Mourning the Loss of an HR Icon

The HR world lost one of its guiding lights late last week with the death of J. Randall (Randy) MacDonald, who retired from his post as senior vice president of human resources for IBM in 2013.

MacDonald — a Fellow of the National Academy of Human Resources, member of Cornell University’s Center for Advanced Human Resources Study and past chairman of the HR Policy Association’s board of directors — was featured on the cover of Human Resource Executive ® when he was named HRE‘s 2008 HR Executive of the Year. In that story, he described himself as being “uncomfortable with the status quo,” a man who is “always looking for how to do something better.”

Upon his retirement in 2013, IBM Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Ginni Rometty called MacDonald “a treasured asset for three IBM CEOs [and] an innovator [who] has continuously pushed us to anticipate major shifts — in the process, stepping up to some of the most important workforce challenges of our time.”

“Randy’s innovative approaches have become a model,” she wrote, “not just for businesses, but for entire societies. In all cases, he helped us maintain our essential values.”

Fred Foulkes, the founder and director of the Human Resources Policy Institute at Boston University, called MacDonald “an icon” of the HR world:

Randy was a star for 3 CEOs of IBM. He was a recognized leader not only at IBM also but to the many other organizations that he generously gave his time and talent to, including: NAHR, HRPA, Cornell, Boston University, PRT and Bucknell University, among others.

MacDonald’s passion for sharing his HR wisdom had not waned during retirement, either, Foulkes says.

“Just last month,” he says, “I had a question that I thought Randy would have good perspectives on, and, as I predicted, he gave me some very good advice.”

And despite his long career of working in the C-suite, Foulkes says MacDonald never lost his connection with line workers.

“His father was a union man,” Foulkes recalls, “and he never forgot where he came from. He was equally comfortable talking to a second-shift janitor as he was a board member or CEO. He was truly a remarkable person.”