Human Capital & Careers

A Man of the People

This CFO sees human-resources oversight as one of his most important roles.
David McCannJune 27, 2011

For some CFOs, human-capital issues are like gnats: something to just swat out of the way in order to focus on the next financing deal or presentation to investors. For Keith Taylor, human capital is an elephant.

Taylor is the new finance chief of Lyris, a $40 million publicly held provider of e-mail marketing solutions. He was brought in to tackle people issues as much as financial ones. Of course, it’s common for CFOs to wear the human-resources hat at small companies. But HR was under his care at earlier stops at much larger ones, including $700 million Magellan Navigation from 2007 to 2008 and the North American arm of worldwide staffing giant Adecco, which Taylor helped grow from $400 million in revenues in 1994 to $2.5 billion in 1999.

“HR is kind of in my DNA,” says Taylor, at least since his days as a controller at Apple in the late 1980s and early 1990s, where HR vice president Kevin Sullivan served as a mentor for understanding the importance of people, leadership, mentorship, accountability, and passion. Taylor’s rationale for being personally involved on the people side is straightforward: “Throughout my career, I’ve tried to set companies apart by asking why we are successful and how we can be more successful. Well, if we’ve got high turnover, or the wrong people in the wrong roles at the wrong time, or with the wrong focus or cultural attributes, we’re going to be less successful.”

Now he’s trying to achieve massive growth at Lyris, whose sights are set on eventually being a Fortune 1,000 player. To get there, the company’s board hired a CEO last August, Wolfgang Maasburg, who set about assembling an entirely new senior leadership team that now includes Taylor. All have embraced Taylor’s people principles, he says.

Keith Taylor 6-11

It starts at the top. In what Taylor calls the trickle-down, strong leaders hire strong directors who hire strong managers who will embrace employees who have “the right values,” he says. “Some will find their way out because they don’t fit, or don’t have the passion, or don’t embrace change.”

Taylor has been spending half his time on human-capital management during his four months at Lyris, installing new processes and systems such as ADP’s Workforce Now to streamline HR’s “commodity activities” and thereby free the HR team to focus on value-added strategies. Another newly deployed system is JobVite, a social-media platform designed to enhance both intracompany communications and the recruitment and hiring process.

He expects to cut down that time commitment now that the company has hired a vice president of human resources, Barron Cox, formerly of Cisco Systems. While Taylor will remain very involved, his long-term view is that people are so important that the C-level oversight really should come from the CEO. Accordingly, the new vice president will have a seat at the executive table. “Recognizing the need to invest in employees and align them with the company’s vision needs to be ingrained in everything we do,” says Taylor.

As a small technology company with limited brand awareness, Lyris has to do whatever it can to compete for talent against the likes of Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Facebook. That means, for example, requiring contingency recruiters to sign a statement agreeing to follow Lyris’s recruiting philosophy — filling positions with candidates whose qualifications go beyond the quantitative and address cultural, visionary, and other qualitative attributes.

(Contingency recruiters’ business model generally is to provide clients with many candidates who meet the minimum stated job requirements, and receive payment only if a candidate is hired. Retained recruiters, by comparison, are paid no matter what, but tend to conduct more-exhaustive searches to produce the single best candidate.)

By the way, don’t confuse Keith Taylor of Lyris with Keith Taylor, the CFO of another technology company, Equinix. In fact, they both have the same middle initial, D. Lyris’s Taylor notes that the Securities and Exchange Commission won’t let him sign filings as “Keith D. Taylor,” requiring him to sign as simply “Keith Taylor.” “We are actually business relations and friends, and we get each other’s mail all the time,” he says.