employees signing papers

Rhonda Beard headshot


Our Instructor Spotlight is on one of our three HR Leadership Academy instructors, Rhonda Beard, SHRM-CP. Having been in HR for 25 years, Rhonda brings her expertise to the Academy and teaches Social Media in the Workplace, Diversity and Inclusion, and Recruiting and Retention for a Multigeneration Workforce. She also serves as an HR consultant, management trainer, and coach for BenchBuilders, a business coaching and consulting company.



Jeff: What professional HR experience do you bring to the HR Leadership Academy? 

Rhonda: After earning my undergraduate degree in finance from the University of Michigan, I started my professional career in banking. I enjoyed my time working in branches and the trust department, but eventually, I decided I wanted to do something different. My manager suggested I apply for an opening in HR, and at the time, I said, “Why would I want to work in HR?” I had a negative perception of HR, but he said it would be an opportunity for me to change that persona as I am a good people manager. I spent nine years in HR at the bank and learned how to be more collaborative and communicative. Afterward, I moved to Chattanooga and worked in HR at Mohawk, then as the VP of HR for Lectrus (who was later acquired by AZZ). Currently, I work for BenchBuilders where I get to use my love of teaching and training in my everyday role. 


Marah: Why is the HR Leadership Academy, and education for our future HR leaders, important?  

R: Many times, especially at smaller companies, HR departments are run by one or two generalists. Individuals in these positions may have scarce opportunities to learn from mentors since there aren’t any HR higher-ups in the company, which is why the mentoring aspect of the Academy is wonderful! The mentoring aspectalong with the training from Todd, Katherine, and myself, will help HR professionals not simply be seen as HR support but as integral business leaders. The topics covered will help individuals become trusted, respected, and credible leaders who help organizations see what they need–sometimes before the organization realizes it!  


J: Why are the sessions you’re teaching important for HR leaders? 

R: For the first time ever, we have six generations in the workplace at the same time. People are living and working longer. Recruitment, communication, and engagement are not a one-size-fits-all approach; you need to know how to attract and realize the needs and priorities of extremely different generations. I will teach that in the multigenerational workforce session! 

In social media, we will discuss how social media is used to interact with employees internally and how to use social platforms to highlight the company for recruitment. We will also cover the legal ramifications of what you can and can’t do about what employees are saying on social media. You can’t control how employees use social media, but you do have control over how they view the company, which can impact what they say about the company on social media. 

Diversity and inclusion are hot topics right now. We will uncover the unconscious biases people often have and ways to diversify and be inclusive within your company. For example, when you have so many people working remotely, how do you make sure you aren’t excluding those at home unintentionally? 


J: How do you define leadership?  

R: Leadership is not telling people outright what to do. It is creating expectations, clarity around goals, and accountability for your people. The right skills and demeanor will inspire people to do what it is you need them to do. Leading by example is an old but meaningful phrase. Great leaders don’t just tell but show through their example. 


J: What other qualities, besides being inspiring, make a great HR leader? 

R: One is the ability to listen to others and listen for underlying concerns they may not be identifying directly. Caring for others goes a long way. You also need a desire and willingness to learn the business you’re supporting so you can understand the business needs on a higher level. Once you learn, you’ll be able to create strategies and values for the business that will have an impact on future success and help other employees and leadership recognize you as an integral part of the business.  


J: What advice would you give to someone wanting to enter an HR leadership role? 

R: Spend time learning what people in different roles in your company do. For example, if you listen to salespeople make calls and understand why people want to buy from your organization, that will help you develop the sales pitch on why people will want to come work for you. Develop credibility with the management team and ask professionally, not forcefully, if you can be involved in management meetings. Ask, “Can I sit in on this meeting? It will be helpful in my role to learn about what you’re dealing with.” The more interaction you have with people, the more you’ll build your credibility and expertise. Also, always follow through on what you say you’re going to do.  


M: What are 3 fun facts about you? 


  • I have been involved in Junior Achievement for 20+ years. One of my deepest passions is inspiring young students and showing them the career choices they can have if they stay in school. 
  • I love to be outside! Boating, gardening, golfing…you name it!
  • I love to travel and have enjoyed visiting places such as France, Spain, Italy, Tahiti, and the French Polynesian Islands. My favorite, and where I wish to go back someday, was Ireland! 


J: Is there anything else you would like to share about the HR Leadership Academy? 

R: I’m really excited about the opportunity to work with HR professionals and have an impact on their leadership development. The mentors provided to participants will be valuable both during and after the course, particularly since many HR leaders don’t have the resources within their organizations to be provided with mentorship. I am confident that this program will help HR professionals elevate their knowledge and skillset, which will benefit their organizations with stronger leadership and strategic support.


Marah Whitaker headshot

Marah Whitaker (think Laura with an M) serves as the marketing assistant for the UTC Center for Professional Education. During the workday, she spends time writing blog posts, creating content for social media, developing email campaigns, and building relationships with CPE’s customer base. During her free time, you can find her getting lost in a good book, having spontaneous dance parties, playing piano, and going to Buffalo Wild Wings on Wing Night. Professionally and personally, she aspires to live by Mr. Feeny’s advice, “Dream. Believe. Try. Do Good.” She strives to use her passions to serve others and contribute positively to the world around her.

Connect with Marah on LinkedIn.



Jeff Grant sees himself as a storyteller, and thankfully, he gets to tell some incredible stories by serving as the marketing coordinator for the UTC Center for Professional Education. During the workday, Jeff can be found implementing new marketing strategies or writing content. When Jeff is away from the office, he could be found hiking the Cumberland Trail, trying new recipes, or getting lost in a good book.

Connect with Jeff on LinkedIn.