Alicia Hart, 2021 Outstanding Women in Business recipient
Alicia Hart is the Vice President of Human Resources at Merchants Fleet
Joining the Merchants Fleet team as a human resources administrator in 2003, Alicia Hart has steadily been promoted, earning the role of vice president of human resources in January 2018.
Today, she leads a department of 12, managing operations of nearly 500 employees across 22 states, and is tasked with hiring an additional 200 employees this year.
In her 17-year tenure, Hart has transformed HR from the traditional role of solely managing benefits and payroll to strategizing with each department how to attract and develop new and existing talent, as well as work through organizational challenges.
Last March, when the Covid-19 pandemic moved most employees to work remotely, Hart developed a number of virtual engagement opportunities that allowed employees to stay connected and preserve Merchants’ award-winning culture — having earned the national distinction as a “Great Place to Work” and other company culture awards for several consecutive years.
What is your leadership style?
As a leader, I try to serve my team by being collaborative, value-driven, empathetic and accountable. I am also passionate about building strong relationships. The relationships I have with others and across the business are important as they increase collaboration for my team and those that I lead. When collaboration happens, success follows. One additional lesson I’ve learned as a leader is that you need to surround yourself with great talent that will challenge you, and you have to be open to that challenge.
How do you support women in a male-dominated industry such as automotive?
At Merchants, we are passionate about building leaders. Three of the eight leaders that report to our CEO are women. I think that speaks volumes about our commitment to supporting women in our industry. It starts at the top! We’ve worked hard at building a culture that is inclusive for everyone and ensuring our employees have all the tools and resources to grow and develop. We have programs such as Merchants Academy, LearniQ (micro-credentials), tuition reimbursement, mentoring programs, etc. I’ve personally, thoroughly, enjoyed mentoring five women formally through our mentor program. I’ve learned so much from each of these relationships.
What are the benefits of a formalized mentor program, and should other companies consider one?
Years ago, we started our own mentor program at Merchants Fleet. We pair 20 or so mentors with mentees for up to a yearlong relationship. It’s really a great extension of our programs and facilitates further relationship building and career development. It does take focus, as it’s important to provide training on what a mentor and mentee relationship is and should be. In addition, it’s important to recognize that not every pairing is going to be a perfect match. The pros far outweigh the cons. The commitment is well worth the time and effort, as I have seen many leaders flourish as a part of this program.
What advice do you have for young women just starting their careers?
First, don’t wait until you have “experience” to raise your hand for a challenge. Raise your hand, say yes and learn as you go. So many people are fearful of making mistakes, when mistakes are what help us learn the most. That is when we grow the most. Second, stop saying sorry for things that are not your fault, but of course be accountable when they are. I find that women are often apologizing when 90% of the time they are apologizing for someone or something that is not in their control. Third, look for people that energize you and surround yourself with them. Positive people will fuel you and your success.
How do you balance your personal and professional lives?
I think it’s important to recognize that perfect balance is not always achievable. It takes consistent focus and determination. This past year has been eye-opening for me when it comes to balance. During one of the more challenging years of my career, I made an adjustment in my schedule, so that I exercise before work. I made my health my first priority, and when I did that it changed everything.