Gail Forrest brings a wealth of experience and insight to her position as senior vice president of human resources at CACI. She spoke with ExecutiveBiz about the finer points of the HR world and her diverse background.
ExecutiveBiz: Could you tell me your background, maybe starting with your education?
Gail Forrest: Sure. I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Southern California and a master’s degree in management from the University of Maryland, so education from both ends of the country.
Currently, I’m SVP of HR for CACI and I have all of the HR functions with the exception of recruiting. Due to the people-intensive nature of our business, we have recruiting designated to a dedicated function that’s run by Larry Clifton. The areas that I have include all of the field-facing employee relations and HR generalists, the traditional staff functions like compensation and benefits, HRIS, compliance and administration; and diversity and inclusion. So, a little bit of everything.
ExecutiveBiz: How does CACI recruit and maintain the top talent?
Gail Forrest: One thing that is unique about CACI is that we don’t actually have to sell ourselves. In fact, most recently, one of the recognitions we got was from Bloomberg’s BusinessWeek. We were named one of the Top 100 Tech Companies. Some other things: We were ranked by Fortune as one of the most admired companies in the information technology industry and, we were named recently as one of large companies hiring the most folks. Those accolades are the kinds of things that give us a reputation and allow us to really draw the top talent. The other thing I would tell you that is kind of unique about this organization is that we really have a mission-oriented culture and the people that are here are truly committed to our motto of being an asset for national security. What is great about CACI is that we’re a high integrity organization and these things, along with the recognition that we get, really are the glue that keeps people here and the ‘attracter’ that draws people here. It’s a great opportunity to work here in an HR function.
ExecutiveBiz: What is your take on the rise of social media? Do you see them making their way into the human resources practice?
Gail Forrest: Oh, absolutely. I would have to tell you that CACI is still in its infancy in embracing that whole wave but to me, it’s just like the Internet and the computer world. It’s something that’s coming and you can either embrace it, get with it and figure out how to leverage it, or you can get run over by it. Hopefully we’re on our way to embracing it! I think it’s a huge opportunity. Social media is going to transform not just the way that individuals operate, but it’s actually going to reinvent the entire way we look at organizations and companies. In the industrial era, you had a company that was a paternal organization that you needed to physically go to, that gave you your benefits, and controlled information dissemination. That’s not really going to be necessary anymore, and I think we’re going to see a huge transformation in the way organizations are defined and operate. As the role that drives change and organizational effectiveness, it’s really an exciting opportunity for HR. I’m really excited about being a part of it.
ExecutiveBiz: Do you have any advice for someone who is starting out in the HR field? I know you have a very diverse background with your journalism degree.
Gail Forrest: I do and actually, what you just said there is the key I would give to anybody who is thinking about an HR job. It’s interesting; I don’t really think there are too many people that go to school dreaming about an HR position. I know that I didn’t. I grew up in the Woodward and Bernstein era and thought I was going to be a journalist, so I have great respect for people like you who are doing it and doing it well. What I would suggest to people is you have to first think of yourself as a business runner and a business owner and a leader of the business who is responsible for having a successful operation. The slant for an HR person is you are the functional expert that gets results through people, so the two things I’d really suggest to someone is first of all, get as many types of different HR jobs that you can in every area of expertise. From compensation to benefits, have both staff and line jobs. The one thing I think that HR people do not do that is really critical to being successful is to do a line job at some point. Be responsible for having to make a profit and walk in the shoes of a line manager, and you will have much more credibility in the long run as an HR professional. You’ll really appreciate first hand what your customer is going through. Those are probably the two pieces of advice that I would give: Get a diverse background and walk in both line and staff shoes.
ExecutiveBiz: What is a favorite hobby or activity that you like to spend your free time on?
Gail Forrest: First of all, I’m a voracious reader. I grew up in an advertising family, so we always used to get a gazillion magazines for free and I still do that, only they’re not free anymore. I read everything from the business press to the things related to HR to fun things, like People magazine and things like that, so I’m really an avid reader. I’m also active in my community. I was recently president of my Homeowners Association and I really believe in giving back to the community and being involved in charitable organizations. If I had to say what I actually love to do most with my time it is a pretty simple thing, which is spending time with my family, friends and neighbors and I really just enjoy doing that. Also, I’m a recent newly adoptive parent of a little doggie. I’ve never had a pet before and so I’ve opened up this whole world of being a pet mom and I really enjoy it.
ExecutiveBiz: What kind of dog is it?
Gail Forrest: I got a Cavachon, which is a Cavalier Spaniel and a Bichon. She’s a little, medium-sized dog and she definitely has a spunky personality.
ExecutiveBiz: Do you have a favorite vacation spot?
Gail Forrest: I absolutely do. I’m originally from the Midwest and I spent my summers in Wisconsin and all of my family lives there, so I have a cabin up there in the woods. It’s only one cut above not having running water, so it’s very rustic, but it’s on a lake and that’s my very favorite place to go and spend time with my family.
ExecutiveBiz: Did you have anything else that you wanted to talk about?
Gail Forrest: You asked about our hiring and how we’re doing on that. One of the things that I also respect most about CACI is that we’re an extremely veteran embracing corporation. Most of our leaders here are former admirals and generals in the military, so we really have a commitment to hiring the veteran employee. One of the programs we have is called ‘Deploying Talent and Creating Careers’ and it’s focused on working with the disabled veteran to help them get re-employed into the workplace. I think we have at least a couple dozen hires from the program in the past year. That’s a huge focus for us, and has been extremely rewarding. The caliber of people that we have been able to bring into the company from that program is really phenomenal, so that’s probably another area where we do a great job in our recruiting efforts.