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The Not-So-Back-Office: Steve Browne’s Job is Selling Pizza

steve browne

This interview with Steve Browne, Executive Director of Human Resources for LaRosa’s Pizza, Inc., was conducted, condensed, and in some cases paraphrased by Charlie Judy.

Q. Why did you pick HR?

A. I had ambitions of being a chemical engineer until one day in college I watched an honors chemistry professor completely disregard the human element for one of his students.  It struck me on that day that chemistry didn’t have a lot to do with humans and humans were important to me.  I switched majors, got a degree in interpersonal communications, joined P&G out of school as a recruiter, and here I am.

Q. As you’ve advanced through the ranks of Human Resources, what key lessons from your mentors have you taken with you?

A. After leaving P&G for my first job as a generalist, my new boss told me that he wanted me to learn the names and something personal about each of the 200 employees in the organization.  He told me he’d quiz me in 20 days and he threatened to fire me if I failed.  No joke.  I passed the quiz and learned quite fundamentally that knowing your people is all that really matters.  In fact, my boss drove home the notion that without that knowledge, the organization didn’t need me.  I also learned along the way that if I’m at my desk too much there’s a problem.  I do my best work as an HR professional when I’m out in the field with the people I’m serving.

Q. What’s had the biggest impact on your ability to advance as a senior leader in our profession?

A. Having a senior person in the organization who believed in me, who trusted me, and challenged me.  That’s a culture thing, and I’m a culture person.  Having a great role is one thing, but having a great role in a great organization – one that you really feel a fit with – is another thing entirely.   If you can find that fit, you’ll find people who become your champion.

Q. What’s the toughest lesson you’ve learned in your career?

A. When it comes to taking care of your people, being “fair” and being “consistent” are not necessarily the same thing; being consistent is far more important than being fair.

Q. If you could change one thing about the HR Profession, what would it be?

A. We need to be more human.  Getting “to the table” and being more strategic has forced some of us to think of our people as “capital” or as “assets.” Our people are above all human beings.  Some say HR is “becoming irrelevant” and I think that’s because HR has lost its focus on the people.  If you’re one of those HR leaders who is perpetuating that perception, then I’ll tell you to get out of my profession.

Q. Are HR people CEO material?

A. Yes. In fact, we are probably more broad in the key facets of a business than most because of what we do every day.  We have more exposure to what makes people tick – to keeping people engaged, and productive.  I’ve always said my job isn’t about HR, it’s about “selling pizza.”  And at the end of the day, that’s really no different than what our CEO’s job is.

Thanks to Steve for sharing his perspective on HR in the trenches.  You can connect with Steve on Twitter (@sbrownehr) and ask him to add you to his monthly HR Roundtable Newsletter distribution…great stuff!

Photo Credit: Ohio SHRM

  • Jennifer McClure

    Charlie – Thanks for doing this interview with Steve! As someone who has known him personally for quite awhile, I can’t think of a better person for you to profile in your “Trench HR” series! Steve really understands what it’s like to be a business person who happens to work in HR and he’s a fierce advocate for others in the profession who are doing it right. He’s also willing to confront and challenge those who aren’t – and that’s a quality that not many people possess.

    I look forward to the additional profiles in your series. Keep ‘em coming!
    .-= Jennifer McClure´s last blog ..HRevolution Impact On Those Unable to Attend =-.

  • Jennifer V. Miller


    I “met” Steve via Twitter and again when he called in to the HR Happy Hour radio show when I was a guest. Since then, we’ve had several great conversations and it’s clear he really understands both business in general and HR in specific. Thanks for featuring this tireless advocate for strong people practices.
    .-= Jennifer V. Miller´s last blog ..Making Decisions, 100 Years at a Time =-.

  • Charlie

    @Jennifer Mc- i’m always drawn to those who “confront and challenge” and SB is certainly of that ilk. love what he’s doing for our profession and hope others emulate him. thx!

    @Jennifer M.- thx for the comment. steve has a lot of supporters and i’m glad he’s at the forefront of the #TrenchHR movement. looking forward to getting to know his network (yourself included) better.

  • John

    Charlie, this was awesome. It was refreshing to read about someone who legitimately values people. Excited about this series.
    .-= John´s last blog ..CigarSPHR: @OscarHernandes Hola! =-.

  • Benjamin McCall

    Great article on a guy that I know personally and professionally. Look forward to seeing more from this series!
    .-= Benjamin McCall´s last blog ..You work hard, SO TAKE YOUR VACATION! =-.

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  • Chris Chapel

    Good article. It is nice to see the human side of Human Resources.

  • Kirk Baumann

    Excellent interview with Steve! He’s been extremely supportive of what I’m doing and I can largely contribute my success to people just like Steve. He gets it. Steve knows that HR is all about knowing your team, your people, and how to work with them.

    Looking forward to seeing more in this series! Keep up the great work.
    Kirk Baumann´s last [type] ..Building Your Own A-Team