Steven Rice’s professional and personal passions converged when he joined the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest philanthropic organization, to serve as its chief human resources officer in 2015. “Leading human resources at an organization sharing my strong belief that all lives have equal value has been
rewarding in ways I never imagined,” he says.
Rice is responsible for leading the global HR function at the
Seattle-based nonprofit with 1,500 employees around the world.
The foundation focuses on global health and development,
U.S. high school and postsecondary education, and supporting
vulnerable children and families in Washington state.
Rice, who has more than 30 years of experience designing
innovative human resource strategies, is blunt about how HR
leaders can build strategies that move their organizations
forward: “We need to minimize the language of HR and
stay focused on the impact we can have, and not on how the
sausage is made.”
He recently spoke with HR Magazine about his career
My parents met at Pearl Harbor during the Korean War. My
dad was a Marine, and my mom—a native Hawaiian—was
working as a switchboard operator. They were products of
the Great Depression, which meant that they were grounded
in hard work and they expected me and my siblings to do
what we could to make our community better. One thing
they didn’t believe in was allowances. They left it up to me
to fgure out how to earn my own pocket money.
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, a third-genera-
MOVING INTO HR
tion Californian. I moved out of my parents’ home before I
was 20. I wanted to be independent, and I thought I knew
it all. I got a full-time job at Hewlett-Packard working in
quality control. I took advantage of the company’s tuition
reimbursement program to go to junior college. Although I
was advancing rapidly, I was struggling to balance working
full time and pursuing my education. But I stuck it out and
earned my associate degree.
When I joined HP in 1982, the company was the Google
of its day. Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett still walked the
halls. Being part of a founder-led organization was a great
experience. After working for a year in quality control, I
wanted to explore what else I could do. I saw a job posting
for a position in personnel as a records and benefts administrator. I applied and got the job. I didn’t know it at the
time, but it was the start of my HR career. Working at HP
for 25 years was a tremendous learning opportunity. In my
last role there, I was responsible for global delivery of HR,
leading a team of 2,000 people in 172 countries.
From HP, I went to technology provider Juniper Networks, where I worked with co-founder Pradeep Sindhu,
holding a range of HR leadership positions. I also chaired
the Juniper Networks Foundation Fund, which invests in
educating students in science, technology, engineering and
math (STEM); providing scholarships for emerging engineering leaders; bringing technology to rural communities;
and stopping human trafcking.
HIRING HIS TEAM
Our HR function is organized around three dimensions:
HR business partners, operational teams and functional