Bruce Waller’s HR Super Stars Series… Meet Seth McColley!

Sharing Leadership Lessons in an interview with Bruce Waller…

10 Answers from HR Leaders that make a difference! 

I once heard Sara Blakely, (CEO Spanx) say, “The more you experience in life, the more you have to offer others.”  Today, I want for you to experience more by learning from some Super Stars serving in HR! I am inspired by people every day who model great leadership for others through their daily actions in human resources. These leaders have common threads that include empathy, love and care for people. They value people and the importance of relationship building.

In this HR Super Stars interview series, I want to introduce you to some of the best of the best in HR! These leaders make impact and will share challenges, successes, and perspectives on their journey as a business leader and in their personal lives. My hope is each person will inspire you and challenge you to become more for others on your journey.  So, let’s get started and meet our HR Superstars!

Today, we are going to hear from… Seth McColley, VP of Human Resources, Kirby-Smith Machinery, Inc. I first met Seth when I was speaking at a DallasHR event in Dallas, Texas. He is one of the most genuine leaders I know. He is positive, passionate and a super connector. I was later honored to be a guest on his podcast “6 degrees or less” which is about the importance of networking and what he refers to as “Relationshiping”. He is a great networker both inside and outside his company and adds value to anyone in his path. I am super excited and honored to share this interview so that you will also have a chance to get more connected with this month’s HR Superstar!

Now… let’s meet Seth…

1. Where did you grow up?

I was born in Columbia, MO but I got to Texas just as fast as I could! I landed in the Houston area when I was about a year old and grew up in Sugar Land, Texas.
2. How did you get started in business/career?

It was an entry-level HR position in Houston with MW Kellogg (which became Kellogg Brown & Root, which eventually became Halliburton) that really set my HR career in motion. I got my start in Employee Services working on highly strategic stuff (tongue in cheek) like issuing parking passes, helping with employee events, overseeing the company store, and managing the company’s service award program. After a year or so, I moved into a benefits role and eventually a HR Generalist role. When I landed in the HR Generalist spot, I knew that I was wired to do HR work. That was 22 years ago!

It should be noted that my interview (and subsequent offer) with MW Kellogg was a direct result of relationshiping!
3. Do you remember a challenge or life lesson that you had to overcome early in your career which made you a better leader?

A few things come to mind…

When I was playing high school football, I was far from being the biggest or the fastest player on the team, but I was scrappy and I never gave up. While I wasn’t a starter, I will never forget Coach Roberts telling me that nobody on the team deserved their letterman jacket as much as I did. Academically, I started my college career off at Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University). After my first year, I had decided that I wanted to transfer to the University of Texas at Austin. My grades were nothing remarkable, but I buckled down and worked hard my third semester and earned a 4.0 GPA, which gave me what I needed to transfer to UT. So, while I may not always be the fastest or the smartest, I have always committed myself to working the hardest. As Babe Ruth once said, “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up”.

4. What was that moment when you knew that you had found your lane, your purpose?

That’s a great question. In September of 1999, I made the decision to leave Halliburton, Houston, and the comfort of “home” to join AT&T Wireless in downtown Chicago. When I landed in Chicago, at a new job with a new company in a new city doing a HR job that I absolutely loved…it felt incredible! I also recall reading a pivotal Harvard Business Review article around that time – “A New Mandate for Human Resources” by Dave Uldrich – completely fired me up for the HR profession!

On top of that, I discovered a passion that I had never tapped into until earlier this year, when I launched my podcast, 6 Degrees or Less. My conversations are focused solely on networking (what I call “relationshiping”) and the power and importance of building and cultivating effective professional relationships. I’m having an absolute blast with the project and I’m driving in the “carpool lane”! 

5. What is your most valued achievement, and why?

There are a number of career milestones that I can look back on now, but one that clearly stands out to me is the first HR consulting gig I landed in the fall of 2012. Through networking (common theme here), my experiences, and putting myself in a position to earn the business, I started a six-week consulting assignment that turned into six months. As silly as it may sound, I vividly recall getting my first check and snapping a picture of it before I deposited it into my bank account during my lunch break in Vancouver, Washington.
6. Is there any one person who inspired or mentored you along the way?

Honestly, I can’t think of one person who inspired me or mentored me, but I can think of several great managers and leaders that I had the privilege of working for and alongside of over the past 20 plus years. Their qualities were nearly always the same – they were authentic, they listened and they truly cared about the work they did.
7. Do you have a saying or creed that you live by?

“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

There are going to be setbacks, disappointments and failures along the way. There is no perfect journey and there should not be any perfectly planned career path. The detours and the speed bumps help shape us and I am thoroughly convinced that we are the sum of ALL of our experiences – the good, the bad and the ugly.
8. What book(s) are you reading or audio to help grow your leadership right now?

“Great By Choice” by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen – there’s a great chapter in this book about the 20-mile march and how some companies have the fortitude and discipline to weather and withstand the ebbs and flows of business and market conditions. Ed Wallace (see below) and I will be facilitating a breakout session about this very topic at Kirby-Smith’s annual sales meeting in January.
“The Relationship Engine” by Ed Wallace
“Can’t Hurt Me” by David Goggins (recently finished)
9. Can you share any of your daily disciplines that help you stay focused as a leader?

I’ve always tried to stay focused on the strength of my character, mind and body. Some days are better than others, but I start my days by cranking out my age (at least) in push-ups and spending time reading scripture (typically the four Gospels). At work, I have made it a weekly habit to call every single new hire that joins Kirby-Smith, just to introduce myself and welcome them to the team.
10. What advice would you give others to help them on their leadership journey? 

Never underestimate the power of saying “yes”. Yes will take you to places you never thought you’d go and connect you to people you’d never thought you’d meet.

Never ask someone to do something you’re not willing to do yourself. You can never be too above something or too good for something.

Never forget the empathy and vulnerability are two incredibly powerful forces. Putting yourself in someone else’s place and being willing to show others your pain points makes you more genuine and more real. It matters.

Outstanding… Thanks for sharing your perspectives and letting us get to know you a little better, Seth! Some of my takeaways include: Starting from the ground up is the best… Nothing like issuing the parking pass… Relationshiping is in your DNA! Outworking the competition is always a great strategy. When we find out lane it becomes a milemarker or moment that we can always point too on our journey. …and you know how much I like the carpool lane! Your passion for HR was seen since the day we met. Great mentors have common threads such as authenticity, listening, and caring for others. Love the quote “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.” Great book recommendations. I need to check out “The Relationship Engine”. Great daily disciplines and really like the calling new employees. I am sure it makes them feel included and gives them a sense of belonging. Nice work here. Yes, Yes Yes to the power of YES! Be willing to lead… and lastly, empathy and vulnerability can be very powerful forces for anyone in your path!

We truly appreciate you sharing your story and letting us get to know you better, Seth. You are an HR Superstar and inspiration to many because of the way you model leadership for others in the HR community! Your networking perspective is off the chart my friend. Keep up the great work and most importantly, keep being YOU… The best is yet to come! 

What are your takeaways? Please share in comments below and be sure to connect with Seth and listen to his podcast “6 degrees or less”. It is available on many outlets including here… If you enjoy it, give the program a review… it’s the fuel that keeps us going!

Congratulations, Seth McColley! You make a difference!

This interview was submitted by Bruce Waller, CRP, PHR, SHRM-CP, Vice President of Armstrong Relocation and Companies in Dallas, Texas. If you have questions, or would like to recommend someone to be featured in Bruce Waller’s HR Superstars Series, call 972-389-5673 or email You can also sign up for the weekly blog and read in “A Relocation Minute” at

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