to find those that do.

For HR leaders, KNOW YOUR BUSINESS. Then, focus on talent optimization that aligns and drives business outcomes. Be willing to take intelligent risks. One example, if talent assessment and succession planning is a once-per year activity, you’re likely off-track.

JOE: So after your experience as President of Operations, What’s next?

DOUG: I know that getting the right talent, culture and leadership in place is critical to business success. I’ve led these efforts as an HR and Ops leader, and have had the good fortune of working with great people who helped me develop my skills.  I’m excited to give back with what I’ve learned and be a contribution.

JOE: Below is an article that provides insights into why someone with Doug’s background could be successful as a business leader coming out of HR.

Harvard Business Review, Why Chief HR Officers Make Great CEOs

His success validates what we always say, Talent Wins!