By the time Kristina Guillen was in the fifth grade, she had lived in Kansas, Arizona, Mississippi, Texas, and even Panama, where she remembers being dazzled by the colors, smells, and action at the local open-air market. While many other Army families dreaded the frequent moves that often accompany military service, Guillen’s parents encouraged her to enjoy the opportunity to meet new people, see new places, and make special memories.
The era birthed in her a passion for diversity and gave her the ability to appreciate the unique contribution each individual person can make. She’s carried that passion into her work as a veteran HR and talent executive at some of the world’s top companies.
Now, Guillen is Anderson Holdings’ chief human resources officer. She joined the private, family-owned, diversified holding company in late 2020 to establish a new people-first focus designed to drive long-term growth and take Anderson Holdings to new heights. To do so, Guillen is leveraging the lessons she’s learned along the way at places like Merck, Coca-Cola, and the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.
A childhood split between more than five cities made Guillen naturally curious and open to new things. She studied psychology at Rice University and exited into a general management and leadership program at McMaster-Carr Supply Company. As she rotated through operations, management, and other business areas, Guillen’s eyes were opened to the importance of connecting the right people to the right work. A growing interest in human resources took her to Cornell’s strategic human resources management program at the ILR School.
Upon earning her master’s degree, Guillen started at Merck and partnered closely with business leaders to create effective talent management strategies for thousands of employees at the leading pharmaceutical company. As Guillen advanced in her career, she noticed an opportunity to diversify teams. “I didn’t see many Latina or Latino leaders I could emulate,” she says. “The lack of representation motivated me to be one of the people who would ultimately change the conversation for women and people of color.”
With these ideas in her mind, Guillen took a position at Coca-Cola, where she would have the chance to step more firmly into places of leadership and influence. After three years in talent management and HR business partner roles, leaders tapped Guillen for a bigger role. She led talent management and leadership development for a North American operating group composed of seventy thousand employees, and then took on a second role providing HR leadership to a regional sales group with eight thousand employees and over $5 billion in annual revenue.
Then, Guillen provided similar talent management support for a global operating group with sixty thousand associates. In that position, she developed key talent strategies around management, engagement, diversity, and culture and worked to unite multiple operating organizations with one talent strategy.
In 2017, Guillen moved to the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf to lead all aspects of HR for the business, which had 350 locations globally and five thousand employees on the retail side, and 1,200 locations and more than twenty thousand employees in its franchise system. By that point in her career, Guillen had been in the beverage space for more than a decade and still wasn’t satisfied with the number of opportunities for women and people of color.
While formal development and mentoring programs can be effective, the HR leader tried to identify internal opportunities for women and made her desire to provide advice and informal mentoring and coaching well known. She also relied on a strong personal network of friends and advisors to keep her grounded.
“It can be very lonely when you get to the top seat because your internal peer group shrinks,” she says. “Women who aspire to the highest levels of leadership need to build a personal board of directors who will advise them, challenge them, and keep them honest.”
These are the lessons that now guide Guillen at Anderson Holdings. The business, which was started by entrepreneur John Anderson, has holdings in twenty-five subsidiaries including commercial real estate, manufacturing companies, automobile dealerships, and beverage distributors. Guillen came to the organization because she saw the unique opportunity to apply what she’s learned about HR and diversity to take the company to the next level.
“Anderson Holdings has many different types of businesses and activities, but the common thread is people. We can drive growth through HR and make a big impact,” she explains.
Guillen is laying the foundation to drive that growth by emphasizing the employee experience and focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion as a pivotal part of that experience. She’s working with Anderson Holdings’ chief diversity officer to attract, hire, develop, and retain a more diverse workforce that reflects the markets the company serves.
The business recently launched its first employee resource group, Women at Anderson, through which female associates can “engage, elevate, and connect with one another.” Additionally, Guillen has partnered with Skillsoft to provide diversity training to the entire Anderson Holdings team over the next nine months.
As these new strategies come together, Guillen is thinking about how to help Anderson Holdings thrive in the hypercompetitive, post-pandemic world. “A people-first HR model is more important than ever before because it creates the right corporate culture that can help us tackle today’s unique business issues head-on,” she says. Challenges related to supply chain and labor shortages threaten to disrupt momentum. But Guillen is setting the tone, helping leaders be people-focused, and embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion. In doing so, she’s creating the culture that will take Anderson Holdings where it wants to go—and beyond.
At Willis Towers Watson, we believe people are your greatest asset and that successful organizations power ambition by engaging employees in an exceptional experience. We partner with organizations to shape high-impact and personalized employee experiences by clearly shaping their purpose, people, work, and total rewards. Together, we unlock potential.