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Anatomy of a Lifelong Learner
Using his own learning philosophy as fuel, Jim Dunn has built a strategic learning function at Texas Health Resources that is attracting notice from the business and the industry.
It all started with a performance review and a white lab coat. Jim Dunn, chief learning officer for Texas Health Resources (THR), began his career as a research scientist at Georgia Tech, where he ran several of the university labs involving toxicological testing. His next move was to Amoco Corp., where he became a regulatory toxicologist doing pretty much the same thing. Six years passed. Dunn was tired of the lab coat and only having mice for company, so when his supervisor learned he wanted to shed his solitary work environment and do something with people, he offered a new opportunity: as the director of HR.
“I had no training, no background, I didn’t even know what he meant. I said, ‘you mean like the personnel folks?’ He said, ‘Yeah, like the personnel folks.’ I said, ‘Dr. White, I appreciate that but I don’t know anything about it.’ He said, ‘I think you could learn it.’ I went from regulatory toxicologist to a director of HR with responsibility for 6,000 employees.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Dunn fell in love with HR, gravitating toward the learning and development and strategy aspects. He went from Amoco to running HR operations for former President Jimmy Carter, which was smaller in scale but large in learning.
“That’s where I really developed the skills, the importance of understanding and getting to know your employees. Of course, I could do that with 200 versus 6,000. From there I was pretty much sold that I was an HR OD professional. I was not going back to the sciences. By that time I had picked up multiple graduate degrees in HR and OD, and I was later recruited away from President Carter to work for the American Cancer Society. That’s where I spent the last 10 years before joining THR in ’08.”
Texas Health Resources is the largest nonprofit health care delivery system in north Texas, with some 23,000 employees serving roughly 6.2 million people in 24 acute care and short stay hospitals in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Before Dunn joined the team at THR’s Center for Learning and Career Development, he said the corporate learning entity was made up of astute trainers and facilitators.
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