HR Passion Series  #5: Featuring Steve Browne – Vice President of HR at LaRosa’s, Inc.

HR Passion Series #5: Featuring Steve Browne – Vice President of HR at LaRosa’s, Inc.

July 23, 2018 | Rob Catalano

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This is week #5 of the HR Passion Series, where you get to hear about the lives, experiences, successes, failures, and goals of leaders in the HR world.

We’ve been asking each of these highly esteemed professionals carefully chosen questions that we find deeply riveting and engaging, including tips and tactics, personal experiences, and more.

We hope you enjoy reading this as much as we enjoyed creating it.

Please welcome our fifth guest: Vice President of HR at LaRosa’s Pizzeria Inc., Steve Browne!


The Interview


1. What was your journey coming up to your current HR role? Any milestone moments in your career?

I’ve been in my current HR role for 12 years this year which is the longest time I’ve been with the same company. Before working in HR for a family restaurant company, I worked several other jobs. I started as a Recruiter for a Fortune 100 company and then became an HR Department of One for an entrepreneurial manufacturer. I stayed in manufacturing and worked as a department of one for two other companies – a tool and die manufacturer and a heavy welding/machining manufacturer. Just prior to LaRosa’s, I worked in the Architectural/Engineering services industry for 10 years.

I’m a bit of a rarity in HR in that my 30+ years (so far) have always been in HR. It’s the field that I fit best and enjoy the most.

Milestone moments

The most significant one was during my time with the entrepreneurial firm where the owner challenged me to learn the names/roles of all of his employees in 30 days. On the 31st day he quizzed me for 1 ½ hours. He told me if I missed one person, he’d fire me. I didn’t miss any. At the end of our “quiz” he asked me if I knew why I was hired. I didn’t have a solid response. He replied, “You’re here for my employees. If you ever forget that, I don’t need you.”

That has stuck with me since and I’ve practiced HR with the people first and foremost in all I do regardless of the role I’ve held or the company I’ve worked for.

2. As an HR leader, what keeps you up at night, rounding out 2018 and looking forward to the next year?

I struggle when companies put processes before people. We tend to think that systems, policies, procedures and rules will define structure within an organization and keep people controlled and in line. It’s a myth and always has been. People and systems are intertwined because people perform the tasks that are required of the systems. We can’t keep treating them as separate environments.

The other area that I can’t stand is the issue of calling out generations by labels. I hate the word “millennial” and the efforts by HR and workplaces to treat a group of people differently based on their age. It’s discriminatory at best. There’s no reason to separate and group of people and I can’t stand it when I hear people try. We have ALWAYS had multiple generations in the workplace. Always. We need to drop the labeling game now.


3. What are some elements of focus for your HR strategy in the coming 12 months?

There are two primary focuses for me in HR over the next 12 months. The first is starting a Development program for our General Managers. Its intent is two fold: (1) Develop a working relationship for them with HR, Corporate, Operations and each other and (2) Teach them how to effectively work with their management team and their team members within their locations.

The second focus is to help our executives use check-ins with each member of the leadership team so there is on-going dialogue and development for each of them as individuals and collectively as a team.


4. What advice would you give someone going into an HR leadership position for the first time?

Be genuine and model the behavior you expect in others. We can’t expect to practice Human Resources without being willing to be fully human ourselves. This means being intentional and authentic in engaging every person you work with. Every. One. It means being present in your work and in the lives of your employees. Leadership is done best among others and having an “others” focused approach.


5. Is there anything in your career you’re incredibly proud of?

There are three things that all tie together. First of all, I’m proud that I’ve built a global network of HR professionals that numbers in the thousands. I love being connected to other people and I want to do all I can to bring us together as one diverse, global community as a profession. Secondly, I’m humbled to serve on the SHRM Board of Directors. I’ve been involved with SHRM for almost 20 years and to be able to go from a local chapter president to sitting on the SHRM Board is incredible. I am thankful to have the opportunity to serve. Thirdly, I wrote a book, HR on Purpose !!, that has become a bestseller and has put the message of a people-centric approach to HR on the map across the world.


6. Is there anything you failed at? Any lessons learned?

I’ve failed often when I wasn’t consistent in how I treated people. At times, the hustle and bustle of the day and the work in front of you takes precedence over people. As much as I want to keep a people first perspective, I don’t always succeed.

The lesson learned? You can lose someone’s trust in an instant.

Losing that trust is crippling because without a good working relationship with others, you’ll only be marginally successful. I also have learned that you always have time to breathe, take in all aspects of a situation and then respond. You don’t need to rush in to “save the day.” You need to be present, listen to others and act accordingly.


7. Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as an HR leader? Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you?

Fred Eck. He is my best friend and mentor and has been for many years. He showed me how to connect with others and why giving back to your profession is a great thing to do. He is one of the most authentic and genuine humans I know. He is now retired and still active in the HR community. He models what he feels others could do. He’s invaluable to me and others !!


8. What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as an HR leader? any resources you’d recommend to HR colleagues?

I continually go to HR conferences and events to learn from others. I do this for my own professional development and to keep up my SHRM certification. I also work with Jennifer McClure and Chris Ostoich to keep the DisruptHR movement active in Cincinnati (where it all began). It’s a different way to hear the new voices of HR and business.

I’d highly recommend that HR peers subscribe to HR and business blogs to stay current as well as subscribe to podcasts. We have more than enough time to learn from others and we should do all we can to connect and learn to make ourselves, and our companies, better.


9. When you win HR Executive of the year soon, what song do you want playing when you walk up to the stage?

Now we’re talking !! I’d love to have Vertigo by U2 blaring out as loud as humanly possible !!


10. Finally, give us three words that you would use to describe the HR profession.

Passionate. Relevant. Necessary.

A big thank you to Steve, and stay tuned for our next HR Passion Series guest.



Rob Catalano

Rob Catalano

Rob Catalano is WorkTango’s Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer. Rob has spent the last 17 years building HR Technology companies.