Eduardo Núñez is so passionate, he’s been told to “tone it down.”

OPEN BOOK Colleagues never wonder where they stand with Eduardo Núñez. “I’m direct,” says Núñez, VP of global total rewards and HR operations. “I tell people what is on my mind. No one goes home at night wondering what Ed is thinking.”

Combining his people skills and analytical financial training, he’s enjoyed a successful HR career working for companies such as Nabisco, PepsiCo, and, now, Aptalis Pharma.

Eduardo “Ed” Núñez will be the first to tell you that he works continually to refine how he delivers messages for maximum effectiveness. As vice president of global total rewards and human resources operations, getting this right helps his company, New Jersey-based Aptalis Pharma, design and implement progressive total-rewards programs that drive its big plans for growth.

But, Núñez’s foray into HR happened by accident. “Early in my career, I was working for a pharmaceutical company in the accounting department and was offered an opportunity to serve on a training-program task force,” he says. “I was the only finance person in the group. My approach was research driven, and I impressed people enough that the head of HR asked if I’d be interested in the position of manager of international compensation and benefits. My accounting background and analytical skills turned out to be a perfect fit.”

Thinking Out Loud

Trading words with Eduardo Núñez

Getting to where you want to be without compromising values

Finding better ways to do anything

Never compromising values

I am proud of my heritage, but I don’t like labels. I’m me. I’m Ed.

Núñez made the move from finance to HR and has never looked back, working at such companies as Covidien, Novartis, The Campbell Soup Company, Nabisco, and PepsiCo. He says he brings a strong analytical mind-set to an area that normally requires “soft skills,” or people skills.

“I bring a complementary skill set to human resources,” he explains. “My analytical training enables me to take information and form conclusions. But, I have to make sure my analytical side doesn’t become too dominant. Strong people skills are vital, and so is passion. In fact, early in my career, a boss told me I should tone down my passion. I’m still working on it—it’s all about balance.”

Núñez says his ability to get to the bottom line means colleagues never wonder where they stand. “I’m direct,” he says. “I tell people what is on my mind. No one goes home at night wondering what Ed is thinking.”

And it’s his honest assessments and quick decisions that have helped him craft a fulfilling career, one where he can best serve the companies for which he works.

“When I was working at Nabisco International as director of international HR, I had an ‘aha!’ moment,” he recalls. “I was about to make a decision, when I had to stop and ask myself, do I stick strictly to expatriate policy or do I show flexibility to put the right person in the job? I thought to myself, what’s it going to say on my tombstone? Is it going to say, ‘Ed stuck to policy and the business tanked,’ or ‘Ed is about getting the right people in the right place at the right time for the good of the business.’ I knew I didn’t want to be a comp cop for an organization. And this is the approach I’ve tried to take throughout my career. I like the challenge of not only developing a framework that’s right for an organization, but also seeing how much change an organization is willing to make and contributing to that change.”

What motivates Núñez is intellectual curiosity. “I would tell someone considering a job in compensation and benefits to not take data at face value,” he says. “Try to understand what data is telling you. Peel back the onion. Ask questions. If something doesn’t match your data, ask why. Find and understand context, and then make decisions and take risks.

“I’ve treated my career as my portfolio,” he continues. “In order to be successful, I needed different experiences. I believe you should evaluate every opportunity that way. I’m at the tail end of my career. I have another 10 years to lead compensation and benefits, and I know I don’t aspire to be the head of HR. I think I’m a really good rewards professional.”