Many HR professionals go through their careers studying HR closely, rarely veering into other corporate fields. Others come to HR specifically because they’ve worked in many other capacities and thus know their corporations’ various intricacies and needs. The members of the latter group are the ones who more often stay active in other departments; after all, if a shoe fits, you should wear it, but if many fit, you should spice up your wardrobe.
Kim Pare, the vice president of HR and administration at Descartes Systems Group Inc. in Waterloo, Ontario, is one such multifaceted HR professional. After spending 20 years in the tech industry in various roles, he found himself, in March 2009, negotiating the sale of Scancode Systems (a small but successful logistics-technology company) to Descartes, a similar but much larger international logistics-technology company. It wasn’t long before Pare, with a background in the many different aspects of corporate administration, was filling an important niche in Descartes’s leadership team, taking on different responsibilities as the need arose.
At Scancode, he had been CFO, but his time there, combined with his experiences with other companies, prepared him for a number of duties after the acquisition. “When [Descartes] bought our company, I was responsible for all the due diligence on the seller side,” Pare says. “I dealt closely with senior management on the Descartes side and built a rapport with them. As CFO of a small company, it’s not uncommon to help with integration and then move on to other duties or tasks. In my case, I worked on the transition but also looked at systems they didn’t have in place. I conducted some needs analysis and, in many ways, sat back and looked at what they needed to see if I could assist in those areas.”
Today, Pare is not only responsible for Descartes’s global HR operations; he also helps oversee the contract-administration department and facilities, and he works closely with finance, sales, and professional services. “I’m in those departments constantly, but there’s not one area in the company I don’t get involved in,” he says.
His education is what set him up to work in multiple disciplines. As an undergraduate at McMaster University, he enrolled in an honours-level bachelor of commerce program, where he studied organizational behaviour, HR, finance, accounting, and marketing. He quickly discovered an aptitude for finance and accounting and, given the recession happening at the time, decided to pursue that path. After working for Dow Chemical Company for a couple of years, he moved to a number of smaller technology companies, where he perfected his accounting chops and got exposure to a number of other fields of expertise, including sales negotiations, finance, and HR.
It was this time at smaller companies, he says, that allowed him to move into more complex roles at larger corporations. In 1997, he joined AXS-One, managing the whole of the company’s Canadian branch, where he was responsible for finances, professional services, HR, and even information technology. “That really gave me exposure to all parts of the company,” he says. He then took on a number of different roles after leaving AXS-One in 2001, including running his own enterprise-report-management firm and serving as vice president of finance at a luxury yacht manufacturer. Eventually, he made his way to Scancode, then Descartes.
While Descartes is one of the bigger companies that Pare has worked for, he still appreciates how its manageable size allows him to be involved in many different facets of its business. Descartes has a little more than 800 employees and far-flung offices in the US, Europe, China, and Japan. It’s Pare’s responsibility to make sure the company’s HR operations operate efficiently and effectively across all other departments. Descartes has been cited as one of Canada’s best corporate cultures, an accolade Pare credits to the company’s working together as “ONE” (one networked enterprise) “LEARNing” (listen, educate, articulate, research, network) “TEAM” (transparency, entrepreneurial spirit, accountability, and metrics-focused on results). It’s these collaborative values and mnemonics that have allowed Pare to take on the myriad challenges that come with his job.
“With an HR position, there are different challenges every day,” he says. “There are always different things to deal with, and you have to think respectfully and do what’s right by the company. That’s been the biggest difference for me about this position: it’s not just about reporting to the bank or the board. With this role, it’s not so planned out. I have to be flexible every day when I come in.”