Lisa Caldwell: Reynolds was my ‘dream job’

Lisa Caldwell: Reynolds was my ‘dream job’
March 29
04:00 2018

Former Reynolds Chief Human Resources Officer Lisa Caldwell retired from her dream job this month, after more than three decades of making a difference at the company and in the community.

Caldwell, The Chronicle Community Service Awards’ Woman of the Year, was the first African-American senior executive at Reynolds American Inc. Her parents came from humble beginnings. Her father was an orphan who never made it past sixth grade and worked for a family in Burlington. Her mother, who only had a high school diploma, owned a bridal shop. They encouraged Caldwell and her siblings to go to college and dream big. 

“They were the ones who were saying, ‘You can do this,’” said Caldwell. “They were your biggest cheerleaders and you wanted to make them proud.”

Caldwell originally wanted to be a doctor, but was freaked out after seeing a cadaver during a tour at Bowman Gray School of Medicine. She eventually decided the medical profession wasn’t for her and got a degree in Business Administration from UNC-Chapel Hill and a law degree from Wake Forest University School of Law. She said she wouldn’t have been able to attend either college without scholarships. Caldwell and four black women in her law class started the Black Law Students Association Scholarship Banquet to give others the same opportunity.

After she graduated from law school, she worked for Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice as well as West & Banks, but found law wasn’t her calling. In 1991, she joined Reynolds as the manager of employment practices, and found a job that was the blend of business and law she was looking for.

“I didn’t realize that this would be a dream job for me until I got in it, and I absolutely loved it,” said Caldwell.

She was promoted through the ranks until she became the chief human resources officer. She said she changed Human Resources so it’s oriented toward serving the company’s 5,500 employees like they were consumers. That included getting continuous feedback from them on services they needed.

“You have to start with understanding what employees want, and then you have to help them understand what it is you’re delivering and the value,” said Caldwell.

Employee well-being became a major initiative. This included a fitness center and exercise classes to improve employee health, which helped to keep Reynolds’ health insurance costs stable. There were financial well-being classes and expert fiscal advice available to employees.

“When you focus on an employee’s well-being, then you’re helping them with the things that distract them, so they’re more productive at working, their happier,” said Caldwell.

Outside of work, Caldwell has served as a member of The Links Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and is active in her church, United Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church.  She’s served on many boards, including Wake Forest University School of Business’ Board of Visitors, Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind, Winston-Salem State University (WSSU), the WSSU Foundation, Hospice and Palliative Care, Goodwill Industries and Novant Health. She also chaired the United Negro College Fund Kennedy Evening of Elegance, which raises money for UNCF scholarships.

Caldwell resides in Kernersville with her husband, Alan, a former Chronicle Man of the Year who retired as Reynolds’ head of civic engagement in 2016. They have two adult children, Tyler and Brianna.

Caldwell said she encourages any black woman entering the workforce to “find that intersection between what you’re passionate about and what you’re good at” like she did.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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