When The Home Depot Inc. needed to combine two organizations it had acquired under a single brand, it found it had the right people in place to handle the task.
The home improvement giant’s wholly owned subsidiary Home Depot Installation Services is a combination of two organizations it acquired. The two operated separately for years, but in February 2019 the company began merging them under a single brand.
“The companies were totally different, had two different structures and two different operating cultures,” said Jay Teresi, general manager for Home Depot Installation Services.
It was a difficult task. Teresi was aided by the parent company’s People Strategy for Services organization, led by Adriana Avella, HR director for services.
“When it comes to merging human capital, that’s a big challenge and Adriana has been a huge partner in helping us with that transition,” Teresi said.
The company’s People Strategy for Services organization is the winner of the the Leading Transformational Change and Culture Award in Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 2020 HR Excellence Awards in partnership with SHRM-Atlanta.
Avella, a native of Poland, joined the Home Depot 13 years ago as a compensation specialist, then became a generalist after about three years. In 2010, after becoming HR manager for supply chain development, she was given the opportunity to lead a group in establishing 19 rapid deployment centers nationwide for the purpose of adding 10,000 new associates. She said it happened because “people believed in me and gave me a chance.” Avella’s success stamped her as one of the brightest, most capable up-and-comers in the Home Depot ranks.
Through several other jobs, Avella broadened her background and developed the capability to handle the challenges she now faces in one of Home Depot’s key HR positions. Of her upward trajectory, she said she never looked at job titles, levels, or compensation, but only wanted new challenges and to bring enough value to immediately be effective in each position.
Among those who appreciate what she brings the table is James Hein, Home Depot’s Northern Division Services human resources manager. He said one of Avella’s strengths is her ability “to empower people to make good decisions. As a person who works on her team,” said Hein, “I can say she’s very transparent, very open and honest about what you are doing, but she’s also very empowering.” The division manager said as the pandemic was unfolding, there were many decisions to be made involving health, safety, benefits, time off and other HR-related matters. He noted Avella’s advice throughout has been to “make sure you are there to take care of the people. That,” he added, “has been a very empowering message.”
Even before grappling with the issues of the pandemic, Avella began the process of instituting a new structure within the organization that helped various entities come together for a common purpose.
Stacey Tank, Home Depot’s former leader of the Installation Services and Measurement Services businesses, nominated Avella, who she calls a “rock star,” for the HR Excellence award while still at Home Depot. “Adriana helped the Home Services Division completely reorganize its field organization, installed new leadership, and put the right people in the right seats on the bus,” said Tank, now the chief transformation and corporate affairs officer at Heineken in Amsterdam.
Teresi said Avella is “an expert in her field and also has a huge heart and is very empathetic towards people. All these attributes,” he added, “help leaders in our company drive diversity, inclusion and the cultural transformation.”
During the Covid-19 pandemic with emotions running high, Avella was able to design smart people strategies that helped keep the business running smoothly, said Coleen Marritt, senior director of sales for installation services, Home Depot. “Adriana is so balanced that she always finds a way to get me to a yes,” Marritt said.
Avella is no stranger to change and challenges. At just 21 she came on her own to Atlanta from Poland to research a thesis needed to complete her bachelor’s degree at Poland’s Higher School of Management.
She was seeking books on American business, a scarce commodity in Poland. But thanks to a chance meeting with a University of Georgia (UGA) student, Avella was able to obtain the necessary information and complete her 100-page dissertation. After a brief stay back in Poland to finish school and receive her degree in international management, she returned to Atlanta, launching a career in human resources that has now spanned 18 years.
Avella’s education helped her understand how important culture can be in a business setting and her early venture to the U.S. demonstrated her willingness to accept a challenge. “I was very open-minded when it came to making the move,” Avella said. “It was just me, myself and I who came here, and I said, ‘we got this, we can conquer this.’”
Conquer it she did, beginning her career as an HR coordinator at Futren Corp., then taking the compensation specialist position at Home Depot. She said she loves numbers so the job was a perfect fit. Moving to work with client groups as a generalist after three years was “a little more unpredictable, where you have to shift gears throughout the day and I like operating in that rhythm,” she noted.
Perhaps no one sums up Avella’s contributions to the Home Depot better than her supervisor, Sabrina Green, the company’s senior director of human resources. ”Adriana is just a good person. She cares and that exudes in how she leads on a daily basis,” Green said.
And about that UGA student who helped her with the thesis? His name is Fernando and he and Adrianna have been married 18 years and are proud parents of a nine-year-old daughter, Naomi.