Alex Londono’s parents were hard workers. The Colombian immigrants started a business that built and recycled wooden pallets for manufacturers, supermarkets, and other clients. It was demanding work that required long hours, but they did it for his benefit. They were proud of living their own version of the American dream, and although Londono briefly worked in the family business, he wanted more.
He wanted to honor his parents’ sacrifice, but he also wanted to become the first in the family to attend college and start a professional career. Today, Londono is vice president of field human resources at The GEO Group Inc., where he leads a team of six direct reports and 120 HR professionals. Recently, Londono talked with Hispanic Executive about how respect for hard work and other values he learned from his parents continue to guide him to this day.
My parents did a lot so I could have opportunities that weren’t available to them. I can never forget that. I learned the importance of hard work and dedication by working in their pallet business. I cut wood, disassembled broken pallets, loaded flatbed trucks, and made deliveries. A single pallet weighs about forty pounds, so lifting pallets all day long in the Florida sun is difficult work to say the least.
I helped run my parents’ business for a while and realized that I wanted to do something that could help them as I built a career. I saw how helpful having a law degree could be from a business standpoint, so that’s what I pursued.
While in law school at the University of Florida, I would help them draft letters, interpret contract language, and settle disputes. I subsequently graduated among the top in my class, began practicing law in 2004, and a few years later helped my folks successfully sell their business, reinvest their money, and retire comfortably.
While I was doing this, I was building my own career as a labor and employment attorney. Out of law school, I was recruited by a large national employment law firm, where I worked in private practice before joining the GEO Group as associate corporate counsel in 2010. GEO is a government services provider specializing in the design and delivery of support services for secure facilities, immigration processing centers, and community reentry centers.
When I got to GEO, I was the third attorney in the legal department, and the company had about eight thousand employees. Two weeks later we doubled in size via an acquisition, so right away I had to jump in and do what I had grown up seeing my parents do.
In other words, I had to put in the hours and do the hard work. I immediately took over all of the employment agency charges and demand letters that had once gone to outside firms.
In the first two years, I responded to over two hundred agency matters, which resulted in over half a million in savings to GEO. More importantly, I got a good understanding of the inner workings of our business. I quickly learned the relevant stakeholders, the business strategy, the risk management profile, and where we wanted to go from a compliance standpoint. I rolled up my sleeves and prepared myself to help take us there.
As my understanding of the business grew, I took over management of the company’s employment matters nationwide. In recognition of that work, I was promoted to vice president of corporate counsel labor and employment in 2015.
In 2016, however, the HR department was restructured to more effectively manage compliance in the field. As part of the restructuring, GEO’s CHRO, who I had worked closely with in my role as labor and employment attorney, offered me the opportunity to run the newly restructured field HR group.
While it was a difficult decision to leave my role in legal, I viewed the move as an opportunity to grow professionally and increase my knowledge of the business. The move to HR also allowed me to have an earlier impact on critical compliance issues through training, development, and policy before matters developed into litigation.
Our biggest HR challenge today is recruiting and the retention of our workforce. The nature of our industry creates unique recruiting challenges that go beyond pandemic-related issues. Our rural locations and rigorous background check process create an added challenge.
Diversity and inclusion measures are a critical component of our recruiting and retention efforts. To that end, HR pays particular attention to our outreach efforts to make sure our hiring pools are diverse. We meet regularly with field HR staff to look at data and make any necessary tweaks to our outreach strategy. Our focus on these important diversity measures has paid off: approximately 63 percent of our current workforce is composed of underrepresented minorities.
I firmly believe my Hispanic roots help me contribute to GEO’s efforts to be diverse and inclusive. Having been a Hispanic kid who grew up in the predominately blue-collar migrant community of Hialeah, Florida, gives me a better understanding of the importance of getting this right. A large portion of our workforce is Hispanic, and being able to speak Spanish helps me connect with these employees on a different level.
Whenever my day gets tough, I have a stack of miniature wooden pallets on my desk that I look at. It gives me immediate perspective as it reminds me of how hard my parents worked to give me the opportunity. I want to make sure I make the most of it.