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  • Writer's picturePaul LaLonde

Street Level Influencer: Get to Know John Newton

“So wake me up when it’s all over, When I’m wiser and I’m older, All this time I was finding myself, And I didn’t know I was lost.” – Wake Me Up, by Avicii

John Newton, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, is my first HR mentor, and a good friend!

When I began my Street Level Influencer blog series, I didn’t imagine the response would be what it has been. Many readers have reached out to say they enjoy the series and appreciate hearing the stories of people like them, those in the trenches who have overcome the same challenges, achieved the same goals. The original point of the series was to shine light on impactful people in my network who have provided me with life giving energy! By doing so, I was hoping to give others opportunities to connect and learn.

As I continue the series, I want to preface by saying this story is different – more personal. It needs to be. If it weren’t, the HR Philosopher wouldn’t exist.

You see, there are those individuals in life that completely change the trajectory of your path. They leave a mark so stark that you are never the same person after having them enter your world. Some people have many! Some have few. However, I’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t have at least one in their life.

I am blessed that I have had many of these individuals enter my life. Yet, one in particular has been so instrumental in who I have become as a professional that I would be remiss if I never took an opportunity to put the spotlight on him!

His name is John Newton, and without him, I would have never focused on Human Resources as a profession.

I first met John roughly six years ago when I was at a crossroads in my career. (Aren’t we always at a crossroads in our careers? Anyway, I digress….)

I was struggling with my career path at the time. I was in a position that wasn’t really “cutting it” for me. Hard to explain, but I was doing good work, worked with good people, and provided a valuable service to the community. But I just wasn’t feeling fulfilled.

I had always performed HR tasks as a part of my normal duties, though the focus wasn’t an HR role, and I found that I really liked the work projects that had an HR bent to them. I decided to enroll in a two-day course “SHRM Essentials of Human Resources.” I had no idea what “shroom” was, but decided that this course could potentially help me find clarity. Either, I’d like HR and build upon my professional experiences in that direction, or I would be back to the drawing board.

John was the professor for the course, and boy, was that class in for a treat! I NEVER met anyone in my life who was SO energetic and so obviously passionate about a profession! John was engaging, he was interactive, he was FUNNY – John was mesmerizing!

What tipped the scales was one particular interaction that I will never forget.

During a class break, I was having a conversation with him. I made a comment that I was trying to figure out if HR was the career for me. John looked at me – and keep in mind he had only known me for roughly 24 hours at most – and said “You get HR,” as he patted his fist on his heart. “Paul, you know this stuff.”

That one comment changed how I thought about everything. It helped me realize that our own wishful plans in this world will inevitably meet the plans the Universe has for us, and we must go with the flow towards something that is better than we originally imagined.

Since that comment and that class, I took other courses instructed by John, including the SHRM Certification Prep Course. I passed the certification exam, and I credit John and that course with helping me reach my goal. I am happy that we have stayed in touch as colleagues and as friends. I have even gone back on several occasions to present to other SHRM prep courses he’s taught to give a brief rundown of how to make it through the fog! I am always honored he asks that I talk to his groups!

I am excited to share John’s story. He’s an amazing Street Level Influencer. I know my interactions with him are not isolated, and I hope you have an opportunity to connect!

  1. Where do you currently work and what is your role?

I currently run John Newton and Associates (JNA). It is a Human Resources and Learning and Development organization that serves clients of carried industries across the countries. Our motto is “Kindness is the Bottom Line.” I also teach continuing education courses for both DePaul University and Northern Illinois University.

  1. What do you like about HR that keeps you in the profession?

The ability to help people achieve their professional dreams and companies succeed beyond their wildest expectations.

  1. What was your biggest HR success? Why was it important to you?

I hope it still awaits me! When I reflect on my career, I most often go back to the success stories of individuals I have come in contact with. I can think of a person who was just so focused on becoming an HR professional but was having difficulty getting people to take a look at him. He was smart and experienced, albeit in jobs that were not specific to HR. One day, I sat him down and asked him ‘what is he most passionate about’. He responded airplanes. Three months later he had an HR job at an airport. Seeing him, and anyone, build careers that fulfills them, pays their bills, and makes the world a better place all in one…that’s what keeps me going!!!

  1. What was your biggest HR failure? What did it teach you?

The time I left a senior HR position because I struggled with the organization’s leader. While I believe in the phrase ‘know when to get out of the water’, I now believe I have learned how to handle this type of situation more directly. It taught me to be firm, and stand up not only for others, but for yourself. The post-script to this story is I now partner with this same senior leader in a different environment. We have both grown and learned how to address differences without either one of us wanting to escape to an island somewhere!

  1. Who’s one person in your network that readers should know about?

Eric Hermonson. Eric is an example of an incredibly strong HR person with an equally strong character. Eric has been a student of mine, a client of mine, an employee of mine and now most importantly a friend of mine. Eric currently is a senior HR executive for OSM, based in Bloomingdale, Illinois and is also an Instructor for Northern Illinois University. Eric knows his stuff, is not afraid to work hard and makes a difference in every life he touches.

  1. How can people connect with you?

I am all about directness. They can e-mail me at and view my website at

  1. What’s one thing you think the world should know about you – personal or professional? Have fun with this one!

The more experience I have gained in the HR field, the more I realize how we all take things a bit too seriously sometimes. Yes, we have very difficult, and sometimes incredibly personal issues, to deal with in the workplace. However, I think we can best serve people by remembering that at the end of the day we are all equally, just simply doing different jobs. Everyone experiences joy and pain, hope and disappointment…everyone has a story to tell. What people are mad at is not what they are often really mad at. So, let’s emphasize the human in human resources, and we can all survive and thrive in this together.

Want to learn about other Street Level Influencers? Read about others in the series!

Message from Paul: Thank you for reading! Thoughts, views and opinions on this site are solely my own and do not represent those of my employer or any other entity ​with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.

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