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An NBA veteran’s winning insights on all-star talent


If  such a thing as slam dunks existed in the NBA’s human resources department—and perhaps they should, metaphorically speaking—then Eric Hutcherson would rule the realm with a winner’s credentials.

Now with the NBA for more than five years, Hutcherson currently serves as the league’s chief human resources officer. You could also call him Coach Hutcherson, as he manages a team that drives the NBA’s global workforce strategy. Ask Hutcherson and he’ll tell you that his work centers on a ceaseless mission to attract, retain, develop and engage top talent. That’s not just for the NBA, mind you, but also for its connected properties that include the WNBA, NBA G League and NBA 2K League.

A featured speaker at the BAI Industry Forum in Boston in early October, Hutcherson also possesses a financial services background; he served as a vice president at Putnam Investments for five years. Here he discusses the culture, talent, diversity and success values that drive his vision, and what the next crop of leaders must know about moving forward and upward.

BAI: Workplace culture is important to the NBA, yet the league hasn’t stood still. Tell us about that.

Eric Hutcherson:  We’ve actually gone through a cultural transformation. If I’d taken you behind the scenes at the NBA 10 years ago, it was always a culture of excellence, prestige and pedigree: a tight-knit group, a family. But it was a bit more a compliance environment of, “This is how we do it, this is how we’ve always done it, this is how we want it done.” Today I would describe the culture as much more one of commitment. Commitment is, “We want it done the way you think it should be done because you know what it means to us and to you. You’re here because you want to be here, it aligns with you.” You’ll hear me say to people, “Have we earned you today? Have we created an environment that makes this the only place that you want to be?”

BAI: Diversity and inclusion are buzzwords elsewhere but you’re delivering on it in unique ways. What does that look like?

Hutcherson: Diversity is really a proxy to representation. The NBA by that standard is one of the most diverse organizations I’ve ever worked for. But inclusion is: “Who’s involved in decision making, the critical issues? How many people are they and who are they? Does everybody feel like they can be part of this place and still be their true self?”  It’s only recently that the NBA became more inclusive. And so I think we’re on the way to belonging—where our full selves can be of value in the place. The NBA has done a great job internally and externally with inclusion. We were the first professional organization to walk in a pride parade. And on Nov. 8 we’ll have our NBA Women’s Leadership Forum in New York City. We’ve invited 800 people, mostly women, to celebrate the contributions they make around the league to leadership.

BAI: The banking industry devotes a lot of time and attention to talent management, always with an eye to learn from other sectors. What insights can you share?

Hutcherson: Attraction and retention starts with leadership. I grew up at Putnam Investments, so I know the financial services business. For a business to show up in its most rudimentary sense—at a college campus to conduct a series of interviews, for example—won’t cut it for diversity and inclusion, attraction and retention. You have to go upstream: Are you showing up in the classrooms? Are you hosting diversity organizations in your workplace to build relationships? How diverse is the organization so that when you look downstream, you can integrate diversity and quality? If it’s just a program, a policy or an initiative, it’s going to live or die with whoever cares about it. The way it’s really going to work is when you’re willing to draw those lines in the sand when it’s not convenient, and across your whole organization.

BAI: You channel a lot of your learnings and experience into your career development training program, “Say Yes to Success.” What wisdom can you pass on to those just starting their banking career?

Hutcherson: Periodically I step back, take a pause and say, “Wow what an impressive career.” But I arrived where I am because of the decisions I made. You have to pay attention to dreams and goals and you have to project manage then. Three-to-five year goals are a waste of time these days. It’s a little bit of fool’s gold because jobs that exist today didn’t exist five years ago—and five years from now, there will be new jobs that don’t exist today. Instead, I’d suggest 12-18 month increments. Also remember that we are creating things. We are in an entrepreneurial founder’s world and when you don’t see the thing you wish to do, you create it.

BAI: You also have a unique piece of advice for advancement that goes against the grain of working tirelessly. Share that with us.

Hutcherson: The one thing I try to impart to others is keep your hands free. Sometimes we get so self-absorbed in our jobs that we consider ourselves invaluable. We work super hard; we push ourselves to get involved in everything, to do everything, to be responsible for everything. But you have to be prepared for the opportunity when it comes. Sometimes when it comes, people feel upset because they get passed over. But the truth is, you don’t have your hands free. It’s happened to me. While you’re busy being the guy, you’re so involved in everything that you aren’t available when the opportunity comes—and it passes you by.

It’s also important to have a positive mental attitude. Keep smiling, be respected, make intelligent choices and don’t ever regret those choices, even when you make bad ones. You can still learn from them.

Lou Carlozo is the managing editor of BAI.

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