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Women of Leadership Profiles

Whirlpool’s Global Chief HR Officer Stays Open to the Possibilities

Featuring: Whirlpool Corporation

Carey Martin – Chief Human Resources Officer at Whirlpool – has a simple recipe for success: work hard, be open-minded, and be willing to take risks. But simple doesn’t mean easy – her greatest growth occurred when she was willing to be uncomfortable.

The many hats of HR: coach, counselor, and confidante

As SVP, Global Human Resources Officer at Whirlpool, what does your role entail?

People make the difference at any company, and our job is to make sure that we are acquiring, developing, and retaining the best talent possible and that we are taking care of them so they bring their best selves to work every day.

What qualities are necessary for a role like this?

Whirlpool is a global company with offices in approximately 60 countries. Each country has a unique culture with its own nuances. Being a problem solver and being open-minded are necessary to understand and work through challenges. I value diversity of ideas – there is not always one right answer in solving problems. People have different perspectives based on their experiences, and being open leads to the best answer.

Something about HR that you don’t learn from reading books is that you are a coach, a counselor, and a confidante. There are lots of different roles to play, which requires being flexible and empathetic.

After an early interest in law, a pivot to business 

What was your childhood like? Did your upbringing influence your choice of profession?

I grew up in a suburb of Detroit. My father and grandfather had a family-owned machine shop then they developed a technology they patented and ended up selling across the globe. From the age of five, I went to the shop on weekends and summers and swept metal chips off the floor.

My father told me that he didn’t just have responsibility for our family, but also for all the families of the people who worked for him. That impacted me, and I think it’s why I eventually landed in HR. The role of HR is to take care of employees.

I always thought I would go to law school. The joke in the family was that I should go to law school because my dad and I liked to argue, and I was on the debate team in high school. But I started an HR internship my sophomore year at Michigan State, and after I graduated, I knew that I wanted to do HR and not law school.

What has been the value of further education – what did your masters in Human Resources do for you?

For me, it is about both my degrees. Had I not had a really solid background in business, I probably would not have chosen the more focused graduate degree in HR. Being classically trained in HR, I have perspective from past experiences to apply to current situations.

For example, in 2016, the company asked me to lead our multi-year global HR transformation project – a multi-million-dollar investment. There were challenges, and Whirlpool needed it back on track. At the time, I was VP of HR for North America, and later I was fortunate enough to be offered the Global Chief HR Officer position, succeeding my predecessor who had been with the company for 35 years. All my past experiences were helpful in making that leap.

Discomfort = growth 

What can people learn from your career path?

I went straight to graduate school after undergrad and then went straight to work at Eaton Corporation.

I would do whatever the company wanted me to do and go wherever they wanted me to go. My philosophy was, “I am young, I have a lot to learn.” People want someone who is willing to work hard, and they will teach you what you need to know. Because I was so open, I got called to do things that some people might not have an opportunity to do in a lifetime. As a result, we moved 10 times in 14 years – nine with Eaton.

For example, Eaton is a non-union manufacturing company. They had a union organizing campaign at a facility, and I was asked to go there, understand the employees’ concerns, and get them corrected right away. I have never had a union organizing experience since, but I got an opportunity to be part of that. And with each opportunity, I got a little more responsibility.

What pivotal decisions did you make that had the greatest impact on your career?

Probably my biggest decision was leaving Eaton. It’s a great company, and I struggled with leaving because I was loyal and had growth ahead of me. There was one thing Eaton could not provide me though. I wanted to test myself and see if I could succeed in a place other than Eaton. I took a huge risk when I left and went to Whirlpool, but it was another great company with strong values that was rooted in the Midwest. Sometimes you have to make uncomfortable choices, but that’s when you grow.

And it’s been hard – a new company, new industry, new people, new culture – to be in a senior level role and feel a responsibility to deliver.  But I am very happy that I made the move and have learned a lot from making that decision. My husband and I try to reinforce to our kids: every day you are living on this earth, you need to keep learning, challenge yourselves, and grow from those experiences. 

Get sponsors, work hard, and know yourself 

What advice do you have, particularly for young women?

Work hard, and make sure you deliver your best – do not expect anything to be handed to you.

I have been at plenty of meetings where I am the only woman in the room. Having a strong support system, being centered, knowing what you are willing and not willing to do are all important. Be true to yourself.

I have worked for some great, supportive leaders – and many are men. Sponsorship is important – I take to heart my responsibility to help open doors for others, people who may be overlooked for some reason.

Personal pursuits

Anything on your “bucket list” you’re willing to share?

When I retire, I might open a flower shop. I love flowers. They are bright and cheerful and bring happiness.

What is your work-life philosophy?

You can have it all – just not at the same time. You may have to make trade-offs, but always know what your north star is.  I would not have gotten to where I am today if not for the sacrifices that we’ve made.

My husband has been an amazing source of support, and my children are very understanding of my responsibilities. It’s a team effort.

Carey travels the globe frequently for work, but we’re betting she always knows where her north star is.

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