Lee Benson
Human resources professional Frances Hume.

SALT LAKE CITY —

This past Tuesday in a banquet room at the Grand America Hotel, Frances Hume was honored for outstanding performance in a career she couldn’t even dream about when she was a girl.

Because it hadn’t yet been invented.

Frances works in human resources — H.R. in the modern lexicon. When she was growing up in the little town of Benjamin in Utah County in the 1960s, H.R. stood for home run, if it stood for anything at all.

There certainly was no major for it in 1971 at Utah Technical College, the forerunner to Utah Valley University, when Frances accepted a full-ride scholarship there after graduating from Spanish Fork High School.

She got her business certificate at UTC and set out to see the world. Her first job was working as a legal secretary during the Watergate days at the FBI in Washington, D.C. After that she worked as an assistant to a chief financial officer at a power company in Maryland.

It was only by chance that her next job, after returning home to Utah in 1978, was as a personnel secretary at a valve-manufacturing company called Valtek in Springville.

In the 40 years since, she’s had a front row seat, and a ton of input, as she’s watched “personnel” turn into “humans.”

“Used to be, the first thing companies cut out of their budget was people,” Frances muses. “They didn’t appreciate that people — your human resources — are your real competitive advantage.”

That kind of thinking began to change in the 1970s thanks to progressive civil rights laws that focused on human rights and protections. The wave picked up speed in the 1980s and 1990s when technological advances made it possible to analytically measure the dollars-and-cents value of engaged, incentivized employees.

Personnel departments that had been in charge of hiring and planning the company Christmas party and little else became human resource departments — charged with getting the right people in, nurturing them, growing them, protecting them and turning their KSA’s (H.R. shorthand for knowledge, skill and abilities) into intellectual property to benefit both the individual and the organization.

Frances watched and learned. In 1979, shortly after starting at Valtek, she attended her first chapter meeting of the American Society for Personnel Administration, a fledging national organization that had arrived in Utah County just the year previous. Over time, she would become chapter president, then state council director over all five Utah chapters, then on the national human resources certification board, then chairwoman of that board.

She was at the society's annual national convention in New Orleans in 1989 when the association officially changed its name to the Society for Human Resource Management.

She’s watched as H.R. departments have become de rigueur for companies large and not so large, their importance steadily growing and expanding, to include everything from anger management courses to sensitivity training to pingpong tables in the break room to sexual harassment guidelines and safeguards.

“Why does an organization do sexual harassment training?” she asks, citing a huge point of emphasis that didn’t exist 30 years ago. “Well, the first level of thinking is to stay out of court. But the higher level of thinking is not only to stay out of court, but if you have an environment and a culture that creates trust, respect, open communication and good decision-making, you’re going to be profitable because you’re going to be high-performing.”

Time and again, Frances has seen what a human resources professional can do for a company. For her personally, she’s also seen what a company can do for an H.R. professional.

In the mid-1990s, when she was working as human resources vice president at a company that eventually became Nature’s Way, one of her first assignments was to do an executive search to replace the current CEO. One of the key candidates from Texas was deemed qualified for not one but two top positions. His name: Gary Hume, her future husband.

In 1998, capitalizing on her new surname, Frances created her own H.R. consulting company: Hume 'n Resources (humenresources.com).

For the past 20 years she has assisted organizations with human resources challenges, taught college human resources classes, held human resources training sessions, coached executives, consulted companies in America and abroad, and provided a clearinghouse on her website for human resources job openings and prospective hires.

All this in an industry that didn’t really exist when she was a girl.

“H.R. as it is today wasn’t even on the radar,” she says. “When I started in personnel it was like when somebody had hit the mess button and you got called to come in and clean up the problem on aisle 5.

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“I’ve never wanted to clean up on aisle 5. I would much rather not have the mess in the first place, to be proactive. The goal of H.R. is to figure out where people are and where they need to be and help them get there; to treat everyone with dignity and respect and allow them to have the opportunity to have meaningful work and a meaningful occupation.”

She said all that and more at the Grand America last Tuesday when the Society for Human Resource Management and Utah Business Magazine honored her with its Lifetime Achievement award.

You probably already guessed it was the first one ever.