You Can't Take the City out of Chicago Native Andrea Aguirre

Humans of HR

Bathworks HR Manager Andrea Aguirre believes communication with employees and other facets of human resources can't be rushed: "You always have to be patient with the process. You're not going to get everything you want fast."

Andrea Aguirre had to schedule an interview about her life and career around an important event: a business-sanctioned bean bag tournament.

The game that involves tossing bean bags into a hole in a slanted board is just one of several touches of fun that BathWraps incorporates into its staff meetings. As the HR manager for her organization, Aguirre was a "secret partner," helping to plan this meeting in mid-July, which would make for a satisfying day at work on its own.

And Aguirre also finds enjoyment in tasks that don't involve tossing bean bags, Hawaiian shirt contests or gift bag giveaways. She loves the many challenges of human resources, including onboarding, payroll, safety and leadership training. BathWraps, a Chicago area manufacturer of bath and shower installations, has 102 employees and intends to continue a moderate pace of growth. Aguirre wants the human resource experience to be part of that growth. To that end, she intends to help new and longstanding employees achieve their goals and have some fun along the way.

After the tournament — and in the middle of preparing payroll — Aguirre took time for a telephone interview, but she didn't seem stressed. Maybe the preceding fun helped, but she said she looks forward to the bi-weekly payroll process. "I really enjoy it," she said. "It goes with my personality to calculate everything."

Aguirre is also a planner. That's why she likes the long-term work that supports business initiatives, like a program meant to help new employees acclimate quickly to work, which has her working with her organization's leaders to ensure they have the necessary tools to assist employees. She also provides managers with advice on how to lead, which means she's always on the hunt for instructive articles that reveal the keys to successful coaching.

The Path to HR

Even though Aguirre is one to plan ahead, she didn't envision a career in HR when she first started college. During her time as an undergraduate at Roosevelt University in Chicago, she enjoyed a human resources class but also found marketing appealing. A friend, though, reminded Aguirre that she was "good with people," and HR won out.

She earned a bachelor's degree in business administration with an emphasis on human resources and then landed a full-time job handling payroll, recruiting, labor relations and other HR duties for the park district of Chicago. She later received a graduate degree in organizational development from Loyola University, where she still goes back to catch basketball games and mentor students before they graduate.

A Sense of Devotion

Aguirre, 51, is a city girl through and through. A tomboy as a child, she recalls being outside in her Chicago neighborhood, either leaping in marathon Double Dutch jump-rope sessions or riding her bike all over the city. "I loved exploring," she says. "It was freedom." She also recalls being big on science and digging for worms.

She now lives in the outskirts, only 15 minutes away from the city. With so many life experiences in Chicago and such a sense of devotion to the city, it may come as a surprise to learn that she once wanted to get away. When the opportunity came to see the world in 2013, she chose to go to Ukraine on a Peace Corps mission.

Aguirre was a community development volunteer who helped Ukrainians get up to speed with modern applications in order to strengthen their business skills. For instance, she showed young residents how to record videos of events like weddings and plays so they could pursue careers that incorporate those skills. She also showed artists how to sell their work on social media. Civil unrest and Russia's annexation of Crimea prompted the Peace Corps to evacuate its volunteers, cutting short Aguirre's stay.

"I learned the language and culture, and I would have learned more if I had been there another year," says Aguirre. "I was disappointed. You're learning the culture and community, which will help you be successful on the projects you're working on."

Aguirre joined BathWraps in 2017 and worked as an HR coordinator before her promotion to HR manager. Some of the lessons from her Peace Corps stint inform her work and life to this day. For one, she's quick to accept that people might not understand her because of a language barrier, so she tries to exhibit patience and work around this.

"Surely, the words I pronounced were incorrect," she notes as she recounts speaking Ukrainian during her stay in the country.

To ease the experience of BathWraps employees who communicate primarily in Spanish, Aguirre is learning the language — mostly on her own, but also with the help of coworkers. Taking the time to learn how to communicate effectively is a key component of HR success, and Aguirre is willing to take that time: "You always have to be patient with the process. You're not going to get everything you want fast."

Andrea Aguirre

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