When people hear the term “human resources” or “HR,” it’s easy to conjure up the image of a stuffy bureaucrat with a clipboard and a rule book who is needlessly filling out forms that no one will use and busily enforcing corporate policies that only serve to impede employees from doing their jobs. But a new breed of HR pros like Jeff Smith bear little resemblance to HR leaders of the past and are making the human resources function into an agent of change for the better.

Throughout Jeff Smith’s career, he’s used his talents to make the organizations he works for, and their employees, fit for purpose. Jeff Smith headed up the global human resources department for BlackRock for over a decade and was also a member of the investment firm’s global executive committee and global operating committee. Throughout his tenure, he was instrumental in creating diversity initiatives that supported the company’s growth and made it a place where talented individuals from any background could thrive. During his time at BlackRock, Smith instituted effective and innovative hiring practices that today have become model templates for how organizations can foster more supportive and diverse cultures. 

One of Jeff Smith’s particular interests has always been to make the hiring process not only more inclusive but also more focused on finding talent particularly suited to the needs of the organization. When assessing potential recruits, Jeff Smith and his HR team centered on people who were client-directed — candidates who would be driven by serving BlackRock’s INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL clients to the best of their abilities. He designed a recruitment process that would unearth applicants who were passionate about learning and innovation and would seek out strong collaborators driven by a desire to contribute to something greater. 

Jeff Smith’s road to BlackRock started in 2006 as a team member for Barclays Global Investors, which in 2009 was acquired by BlackRock for $15.2 billion. Not only did Smith play an instrumental role in the merger, under his guidance, the BlackRock HR department rose in stature within the organization to play a critical role in how the company did business. Over the next decade, Smith personally was involved in most key talent decisions, including many at the C-suite level. 

During Jeff Smith’s HR tenure at BlackRock, he encouraged staff to talk to their managers about what they wanted to do. As he told Business Insider, he advised staff members: “If you’re feeling unfulfilled, you should have an open conversation with your manager focused on your interests and career aspirations. We have an internal mobility policy so our employees can pursue different opportunities at the firm, which keeps people engaged and shares the talent across different teams.”

The internal mobility policy allowed employees to move around and pursue other career paths and interests. The primary goal was to help those who became frustrated or bored with their work to find a renewed purpose within the organization. The result was a business that was not only more attuned to its employees’ needs, but increased the retention of its talent and institutional knowledge. 

By the time he arrived at Barclays Global Investors, Jeff Smith had already built up a decade of experience in human resources. He began his career in 1997 as a senior consultant at recruitment consultancy Personnel Decisions International, and by 2001 had moved to Time Warner, where he was part of the HR team that managed Time Warner’s merger with America Online.

Over the years, Jeff Smith has become a thought leader in how companies can use the HR function as a strategic source of innovation. He speaks regularly at business schools and industry conferences, with an emphasis on talent, innovation, and culture. His HR expertise has been featured in a number of publications. The Harvard Business Review published two pieces; Building a Game-Changing Talent Strategy” and “BlackRock: Diversity as a Driver for Success.” In addition, he was featured in the book Talent Wins: The New Playbook for Putting People First by Ram Charan, Dominic Barton, and Dennis Carey.