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On Their Way Up

Human Resource Executive® names the top up-and-comers for 2007.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007
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You may not have heard of them -- but chances are you will.

Here are five of the best and the brightest in HR, not yet at the top in their profession, but well on their way. They're the winners of Human Resource Executive®'s second annual Rising Stars competition, selected because of their strong leadership, their prowess in launching innovative programs and initiatives, and their ability to take on some of HR's most difficult challenges.

Senior-most HR executives weren't considered here; our judges were looking for those with the talent and savvy to one day join the top-most ranks. They represent the future of HR, and in the stories that follow, you'll find some new ideas, and fresh evidence of how far the profession can really go. At the same time, though, these five made it here because they also understand the core values of HR, such as dedication and compassion.

The judges this year were Charles Tharp, president of the National Academy of Human Resources in New Canaan, Conn; Michele Darling, president of Michele Darling & Associates in Mississauga (Ontario) Canada; Gregory Hessel, senior client partner and global director of the human resource practice in the Dallas office of Korn/Ferry International; and Kristen B. Frasch, managing editor of Human Resource Executive®.

Like you, we'll be watching to see how high these stars rise. And we have no doubt we'll be hearing about them again very soon.

Alexandra McCauley: A 'Standout' at NBC

One day in 1994, Alexandra McCauley was working in her New York office at NBC (now NBC Universal) when the phone rang. The company's top HR executive wanted to see her.

As a labor attorney for the broadcasting company, worries quickly crowded her mind. What did she do wrong? She had only been with the company for one year.

The meeting didn't last long. The HR leader asked her whether she would consider crossing over to HR. Apparently, she had made quite an impression on many of the company's senior executives. Besides, he said, it would be a tremendous opportunity to further expand into a business she seemed to excel at and enjoy.

Before that moment, McCauley barely gave HR a second thought. But she eventually took his advice and began paying attention to HR's involvement across the organization. She was surprised at how integral HR was to the business, which motivated her to switch careers. Several promotions and a decade later, she is now the senior vice president of HR for Telemundo in Hialeah, Fla., the 20-year-old Spanish- language broadcast network that is owned by NBC Universal.

"I wouldn't have made the move if HR wasn't a true business partner," she says. "I really looked at what HR did for a long time before I made my decision. The HR function [here] is world-class. I wanted to be a part of that."

McCauley assumed her first HR role in 1999, when she managed HR for NBC's broadcast and network operations. Four years later, she was again promoted, but this time, to a newly created position: vice president of employer of choice. It was in this job where her talents really shone.

Since NBC was positioning to merge with Universal the following year, she was now responsible for creating employee recruitment and retention programs that would establish the new company as an employer of choice.

But business leaders at NBC were unfamiliar with this concept. No one could offer a clear direction. No one except McCauley, that is. She formed specific expectations about what she and her team needed to accomplish.

Within four years, they designed and managed an executive mentoring program for female and diverse managers, developed a flexible-work-arrangements program with online tools and registration, launched 12 affinity group chapters and a dispute-resolution program, and spearheaded various employee-benefits communications campaigns.

At the same time, McCauley also became a key leader in the cultural integration of NBC and Universal, which increased the number of employees from 8,000 domestically to 18,000 globally. Her team's slogan, "Great People Doing Great Things," gained strong brand recognition and contributed to the company's ability to retain 96 percent of its key talent last year.

"Alex is a standout," says Cindy Gardner, senior vice president of internal communications at NBCU.

Gardner met McCauley in 2004 when they collectively led employee communications related to the company's merger. "She has that rare combination of being able to inspire people and execute. I had never before heard of employer of choice or Alex McCauley but they're now part of my mantra."

McCauley believes her new position will help her grow further in many areas, such as executive compensation and cost challenges. She says she feels blessed for the opportunities and support she has received over the past decade.

"This is the right fit for me," she says. "I won't waste a single opportunity."

Ellyn J. Shook: Making a Difference Through HR

Ellyn J. Shook may have the perfect HR job. As executive director of careers, performance, rewards and engagement at Accenture, a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company, she handles many of the same challenges and responsibilities as other HR professionals. But how many actually work directly with their company's CEO, CFO, COO and board of directors to drive business results?

At a time when many HR executives are still learning the business side of their organizations, Shook has been demonstrating her value as a business partner for almost 20 years. She exudes a level of confidence and skill that employees respect. Her talents stretch across many areas as she helps build a company that embraces diversity and motivates employees to learn and grow.

But her career might have taken a different path were it not for her HR boss back in 1996. Shook had been with the company for eight years and was growing tired of heading up its New York office. She considered leaving. Her boss offered her a new global position in which she would be responsible for setting up small technology companies around the world within Accenture's infrastructure.

"It was my first opportunity to work globally," she says, adding that it was then she discovered HR's true value. "I really saw how HR could contribute to growing a company. That was a defining moment. [I knew] what I really wanted to be in my career."

In her current position, she leads a global team of more than 100 professionals throughout the United States, Europe, Asia and Australia. Most of her energy is spent on developing strategies involving compensation, benefits, performance management and employee engagement for the company's 146,000 employees in 49 countries.

She was the original architect of the company's workforce strategy. After the company became public in 2001, she helped launch a plan for granting restricted stock to all employees, then set up an employee share-purchase program. Under her guidance, her team designed an award-winning employee equity portal that supports transactions and offers access to general information such as plan guidebooks and individualized equity holdings information.

Some of her biggest challenges have included designing equity-based performance pay programs, redesigning the compensation structure -- both cash and equity -- for senior executives and creating a new market-driven compensation structure for the company's top leaders worldwide.

"Accenture's group [of] chief executive officers, CEO and COO all know that Ellyn is more than simply a global compensation expert; she is a highly skilled business operator with whom they can partner to achieve the company's business goals," says her boss, Jill B. Smart, the company's chief HR officer based in New York.

Meanwhile, Shook still has some additional tasks she'd like to explore, such as running an outsourcing unit. Until then, she says, HR is an incredible career to be in as the world continues to shrink.

"The work that I'm doing now gets at the very heart of who we are as a company and how we want to care for people, enable them to learn and grow," says Shook. "To me, that's the most exciting thing I've been doing."

Jovon Brumfield: Courage in a Crisis

Jovon Brumfield, director of human resources for Harrah's New Orleans Casino, says 2003 was her "breakout" year in the profession, when, as an HR systems coordinator, she won both the HR Employee of the Year and Best Employee of the Year company awards at Binion's Horseshoe casino in Bossier City, La.

"It was great to be recognized," she says. "But it also propelled me to say 'I can really make a go at this.' "

But it wasn't until Hurricane Katrina landed in New Orleans in August 2005 that Brumfield began to recognize the true depth of her HR skills.

Working at the time as an executive associate under the wings of Harrah's general managers Jim Hoskins and Karen Sock, Brumfield was picked to find supplemental staff for the New Orleans casino in time for its planned February 2006 re-opening. With workers scattered and in disarray throughout the South, she was forced to come up with a new way to get jobs filled fast.

"The company had never seen anything like this before, and we didn't have a system in place to fix it," she says of the experience.

Brumfield was first sent to the company's corporate headquarters in Memphis, Tenn., to lead the employee-services center, which functioned as a clearinghouse of information for employees regarding FEMA announcements, work benefits, paychecks, housing information and other community resources. Brumfield busied herself determining which employees would be able to return to New Orleans and to their jobs.

She "always took an extra few minutes to just listen to people's stories," Hoskins says.

In January 2006, Brumfield was asked to go to New Orleans to lead the company's rapid-response staffing initiative, as part of a group known as the SWAT team.

Faced with the company's decision to open on a 24/7 basis instead of having abbreviated hours, the New Orleans casino needed at least 1,250 employees in order to comply with state gaming regulations. She was responsible for bringing in employees from around the country to fill jobs in a number of operational areas, including table games, food and beverages. "And HR folks as well," she adds with a laugh.

Brumfield organized flights, airport transportation and hotel arrangements for 350 people over a two-month period. She also kept an eye on costs, knowing that each expense would be included in re-opening costs in the company's insurance claim.

Brumfield credits the Harrah's HR department in New Orleans, which, over a tense six-week period, processed more than 1,000 people to fill jobs. It all paid off, and on Feb. 17, 2006, the casino re-opened with 1,301 employees.

"It was one of those things I'm really proud of," she says. "It was not a well-laid process and I had an opportunity to create a process of my own."

Indeed, the framework of the process Brumfield helped create was utilized when the company re-opened its Biloxi, Miss., casino a few months later.

"Without the leadership of Jovon, our re-opening may not have been possible," said Hoskins recently, when he presented Brumfield with the company's 2007 Chairman's Award for superior performance at the New Orleans location.

"You know," Brumfield says, "this time last year, I thought there's no way I can lead people or manage issues, but this experience has taught me about myself as a person. It's taught me what I can do."

Sara Calabria: Master of Benefits Communication

In 2004, Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc., with 2,000 employees, found itself at a crossroads. The Lakeville-Middlebor, Mass.-based cooperative, owned by 750 growers across the United States and Canada, was mulling whether to stay independent or sell the marketing side of the business.

The growers, whose livelihoods depend on returns Ocean Spray provides to them, voted overwhelmingly to remain independent.

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But independence would be impossible without some belt-tightening. Enter Sarah Calabria, director of compensation and benefits. She presented a plan for growing the business and boost returns while cutting $8 million in administrative costs. Remaining competitive, says Calabria, required significant reduction or modification of programs.

Ocean Spray's management team made a commitment to the growers to reduce overhead costs. A memo from the company's CEO to every employee outlined components of the curtailment efforts, asking employees to remain open to reductions and to share in some cost increases. It was up to Calabria to figure out a way "to go out and be really honest and direct with them," she says.

Reducing and modifying benefits "was positioned as a business issue," she says. "As it was, our future success was in jeopardy." Through remarkable innovation, coupled with her communication and leadership skills, Calabria introduced methods to revamp benefits in ways that were palatable to employees but still boosted the bottom line. She introduced dynamic open-enrollment communications as well.

Under her direction, Ocean Spray shifted increased retirement responsibility onto employees, who received more pension details with accrued pension benefits and the option to utilize tools to increase 401(k) or other types of retirement planning. Calabria also facilitated meetings in which provider representatives and employees could sit down together and review investments and strategies; employee seminars on diversification were also introduced.

Calabria developed a presentation on the changes that she and her team carried personally to each of Ocean Spray's eight major locations to ensure every employee knew what to expect. Depending upon workers' schedules, the meetings were sometimes held at 11 p.m.; sometimes at 4 in the morning. It was crucial to explain the company's strategy, Calabria says.

"It's a hard message to deliver," she says. "They really liked the fact that we told them the truth." Explaining that the proposed changes were both necessary and fair "created credibility," she says.

She followed up with benefit- confirmation statements and finally sent out total-rewards statements after the changes had gone into effect in 2005. "The employees could see the actual value of their benefits," she says.

Calabria's supervisor, Katie Morey, vice president of human resources and organization development, attributes Calabria's success to financial acumen and visionary thinking. Describing her as "passionate about compensation and benefits," Morey says, "she drives execution as I have never seen anyone drive execution before."

Calabria also drives herself personally. While working as a manager of compensation for an insurance company prior to coming to Ocean Spray, she also found the time to earn her MBA, focusing on employee benefits, compensation and organization issues, including the redesign of retirement plans and funding of executive benefits.

For Calabria, it's all about developing goals and winning stakeholders to her position, she says. "Everything I do is financially driven to the bottom line." Her objective is clear. "Our goal is to be the best agricultural cooperative in the world."

Tim Toterhi, Successful 'Hard-Knocks' Graduate

The lessons of martial arts have long been used to wage war.

Tim Toterhi uses his knowledge as a longtime karate instructor to wage peace -- and collaboration -- in the HR setting.

In team competitions at the school, the best fighter with his or her hands, or the one best at weapons, takes turns leading the group during the matches featuring his or her specialty.

The lesson, says Toterhi: "You give the leadership to the people who have the expertise at the moment."

And it works the same way for the human resource projects he manages at Quintiles Transnational in Research Triangle Park, N.C., a 17,000-employee firm with operations in more than 50 countries that runs clinical drug trials for pharmaceutical companies.

When someone in the room is particularly good at information technology or quality assurance, for example, that person takes over.

"The way you get people to focus as a team is to let [them] shine in their area of expertise," says Toterhi, director of the learning and development operations group. "You're much stronger because your 'A' game is everybody else's 'A' game. Trying to do it all yourself is not the way to go."

Toterhi's skill at fostering collaboration helped Quintiles overhaul its performance-review process in the Americas, the United Kingdom and Ireland in less than three months, and throughout the rest of the company within six months, by mid-2005.

The overhaul, which Toterhi led, made sure for the first time that performance reviews were actually being performed, that employees around the globe were being rated in the same way, that the ratings were reviewed by the managers' managers, and that there were ongoing discussions with employees throughout the year "to reduce the surprises," says Toterhi.

"What was significant here," says colleague Beth Susman, the company's vice president for global human resource shared services, "was that he was able to work collaboratively across many groups to transform the process into a single global process."

Toterhi has also been directing the roll-out of a global learning-management system, which consolidates the entire company's training programs into a single online system. And, he is now overseeing the vendor contracts for those training programs, managing a team that ensures the company is getting the best product for the best price.

Toterhi first walked into a martial arts school -- or rather, ran -- when he was 12 and needed a way to protect himself from the bullies in his rough-and-tumble neighborhood in a suburb of New York. He swept the school's floor in exchange for lessons.

He eventually became an instructor himself, and worked his way through business school with day jobs doing everything from pumping gas to working for a caterer. Some people grow up on the right side of the tracks; some on wrong side of the tracks. "I grew up under the tracks," he jokes.

But a degree in the school of hard knocks "gives you a great frame of reference," Toterhi says. "If you grow up in a challenging environment, you see that the business problems we have are not so hard. You say, 'This is not the end of the world, guys; we can fix this.' "

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