2018 HR Excellence Awards: Future Leader

Melissa Kossler Dutton
Becky Magaw

Future Leader recognizes a rising star in HR with less than five years of experience.

Becky Magaw laughed when she heard that the Columbus Blue Jackets were considering her to run the human resources department. “I had no experience in HR. No background. No education,” recalls Magaw, who was working as a lead project manager and had just planned the 2015 National Hockey League All-Star Game when the offer was made.

But after listening to the case for the promotion—that she is good with people and understands the operations side of the organization—Magaw reconsidered. She signed up for a master's program in human resources, joined some HR professional organizations and got to work.

Magaw was offered the role after the previous director announced plans to retire. The offer made sense for a variety of reasons, says Greg Kirstein, senior vice president and general counsel for the Jackets. Since the organization's business staff is fairly small, it's necessary to be creative in finding spots for employees who distinguish themselves, he says. Magaw also possesses the key skills the job requires. “She's got exceptional people skills,” Kirstein says. “People are willing to follow her with a smile on their face.”

It's been rewarding to watch Magaw, who initially shadowed the outgoing director, step into the role and make it her own, Kirstein says. She has tackled numerous projects, such as implementing a records retention policy, writing job descriptions, revising employee evaluation documents, studying the organization's pay structure, organizing a leadership retreat and developing a comprehensive onboarding program.

Her efforts earned her recognition outside of Columbus, Kirstein says, noting that Magaw has hosted her NHL colleagues for an HR-related seminar and has been invited to speak at conferences.

Magaw's energy and enthusiasm has been very motivating, says Kathryn Dobbs, CBJ's vice president of community relations. “Her dedication to the field through continued education and training is inspiring,” she says. “We are excited to see how her leadership and contributions continue to shape our organization and support our employees as she continues to grow in her critical role.”

As Magaw learns more about human resources, she has introduced improvements and opportunities, Kirstein says. “Without hesitation, Becky continuously challenges the organization as she gains greater knowledge and understanding of the role of HR and the needs of our organization and our employees.”

Magaw, who's pursuing her master's at Penn State University, says it's been exciting to bring new ideas and creative solutions to the Blue Jackets organization. “I'm consistently looking for ways to improve things,” she says. “I'm a disrupter, but I try to do it in a harmonious way.”

The job has her working with everyone from temporary concessions workers to high-profile members of the team. She oversees payroll and administers league benefits for players, attends the NHL draft and assists with immigration paperwork.

She worked with the Jackets' affiliate team, the Cleveland Monsters, on a player survey that revealed details about how to best coach and motivate them.

The work is rewarding because it helps everyone become more engaged in their jobs, Magaw says. Providing employees everything from accurate job descriptions to performance evaluations with clearly defined goals increases the likelihood that they will enjoy their jobs—and excel at them, she says.

“It was about setting expectations,” she says. “How are we holding others accountable if they don't know what's expected of them?”

Associates who are not meeting expectations need to hear that so they can improve, and those who are doing a good job need to be made aware of their successes, she says. “People need feedback.”

Her efforts have not only improved the HR department, they've “re-energized” the organization and made her a sought after sounding board throughout the company, Kirstein says.

“With the addition of Becky, the role of HR director has morphed into a strategic role, where she focuses on business results and people outcomes,” he says.

Melissa Kossler Dutton is a freelance writer.