Carmel Galvin

Chief Human Resources Officer, Senior Vice President at Autodesk

People Success Insight

Creating an environment in which everyone, from employers to employees, is invested in each other's success and growth

Autodesk’s Chief Human Resources Officer Carmel Galvin was born and raised in Ireland. While she was growing up, her father worked at Guinness, where it was believed that those who worked there had a job for life. This was not a formal contract, but rather what some might refer to as an employee-employer psychological contract. Guinness was also known as the “gold standard” for rewarding the loyalty of its employees and their families, with an impressive set of benefits that stayed with them over the course of their careers and beyond.

Carmel graduated from Trinity College in Dublin in the early 1990s, and given the state of the Irish economy, she assumed she would have to leave the country with her master’s degree in Human Resources Management to find an interesting and suitable job. Luckily for Carmel, IBM was setting up its first software development laboratory in Ireland and had one graduate job available in HR, which she accepted. At the time, IBM was known for being very progressive in its HR practices and having an employee-development focused culture. The organization had arrived at what became a critical pivot point for the Irish economy, as the country’s focus moved directly from agriculture to high tech.

Based on Carmel’s early experiences at IBM, she initially assumed that the employer-employee psychological contract at play for her would be similar to the one her father had enjoyed at Guinness. However, not too long after she joined the company, IBM experienced its first round of worldwide layoffs. While Carmel was not impacted directly, it was an awakening to the notion that the benevolent life-long employer might be a thing of the past. She also noted the impact the layoffs had on the broader culture at IBM. “I saw first-hand what happens when a company has to change its long-established and celebrated stance about how it cares about its employees,” Carmel said. The concept of cradle-to-grave job security was officially over.

"The best companies, the ones that are the most attractive to the most desirable talent, are the ones that create a culture based on mutual value."

After two years at IBM, she took her talents and interest in organizational behavior to the San Francisco Bay Area, determined to help companies — and their employees — make the most of this new reality, and to help innovate in forming a new kind of psychological contract.

As such, a complex and compelling challenge has remained at the core of her professional life: How do you help employees build resiliency and a sense of ownership of their own career? How do you create a mutually valuable relationship between a company and its employees so that whatever psychological contract exists benefits both sides?

Over the years, this new relationship has required finding new ways for HR to demonstrate strategic value. “In most organizations, HR has already moved from being a purely administrative function to playing a more critical operational and strategic role internally,” she said. “What is most exciting now is the increased role HR is playing both internally and at the board level, not just as it relates to governance but as a player in defining and creating long term shareholder value.”

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