Inspirational Woman: Jeanne Cordisco | Chief People Officer at O’Reilly

Jeanne Cordisco leads the formalization of O’Reilly’s employee programs and enhance the company’s manager training, career tracks, and approach to global hiring, with a goal to increase headcount by as much as 20% in 2022 to support O’Reilly’s global growth.

Jeanne has over 20 years of extensive HR and business management expertise across technology, sales, global retail, and more.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

Born in Honolulu, HI, and raised in Southern Africa, I had a nontraditional upbringing that’s provided me with a unique perspective. With the opportunity to appreciate differences in cultures, languages, ethnicities, religions, etc. as a child, I learned diplomacy, the realities of hardship, and the value of diversity, and I’ve tried hard to carry those lessons with me through my life.

From a young age, I’ve always cared deeply about the well-being of others, so in retrospect a career in HR makes total sense. I was raised by two very hardworking parents who were extremely passionate about their careers in international development. Not only did I learn my work ethic from them, but more importantly, I learned that if you find something that you’re passionate about and can make a living by doing every day, you’ve found utopia.

I completed an academic degree in premedical sciences but ultimately decided to forgo medical school to pursue a career in sales. But at the age of 32, I was floundering because I hadn’t yet found my professional passion. I took a risk on a career change into talent acquisition and was “hooked” when the candidate accepted the first offer I extended. I’d helped someone define a new chapter in their life through a new job, and at that moment, I knew that I had found my professional home. This passion has carried me through many roles across many facets of HR, culminating in my current role as chief people officer. As a CPO, I manage the teams that are responsible for delivering an extraordinary candidate and employee experience.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I didn’t. I always planned to pursue a medical career and become a pediatrician. It came as a complete surprise (to everyone!) when I took that right-hand turn into sales and then another into HR. As I reflect on how my career has progressed, what’s increasingly apparent is that although each path I’ve pursued has been so very different from the others, medicine, sales, and HR are all focused on helping people and helping to find solutions to a problem. So in theory it does really all make sense—it just wasn't planned.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

I’ve faced more challenges than I can count, and I’m grateful for each of them. If it wasn’t for those challenges, I wouldn’t have learned persistence, resilience, and grit. Now, instead of fearing obstacles that come my way, I seek them—to be humbled, to learn, and to prevail each and every time. And when I fail, I fail fast and move on, without giving myself an opportunity to dwell too much. As long as I develop and grow through the experience, that’s a win for me.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Being a mother is my greatest achievement. It’s taken me on an unexpected but infinitely rewarding journey that continually educates and confuses me. There are times when I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing! Although the balance between motherhood and my profession ebbs and flows, I work to share my career with my children so that they can learn and appreciate what comes from hard work and pursuing your dreams. And I hope that they aspire to emulate my work ethic in all they put their minds to.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Determination is the major factor to my achievement. It’s kept me moving forward, always with a clear goal in mind. Through determination, I work to stay focused on the future, believe in myself, and set small achievable goals within larger goals. Above all, it also helps keep me grounded and grateful for the opportunities that I’ve been afforded.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I’m a devout believer in mentorship and take on every opportunity to act as a mentor for those who ask it of me (and also seek mentorship from those I admire). I’m actively mentoring several individuals, all of whom I’m helping think through skill development to accelerate their professional growth. I also have several mentors of my own, each of whom have generously spent ample time with me as I transitioned into my chief people officer role earlier this year. Above all, they’ve provided me with a safe, trusting place to share my vulnerabilities. They are judgment free, allowing me to air (and work through) my insecurities and then building me up and giving me the support to feel confident to take on the world knowing that they’ll always be there, cheering me on. I hope to do the same for those who seek mentorship from me.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

Bold action and audacious thinking are needed to accelerate the pace of change toward gender equality. To most effectively achieve gender equality in business, the playing field must be leveled for women across the corporate spectrum. Removal of the gender pay gap, deliberate and intentional skill-based training for women, professional development opportunities, and making work-life balance a priority in the workplace are all ways to enable this change.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Relax and stop worrying! I spent so much unnecessary time worrying about my future. I worried about whether I’d ever find a job that I loved, whether I’d live up to others’ (perceived) expectations, and whether I’d do something important and impactful enough to be remembered for it long after I was gone. All of that worrying was not worth it. What I wish I’d known is that if you work hard, relentlessly pursue your passions, ask for help, and surround yourself with people who support you and want to help you succeed, you can’t be stopped and you’ll leave a lasting effect.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I took my CPO role less than half a year ago, so I’m very much on the uphill climb as I onboard and transition into this new professional capacity. I hope to achieve what my younger self was worried about: doing something important and impactful enough to be remembered for it long after I’m gone. I have big plans for myself and my team as we carry out really important and interesting work. If I achieve nothing else, I hope that those who are impacted by my team’s work are inspired to bring their whole selves to work every day and are even more motivated and enthusiastic to contribute to our company’s success. Simply put, I’m just getting started!