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Q&A with Jackie Wolf: OU's new chief HR officer reflects on transition from private sector to public university

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Jackie Wolf

Senior Vice President, Chief Human Resources Officer Jacquelyn Wolf answers questions during an interview April 2.

Editor’s note: Answers were lightly edited for clarity and length. Read this story in print in the April 2019 Crimson Quarterly magazine. 

In January, OU President James Gallogly selected Jackie Wolf to serve as the university’s chief human resources officer.

Wolf, who had previously worked with Gallogly at LyondellBasell Industries, brings 36 years of corporate experience with her to the position after working at prominent businesses like General Electric and General Motors. Wolf said she is looking forward to taking on the challenge of transitioning into higher education.

In her position, Wolf serves as an adviser to multiple executive search committees looking for future administrators on all three of OU’s campuses, including the search for the next chief diversity officer. Additionally, she is also involved with “phase one” of Gallogly’s diversity and inclusion initiative that began this semester after multiple incidents of racism.

Wolf sat down with The Daily to discuss her goals at the university:

Q: You’re unique to this administration in the sense that you’ve worked with President Gallogly in the private sector and now in the public sector. What do you think the differences and similarities have been working with him in both areas?

A: From a similarity perspective … He looks at the mission and he's a very strategic leader both in the corporate sector and here, and being able to step back and say, “What's our vision for the university?” or “What's the vision for the corporation?” … He's an operations-oriented leader, as well. So he does like to get into the details.

The differences include just stepping into a higher education perspective versus corporate world. Although, I have to admit, when I've looked at it I have found more similarities than differences. Especially in my role of working in human resources, I have an opportunity to work with human capital in an organization … So I find more similarities than differences.

Q: In regards to executive search committees, what do you advise the committees you work with to look for in executive candidates?

A: We do a training session on implicit bias. We really want to spend time with the search committee to ensure that they understand unconscious and conscious bias, and how, during interviewing and assessing and evaluating candidates, that flows through their mind, and how do we ensure that there's no bias in the process? I generally have sat in every single search committee interview ... Big qualities in candidates are teamwork, accountability, transparency, open communications. Leadership is important — how they manage their people. Are they a servant leader? You know, those kinds of things.

Q: Could you describe your role in phase one of President Gallogly’s diversity and inclusion initiative?

A: My involvement with that was really stepping back and providing coaching and counseling … Of those phase one activities, we're making some progress. But we're pleased to say we posted the chief diversity officer (position) ... We actually just communicated and published our affirmative action plans for both the Health Sciences Center and Norman. So all of our leaders have our affirmative action plans, which tie directly to underrepresented groups. When we're hiring … (we can) say, “Where do we have gaps in our university and how do we want to focus on that? What kind of outreach do we want to do?”

Q: Is it a big shift for you, after being in the private sector, to work with an issue such as racism, which has a high level of public interest and scrutiny?

A: In a university, while we have First Amendment rights and the opportunity to maybe be a little more vocal than in some private sector areas, a lot of times the issues are the same. And what I like about the university is that we get the exposure to those issues and have the opportunity to discuss them very openly and have the opportunity to solve them openly.

Q: How have you handled your role as the chief human resources officer at the university during a time in which there have been significant layoffs and staff reductions?

A: That is and always has been the most difficult part of my job. Because when I look at our talent, what differentiates us? Our people (are) who we are. It’s our culture. It’s what makes us who we are. And that is the hardest part of my job, without a doubt.

One of the things I've learned in those very difficult decisions is that they do occur and they happen, but it's ... how they happen that is most important. So treating people with dignity, with respect, with compassion and making sure that we give the right kind of notice and support is critical.

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