Carol Alonso is the vice president of human resources at Veolia, where she’s a leader in an industry she’s been in for nearly thirty years—the stint of her whole professional career. In that time, she’s helped implement several change initiatives, resolved some of the most pressing businesses HR issues, and has garnered a wealth of wisdom about being an effective leader.
But, among her long list of accomplishments, she’s most proud of the strategies she’s designed to develop strong business relationships. For Alonso, those strategies have been so impactful because of her ability to spend time and get to know key stakeholders in every role she’s stepped into.
“I’ve tried to do that for everyone, whether it’s the executive management team, your peers in areas like communications, finance, or whether it’s the union groups,” she says. “The important thing is to spend time to understand their needs and the things they are challenged with, the opportunities they have to create that collaboration and alignment.”
She continues, “Then, no matter who I’m working with, being my authentic real self, being honest, being truthful and respectful helps create that really good working relationship and has been key.”
However, that’s not the only way she’s managed to be so impactful to her organizations. As a leader, she has also understood the value of showing up.
“Being present in the field is vital,” she says. “If you’re overseeing operating units and all they ever see from you is emails or on video, that’s not going to be effective. You have to actually go out there and see what they do, attend employee events, hold employee roundtables to make sure you’re understanding the needs as you develop strategies, policies, and procedures at the corporate level.”
Alonso has had to lean on those principles more than ever since last year, when Suez, a company she worked at for decades, was acquired by Veolia, a French transnational company. The merger meant a blending of two cultures and new responsibilities for Alonso. She admits that, at first, the move was disconcerting.
“For all the years I could remember working at Suez, Veolia was always our competitor; it was always Veolia versus Suez,” she remembers. “So, when Veolia bought us, it was a little unsettling, but now that it’s been a year later, I understand, have been very supportive of it, and think it was the best decision.”
That’s because the two companies share a similar vision and lot of the same core values. But that doesn’t mean the transition hasn’t had its challenges. With the merger, Veolia went from having three thousand employees in North America to over ten thousand which has increased the amount of people Alonso supports. As she and her team work to harmonize certain policies, systems, compensation, and benefits programs, she says she “goes back to the fundamentals,” ones she’s learned along her decades-long journey.
“Those fundamentals are making sure I’m keeping the groups I’m responsible for informed of what’s happening, even the little that I can share when some topics are confidential,” she explains. “I share as much as I can to create that transparency and that trust. So far, It’s been a great transition of growth and development and I’m excited to see where we’re going in the next few years.”
Alonso was raised by Ecuadorian immigrant parents who taught her the value of hard work and the value of making memories. They inspired her to aim high, instilling in her a drive that made her a standout student. She went on to graduate from Rutgers University with a degree in corporate communications before taking on her first job at what was then United Water. After working in the communications office, a recruiter called on her to join HR. She came on board and her eyes suddenly widened to the different facets of that department.
“HR was so dynamic in terms of all the possibilities,” she says. “It wasn’t just the job I was being offered but I opened my eyes to a profession that I had never even considered.”
She went on to work in recruitment, staffing, and talent acquisition before taking on a HR generalist role and other leaderships positions. As she climbed the company ladder, she started working closer with company leaders to shape strategy, programming, and initiatives. She went from being the person doing the work to leading the people who did it.
“I learned to understand the business, how to plan, communicate, and build the backbone I needed to implement change,” she says.
Alonso says that to be a successful professional, one needs to leave their comfort zone and put themselves out there. “If I could whisper back to my younger self, I’d tell her to voice her opinion and her ideas with more confidence. In the early years, I was nervous to say the wrong thing. But get involved, raise your hand, including to work on projects across functions.
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