Workplace Culture

In the Green Monster’s Yard, She Watches Over the People

By Sarah Sipek

Mar. 21, 2016

If you’re ever in Boston, take the tour of Fenway Park. Regardless of whether you’re into baseball — or worse, a die-hard New York Yankees fan — take it. It’s worth the $17 and 90 minutes of your time. 

As you wind your way through the oldest stadium in Major League Baseball — gazing at the locker where the “Splendid Splinter” himself, Ted Williams, once kept his gear — it becomes apparent that the Red Sox are more than an iconic ballpark with a 37-foot left field wall known as the Green Monster or a team once saddled with the “Curse of the Bambino” after it traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees. 

The organization represents the culture of Boston itself: hardworking and loyal. And that culture is defined by fans who have supported the franchise since it won the first-ever World Series as the Boston Americans back in 1903. Those fans live and die by their team, and it’s that kind of passion that attracted Amy Waryas to the organization in the first place. 

“What drew me here was more the lure of Fenway Park than the sport itself,” Waryas said. “It means so much to so many people. Everyone has their own experience of being here. Visits to Fenway Park become part of family history. It’s something that is just so big and special in this town that to be able to have such an important role in an organization that creates these memories is something I connected with.”

As the Red Sox’s senior vice president of human resources, Waryas is responsible for developing and fostering that culture — not for the athletes and coaches, but for 1,400 full-time and seasonal employees. While the high-profile nature of working for the Red Sox makes attracting talent somewhat less of an organizational concern, making sure employees have room to grow and feel appreciated is a top priority. 

And like the fans that support the Red Sox, Waryas does not shy away from the hard work it takes to build a winning organization. 

She joined the Red Sox in 2011, a year before Fenway Park’s 100-year anniversary, and has since used her knowledge and experience to grow the human resources department from a one-person operation focused on administrative tasks to a unit that identifies, recognizes and supports the talented employees who give their all for their team. 

Hard Work and a Little Elbow Grease

Waryas has never been one to wait for others to do things for her. When the Massachusetts native grew tired of her surroundings, she saw college as an opportunity to experience another part of the country. 

“I wanted a warmer climate,” said Waryas, 44. “So I only applied to schools in the South.” 

She chose Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. She majored in psychology, but outside of her involvement in her sorority — Kappa Delta — and her work-study commitments, she didn’t explore the field beyond campus. 

“Internships weren’t that big of a deal back then,” Waryas said. “I was paying for my tuition, so I spent my summers waiting tables and working in restaurants because that’s where I could make the most money.”

After she graduated in 1994 with a degree in psychology, she was unsure of what to do with it. Her college counselor connected her with a woman who worked in HR at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston who agreed to meet informally about HR career options. 

“I was immediately attracted to the position,” Waryas said. “I liked that she didn’t specialize. One minute she would be handling employee relations, then benefits the next. It was so varied.”

In a time before job aggregators and LinkedIn profiles, Waryas found her first job by looking through binders of job postings at the Boston College University career center. She eventually found a position as an HR assistant at International Data Corp., a market research and analysis firm in Framingham, Massachusetts. 

“There were only two people in HR, and they let me sit in on everything,” Waryas said. “I got to see firsthand how they did their jobs and tackled issues.”
Waryas stayed in that position for a year, eventually making a decision that she both regrets and credits with paving the way for her success. 

“Ever since I left college, I was itching to get back in,” Waryas said. “The biggest professional do-over I have is going back into school too quickly and doing it full time.”

Waryas enrolled in an industrial and organizational psychology master’s program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. While her advice is to pursue advanced degrees on a part-time basis and wait until your company will pay for it, the decision to go back to school landed her an internship at General Electric Co., which Waryas noted is known for its progressive HR practices. 

That internship, and the high-profile brand name it allowed her to put on her résumé, helped Waryas land an HR generalist position back at IDC where she worked for the next three years. Startups were sprouting and offered a challenge to people with Waryas’ background. 

“If you want to grow vertically, it’s important to know when it’s time to look for your next opportunity,” Waryas said. “A lot of these startups didn’t have an HR department. I was scared to make that leap and lead a department on my own. But I realized I had the skills and a network of people to back me, so I went for it.”

Waryas landed a position at a software company where she was responsible for 60 employees and reported directly to the chief financial officer. While she learned a lot about finance and the value of data, the experience taught Waryas that HR needed its own voice so the needs of the employees didn’t become secondary to the company’s financial goals. 

After the 9/11 terror attacks and the subsequent layoffs that occurred at many companies, Waryas realized that she needed to work at a company that she really cared about. 

“I wanted to work at a company that I could relate to,” Waryas said. “I wasn’t connected to the product or excited about it and I was noticing more and more the impact on employment and on the culture of the company.”

Believe in the Brand 

What Waryas could relate to was beer. A former IDC colleague passed her résumé to the Boston Beer Co. and before long, she was an HR manager for the brewer that produces the popular Samuel Adams beers. 

“When I was interviewing I thought that working for a beer company would provide some level of job security,” Waryas said. “It’s a little bit of a recession-proof business. Plus there is a lot of stability and excitement surrounding the brand.”

And if there’s one thing that Waryas learned at the Boston Beer Co., it’s that brand matters. 

“I was immediately enamored with the idea founder Jim Koch came up with to run the company,” Waryas said. “He was always conscious of the culture he wanted to create there. He had this saying, ‘We are the Boston Beer Co.,’ which basically meant that the company wouldn’t exist without the people. That was my first experience to really see how to create and maintain an employee-focused culture and what the payoff was.”

Unlike being under the chief financial officer, Waryas reported directly to then-chief operating officer and current CEO Martin Roper, who included her in the conversation about how the company should be run. After six months, Martin asked her to join a management committee that met every six weeks to talk strategic-level issues. 

Roper liked the idea of the HR reporting directly to the CEO so that employees remained a top priority at the company. 

The Boston Beer Co. took a different approach.

“Including me was almost like a symbol to the people and employees that they’re being heard,” Waryas said. “I was able to advocate for the employees directly.” 

Roper and Koch instilled in Waryas the belief that open and honest communication with employees was the key to running a successful organization. 
“Of everything I learned at my time there, culture is what I took with me to the Red Sox,” Waryas said.

Crafting Company Culture
Given the company’s employee-first culture at Boston Beer Co., it was no surprise that former Chief Financial Officer William Urich was supportive when Waryas broke the news that she intended to leave after eight years to join the Red Sox. 

Waryas recalls Urich telling her that he didn't want her to leave, but that if she was his daughter, he'd tell her she had to go and make her mark on an amazing organization. 

And that’s exactly what she did. 

When Waryas joined the Red Sox in 2011, the HR department consisted of one full-time employee and two temps. Six months after she started, the department grew to six and she was already making her mark. 

While Waryas is not responsible for the players, she is tasked with boosting the performance of her 1,400 person workforce. The Red Sox had no formal onboarding or review process when Waryas began. 

“We evaluated every single person from a talent perspective to make sure we knew where we were and make sure we were developing high performers and unclogging low performers,” Waryas said. “Recruiting isn’t a challenge. We needed to focus on identifying high-potential employees and opening up positions for them to grow and succeed.”

She worked closely with Larry Lucchino, the Red Sox’s then-president and CEO and current president and CEO emeritus, to start building a team that could succeed. After the right talent was identified, the focus became motivating employees to work long hours on odd schedules while avoiding burnout. 

While 80 hours workweeks can’t always be avoided, Waryas placed emphasis on rewarding employees for their efforts. During the team’s 2013 World Series run, the entire front office was flown to St. Louis for the three away games in the Series. They also all received rings after the Red Sox beat the Cardinals 4 games to 2.

Waryas also tries to infuse as much transparency as possible. “I don’t want my people finding out things about the organization over sports talk radio before I get a chance to tell them,” Waryas said. “We want to be as open and honest about the direction of the organization as possible.”

It’s a challenge given the nature of being a major league franchise, but in instances where a news release must go out first, Waryas is quick to hold town hall meetings afterward to answer any and all questions. 

“My goal going forward is to focus on the things that are going to make us stronger as an organization, and transparency tops that list,” Waryas said. “We want to deliver on everything and continue to be innovative while keeping morale and well-being high so we don’t burn out the employees we love.” 
 

Sarah Sipek is a Workforce associate editor.

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