VP Operations Services
R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company
Linda Wood is a multidimensional leader who has built her 32-year career with R.J. Reynolds on a varied set of skills. She joined the company soon after receiving her degree in Industrial Engineering and Operations from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and has held leadership positions in human resources, operations and supply chain planning, production/material planning & scheduling, industrial engineering, and procurement. In her major volunteer commitment with the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina, she led the Y’s Strategic Planning Committee and was recently named Chief Volunteer Officer.
Q. You started with R.J. Reynolds right out of college. What circumstances made it right for you to stay there throughout your career?
A. Very early in my work life, I developed five objectives to help guide my career and I used these as a gauge for determining if I was in an environment that was right for me. They were 1) the opportunity for learning; was I gaining new knowledge, broadening my business acumen, etc. 2) the opportunity for personal and professional growth 3) being challenged; not just performing the “status quo” 4) the ability to provide for my family 5) work that gave me a sense of satisfaction and knowledge that I was contributing to the success of the company. If any of those had become seriously misaligned, I would have looked elsewhere, but the company not only helped me meet these objectives they encouraged me to stretch myself beyond what I imagined I could achieve.
Q. You spent almost four years in Human Resources leadership for R.J. Reynolds. What did you learn then that’s relevant to what you do now?
A. This was a unique opportunity to really get to know other parts of the company. My role was as a strategic business partner to various functions – beginning with the legal department, IT and finance and, later, with corporate and all the functions the CEO intereacts with – from public relations to internal audit to the innovations group. My final HR assignment was as strategic partner to operations and that brought me back to where I’d spent most of my career and where I have now returned in my current position. Through those experiences, I learned the importance of organizational development, talent management, engaging a workforce to drive performance and a lot of other important aspects of leveraging the biggest asset we have, the people.
Q. You’ve taken on a major volunteer commitment with the YMCA. How have you been able to combine a high-powered career with charitable work?
A. In a lot of ways, my community work has paralleled my professional development – starting in a specific capacity and expanding into roles with greater responsibility. My first role was on the YMCA Camp board, from there to Chair of the Camp board, then onto the Association board and finally to Board Chair of the Association. It was useful through this transition that I was continually learning more about business and business strategy at work, so I could then apply it to help the YMCA be more successful. I’ve had a similar experience with Goodwill Industries, serving as their board chair in 2007. I’ve always been service-oriented and wanted to give back to the community and I am fortunate to have been able to do that through leveraging my experience in business and as a leader.