Date Published: April 26, 2016
Rising to the Executive Level
Johnson began his career in human resources with a summer job recruiting doctors and
dentists to staff a military base. He tried teaching after graduation, but eventually
returned to the recruiting field and, through a series of jobs with increasing responsibilities,
landed at Sabre as VP of Human Resources for two of the company’s three divisions.
During his tenure there, global employee turnover has been reduced by nearly 50 percent.
How HR Contributes to the Company’s Success
Johnson’s experience with Sabre reflects not only his success as an HR professional,
but also his business acumen. The company, whose reservation systems run some of the
world’s largest airlines, has over 10,000 employees. “Sabre’s IPO ranks in the top
10% of all IPOs in the last two years,” he said. “And I firmly believe that our HR
practices played a role in that success.” Johnson believes that the purpose of a human
resources department is to make money for the company, just like any other business
unit. In other words, HR for HR’s sake isn’t an option for an organization that has
to answer to a board of directors and shareholders. And one of the most important
functions of a bottom-line-focused HR department is talent acquisition. “Sabre is
relentless about recruiting the best talent in the global market,” Johnson said.
Another important role for an HR department is change management. “When Sabre shifted
its focus from being an airline company operating in the software space to a software
company operating in the airline space, we had to work hard to make sure everyone
in the company understood this new way of thinking,” he said. Johnson accomplished
this through building and buying. “Building is training the people you have and buying
is recruiting new people to the organization,” he said.
Part of change management in an organization often involves what Johnson called “executive
team alignment”—making sure that the company’s leadership is working well together.
“The culture of an organization is the result of leadership behavior,” he said. “And
when people quit, they are quitting their bosses, not the company. So leadership matters.”
The Liberal Arts Advantage in a Business World
Johnson advised students to leverage their liberal arts degrees by demonstrating to
potential employers that they have the ability to communicate well. “Look, I never
pictured myself in HR,” he said. “I have a degree in political philosophy. But most
companies are willing to teach those who can and are willing to learn.”
And how exactly does a candidate catch Johnson’s eye? “I’m looking for people who
are promotable and who are humble,” he said. “And people who have learned how to learn.”
That’s where a liberal arts education from the University of Dallas comes in. “Having
a strong liberal arts background plus business acumen will set you apart from everyone
else,” he said.
The University of Dallas Executives on Campus program was founded to further the University's
mission of providing practice-based education, by inviting successful business leaders
to share their experience with graduate and undergraduate students in the classroom.
Through this program, alumni, business leaders, and their companies are invited to
partner with the University in our shared pursuit of management excellence.