What are they
Managing director of global human resources, BlackRock
Traci Entel Believes in the Power of People
A managing director of global human resources at BlackRock explains the value of strategically recruiting and developing top talent.
by Jen Swetzoff
Traci Entel is a people person — not only because it’s her job, in the highest ranks of human resources at BlackRock, but because it’s her nature. She grew up in New York City, attending public school from kindergarten through high school, with close friends from a variety of backgrounds. She then left city life to attend Dartmouth College in rural New Hampshire and embraced the change.
“It fit my personality to have small classes and make close connections with professors,” Entel said. “I think that ability to connect with people is something that I’m still known for among colleagues.”
After graduating with her bachelor’s degree in economics and sociology, Entel took a consulting job with the Mitchell Madison Group. “My work immediately focused on implementing strategy through people,” she said. “It was the perfect combination for me, and it’s what prepared me for the rest of my career.”
Entel moved on from Mitchell Madison after a few years to join Katzenbach Partners, following her engagement manager and mentor, who founded the company with two colleagues. They envisioned organizational behavior and change management being an integrated part of their consulting work, and Entel was their 10th employee. She spent about a decade rooted in that philosophy, helping build the firm from the ground up, before moving on to Booz & Company when it acquired Katzenbach. After just two years at Booz & Company as a consulting partner, she was offered a leadership role as chief human capital officer.
Now she runs the corporate side of human resources for BlackRock, the world’s largest asset management firm, while raising two young daughters with her husband in Greenwich Village. During a recent conversation with Strategy&, she discussed the importance of old-fashioned calendars, technology talent, and empathy.
What was the start of your career like?
I spent my formative years at Katzenbach, where I was hired as a consultant and placed with a pharmaceutical client in what turned out to be a lasting relationship. From the beginning, I had a dual career of sorts because I was engaged both with client work and with building the firm. We were growing a company, and I was involved with defining the firm’s values, designing offices, conceptualizing our first logo and website, organizing social events and corporate retreats, and developing processes and templates for employee evaluation and development. Once we got our first class of analysts coming in from college, I oversaw their performance reviews, so that was my first formal foray into the world of people leadership .
What was one of your most transformative professional experiences?
Working outside the United States had a major impact on me. In my early 20s, I had the opportunity to manage a technology outsourcing project across 18 countries. I was based in Belgium for about a year, living out of a hotel in central Brussels, coming home to New York about once a month, and exploring other parts of Europe on most weekends. I was incredibly fortunate to gain global experience and exposure to two critical business trends, technology and outsourcing, so early in my career .
Did you pull many all-nighters in those earlier years?
Not really. One of my most effective tools in project management was actually an old-fashioned calendar. Most of my clients were more familiar with that way of looking at a schedule than a Gantt chart, so we could quickly see if a milestone would or wouldn’t work. And above all else, I always encouraged open communication and transparency to manage expectations .
You joined Booz & Company when the firm acquired Katzenbach. What was that like?
At first I was a bit skeptical — mostly from a culture standpoint — but once I focused on the work, I saw the immediate value that Booz & Company gave my clients: We had global reach with access to people and resources around the world. My colleagues at Booz & Company were also really receptive to applying my thought leadership on customer service, The Empathy Engine, which helped me get integrated into existing project work. Finally, I was also asked to work on an internal culture initiative, which had support from the highest levels of leadership and allayed my initial cultural concerns .
How did you shift from consulting to HR?
As I was preparing to go on maternity leave with my first daughter, my mentor suggested that there might be an opportunity to apply my client and internal experiences by directly leading the entire people experience for Booz & Company. So I took a leap of faith and pitched the idea to the CEO and head of North America. They were wonderfully receptive to the idea and I soon started in a new role as chief human capital officer. My goal as an HR leader since then has always been to prioritize the business strategy — and think about how you’re acquiring, developing, motivating, and rewarding your people in line with it .
Why did you decide to move into the financial sector?
I wasn’t planning on a change, but an opportunity fell into my lap at the right time. I was on maternity leave with my second daughter and happened to be talking with a former client who worked in HR at BlackRock. He invited me to come meet his boss for a conversation. Soon after, they had a role open up that matched my experience. I met the clients and the team I would be working with, and it just all seemed like a match .
Tell me more about your position at BlackRock.
I’m the head of HR for all the corporate functions and then some! My main client is the chief operating officer, who leads a set of functions including technology, business operations, and advisory. My other clients include the corporate functions such as strategy, marketing, and finance. My team covers about 60 percent of the firm .
How would you describe the transition to BlackRock?
Remarkably smooth. First, consulting prepared me for my next career as an HR professional. As a consultant, you learn to be analytical and relationship focused. You learn the discipline of needing to be strategic and get it done at the same time. Second, being in professional services and coming to another professional services company has been a nice bridge; the client service ethos is strong, and runs in my blood. Third, it always comes back to the people and culture. BlackRock is a very collaborative place, and the entire HR team and my clients have been warm, welcoming, and incredibly helpful .
What are some of your top priorities?
We’re focused on creating a great place to work for the best technology talent. Something that differentiates BlackRock is Aladdin, the technology platform that our [people] and 20,000 other investment professionals around the world use. Aladdin sits in my portfolio, both the developers and the folks who sell and service it .
Another priority for me is making sure that we’re developing a strong bench to be the next generation of leaders. We’re also focusing on diversity and inclusion. Two of our founders are women, so it’s in the firm’s DNA already to be gender diverse. But diversity is not enough; we strive to be an inclusive environment, where all ideas are coming to the table and getting heard — that’s how we can create the most competitive business outcomes.
What challenges do you face?
The sheer volume [of work] in my role is incredible. And as a trained consultant, I hold myself to a very high standard of understanding the business and the details. So even though I am a seasoned multitasker, it’s a lot! I’d say that I need to continue to learn more about financial services — so that’s my night job.
What are the most fulfilling parts of your work?
At BlackRock, we are all about being a fiduciary to our clients; therefore we need to be constantly innovating and trying to find the best possible answer. It’s a problem-solving culture, which is what I love. It gives me little goose bumps to work with such smart, generous, and collaborative people.
As an HR leader, what’s your secret to collaboration and successful team building?
Strong relationships are the foundation of any successful team, and those come from establishing trust. I’m a sharer: I like to know what’s personally important to my team members, and I tend to share a lot about my own life and priorities with them. Everyone wants to feel like a valued contributor and to feel that you’re on the same side of the table, even when times are tough. One critical way to do that is by creating space for open dialogue and direct feedback, both giving it and inviting it .
Let’s talk about your personal life. When and where are you happiest?
With my family and friends. Between work and family, I don’t have much time for things like golf, which was once a favorite hobby of mine. I do, however, take a lot of photos of my children and like to make collages with a free app on my phone.
What’s your greatest extravagance?
I’m usually in my office by 7 a.m. and home by 7 p.m., with one or two nights going later than that, so my biggest indulgence is my transportation. I pay for a shared ride service, to and often from work every day. This means you carpool with other New Yorkers, and at about $5 per ride, I like to think it’s only marginally more expensive than the subway .
How would your closest friends describe you?
Loyal. I actually asked three of my friends this question in advance of our conversation — I guess as a consultant I like to collect real data — and they all used the word loyal first. Other things they said were advice giver, dependable, funny, smart, quirky, insomniac, thoughtful, and generous. Needless to say, I was very flattered .
How would you describe yourself?
Besides a bit Type A and someone who always likes to be busy? I try to be empathetic. In both my professional and personal life, I think it’s important to be able to step into someone else’s shoes and see the world from their standpoint. Or at least that’s the challenge I give myself .
Jen Swetzoff is a freelance writer and editor. Previously, she worked with Strategy& as the deputy managing editor at strategy+business magazine.
Disclaimer: Please note that historical references to Booz & Company and Booz Allen Hamilton are found in this article/section since the alumni featured here left the firm prior to Strategy& joining the PwC global network of firms.