In late 2016 I had the privilege of speaking at length with Tom Lokar, the Chief Human Resources Officer for Mitel. Firstly, I loved the coincidence of this discussion. At the time, I was working for an organization called Global Business Events, a family run company with a very strong Welsh heritage. This is a heritage shared with a man named Terry Matthews Wales’ first billionaire. The coincidence lies with the fact that Terry Matthews was a founder of Mitel and owner of the Celtic Manor in South Wales. This remarkable hotel and home of the 2010 Ryder cup marked the first major location for Global Business Events conferences!
Tom himself grew up in Dearborn, the home of Henry Ford. However, despite growing up with ‘Magnum PI’ and ‘Starsky & Hutch’ he insists that he’s not more of a car man than any other red blooded male. Sure, Tom, we believe you. His adopted father was an Orthodontist and he attended an all-boys Catholic school where he found a penchant for both swimming and tennis. Even to this day he still competes in ironman and triathlon challenges. Herein lies Tom’s first life lesson. The connection to such solo sports also instilled in him a habit of solo ambition, at the cost of social affiliation. Tom immediately impressed me as he told me how he could recognize this flaw very early and chose to make a change. As such, without having incredible college prospects, he took on a course in Psychology and specialized in how that pertains to team and office dynamics where he did exceptionally well.
From there he joined a small entrepreneurial organization before his big break with HayGroup. In September 1997, he was recruited by Gene Bauer into the Hay Group and enjoyed a career path through Bristol Meyers Squibb, AOL and Hewlett Packard before joining Mitel in 2014. During this time, he gradually developed from Director level to lead the entire HR function for 5,000 employee organization. So, what were the contributing factors that allowed Tom to excel and reach such an illustrious position? Well, from here we had to look back. Tom insisted that he didn’t really have the desire or capacity to be a leader and that’s why he chose the solo sports. However, he did find that people would naturally follow him and listen to him when he spoke.
“Since the age of about 12 I had the ability to contextualize topics and ideas that were way beyond my years. I was able to form opinions that were based on facts, were practical and without a forced agenda.” Tom told me. I remember studying, at University in the United Kingdom, about the notion of Homeric Pathos and Objectivity. Homer being the author of the Iliad was known to create a story without bias toward good or evil, right or wrong and being able to create a story that allowed the reader to choose their own side. “People will follow someone if they can take the high-level values and use them in a pragmatic and functional way. Corporations are political entities so you really need to understand the context to be able to maneuver internally.”
It was interesting to me that, despite the success and the skillset that Tom has been able to hone, it’s not come without challenges. He wishes he could write, play the piano, studied more languages. In addition, he told me a story about how he was called out by a client. Basically, telling him that, you have a PhD, why can’t you figure out how to do this faster? The words used were not as kind as that. This forced him to step up his game, rise to the challenge and become a better man.