Jeff Smith represented by two businessmen shaking hands

Jeff Smith, BlackRock’s Former HR Executive, Talks Driving Business Strategies and Creating HR Practices

Jeff Smith, BlackRock’s former global chief human resources officer, has decades of experience in all aspects of human resources (HR). He’s been responsible for hiring, compensation, creating HR practices and operations, and driving business strategy.

Every company operates differently, which is why successful human resources executives are adaptable. “People often go from one company to the next and just apply what existed at their prior employer to their new situation because it is what they know and know how to do,” explains the former human resources leader at BlackRock. “I think it rarely works. When someone is always [making comparisons] to a prior employer, it is almost always rejected culturally. [This is true] especially when they are in a senior position.”


It is especially important to design everything in the very specific context of where you are. It is equally important to consider the priorities of your business, Smith explains. “Take your own knowledge and opinions. [ Also combine that] with the expertise and experience you have. But most of all, focus on the context and uniqueness of where you are and create the right processes and practices for that situation.”

Basically, what you do not want to do, according to the HR exec, “is read articles about best practices and the things experts say is the right thing to do [because] they have never been in your company and don’t know what you are trying to do.”

Former BlackRock HR Exec Jeff Smith: “I Prefer to Work and Grow Companies That Actually Care About People”

When it comes to growing a business, Jeff Smith encourages leaders to ask and answer these seven questions as a starting point:

  1. What kind of people do we need?
  2. Likewise, what skills should they possess?
  3. What personalities are the best fit?
  4. How do we find and hire them?
  5. How do we create a purpose and value proposition that makes people want to be at our company instead of every other company worldwide?
  6. How do we pay them fairly and incentivize talent?
  7. Finally, how do we motivate them and create a culture that works and that we thrive?

Figuring out the answers to those questions and tackling the challenges of growing a company is what Smith relishes about human resources. “It’s really hard but fun,” he says.

“I prefer to work in and grow companies that actually care about people as much as most companies say they care about people,” adds Smith.

What Is the Role of Chief Human Resources Officer?

Human resources play an essential role in the employee lifecycle. It includes everything from the time potential talent is identified to the hiring, performance management, compensation, and exit of an employee. It’s critical to have the right people at the helm.

“HR is operating from a long history of being thought of as a much more administrative function. So people spend a lot of time trying to justify it. I would never call myself a strategic [chief human resources officer],” Smith told David Reimer, the CEO of The ExCo Group. “As a CHRO, it should be implied that you are strategic, not a rarity. Smith continued, “What seems to get drilled into HR people’s heads is ‘know the business, know the business, know the business.’ And, ‘You’re a businessperson, you’re a businessperson, you’re a businessperson.’ And I completely disagree with that.”

He told Reimer, “I think you should lead as an HR person. You have expertise. You are exceptional at compensation.” Smith continued, “You are exceptional at talent assessment. You are exceptional as a provider of advice to the business.”

He suggested starting “from a place where you have pride and belief in what you do—your expertise and the value you add to the company—instead of trying to be something else and defending what HR is and what it isn’t.”

Smith acknowledged that an excellent human resources executive has a comprehensive awareness of the business. “This individual is inquisitive and has a deep understanding of talent and what makes people excel in different jobs and environments,” he said.


HR executives like Jeff Smith need the courage to make difficult decisions that balance business needs and human needs. They should stand up for and believe in the importance of HR. He said the “ability to provide advice and counsel, be a great listener and trustworthy with many different constituents” are traits of an impactful HR exec.

“HR is a business in its own right that enables every single thing that happens in a company,” Smith said. “The amount and diversity of work is incredible. People are complex, and the conversations and work are never-ending. So, you need to focus on hiring the best of the best. And ideally, make HR a destination for great people in the business to come and make an impact.”