Student Spotlight

Career Talk: Herb Callahan of Golden State Foods

March 31, 2016 by Brandman University
Herb Callahan

Herb Callahan

Herb Callahan is senior director, human resources, McDonald’s Distribution, for Golden State Foods. He also runs their in-house training program, GSF University, and is an MBA graduate of Brandman University and working to complete his Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in organizational leadership. Here are his thoughts on his career. Podcasts are also available for download on iTunes. Read more about what he’s gained from the Ed.D. program here.


Welcome to Brandman Speaks: Career Talks. In this episode, we’ll hear from Herb Callahan, senior director of Human Resources at Golden State Foods, a nearly $7 billion company based in Irvine, California. Herb earned his MBA from Brandman University and is about to earn his doctorate in education or Ed.D. from Bradman. Here’s what he had to say about his career path.

So a kind of a great story. So I’m retired military. I retired in 2005. I knew I was going to go into the human resources field. About halfway through my career I got into a lot of training and development. I was a drill instructor. I taught at UCLA for a little bit. I really enjoyed teaching and making folks better by teaching them. So when I retired from the military in 2005 and went directly into a H.R. position for a small logistics company and really enjoyed helping folks be more effective. I used to say in the Marine Corps that if I could make a better Marine, I could make a better Marine Corps, so I kind of took that to the civilian world with me. If I can make better associates by providing the tools and the benefits they need to be really productive, then I help make a better company. So I was at a a small logistics company. I got recruited to a larger logistics company. The great part of the story is I went back and worked on my my MBA at Brandman and while I was doing that I wrote about supply chain operations, and I wrote about McDonald’s and I read a little bit about Ray Kroc. So later in my career when Golden State Foods reached out to me, I knew who they were from the classes and things I’ve done for my MBA. So just out of pure curiosity, I said well I’ve got to go see them.

So I came down and saw the company and met with a couple folks, got called back, you know got another call back in and kind of the rest is history at least getting into Golden State Foods. I started with Golden State Foods as a regional human resources manager for the Southwest overseeing the H.R. for City of Industry, California, the corporate IT. Phoenix, Arizona –see if I’m missing anything — oh, in Hawaii, was the region that I had. But a year and a half into my role our GSF University continued to grow as the company grew, so I was asked to come down to the corporate office in Irvine and oversee the university. So I did that and continue to work very closely with the university. But in that role I was asked again the come back to the distribution side and oversee the distribution for all of the McDonald’s distribution. So I’m kind of a couple hats as many folks in this company, you know, we wear multiple hats as most people do. So I’m very involved with the university and I oversee the H.R. for the McDonald’s distribution centers of Golden State Foods.

He didn’t grow up thinking he would be in human resources. But there is a connection between his first ideas about a good job and what he does now.

I often talk to my older brother, who’s another retired Marine, and I can remember us walking home from school talking about ‘let’s be a truck driver like the Dad’ who was a truck driver and I’m not sure we went stray but we ended up joining the military and taking another path. But I think as a as a young kid, I was just envious of my my dad . He was the strong silent type and he had a real manly job so maybe the connection is I’m back in distribution working with drivers, working with warehouseman folks who are making it happen every day and really putting in, you know, some long hard hours to take care of their families, and anything I can do to support them makes me feel all that much more engaged.

After 21 years in the military, Herb says he wasn’t sure what he would do in the civilian world but how he made his decision is also advice he would give to others seeking similar careers.

Well, I think if when I was in the military somebody said you’re going to be an H.R. professional, I probably wouldn’t have believed them until I really looked at what that does mean. What experience do I have now that relates to what I want to do in the future what this profession is going to require of me and really being critical of what have I done and given that some value. I remember as I was getting ready to leave the military I said well I’m you know I’ve got the same skill set as you know thousands of others. So what differentiates me? And it wasn’t until I went back and looked at well here’s what differentiates me. So take being critical of yourself and understanding what it is you bring to the table and not just make an assumption. For us military folks, just because you wear the uniform, everybody is not knocking on your door to have you can be their next CEO. You’ve got to get your foot in the door and you do that by recognizing what value you bring.

Here are some of the key things he learned in making the transition from the military to the business world.

I think it’s really being smart about it. I started by working with the on-base career folks to help me get my first resume drafted. I think I went a little bit deeper than most and there were some bestseller, some books out there of folks that had made that leap. I can’t remember the titles but I remember this one specific book that said, you know, how to take your military resume and turn it into a civilian resume. When I looked at that book it was completely different from what I just learned in the military about crafting a resume. So as much as I could and it really got me more engaged because the more I demilitarized my resume, the more I realized, why I’ve done some of the civilian stuff before.

So there was there was that aspect of, you know, digging a little bit deeper, and one is what does a civilian resume really look like. The other piece is really getting connected with the with the lingo of the industry that you want to go into. What are, you know, where are you going to get your ongoing education. For me, I had a recruiter, one of the first recruiters I interviewed with, said, you know, get connected to the local H.R. associations. Get your certification. Really learn the H.R. lingo and that’s the advice I give to H.R. folks whether the military or civilian now. First thing you need to do if you’re trying to get into this industry is understand that core body of knowledge and you do that by finding industry associations and connecting with them.

Education was and continues to be important to his career path.

Let me start by just talking about money my MBA. As a 21 year military veteran, one of the things I wanted to make sure, it was two things, I wanted to make sure that my military experience translated into, you know, business knowledge in from an H.R. perspective. I wanted to make sure that when folks looked at me as an H.R. person, they didn’t look at me as somebody that was not a business partner and didn’t understand business. So that’s why I thought it was critical for me as an H.R. person and as a retired Marine to go back in and get my MBA so I could speak the lingo as we talked about before. So I think that was critical for me in having that MBA. It brings a certain level of credibility immediately with the folks, you’re starting, you’re trying to partner with. And I think as I’ve grown in my career to, you know, positions with a larger responsibility, I think my ED.D. and this focus on organizational leadership, is going to add another level of credibility. I’ve got the business background. I’ve got the years in the in the field and I’m able to to speak and bring, not just education of the folks I’m working with, but to the organization as a whole.

He also has a few career goals of his own.

I’m in a role right now that I had been asked by business coach a few years ago kind of the same question. Where do you want to be? And I’m in a position right now that’s much larger than I dreamed of. That has much more responsibility and is much more engaging then I could even think of four years ago when I was talking to that business the business coach. So I think my career goals really are just to continue to add value to these associates that are making this company what it is today and to those business leaders as they’re looking for a strategic partner. I’m much further along than I thought I would be, which is a fantastic thing, and I feel I’ve got much more capacity. If I look really down the road 15 years from now when I’m at a retirement age, I hope to be in a classroom passing on all this knowledge that I’ve gained to somebody else that’s looking to do the same thing.

Herb has a final piece of advice.

The biggest thing anybody can do is raise your hand and ask. Reach out to somebody and say, ‘How did you do it?’ And I learned that in the military. You want to do something well, look at somebody who is doing it well and go ask him, ‘what do you do and how do you do that?’ Copy the good things don’t do the bad things. And same goes for your career.

Career Talks is a production of the Brandman University Communications Department in conjunction with the university’s Career Services. More information for both students and for businesses offering career opportunities can be found at For more about Herb Callahan and the doctoral program, you can read a story on

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