Q&A with Mayerland Harris, Group Vice President of Human Resources of H-E-B

Q. Mayerland, 27 years at one company? That’s rather unprecedented these days, or at least in the tech world where I live. Why would someone stay with one organization for 27 years? You’ve kinda grown up there :)

I am very proud to say that I was recruited by H-E-B at a career fair on the campus of The University of Texas. Scott McClelland (President, H-E-B Food & Drug Division) approached me about joining the company as a Store Management Trainee. To be perfectly honest, my initial thought was “whichever of these companies come to me with the best offer, I’ll take it,” and that was H-E-B!

I had no idea how transformative that one move would be in my life! Entering the company and training for the future role of running a store was so much more than I bargained for! I fell in love with the culture that existed around me. There was a sense of pride in the Partners (employees) that wore name badges with double digit years of service. These long-tenured department managers and store leaders would eventually become role models and strong influences as I developed my leadership style. I worked through eight years of store operations leadership, which was the perfect first step for me at H-E-B. I was able to walk in the shoes of the Partners and leaders that I would have the opportunity to lead in a different capacity.

Back to your original question, why would someone stay with one organization for 27 years? People. Culture. Knowing that what I do makes a difference and my voice matters. H-E-B is a company that enables a person to have multiple job opportunities inside of one amazing company umbrella. Fortunately, we touch many career fields in our ever-expanding profile. A person could come to H-E-B in one role and find satisfaction in a variety of other opportunities. You don’t have to leave the company to find your dream job. It likely exists right in front of you! The company has never given me a reason to look outside for something else. Even when the work got tough or a project challenging, something would always come my way that would ignite that spark once again. Why would you every want to leave 113 year-old culture grounded in a heart for people.

Q. Of course we’d like your insights on culture but first, I have to say, the entire Culturati team is bowled over by the concept that H-E-B is one of Texas’ first responders. Wow. Just to articulate this is so bold and generous. Nothing proved this more than your response for your partners and communities and customers after Hurricane Harvey. But, before those specifics, can you describe H-E-B’s culture?

Thank you for the comment. As a company, we truly believe our purpose is to improve the lives of Texans. This begins with our Partners. Our Partners are the reason that our culture is so strong. We refer to it as the “Spirit of H-E-B.” It helps to keep us all anchored to our purpose.

To describe the culture of H-E-B, I would say that it is one of connection, belonging, and shared purpose. We truly put people first. That is the way that we conduct business. I like to say that we emphasize “Partner over process.” By that, I mean that we look at the big picture in our work and recognize that its people behind the processes that keep us moving forward. For example, at H-E-B, someone is much less likely to have their employment terminated for missing a number on a P&L or low performance than they are to be terminated for a conduct issue. We measure engagement in our annual survey; however, the difference is we listen to what is said and respond. In 2008, we brought groups of Partners together from throughout the organization to ask them to describe what H-E-B means to them. Overwhelmingly, we heard that “people matter.” “Because People Matter” is now our internal brand and leads as the foundation of who we are and how we relate to people.

Formally, we have a workshop that everyone attends titled, “The Spirit of H-E-B.” We bring new Partners together with tenured Partners for a robust conversation about the history of the company and discuss each one of our core values in depth — through storytelling. We have a Partner discount program, scholarship programs, we give our Partners a free Own Brand product when it’s released so that they can try it first and spread the word. We have a clearly defined career path. H-E-B is a company where you can truly start by bagging groceries and work your way up to an Officer level. Annually, we review compensation and ask, “how much can we pay Partners?” versus “how little can we get by with paying?” We want to be above market rate whenever possible H-E-B can meet the needs of our Partners.

In 2015, Charles decided to invest further in Partners and make us Owners! The Partner Stock Plan was introduced at our annual leadership meeting. From there, the response was taken to heart as a new level of culture was created — one of ownership!

There are many stories behind the years of service proudly represented on our name badges. I encourage readers to stop someone in a store with 20 plus years of service and ask them about their story. Often, when interviewing leadership candidates, I will get the comment, “this MUST be a great place to work. I’ve seen several people with 10, 20, 30 years of service on their badges!” At the end of the day, we are a private, family-owned company that truly believes (from the top down) that if you take care of your people, everything else will fall in line!

HEB’s disaster relief units and mobile kitchens in Victoria, Texas for Hurricane Harvey relief

Q. Back to H-E-B as a first responder in Texas, I suppose we should put this into perspective (especially for out of state readers, H-E-B is Texas’ largest private employer with over 106,000 partners (employees). I’m going to refer readers to the YouTube video of your HCM World 2018: The Culture of Giving — H-E-B speech. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Mr5TJpELkg). Rather than the specifics of how you responded, can you share with us where this instinct even came from? How was this the natural response to such a near statewide disaster?

A culture of meeting the needs of those that we serve started from day one when the company was founded on November 26, 1905 in Kerrville, Texas by Florence Butt (the grandmother of our owner, Charles Butt). With $60 and a prayer (so the story goes), she opened a small store on the ground floor of the family home so that she could sell groceries. Florence had a huge heart for people and a sincere care for the well-being of her community. I mention in the video that she would often go down to the Rio Grande River Valley and feed the homeless. She found ways to make sure that people had what they needed, regardless of their ability to pay.

This culture of caring for people has stayed alive and well! Each generation of H-E-B leader has found distinct ways that we can make a difference. It’s just who we are. It’s what we do. That being said, when disaster strikes a Partner individually or an entire community, we find a way to step in and provide a way to get people back on their feet. We think about the situation as if the disaster occurred to a family member — that’s often our internal gauge to know if we are doing enough.

With disasters such as Hurricane Harvey in 2017, the Bastrop fires of 2011, and other situations, we know that people (Partners and customers) just need their lives returned to a sense of normalcy. Once they are stable, they can begin to make decisions and move themselves forward. It’s not about big, flashy photo-ops, it’s about meeting the basic needs of human beings. That’s how we want to be remembered. Ultimately, that instinct was instilled in us from the beginning of our company.

Q. We often talk about the importance of stories and artifacts to a company’s culture. I’ve noted the story of Florence Butt and the Hurricane Harvey pin as an artifact. Are stories and artifacts something you’re deliberate about and plan for?

Absolutely. We always working to prepare for the future, but it is equally as important to honor our past. Each individual Partner likely has their own collection of H-E-B memorabilia that holds special meaning. Our Partners love to have a pin to proudly display on their name badge. It becomes part of their “story.” Over the years, I have found that it is the smallest gesture that Partners want when we ask how they would like to memorialize an event (such as the pin and t-shirt from Harvey). Our communications and culture team archives all of the memorabilia and share it digitally. We have the full history available on our intranet for Partners to enjoy.

Artifacts from as early as day one of the company are kept safe. We have letters, pictures, the original Model-T used to make deliveries (following our horse and buggy era), and many other items that are important to our history. With each of these items comes a story.

The stories are rich in history and keep our culture alive. As I mentioned previously, we share stories formally (as in our Spirit of H-E-B workshop) or informally amongst ourselves and our teams. Partners are fascinated by the stories that live in our memories and are passed on through each generation of leaders. Everyone has their own unique takeaway from the event and often their own experience to share. That group of shared experiences is what keeps us connected. Yes, we are very deliberate in our efforts to keep our history alive!

Q. H-E-Bs philanthropy and Culture of Giving extends significantly beyond responding to disasters. You guys were one of Culturati’s first sponsors when we were just thinking about bringing CEOs and c-suite leaders together to talk about culture. Every educational organization I’ve ever served on has been blessed with H-E-B support. What’s important for other leaders to know about the generosity of one’s culture? About specific community ambitions?

Earlier, I stated that we believe that we are here to improve the lives of Texans in our efforts. That does extend far beyond natural disasters. As a company, we focus our efforts on community support that touches education, health and wellness, hunger relief, and environmental affairs.

Charles Butt’s mother, Mary Holdsworth Butt was an educator in Texas public schools and an advocate for underserved groups. Charles’ passion to keep the importance of education in the forefront is evident in our community action. By providing resources to educational institutions, literacy programs, nutrition education programs, and good quality food at an affordable price that can feed your family are just a few of the ways that we can fulfill the goal of improving lives.

It’s important for other leaders to know that our core values haven’t changed. We have added to them as needed (for example, specific needs around the digital revolution that we are experiencing); but in the end, we understand who we are as a company and that our shared values must align so that we can serve to the best of our abilities. We are grounded in our Bold Promise (our mission statement) that “Each and Every Person Counts.” If you are truly going to change lives, you must be prepared to act. As a company, we don’t need to see our “name in lights” to know that we are making a difference. We just look at the smiles on the faces of our Partners when they thank a customer for shopping with us or when they receive an unexpected surprise from the company. As for our customers and communities that we serve, we just look for the smiles on their faces when they visit a store and continue to choose H-E-B to know that we are doing our best to improve lives. It’s really so much more than just selling groceries!

Mayerland Harris, SPHR

Leader. Storyteller. Innovator.

Today’s world of Human Resources requires a strategic and creative approach to provide support and solutions to all areas of the business. With a mind full of “bright ideas,” Mayerland Harris has been a key contributor to the success of H-E-B, an organization with a deep culture over 113 years strong that is in the midst of a digital revolution. She is known as an influential leader, nation- al speaker and innovator in all facets of the HR spectrum. In an ever-evolving workforce, Mayerland’s dynamic style allows her to lead through business growth, organizational change and through times of crisis.

A unique leader with almost three decades of combined Human Resources and store operations experience, she leads an impres- sive team of HR professionals including Field HR Managers, Recruiters, Training & Development Managers and Organizational Talent Managers. As the Group VP of HR, Mayerland provides human resources leadership for the Houston Food & Drug, Central Market, Smart Shop and Mi Tienda Divisions of H-E-B.

She develops the strategic and often unconventional direction to ensure alignment with key business initiatives. Her leadership team has the ability to create, implement and sustain solutions that impact employment, employee relations, benefits, compen- sation, training, and organizational design. As an example, Mayerland is the leader of all HR disaster relief efforts for H-E-B. In this role, she brings together HR teams from all areas of H-E-B to lead employee communication and assistance, pay practices, and relief efforts. She is most proud of the strong employee and community relief efforts that she was able to influence during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

The daughter of a teacher with 30 years of experience, she naturally brings with her a love of learning and an ability to “see the possibilities” in any situation. Mayerland received her BBA from University of Texas at Austin and her MBA from Texas A&M Uni- versity. She currently sits on the boards of the Houston Food Bank, HR Houston, and the Strategic HR Advisory Board at Rice Uni- versity. She is a lecturing Corporate Fellow for the MBA program at the University of Houston-Downtown and the TMI-Wharton Fellow Program at the University of Pennsylvania. As a nationally sought-after speaker for many conferences and public appear- ances, Mayerland’s gift for storytelling provides her audience with someone relatable and certain to leave a lasting impression.

She resides in The Woodlands, Texas with her husband of 25 years. Mayerland is the proud parent of two college students; an engineering major at Georgia Tech and a business major at Texas A&M University. Some of her proudest moments in life involve experiences with her family and having the ability to touch many lives through her professional career.




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Culturati Team

Culturati Team

Culturati is a community of CEOs, entrepreneurs, investors and other c-suite leaders who practice & study culture building and share our play books.

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