By Barbara Frankel
Alan Lui seemed to have a great career ahead of him in technology, except for one thing: he really wanted to work with people.
“Everything we do is a function of our people. This is what makes us successful,” Lui said. He grew up in Hawaii, the first in three generations not to work in the sugar fields or sugar mills. After starting his career as an engineer for Johnson Controls, he decided to go back to business school and obtained his MBA from Harvard. He tried consulting and then started a tech startup with a partner.
“We were very small,” he recalled. “My business partner was very much the technology guy and I was the one running the day-to-day operations. I enjoyed the technology but gravitated much more to the power of finding great people, motivating them well and leading them well.”
Senior Vice President, Human Resources, Time Warner Cable (No. 41 in the DiversityInc Top 50)
MBA, Harvard Business School
Making It Work At Time Warner Cable
Lui came to Time Warner Cable in 2011. His first position gave him the ability to learn the business, “to understand how we function and make money.” When the company reorganized the senior leadership wanted to bring a different perspective to HR, and Lui was tapped.
“We had the luxury of having deep experts on board. We had a great team who knew comp, benefits and general perspectives, so they were able to pick someone who didn’t have a deep HR background but had a great handle on our business and what makes it successful,” Lui explained. “I asked all the dumb questions because I didn’t know things. Sometimes I got great answers. Sometimes people said, ‘Oh, why do we do it that way?’”
The company has been in the midst of great change, first with the announced merger with Comcast, which fell apart earlier this year; and now with the planned acquisition by Charter Communications.
“Everybody thought we would be bought by Comcast and then it didn’t happen. There is a level of uncertainty and HR feels we have a very clear mission,” he said. “We have positioned the change in a positive way. We are harnessing people’s enthusiasm for being part of positive change.”
Some may thing, he continued, “people are going to check out but actually, people get more involved if they can see the big picture and have a sense of belonging.”
Maximizing Employee-Resource Groups
To help engage the workforce in these tumultuous times, Lui and his team turned to Time Warner Cable’s 11 resource groups, which the company calls employee networks. They started a major drive to increase membership and have actually doubled the number of employees participating.
“We wanted to give people a support system as they navigated their own anxieties,” he said. “We wanted to involve people in the changes by giving these groups input in the processes. The company is changing hands and we wanted to strengthen that sense of belonging.” Engagement scores of members of the resource groups are “significantly higher” than those who are not members, he noted.
They started by creating more structure for each of the networks, requiring a business plan for each of the groups structured around its mission. That plan could include recruitment and leadership-development goals. The networks are aimed at Asian Pacific Islanders, Aspiring Leaders (Millennials), Black, Hispanics, Hispanic Women, LGBT employees, women, women in technology, veterans, caregivers and people with disabilities.
The company also decided to bring the employee networking leaders together annually to meet and share ideas and best practices. And Time Warner Cable started a heavy push to internally publicize the network’s efforts to recruit and develop talent.
Finding Technical Talent
With his background in technology, Lui understands the need to find skilled technical workers in an increasingly competitive arena. When pursuing Millennials, he emphasizes the culture of teamwork and inclusivity. “When you use the word ‘diversity,’ they are talking about the value of blending experience and background, not ethnic of gender diversity. They look at cognitive diversity,” he said. “This means that our emphasis on inclusion and on D&I is critical to our evolving workforce.”
Black and Latino youth continue to be under-represented in technical fields and that Time Warner Cable is working with school-age children to help them understand that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) can be fun, he stressed.
The company has its own initiative, Connect a Million Minds, which challenges parents, mentors and other adults to connect more than 1 million students to after-school STEM activities. The company has exceeded its original $100 million commitment and has crossed the 1 million student threshold. Time Warner Cable also has strong relationships with organizations aimed at students, such as USFIRST (Robotics) and Boys and Girls Club of America.
“I’ve judged a few of these competitions. For a nerd like me, those are really fun,” he said. “These kids get so enthusiastic. You can see they have momentum.”