Ron Thomas is the CEO of Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is one of the world’s premier thought leaders and advocates for advancing modern executive leadership and organizational transformation.
Ron claims to be on a mission to help HR professionals develop and provide the development for that change and the strategic role they can play. Human Resources skills are going through a significant transformation. It is the same as every industry going through a transformation. Ron believes this is the reason why HR professionals must change their skillset. To provide some context, he states that he looks at HRs as Workforce Architects. “What that means is that we take organizational strategy and provide the people strategy which will, in turn, provide results in the business,” he explains.
Ron’s inspiration to take a leap of faith into the Human Resources industry
“I came to HR in training and development in NYC, working for IBM. However, it was MS Office training for corporate clients,” says Ron. He started as a trainer and, through multiple promotions, was the head of training for the Eastern region of the US in a few years. When they closed that division, he got a job as the first training manager for Martha Stewart Living. That was the foundation of his rise in HR.
They were a new company in full growth mode and more like a startup, although he joined six months post IPO. They were allowed to do incredible work. The motto was, let’s try it. They provided people solutions throughout each function. Their work was featured in multiple publications – Wall St. Journal, Workforce Management, Inc. Magazine, Forbes, etc. They won numerous awards and citations, did Board work, and provided significant organizational solutions. “I was contributing author of three books. It was a fantastic time, and I realized I had found my niche,” Ron states.
Starting his professional journey as a sales executive
Ron started out working in Sales with IBM. They sent all their new hires to Sales Training School for one month. “It was the best training ever,” he recalls. Each day they had to get up and sell a product, and the sales trainer would bark out complaints: your price is too high, why would I need that, etc. That developed a mechanism to anticipate objections, and they learned how to respond.
Ron says that it taught him to stay focused and expect objections and take that objection and turn it around into a solution. Maybe not on the spot but identifying the real complaint and then eventually responding. “Amazing how dealing with that level of tension was my foundation in business. Not afraid of the cold call and not cowered by meeting with senior-level executives. I still use those skills almost every day. Learning to sell is one of the essential business skills,” he further states.
Success is happiness
Ron believes that if you are happy where you are in life, you are successful. Material objects bring short relief; once that is gone, you are back to square one. He doesn’t believe in just working but instead tries to enjoy every day to its fullest. He looks forwards to each day with great anticipation and an exploring expedition mindset.
Ron states that when he opens his email or WhatsApp, he looks for the challenging nuggets: it could be a business challenge, a business problem, a client discussion, etc. He enjoys exploring solutions with himself personally as well as with his clients. Success to him is looking forward to Monday morning.
Challenges that helped Ron grow and become a successful leader
Ron was recruited from the USA to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as CHRO, which was supposedly a strategic role. When he got there, he realized that the job was process driven, and he had no access to the strategic portion of the business. That meant he could not create a people strategy without understanding the business they were in. He was told that was the role and would not have access to what he needed to do his best.
“I created a strategy to move on. I did not renew my contract. However, I made many connections since I had been speaking all over the region at major HR conferences. Out of nowhere, I got a call from a leader that informed me that Great Place to Work in MENA was looking for a CEO,” Ron says. He made the necessary connections, started the process, and eventually was named CEO of that company.
“The takeaway is that when a challenge pops up, don’t panic,” explains Ron. He further advises that one should take time and formulate plans and options. Life is full of detours; expect them, cherish them, and recalibrate how to get back on track. Regardless of how bleak it may look, you keep your strategic focus, and by constantly adjusting, you reach the vicinity of the bullseye.
Ron defines himself as a “stick-to-itiveness person, ” loosely translated as tenacious and persistent. That means that he does not give up. He may take a step back, but only to look for another angle, and if necessary, he will regroup and come back.
Strategy Focused Group and its services
“We started out focusing on developing HR Leaders and their staff. I created a partnership with HCI [Human Capital Institute www.hci.org] and helped them build out an International Expansion,” says Ron.
The HCI offered certified HR courses that led to opportunities to build out non-certified and more strategically focused based on the client’s needs. That eventually led to Leadership Development, the growing phase of Strategy Focused Group’s business. Strategy Focused Group does not offer off-the-shelf courses. They spend time understanding the client’s needs, fully diagnosing what the end should look like, and then providing the appropriate design.
As a company, Strategy Focused Group aims to continue to grow based on the quality of its success. Most of their clients were referrals from previous clients. “They know our work and call us for possible interventions,” Ron proudly states.
Responsibilities as CEO and MD of Strategy Focused Group
Ron manages the company, but he states that he has an excellent team of people and partners, from social media to administration, who are the best. “I often say that they guide my schedule and approach. They manage me. Extremely smart and intuitive. My partners are all subject matter experts. I can reach out to them for assistance if it is not in our area of expertise,” he states.
Maintaining a mental balance to stay productive as a busy leader.
Ron loves to walk, and his focus during those walks is to relax. He tries to make it a point to walk 5 miles daily, especially at the beach in Dubai. “Walking near the water as the sun rises, a different level of clarity to the day. On my walks, I reflect on the day ahead, the events, brainstorming sessions, etc.,” he says. When in NYC, he walks around Central Park, and if he is in another city, he leaves the hotel and walks around for a few hours. Ron considers walking to be a great mental exercise.
Ron’s inspiring message to aspiring business owners or leaders is: Always let your real personality come through. Today it is called authentic leadership. Build relationships even if the business is not there. Make a real connection with people without expecting anything in return. Ron himself tries to connect to someone who might be the lowest on the org chart. They may have no power, but he wants them to feel influential in his presence. He notes that an organizational culture starts at the bottom and moves upward.