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John Orr of Ceridian: “Never give up, hard work pays off”

Stay focused on putting the customer and employee at the center of everything you do. Be pragmatic and understand your customers’ business as well as your own. At the end of the day it comes down to your own personal brand, trusting relationships and earned credibility. As part of our series about the future of […]

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Stay focused on putting the customer and employee at the center of everything you do. Be pragmatic and understand your customers’ business as well as your own. At the end of the day it comes down to your own personal brand, trusting relationships and earned credibility.


As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing John Orr.

John is the senior vice president of retail strategy and execution at Global HCM company Ceridian. John has a track record of fixing poor performing operations and formulating successful go-to-market strategies.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

As is the case with many professionals, my career path was not a straight line — it was rather crooked. With my undergraduate degree in Aerospace Engineering/Airway Science, I always loved analysis and technology. However, after being in it for five years, I wanted more out of my career and a better fit for my personality. I have always thought of myself to be good at many things, but then realized my strengths lied in bridging business with technology to deliver value. So, while working full time I enrolled in a full-time night school to earn my masters degree in marketing and decision science. Soon after, I was recruited by a startup in the human capital management (HCM) space and put my skills to work bringing several HCM solutions to market over the next 28 years. I like taking strategic consulting and that higher purpose approach to software to help organizations achieve great value. Being able to bridge the tech with the business — knowing I am making a difference to my retail customers and their people — is hugely important and rewarding.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

After a year on the road building a production forecasting system for QSR companies, the founder pulled me in his office and asked me to bring our new “Ooie gooie” product to market — Visual Labor Management. I had never developed, I am not a coder, and I had never data modeled in my life, but I decided to give it a try. I ended up creating ERDs and DFDs and data dictionaries and such on the weekends — I became a shade tree data base adminstrator and worked directly with developers using draft documents and pictures on paper to bring it up (very old school!).

It turned out to be the leading system on the market in the mid-to-late 90s and I was able to deliver many innovative first-to-market systems, including a couple I will mention: 1) The first comprehensive WFM solution that delivered budgeting, executive dashboards, advanced scheduling methods, time & attendance, first PitCrew certification with Peoplesoft, and the first fully integrated employee self-service offering on the market — it was a game changer for us, me, and the industry, and 2) That product is now the foundational WFM design used at JDA and Red Prairie today.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

Oh gosh yes, I was traveling and checked into my hotel. I had a meeting with an executive (my boss’s boss) and was to meet in the lobby at 6 pm. I was concerned because I don’t like to be late and was a bit nervous anyway. After waiting 15 minutes and giving her a call, I found out we were both in the lobby, but at different Marriott hotels. The lesson here is to make sure you know the address of the hotel, not just the name. A simple yet important thing to double check, every time.

Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

Yes indeed, I like to be the best. We cannot just be good enough — which drives continued innovation. We are scaling Ceridian globally, while continuing to drive quantifiable value in our networks and with the people and businesses we serve — so very exciting times for us. Dayforce Wallet, our industry-first on-demand pay solution, gives users the ability to draw upon their earnings in real-time. Because we designed our solution the way we did, it enables us to do unique things that our customers and their employees find very valuable.

Whether continued advancements in mobile self-service, On-Demand-Pay, harmonized HCM solutions, and serving the front-line while also providing executive power tools for better visibility and profitability, I love to hear and see the adoption rate, the positive scores and feedback from their employees, and to know we are making a difference with our customers.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I’d recommend these tips:

Stay focused on putting the customer and employee at the center of everything you do.

Be pragmatic and understand your customers’ business as well as your own.

At the end of the day it comes down to your own personal brand, trusting relationships and earned credibility.

It’s to not be satisfied with politics and protocol, but to always do what’s right as if your own personal integrity is on the line — because it is. The people you deal with will understand that and know it.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I recently sent messages to some teachers I had that helped me grow in work and confidence:

One teacher allowed me to do independent study in math during high school — which showed me she cared and invested in my own interest and growth and — most importantly — that I could do it.

A few teachers and role models showed me tough love and pushed me beyond what I thought I could do. They showed me that working hard despite the grade was hugely important — never give up, hard work pays off, and there are not any short cuts that matter in the long run.

In my HCM career, executives who saw the value I offered and my capabilities and feeding that has continued to be a huge differentiator for me — it’s the difference between having a job or having a career.

Oddly enough, the same person who saw talent in me, who asked me to bring a new product to market, was the same person who joined me to launch what has now become Dayforce, 15 years later. He is extremely bright and taught me so many things. One story he used to tell me, he called it “dishwasher Bob” — essentially, despite the chaos, despite the politics, and despite the anxieties and distractions out there, hard work pays off. While all the distractions and people will come and go, you must remain focused on achieving results and success — just keep washing the dishes and everything else will work itself out.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I have always had a soft soul and think about many things seen and unseen.

When I travel and it begins to weigh on me, I think about the people I can touch and help; whether the person left at the gate in a wheelchair that might want some water/coffee or anything, or the janitor picking up other peoples’ trash, or the situationally unaware people stepping all over someone who can’t stick up for themselves — I approach them and help them and tip them — to see the smile on the janitor’s face when I walked up to thank her for her work and what she does and gave her 40 dollars; to help the old vet who lost his phone and is meeting a someone he cannot call find it in his bag, that brings joy to my heart.

Another example is what is happening in South Africa. While the RAND continues to rise, the economy is sluggish in growth, unemployment is extremely high, graduation rates in high school extremely low, poverty is systemic, and no hope for better days nor faith that they will come. In working with Retail Orphan Initiative, I partnered with others to host the trip and install a computer lab with HP and Intel at Ithemba in Jeffry’s Bay. The program has grown to include the Global Leadership Academy — for a journey with these children from pre-K to graduating high school — amazing people and amazing to be a part of.

Can you share 5 examples of how retail companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to shop?

Examples of how retail companies will adjust over the next five years include:

  • Tangible dimensions of service quality will remain high and visible
  • Harmonized revenue models took on a new meaning and will persist in GTM strategy
  • The customer journey will continue to be agile and flexible
  • The shift in wealth from small to large and from specialty to essential will continue to reset to pre-COVID levels seen in 2019, by 2022
  • Employee wellness and engagement will remain meaningful and take on new forms

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

To retain the empathy and genuine interest in others as individuals. To continue to strive to stop profiling and remove putting people in buckets or groups as if we all think monolithically just because we are of a particular race, gender, sex, religion, etc. If each of us could make someone smile on a daily basis — what a change we could make.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

www.linkedin.com/in/john-orr-80b5592

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