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Broadening Their Bases

This year's slate of HR's Rising Stars exemplifies a new breed of leaders who recognize the importance of mastering a wider, more diverse set of skills and incorporating them into the HR organizations of tomorrow.

Maria Pejter: Ever Improving The Systems

Case McGee: A Case for Growing and Refining Talent

Ben Brooks: Innovative, Action-Oriented Visionary

Emily Gaines: Making Great Gaines

Lesley Elwell: HR's 'Perpetual Spark'

Monday, July 11, 2011
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We're very proud, once again, to introduce you to our pick of winners in this, our sixth annual HR's Rising Stars competition. As in years past, our 2011 slate features five remarkable HR professionals we think you'll be hearing more about -- and probably finding atop their own HR organizations -- in the very near future.

Especially impressive this year to the panel of judges was the way in which all five winners not only brought varied business backgrounds to their current HR roles, but seemed committed to further broadening their HR and non-HR skills and experiences while filling some already formidable HR shoes.

As one judge noted in the case of one of the winners, "his inclusion of wide-ranging skills and background, his wide diversity and combination of competencies, really points to what future HR leaders will need going forward, and where businesses and HR organizations are now heading."

For winner Ben Brooks, vice president and practice leader of human capital performance for New York-based Marsh Inc., achieving this kind of well-roundedness means weaving together skills in business-strategy development, analytics, talent management, organizational development and what his nominator refers to as "execution rigor."

As the nominator puts it, "his management-consulting experience developed his executive presence, facilitation expertise and quantitative-reasoning skills that also ensure his vision is seen and his initiatives are well-received."

Winner Emily Gaines, vice president of compensation, benefits and HR effectiveness for Caesars Entertainment in Las Vegas, has held four HR leadership roles in the past five-and-a-half years of her still-young career, "thus building a robust and well-rounded HR skill set," her nominator writes. Past stints were in talent acquisition, leadership development and HR-business-partner positions.

Case McGee, vice president of human resources for Archer Daniels Midland Co. in Decatur, Ill., has overseen the company's global compensation, global mobility, college relations and professional staffing programs. He also has experience as a commodity trader, in addition to roles as the HR generalist for corn and cocoa, milling and financial services.

Maria Pejter, senior director heading up group talent management for A.P. Moller-Maersk in Copenhagen, Denmark, successfully completed roles in the commercial, operational and finance part of the company before overseeing warehousing for a Maersk unit in Poland in 1999 -- all well before coming to her current department in 2004.

Lastly, Lesley Elwell, director of human resource planning for Sprint Nextel in Overland Park, Kan., spent many years in marketing and field operations before coming to HR -- which, in the words of her nominator, gave her "a broad understanding of the core business and a sense of urgency and pragmatism to solve complex problems in a collaborative and effective manner. Lesley," she writes, "is a 'player-coach' -- always engaged, always learning and always teaching."

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You might say all five 2011 winners embody and exemplify this growing need for future HR leaders to be "always learning" -- not just aspects of their function, but also their business -- in order to succeed.

As organizations continue asking more from their HR leaders, and as those leaders become increasingly challenged to serve as catalysts -- or conduits -- of corporatewide business dialogue and decisions, personal knowledge of all facets of a given business, and business in general, will help elevate HR careers and separate out the stars.

As in past years, the judges for this year's contest included Charlie Tharp, executive vice president for policy at the Center on Executive Compensation, a division of the HR Policy Association, and former senior vice president of human resources for Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.; Michele Darling, president of Michele Darling and Associates in Mississauga, Ontario, and former executive vice president of corporate governance and human resources for Prudential Insurance Co.; Gregory Hessel, senior client partner and global director of the human resource practice at Korn/Ferry International's Dallas offices; and Kristen B. Frasch, managing editor of I® magazine.

For stories on past winners and access to next year's nomination form, visit the HR Rankings page on HREOnlineTM.

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