Louis Montgomery is senior vice president of HR for Serco. Previously, he served as the North American director of human resources for AES Corporation and has 25 years of experience in senior level staffing, performance management, compensation planning, employee/labor relations, succession planning and diversity management.
ExecutiveBiz: Can you tell us a little about your background and what led you into human resources?
Louis Montgomery: I’m from St. Louis. In my first job right out of high school, I worked as an expeditor and inventory analyst for a small manufacturing company that made heavy construction equipment. I will never forget something my boss at the time said to me: “If things ran smoothly, we wouldn’t need you.” It was the type of job where I just solved problems all day, and I remember thinking — this was even before my freshman year in college — that things didn’t have to be as difficult as they were there. That experience sparked my interest in industry and helping to solve problems. Later, while attending Cornell University initially as a psychology major I realized the field was not a good fit for me. I was looking for alternatives and came across Cornell’s School of Industrial & Labor Relations, and thought, “Yes! This is what I want to do.” I transferred into the School of Industrial & Labor Relations, which of course we now know as Human Resource Management. I feel I was very fortunate to find the perfect field for my life’s work by my sophomore year in college.
ExecutiveBiz: According to your bio on Serco’s website, you worked with major firms like Frito Lay, Kraft and Phillip Morris. What are the differences between working for those consumer products firms and a firm that specializes in government contracting?
Louis Montgomery: One difference, obviously, is brand awareness. Everybody is familiar with Frito Lay, Kraft and Phillip Morris products. Their brands are universally known. Serco touches millions of lives, but because we provide services to the government, few people outside the federal government know about us. Another difference is who our customers are. In consumer products, everyone is targeted as customers.. In this industry, there is essentially only one customer – the federal government. We provide critical support for the intelligence community. We provide military personnel support, directly assisting soldiers and their families. We help protect the country by supporting the Department of Homeland Security We administer nearly 60 air traffic control centers for the FAA. We have a saying at Serco that we try to make the world a better place, and in the work we do I truly believe we are doing that. It is an incredibly dynamic industry, and Serco is a key player. It really is a great place to be, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my four years here. I might add, it’s a great feeling to know that through our programs I’m helping to serve the country.
ExecutiveBiz: You mentioned some challenges from an industry perspective. What are some challenges you face from an HR perspective?
Louis Montgomery: One of the biggest challenges frankly is staffing. Government services is an industry that is completely reliant on matching the right people with the right tasks. It is one thing to win a new contract, but ultimately to be successful, you must have the people with the needed skills and expertise. Consequently, recruiting and retaining staff is a significant challenge for every company in this industry. Another challenge is that a very large portion – of our people – work on-site at government locations. They work on government computers behind secure firewalls, so just communicating with them is a challenge. Providing development opportunities for these employees is also a challenge because you can’t just say we are going to take you off your job ve you go to a classroom in order to give you training.
ExecutiveBiz: Are there any emerging trends in the field that you are excited about?
Louis Montgomery: There is overwhelming evidence that people are hungry for learning and development, and organizations need to provide opportunities to satisfy that demand. Serco has been quite innovative in meeting the need for more training opportunities with an on-line resource we call the Serco Business Academy. Employees can use the resource 24/7, giving them access to more than 3,000 courses covering a wide variety of subjects, from basic business skills like using Excel all the way up to very high level technical instruction for earning various certifications. And we’ve made this e-learning resource available on different kinds of personal mobile devices, such as BlackBerries. People entering today’s workforce are technically very savvy, and if we can use that proficiency to help improve skills levels and meet workers’ desires for learning and development, then that’s a significant advance.
ExecutiveBiz: Do you have any hobbies that you enjoy in your spare time?
Louis Montgomery: I do. There are several. I’m an avid reader, and in particular I am fascinated with history and U.S. history especially. Also, after several years of not being interested in my golf game, I got back into it last fall. I took some lessons and have been playing pretty steadily this year and have thoroughly enjoyed it. My handicap is classified, so don’t bother asking me for it. One other hobby I’ve picked up in the last year is playing Texas Hold’em Poker. My wife and I were on a Mediterranean cruise last year, and there were three Texas Hold’em tournaments on board. I had a working knowledge of the game, so I decided to sign up. In the third tournament I actually did pretty well and took third place. That was a pleasant surprise and got me hooked on the game. As a result I have played a lot more steadily since then, and it’s been a lot of fun.