For 19 years, South Sound Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 Awards contest has presented 40 local professionals under age 40 “who are dynamic leaders in the business community.” Writes the journal, “You dine in their restaurants. You conduct business with them. Sit on philanthropic boards with them. Run industry organizations with them. They have an innovative, entrepreneurial spirit that propels the economy today and will for years to come.” This year, one such person is Hayden Milligan, 31, a Professional Development Center graduate and a director of human resources in Olympia, Wash.
“No, I didn’t win $40,” said Milligan.
What she did win, however, was inclusion in a network of diverse professionals from across the South Sound, ranging from project managers to lawyers. To a proactive professional like Milligan, that’s too good of a networking opportunity to pass up.
“I think I’ve got some coffee dates to schedule,” she said.
Milligan works as Director of Human Resources for People, Pets & Vets, an organization that handles the business operations of more than a dozen veterinary clinics in Washington, Oregon and Arizona.
“Our mission is to take the business burden off the hospitals so they can focus on clients,” said Milligan. “We focus on things like recruiting, payroll, marketing, compliance, OSHA – all the things about running a business that can potentially get in the way of them providing world class vet medicine.”
For her, it’s personal work. Milligan, who has a 5-year-old Golden Retriever rescue herself, has had a close connection to veterinary medicine her entire life. Across the street from the People, Pets & Vets offices in Steamboat Island, Olympia, is Steamboat Animal Hospital. The hospital, founded by Milligan’s parents, is where she grew up spending her time before and after school at nearby Griffin Elementary School. The hospital is now one of the clinics People, Pets & Vets supports.
“I grew up literally right here in Steamboat,” said Milligan. “I used to have a tree fort behind our grooming facility.”
Despite that background, Milligan took a longer path on her way to working for People, Pets & Vets. After graduating from Capital High School, she moved to Oregon for college, initially pursuing a career in veterinary medicine.
Milligan ultimately decided that while she loved veterinary medicine, being a veterinarian was not for her. After college, she worked several jobs before returning to the veterinary space. Milligan served as a district sales lead for PepsiCo in Colorado, where she found most of her fulfillment not from sales, but from the people she worked alongside on a daily basis. This, perhaps, was her first glimpse into the world of HR. Milligan also accepted a position with the American Cancer Society, where she helped in charitable fundraising efforts.
After all of that, Milligan is back in Steamboat in a move that feels like a completed circle.
“Ultimately, fate led me back to working in the business and supporting veterinary medicine,” she said.
A position opened up with a company called CYR-P, which People, Pets & Vets took over in May 2018.
“It was an “aha!” moment,” said Milligan. “I could work in the veterinary space, which I’d always wanted to do. I’d found this real passion for people – getting them into careers, rewarding them, retaining them, but I had no formal training in HR.”
“It was really important for me to prove myself, so I looked for programs locally and UW Tacoma’s fit really well,” she said.
In 2014, Milligan enrolled in the Human Resources Management program at the UW Tacoma Professional Development Center. It is a nine-month program designed for working professionals who are looking to move into the HR field, to move up within their department, or just want a refresher of the ever-changing HR landscape. The program is comprised of courses, the topics of which range from staffing and benefits to reward systems and compensation.
“I had a great experience,” said Milligan. “It was so relevant to what I needed at the time, to be able to say, ‘I know what I’m doing in HR.’”
“It was so applicable; I could apply it immediately,” she said. “During that time we had to go through an audit, and I was able to message the instructor and get their advice. It was a resource that I didn’t have and I wouldn’t have known had I not enrolled in that program.”
Milligan also noted the networking benefits the program provided.
“It was exceptional. I would take it again because I think HR is constantly changing. The thing that doesn’t change is the network of people you can rely on,” she said. “I still keep in touch with some of my peers from that program, and it’s nice to see where they’ve gone and what they’re doing now.”
At People, Pets & Vets, Milligan is putting her certificate’s benefits to good use. The organization has approximately 70 veterinarians and more than 400 employees. For any HR professional, that’s a lot to handle.
A challenge specific to the veterinary world, Milligan says, is recruitment. From veterinarians to technicians, employees at animal hospitals must possess specialist skills, licenses and certifications, which can pose challenges in a competitive wage market.
“It’s a lot of proactive recruiting,” she said. “To drive out to Yakima with a box of donuts and talk to a class (of veterinary technicians) for 40 minutes and then drive back home is a lot when that return won’t show necessarily for another two years. But it works.”
When she’s not out shaping the organization’s future, Milligan still enjoys practicing other aspects of HR back in Steamboat.
“A lot of what our HR department does is focus on people and taking care of people,” said Milligan. “If our employees are taken care of, the pets are taken care of and our clients are taken care of.”
In all of her work, Milligan tries to live out a personal motto, which hangs on a sign in her office:
“Be kind, be bold and always have fun.”
If she continues, it would likely surprise no one if, at least once in the next nine years, Milligan were named to the 40 Under 40 again.
For more information on our Human Resources Management program, visit our website here.