HR's Most Influential

The editors of Human Resource Executive ® announce their picks for the 10 most influential people impacting HR for 2014.

Friday, April 4, 2014
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What a difference a decade makes. When we first launched our Most Influential in HR ranking in April of 2004, the world was a very different place.

With the 9/11 terror attacks, sliding economy and corporate financial misdeeds still swirling front-of-mind and in the news, the folks we considered then to be movers and shakers impacting HR reflected, in many ways, the times.

Our list then included the likes of Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, former Enron chairman and CEO, respectively, for the parts they played in Enron's downfall -- the poster child, you might say, of the financial-scandal era. It included Kay Coles James, then director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, who took the position three months before the 9/11 attacks and would go on to work with the newly established Department of Homeland Security to ensure the right workers were placed into critical security jobs. It also included Alayne Gentul, the senior vice president and director of human resources for Fiduciary Trust International, who died on 9/11 trying to usher her employees out of the South Tower to safety, thereby becoming a symbol of the truest, most authentic form of HR leadership in a time of crisis.

Today's list is equally timely, running the gamut from politicians to key figures within HR who have influenced the business world -- and the profession -- both negatively and positively. It includes such names as President Barack Obama, for his signature healthcare reform and administration's employee-friendly tough stance on employers -- which brings up another on the list, Jacqueline Berrien, chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It includes Dee Edington, for his thought leadership in the ever-widening wellness arena; and David Duffield, Workday founder, and Naomi Bloom, HR technology guru and soothsayer, for the parts they've played in the continuing evolution of technology's applications to HR.

Who will be named to our next decade's list is, of course, a complete unknown -- though safe to say their seeds of influence are being planted as we speak. One thing is certain: Their names are as unknown to us now as the events that will be impacting business and influencing HR between now and 2024. - By Kristen B. Frasch


Impact from the Very Top:

President Barack Obama

Perhaps no other U.S. president has impacted the employer community as much as President Barack Obama. From his signature healthcare-reform law, the Affordable Care Act, to many other bills signed into law impacting employers (including the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010), to aggressive employee-advocacy initiatives, rules and guidelines leveraged by components of his administration (including the U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the National Labor Relations Board, just to name three), Obama is seen by many business leaders as employee-friendly and tough on business.

No single accomplishment, however, has had quite the impact of the ACA, signed into law March 23, 2010, with the far-reaching goals of increasing the quality and affordability of health insurance, lowering the uninsured rate by expanding public and private insurance coverage, and reducing the costs of healthcare for individuals and the government.

For employers, the challenges have been immense, including -- but not confined to -- the need for top leaders to collaborate and determine the best approach for insuring their employees under the law, the need to stay ahead of numerous deadlines for making and communicating the required changes, and the need to correctly count full-time-equivalent employees to stay within the law's employer mandate (now effective Jan. 1, 2015, for larger companies) that all businesses with more than 50 FTE employees provide health insurance for their full-time employees or pay a per-month "Employer Shared Responsibility Payment" on their federal tax returns. Meeting all the ACA's challenges has also added significantly to administrative workloads and paperwork throughout the nation's HR departments.

By Kristen B. Frasch

The 'Father of Wellness':

Dee Edington

It's no mistake that Dee Edington -- former director of the University of Michigan's Health Management Research Center and current CEO of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Edington Associates -- has been called the "Father of Wellness" by many HR and benefits professionals. A longtime outspoken critic of corporate wellness programs that fall flat, Edington has been trumpeting for years his belief that wellness initiatives will not succeed unless the companies they serve undergo corporatewide culture changes.

As he noted in HRE's May 2011 cover story, "A Culture of Health": "If someone changes a behavior and then returns to the same unhealthy environment that caused or aggravated the behavior, the chances are pretty good that [he or she] will return to [that] original behavior." Even more recently, in a March 7, 2012 HREOnline™ news analysis, "A Wellness Mismatch," he criticized employers for their lack of energy and cost-avoidance when it comes to launching and sustaining viable wellness programs. "They're opting for the simplest, least-expensive way to sign on to something and say, 'There, I'm doing wellness,' " he said.

But beyond the advice he's shared in our pages, he is nationally and internationally known for his interest in the relationships between healthy lifestyles, vitality and quality of life as they benefit workplaces. Even more specifically, he has shared in numerous speeches to HR professionals his interest in the way individual health management and worksite-wellness activities and programs impact organizations' healthcare-cost containment, productivity and human resource development. He has also authored six well-respected and well-read books on health and wellness, including his latest, Zero Trends: Health as a Serious Economic Strategy.

By Kristen B. Frasch

Keeping Employers on Their Toes:

Jacqueline Berrien

Since being sworn in as chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2010, Jacqueline A. Berrien has loomed large in HR professionals' minds.

The real shot across the bow may have come in 2012, when the EEOC revealed its Strategic Enforcement Plan, which made clear the agency would target discriminatory HR practices on a systemic level and focus on identifying and investigating more class-based discrimination charges. This marked a change in the agency's role, which had historically focused more on individual cases.

Many businesses have since found themselves on the defendant's side of class-action suits brought by the EEOC, while companies and HR practitioners everywhere continually evaluate the process behind their employment decisions and remain on the lookout for EEOC investigators.

The EEOC issued long-awaited regulations for the Americans with Disabilities Amendment Act in 2009, and the organization has continued to expand the definition of disability since Berrien's arrival the following year. In 2010, for example, the agency adopted final regulations of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act to prohibit the use of genetic information in making employment decisions.

The EEOC has shaken up employers' background-screening practices as well, with a 2012 update to its criminal-background guidance that encouraged employers away from screening job candidates for criminal histories prior to beginning the interview process. More recently, it has clarified its intent, saying it recommends using a two-step process for job applicants -- which includes individualized assessment as the second step -- rather than bright-line screens. Nevertheless, employers continue to wrestle with protecting the workforce and eliminating guesswork from the hiring process while still complying with EEOC guidelines.

In short, Berrien's EEOC continues to greatly impact employers and their practices.

By Mark McGraw

Leading a New Age in HR at Google:

Laszlo Bock

When New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman refers to you as "the guy in charge of hiring for one of the world's most successful companies," as he did recently in reference to Laszlo Bock, it's not a stretch to think you might find yourself on HRE's list of HR's Most Influential.

Ever since he was named Google's first-ever vice president of people operations at the age of 33 in 2006, Bock, HRE's HR Executive of the Year for 2010, has embarked on an audacious plan to build an advanced HR army that could someday redefine the function as we now know it, using what he calls the "three-thirds" method. As he explains it, the three thirds refers to the makeup of his HR department, which includes one-third "traditional" HR people; one-third high-end, strategy-consultant types -- including some with non-HR backgrounds; and one-third masters'- and doctoral-level analytical professionals. This method has influenced almost every facet of HR administration at Google, from the way it identifies and selects its talent, to how it enables workers to advance in their own careers, to the creation of a variety of reward and recognition programs that all meet the specific needs of its workforce.

This forward-thinking approach to HR and capital management attracts an impressive 1 million-plus job applications to Google each year for Bock and his staff to manage. Equally impressive, if not more, is the highly selective process his department oversees to ensure the company ends up with the perfect Googlers -- a term now common enough to have entered the American lexicon -- with only .4 percent to .5 percent of all those applicants being hired each year.

By Michael J. O'Brien

The Man Behind LinkedIn:

Reid Hoffman

Reid Hoffman, co-founder and executive chairman of LinkedIn, recently sold 80,000 shares of stock in the company he co-created, netting himself a cool $15.8 million. Not bad, but mere chump change compared to the company's current total valuation of $23.5 billion (and Hoffman's own reported net worth of more than $4 billion). With nearly 300 million members today, LinkedIn has become the 800-pound gorilla of business-focused social networking. And it's played a key role in fundamentally changing the recruiting process.

Today, having a LinkedIn profile has become as de rigueur in the workplace as having a Facebook page once was for college students. LinkedIn is where job applicants showcase themselves, and it can be a goldmine for HR leaders seeking passive job candidates.

Those who fervently believe the resume is obsolete commonly point to LinkedIn as the future of recruiting. Job seekers use the site to build their "brand," while recruiters use it to build relationships with people for whom they might not have openings at the moment, but will at some point in the future. Compared to the cumbersome online-application process most companies continue to subject applicants to, LinkedIn is devilishly easy to use. Most talent-management vendors now include links to it in their recruiting products.

Hoffman has described LinkedIn as far more than a recruiting tool -- it's a place for people from all walks of life to network with each other and share information on everything from informatics to zoology. Although LinkedIn is far from the only social-networking site being used by recruiters -- indeed, Facebook is making inroads in this space -- Hoffman can claim credit to being among the first to get the ball rolling.

By Andrew R. McIlvaine 

Shaping HR Technology Trends:

Dave Duffield

Dave Duffield founded Workday Inc. in March 2005 -- just months after Oracle's hostile, highly-publicized $10 billion takeover of PeopleSoft, the HRMS software firm Duffield started in 1987.

In that time, Duffield -- the Pleasanton, Calif.-based HR management software company's co-CEO and chief customer advocate -- has been instrumental in taking HR processes to the cloud. And, as a pioneer of the technology business model that offers customers subscriptions to services rather than selling them software, he has helped make "Software as a Service" part of the human resource profession's vernacular.

In the process, Duffield -- who has started five companies in his career -- seems to have hit pay dirt again. The company has altered the landscape of the HR management-technology market, emerging as a viable competitor to giants SAP and Oracle, with its stock price soaring since its initial public offering in October 2012.

More recently, Duffield shook up the tech space again, helping to engineer what the New York Times called a "cloud alliance" between Workday and With the partnership -- announced in September 2013 -- Salesforce sales- and marketing-management software capabilities are now integrated with Workday's HCM software, a move designed to enable businesses "to manage every critical business function in the cloud," Aneel Bhusri, Workday co-founder and co-CEO, told the Times.

At its annual user conference just weeks later, Oracle announced a variety of new cloud-computing services, along with a host of updates to its existing platforms. The timing may have been coincidental, but it's fair to say that, at 74 years of age, Duffield is still keeping the (much larger) competition on its toes, and providing HR practitioners with new ways to get work done.

By Mark McGraw

Outspoken HR Critic/Advocate:

Naomi Bloom

Naomi Bloom, managing partner at Fort Myers, Fla.-based Bloom & Wallace, is not the only expert calling for simpler, easier-to-use and more intuitive HR technology products, but she's one of the best-known, most-listened-to and certainly the most outspoken. Consider two of her quotes from the past:

"Look under the covers of today's shiny new software and you'll find the same old crappy data designs."

"If you don't know the key things your company has to do to get the people you need, software won't help you."

Bloom, a longtime HR-technology consultant, has uttered many such gems at the HR Technology ® Conference, where's she's served as a panelist and speaker ever since the conference's inception in 1998. She's been a leading advocate for making HR products as appealing and easy to use as consumer-focused sites such as Facebook and Amazon. She has also chided HR leaders for not ensuring their data and processes are clean and well-thought-out before transitioning to new technology platforms. Failure to do so is a big reason why many implementations fail, she's said, with vendors often being unfairly blamed.

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That's not to say Bloom fails to hold vendors accountable. She's labeled some so-called "aggregators" -- firms that buy up smaller technology vendors -- as, fairly or unfairly, "slumlords" that are only interested in milking the revenue from recurring license fees rather than investing in maintaining and enhancing the products themselves. And she blasts vendors that advertise their offerings as Software as a Service when, in fact, they're not.

In addition to her work as a consultant, speaker, author and blogger, Bloom also formed the Brazen Hussies, a networking group for women in the technology sector.

By Andrew R. McIlvaine

The Names Behind the Death of DOMA:

Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer

While it may be difficult to fathom that the most ground-breaking legal decision regarding the treatment of gays and lesbians actually grew out of an estate-tax lawsuit, that's exactly how it happened.

New York residents and same-sex couple Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer were legally married in Canada in 2007. After Spyer died in 2009, she left her entire estate to Windsor, who then sought to claim the federal estate-tax exemption for surviving spouses but was barred from doing so by the Defense of Marriage Act, which stated that the term "spouse" only applied to marriages between a man and woman. The Internal Revenue Service found that the exemption did not apply to same-sex marriages, denied Windsor's claim and sent her a $363,053 estate-tax bill.

Windsor then sued the federal government in 2010 because DOMA, she argued, singled out legally married same-sex couples for "differential treatment compared to other similarly situated couples without justification." A year later, momentum built for Windsor's cause as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced he would no longer defend the law in court. In 2012, a judge ruled that DOMA was unconstitutional, and that decision was eventually appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision declaring DOMA to be unconstitutional "as a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment," thereby setting a new standard for treatment of gay and lesbian Americans both at work and at home.

Windsor said in a statement after the ruling that, when she and her partner met nearly 50 years prior, neither of them could have dreamed that their eventual marriage would land before the Supreme Court "as an example of why gay married couples should be treated equally, and not like second-class citizens." Noting that her deceased wife would be proud of the high court's decision, Windsor concluded that "[t]he truth is, I never expected any less from my country."

By Michael J. O'Brien

Building a Different Kind of Retailer at Costco:

Jim Sinegal

Enron's Kenneth Lay (who was featured in our Most Influential list 10 years ago) continues to be cited as an example of how a CEO should not behave, even eight years after his passing. Conversely, former Costco Wholesale Corp. founder, president and CEO Jim Sinegal continues, even in retirement, to be looked to as a visionary business leader with a sound morale compass who clearly understands the value of having an engaged and empowered workforce.

Few CEOs match what Sinegal achieved during his 29 years at Costco's helm. During his tenure there (he retired in 2012), he developed a reputation for being a stickler for detail, taking a truly hands-on approach to running the business. But he also is known for creating a unique culture that values employees and customers alike.

He's been quoted more than once saying "culture isn't the most important thing in the world; it's the only thing. It is the thing that drives the business."

Of Costco's employees, Sinegal said ". . . these are great people. Many of them have been with us since the early days of our business. They've helped bring Costco to where it is today."

Generally speaking, retailers have been notorious for paying workers low wages and skimping on benefits. But not at Costco, which has historically offered generous wages and benefits. Not coincidentally, Costco experiences far lower turnover rates than other competitors and has demonstrated steady revenue and profit growth over the years. Today, the retailer enjoys a market cap north of $50 billion.

To be sure, few, if any, other CEOs could possibly provide a better counterweight to the sole CEO on this list 10 years ago than Sinegal.

By David Shadovitz

Reshaping Executive Comp:

Christopher Dodd and Barney Frank

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D.-Conn., and Rep. Barney Frank, D.-Mass., are both retired from Congress, the former in 2010 and the latter in 2012. But in legislation bearing their names, they've left a legacy impacting public companies -- particularly those in the financial sector -- in a huge way.

In 2010, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act ("Dodd-Frank") was signed into law, giving business leaders, corporate attorneys and HR leaders plenty to chew on. In the case of the latter, it sent an impactful message, through its disclosure and shareholder-voting provisions, to anyone involved in setting executive compensation.

First, there's "Say on Pay," which requires a nonbinding shareholder vote on executive compensation every three years. Research by Sembler Brossey finds roughly 91 percent (2,200 companies in the Russell 3000) received a 70-percent-or-better shareholder approval in their votes in 2013. Critics, however, say requiring such votes, while certainly leading to greater accountability, has also resulted in the homogenization of pay practices, and that's not necessarily in the best interest of companies.

Then there's the disclosure and approval of golden parachutes, requiring an advisory shareholder vote on compensation arrangements of officers of companies involved in mergers, acquisitions, consolidations or proposed sales.

And last but not least, there's the Pay-Ratio Rule, enacted late last year by the Securities and Exchange Commission, requiring corporations to disclose the amount their CEOs make compared to the salary of the median worker. As might be expected, business groups argue this will end up providing little insight for investors because pay varies based on a wide range of factors.

Taken together, these provisions -- along with others -- earn these two a deserved shared seat on this year's list.

By David Shadovitz


These are Human Resource Executive ® editors' picks for the 2014 list of HR's Most Influential. We now invite you, our readers, to tell us who we left off the list. Write the name or names of those you think should have been listed this year, with a short explanation as to why, and send your submission to Comments and questions about this feature are also welcome and can be sent to the same address.


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