Making Their Marks


The editors of HUMAN RESOURCE EXECUTIVE name 10 individuals — or groups of individuals — who have had the most influence on HR

Suffice it to say, social and economic issues have played a huge role in setting HR’s agenda of late. But so, too, have the actions — and, in some instances, the inactions — of key individuals . . . from trailblazing HR leaders and legislators to controversial journalists and CEOs.

In many cases, their influences on the business world and on human resources have been positive. In some rather dramatic cases, they have been anything but.

The list below contains our top 10 picks of people who have made the most significant mark on HR and have done the most — be it positive or negative — to shape the profession during the early 21st century.

Whether you agree or disagree with our choices, there’s no denying it’s an eclectic and wide-ranging group.

It includes the likes of Kenneth Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, Bernard Ebbers and other senior business leaders accused of some pretty tricky bookkeeping and spending their companies’ earnings on lavish vacation homes and pricey jewelry at the expense of shareholders and employees — touching off some of the worst business scandals in American history.

It includes the two senators responsible for crafting our current privacy-in-health-care legislation that has given HR leaders one of the most serious collective migraines ever known. It includes some remarkable entrepreneurs who have dramatically changed the way jobs get filled and how HR work gets done.

It includes HR leaders who have redefined the meaning of their profession and their leadership in the aftermath of 9/11. And it also includes a prize-winning journalist whose dogged persistence has not only raised the nation’s conscience about something as complex as cash-balance retirement plans, but — according to one critic — has spurred legislation that will result in a world in which everyone will be “eating dog food when they’re 70 or 80 years old.”

No doubt, some of these individuals will be pleased to learn they’ve made it onto our most-influential list. Others may be dismayed. Whatever their reactions, or our readers’, we encourage all HR executives to view these selections as reminders that forces of influence can take many different forms and reflect many divergent aspects of human nature.

We hope you enjoy reading our profiles. If someone comes to mind you believe we’ve left out, don’t hesitate to contact us at and tell us why we should have included them.

CEOs Under Fire:

Kenneth Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, et al.

HR innovation can be prompted by good ideas and bad. And the allegations of notorious financial shenanigans, mind-numbing ethical misconduct or unjustified personal enrichment that have been laid at the doors of more than a few CEOs during the past few years have no doubt prompted some soul searching by more than one human resource executive.

In many of the most publicized cases, HR’s involvement lacked import, at best. Could HR executives have protected their companies from such disgrace? How should HR make sure honest and ethical CEOs are hired? How should it deal with dishonest or unethical ones? How can HR leaders help their companies mend and move forward?

These are just some of the questions many HR executives have been grappling with — whether or not their companies were personally affected by the multitude of scandals.

Complicating efforts at rethinking HR policies and promoting corporate governance have been the divergent issues and problems tied to the dazzling array of well-publicized misdeeds that were alleged to have occurred.

Among the most well-known:

* Former Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay and former CEO Jeffrey Skilling sat atop the now-bankruptcy-protected energy company as financial gimmicks were said to have kept it afloat. All the while, former accounting firm Arthur Andersen certified the results and executives cashed out stock options at the same time rank-and-file employees lost most, if not all, of their retirement savings because they were locked out of their 401(k) plans when the stock tanked.

* For many observers, former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski was symbolic of many other high-flying executives who spent their companies’ earnings on lavish vacation homes, fine art, expensive jewelry and other riches. His former company is seeking in excess of $100 million back from him, while the Securities and Exchange Commission has filed a civil lawsuit and the New York District Attorney has filed criminal charges.

* The list could go on and on, but add just two more: John J. Rigas, founder and former CEO of bankrupt cable TV company Adelphia Communications Corp., was charged with fraud measured in billions of dollars, running a racketeer-influenced organization by falsifying financial records and using the company as a “personal piggy bank.” His case is pending.

Then there’s the destruction of WorldCom, which filed bankruptcy after an $11 billion accounting scandal. Former CEO Bernard Ebbers has been indicted on federal fraud charges relating to events at the long-distance carrier now known as MCI, while his former CFO Scott Sullivan pleaded guilty in March to three criminal charges. Sentencing for Sullivan was pending.

In addition to the pending criminal charges against Ebbers, the former CEO has been accused by many critics in the media of inflating growth figures that contributed to the Internet bubble.

Such scandals have left their mark on HR, and it’s a black mark. Erasing this stain has become the aim of many HR strategic thinkers as they increasingly rethink executive compensation, board oversight, ethical leadership, pre-hire assessments and background screenings. At the same time, the lack of corporate governance that led to so much of the misconduct resulted in the creation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 — another impetus toward HR innovation.

Corporations de-emphasizing stock-option incentives and rethinking financial accounting of options are solid results of these scandals. Also in the wake of the scandals has been the revamping of executive compensation and perks — even if there seems to be more talk than action in those areas — and a renewed focus on the importance of ethics and integrity.

Of course, the most solid improvements have been in response to Sarbanes-Oxley, which mandates some of the make-up, duties and abilities of board members; bars insider trading during pension black-out periods; increases penalties for fraud and obstruction of investigations; prohibits personal loans to executives; and requires corporate responsibility for financial documents as well as disclosure of conflicts of interest.

Time will only tell what other innovative and wholesome policies and practices will result from this dark period in corporate America.

Corporate Governance Leader,

Bill Conaty

By many accounts, Bill Conaty could be considered one of the most influential HR leaders today.

As senior vice president of corporate human resources at General Electric Co., based in Fairfield, Conn., he led the way in corporate governance initiatives long before corporate scandals began unfolding and has become a guiding force for HR colleagues as a courageous and competent strategic business partner to GE’s senior management.

Before the Enron debacle was even near the radar screen, Conaty was successfully tackling executive pay at GE. The system he established, which was initiated in early 2002, requires the company’s chairman and CEO to hold six times their base salaries in company stock (senior leaders must hold three times their base salaries) and receive performance shares — instead of stock options or restricted stock — that are tied to shareholder returns and other measurements over a five-year period.

“We spend a great deal of time making sure that our compliance, governance and transparency issues are leading-edge,” says Conaty, referring to the members of GE’s corporate compliance review board, an entity established in the mid-1980s. “We’ve been doing this instinctively and systematically for well over a decade.”

Among his other challenges are negotiating contracts with labor unions. Under his leadership, GE settled a potentially contentious contract in 2003 that involved 25,000 workers representing 14 different labor unions. Close to 90 percent of the union employees ratified the contract.

Since starting with GE in 1967, Conaty has held various jobs, including plant manager of GE’s diesel engine plant and vice president of HR for the GE Aircraft Engines division. In 1993, he was promoted to his current role, handling HR responsibilities for approximately 310,000 employees worldwide.

Those who know Conaty, or know of him, say he is not the type of man who waits for change. He drives it.

That’s why Jeff McGuiness actively pursued him several years ago to serve as chairman of the HR Policy Association, a public-policy organization in Washington addressing the concerns of chief HR officers through legislation and private-sector initiatives.

McGuiness, the association’s president, says his organization was “lost in the wilderness” prior to Conaty’s arrival, trying to identify key HR issues. After Conaty grabbed the reins, he says, the group experienced a fundamental cultural change, redefined its focus and is now embarking on bold issues ranging from global sourcing to the rising cost of health care.

“Bill embodies the standard of excellence that drives people around him to achieve,” says McGuiness, adding that Conaty has a strong business orientation and remarkable ability to judge character.

In addition to his work at GE, Conaty serves on the board of directors of the advanced HR studies program at Cornell University and is facilitating a labor-management forum with leaders of major corporations and the AFL-CIO.

In 2001, he was elected chair of the National Academy of Human Resources in Washington. Since then, the organization has launched the Chief HR Officers Academy, which invites new senior HR executives from global companies to meet with top CEOs, such as Bob Nardelli of Home Depot and Andrea Jung of Avon Products Inc., so they can quickly adapt to their new jobs by finding out what CEOs are looking for in HR leaders.

Regardless of his task or challenge, Conaty is routinely recognized for striving to transform HR into a highly visible, credible and value-added business partner.

“Knowing that your voice is important and that you’re going to be recognized for your efforts . . . it’s tough to unplug from,” he says, referring to the addictive nature of success.

While his list of achievements keeps growing, he says he hopes his professional reputation reflects someone who never forgets his roots, continues to care about people at all levels and has the courage and conviction to stand up to unfair policies or initiatives. It appears he has nothing to worry about.

Journalist Who’s Made a Difference,

Ellen Schultz

Journalist Ellen Schultz, recipient of numerous awards for her aggressive pursuit of cash-balance retirement plans, has earned kudos from consumer advocates and the HR community.

The Wall Street Journal reporter is credited with helping shape, since 1998, the regulatory view of these so-called “hybrid” pensions, which fuse the formula of a defined-contribution plan with the investment-security aspect of a traditional defined-benefit plan.

Five years after the Internal Revenue Service issued a moratorium on determination letters for cash-balance plans, the U.S. Treasury Department has now proposed that benefits earned for the first five years of a cash-balance-plan conversion be at least equivalent to the defined-benefit vehicle it replaces.

But the clarity practitioners seek isn’t expected until after the presidential election, given the scope of controversy.

“There’s no question that her incisive reporting helped both the public as well as other financial reporters understand this complex issue,” says Karen Friedman, director of policy strategies for the Pension Rights Center in Washington.

Describing Schultz’s roughly 20 articles on the topic as fair and balanced, Friedman lauds her courage to “look beyond rhetoric and investigate how consultants and companies used obfuscating language to promote a practice that devastated older employees, causing them to lose, in many instances, as much as half of their expected benefits.”

Jim Klein, president of the American Benefits Council in Washington, however, laments that Schultz “consistently misses the opportunity to elevate public discussion of the issues with the thoughtful and balanced reporting that they deserve.”

“Instead, the unfounded premise of virtually all of her articles is the same: Employers are trying to cheat their workers and retirees. If she made a genuine effort to explain the important nuances in most corporate decisions instead of always attributing the worst possible motives to employers, then the public and Congress would be better informed and the interests of workers and retirees would actually be better served.”

One of the few HR executives who agreed to be interviewed, on the record, for this piece is Richard Quinn, director of compensation and benefits for Public Service Enterprise Group, whose cash-balance plan applies only to new hires after 1995 and was offered alongside a DB plan.

Quinn, who has been with PSEG for more than 40 years, says the plans aren’t as bad as they’re portrayed in Schultz’s articles. “The reality,” he says, “is that, if they did not exist, many people would not have any defined-benefit pension.”

Schultz declined to be interviewed for this article. However, Barney Calame, deputy managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, says “the accuracy and fairness of Ellen’s coverage of cash-balance-type pensions has been amply acknowledged by the journalistic awards it has received.”

“Our records show that no factual errors have been brought to our attention since it appeared,” he says.

Richard Shea, a partner with the Washington law firm of Covington & Burling, whose support for cash balance dates back to his days as associate benefits tax counsel for the Treasury Department, was the subject of two Schultz articles–one of which triggered a General Accounting Office investigation that found the hybrid pension does not discriminate against older workers. He wasn’t as lucky as the lead attorney for high-profile court cases involving cash-balance conversions at IBM and Xerox.

Shea believes that, at the end of the day, Schultz will have done more to reduce pension benefits than any corporate action. “She has helped foment a legislative, regulatory and litigation environment that is going to lead companies not only to avoid converting to cash-balance plans but to terminate their pension plans,” he charges, citing Avaya as one example.

“This is going to lead to a world where everyone will be in 401(k) plans and when the stock market goes down, they’ll be eating dog food when they’re 70- or 80-years-old.”

Nation’s Personnel Leader,

Kay Coles James

On July 11, 2001, Kay Coles James was appointed director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, but little did she know her role within the department would change drastically exactly three months to the day she took the position.

Not long after that fateful day on Sept. 11, 2001, James would work with the newly established Department of Homeland Security to ensure the right workers were placed into critical security jobs at a time when the nation needed protecting most. Her role in this effort, among many other accomplishments in the areas of staffing and benefits, has earned James a spot on our list of the most influential people in human resources.

Just as the nation’s security was depending more than ever on competent and qualified employees, such as attentive baggage screeners at the airports, James introduced the concept of competitive sourcing for government jobs and federal human resource functions.

With competitive sourcing, public and private contractors would vie for these crucial jobs and the most capable candidate would be hired. With this new practice in place, James made sure managers were trained properly, were held accountable and formed a solid, lasting relationship with contractors.

In an effort to make sure this system worked, James had no qualms about auditing contracts, if necessary, to ensure everyone met the performance standards.

James contended competition through competitive sourcing was a catalyst to improve performance and efficiency within the public workforce sector. Her efforts to make the staffing and hiring process better have become guiding lights for other HR professionals as they look for ways to improve their own workforces.

Her ultimate goal, she says, is to bring federal human resources into the 21st century. “That negative image some people have of federal employees–it does exist . . . and we have to clean up those small pockets where it does,” she told Human Resource Executive’s sister online publication, cyberFEDS, in a January 2002 interview.

“This can’t be just about tweaking our image; we need to make some substantive changes.” Which is what she has been doing, as a strong believer in the merits of developing managers and executives to help government agencies and employees better serve the nation’s people.

Her dedication toward improving the abilities of her 3,600 employees nationwide also deserves admiration. James developed Web sites to assist agencies with recruiting and hiring federal employees. Furthermore, understanding that happy workers make productive workers, James established and restructured several benefits programs for federal employees, including health benefits, retirement benefits, long-term-care insurance and flexible spending accounts.

What James has managed to do in just a few short years as director of OPM, some HR professionals might have trouble accomplishing in a decade.

“We are committed to attracting the best to serve our country as federal employees,” James says on the OPM Web site. “The Office of Personnel Management is working to change the image of public service to reflect the challenges our workforce meets every day.”

It’s possible her biggest challenge was her fight to unite federal workers and management. It’s an ongoing battle, but James continues to emphasize the need for these two groups to build support, trust and honesty between them.

“I am convinced that great things can be achieved for the government and the citizens we serve when management and union leaders work together on issues that unite them rather than spend their time and energy on what divides them,” James said in a memo concerning labor-management relations. “That is a principle I will continue to support as OPM director.”

BPO Pioneer,

James Madden

James Madden comes from a family of builders, so perhaps it’s appropriate that he’s played a leading role in building a new industry — business-process outsourcing — which is, for better or worse, changing the face of HR.

Deciding against a career in the construction firm operated by his father and grandfather, Madden set out on a different path, ultimately starting a new company that offers potential clients an interesting proposition: Why not outsource nearly everything your HR department does to a firm whose sole business is HR administration, potentially lowering your costs and freeing you to concentrate on running your business?

Investors were skeptical at the outset, Madden recalls. “They wanted to know, first of all, ‘Could we make this business work?’ and second, ‘Could we make it profitable?’ ”

It took time, but Madden was ultimately able to answer “yes” to both. Launched with seed money from venture-capital firm General Atlantic Partners, Exult has grown from just Madden and his secretary to nearly 2,000 employees today, spread among nearly 50 offices and eight service centers worldwide, including a recently opened center in Mumbai, India.

The workers provide support for everything from payroll and benefits administration to employee relocation, recruiting and performance management. The firm won its first big contract when global energy giant British Petroleum signed on nearly four years ago to a $600 million deal that gave BP a 5 percent ownership stake in the company.

Today, Exult’s client list includes International Paper, Circuit City, BMO Financial, Universal Music Group and Prudential Financial. Last year, it added several additional clients when it purchased PricewaterhouseCoopers’ international BPO practice.

Exult says it has captured 40 percent of the global HR BPO market, a market that Gartner predicts will grow to $51 billion in worldwide revenue this year. (This figure includes single-process outsourcing.)

Profitability took a while to catch up with the firm’s growth: Exult lost money up until last year, when it finally recorded an annual net income of $15 million on revenues of $480 million.

The company also faces keen competition. Firms such as ACS, Gevity, Accenture, Convergys and Aon are pouring resources into the HR BPO market, and have been joined more recently by EDS, Fidelity Investments and IBM, among others.

But Madden says Exult will distinguish itself by catering exclusively to Global 500 firms and by keeping its business model focused strictly on HR.

“We’re a pure-play HR BPO vendor, unlike most of our competitors,” he says. “This is our only business and it will continue to be our only business.”

Madden acknowledges that long-time HR staffers at many firms may end up losing their jobs when their employer signs on with a BPO vendor. However, he urges people to focus on the long term.

“The benefits of outsourcing to us include new jobs created as a result, which are almost always at higher skill and pay levels,” he says. “It is a transformation, but in the long run, it will provide HR professionals with career paths that go beyond payroll administration.”

In his spare time, Madden enjoys skiing and sailing his racing yacht, which his wife named Stark Raving Mad because of its enormous price tag. Should Exult continue on its upward trajectory, however, he might try a different name: “Crazy Like a Fox.”

9/11 Heroine,

Alayne Gentul

When the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center crumbled to the ground on Sept. 11, 2001 — a day many now consider the darkest ever in American history — hundreds of heroes fell with them as thousands were killed. Some survived. Many did not.

One such hero, our only posthumous recognition in this list of prominent figures who have influenced HR, was Alayne Gentul, senior vice president and director of human resources for Fiduciary Trust International, which had offices in the South Tower.

She was helping evacuate employees along with Edgar Emery, the company’s vice president of fiduciary services and training manager, when both were lost in the tower’s collapse.

In a story appearing the following day in the Star-Ledger, a Newark, N.J.-based newspaper, Gentul’s co-worker, Nora Haldon, described the remarkable leadership and poise her boss exhibited in her final moments.

“Everyone was screaming. It was chaos. No one knew what to do,” said Haldon. “I looked at Alayne and said, ‘What do you want us to do?’ She was so calm. She looked at me and said, ‘Nora, everyone should go downstairs in an orderly way. Go now.’ “Heading down the stairs with co-workers, Haldon looked back and saw Gentul holding the door open while others scrambled through. “I knew she wouldn’t come until she knew everyone else was down,” said Haldon.

In the words of another colleague, Elnora Halton, “Alayne was a special human resource person. You could say she invented the word. She could sense that something was not always right with you, and she would welcome you to her office. Her sense of humor was boundless. . . . Most profoundly, she saved my life.”

Gentul’s single, selfless acts of bravery that day not only cast an inspirational light on the human spirit; it put a whole new focus on human resource executives–as shepherds and keepers of the people under their charge.

There probably was not a single HR leader who wasn’t wondering on Sept. 12, 2001, if he or she would have done the same thing in the same situation.

Whatever those answers may have been, human resource professionals throughout the world found themselves under new scrutiny and faced with expanded duties and concerns after that tragic day, obligations that will be part of their portfolios forever — from increased emphasis on employee security and record-keeping to the need for new approaches to emergency preparedness, crisis management, global security and workplace morale.

Since the disaster, HR leaders have been working more closely with CEOs and other senior corporate leaders to tackle the longer-term fallout — including the post-9/11 economic plunge with its layoffs and added stress on dwindling staffs, a heightened need for more sophisticated background-checking measures and intensifying sensitivities surrounding diversity issues.

That fateful day, Gentul became more than a symbol of great bravery; she also became a symbol of a whole new chapter in American business, in which employers and HR leaders must now be able to “think the unthinkable” about what can go wrong and be prepared to deal with any and all of it at a moment’s notice.

While no evacuation plan or security measure could have prevented all of 9/11, Gentul and the other heroes who lost their lives that day trying to save their fellow human beings offered a powerful wake-up call to all employers: that whatever is happening in the world at any given time, the lives of employees are, indeed, in their companies’ hands.

E-Learning Visionary,

Elliott Masie

At the most recent TechLearn conference in Orlando, Fla., Elliott Masie seemed very much at home on his Segway Human Transporter, steering the high-tech, high-priced scooter through the halls as he journeyed from session to session.

As might be expected, Masie, no stranger to new technologies, handled the much-touted vehicle like a pro. But it’s his extraordinary ability to help organizations navigate the complex world of e-learning that earns him a place on our most influential list.

Masie is described on his Web site as “an internationally recognized speaker, futurist, humorist, author and consultant on the critical topics of technology, business, learning and workplace productivity.” But if you ask those who work with him, they’ll tell you that it’s Masie’s ability to “demystify” technology that makes him such a significant asset to organizations in both the private and public sectors.

“We’ve come to view Elliott as an extraordinary resource,” says Bob Downes, special assistant for training transformation in the Office of the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon. “What makes him especially valuable is his capacity to see through the fads,” he says, adding that he’s able to bring disparate people together and help them look at e-learning differently.

At the DOD, Downes says, Masie has been instrumental in helping the department shift it’s way of thinking. “He helped us collaborate with people we wouldn’t have otherwise partnered with; he has the ability to bring together the best and the brightest.”

Masie’s credentials are impressive. In addition to editing Trends, an Internet newsletter read by more than 46,000 business executives around the globe, he is the founder and head of the Masie Center, a Saratoga Springs, N.Y., think tank focused on helping organizations absorb technology and create continuous learning within the workforce.

He founded the TechLearn conference–which he sold in 2001 to Advanstar Communications–and leads the e-Learning Consortium, a coalition of 180 Fortune 500 companies whose purpose is to explore the future of technology in the workplace.

Participating companies include Goldman Sachs, American Express, UPS, Pfizer, National Security Agency, McDonald’s, Sears, Bank of America and the U.S. departments of Defense and Labor.

Despite his extremely busy schedule, Masie devotes between 15 percent and 20 percent of his time doing pro-bono work for the public-sector entities like the departments of Defense, Labor and Homeland Security.

In describing Masie’s efforts, it’s not surprising that Downes repeatedly uses the word “generous.”

“All of [these agencies] are looking to learning as a tool for making government faster, more efficient and better able to deal with the upcoming massive retirement of workers,” Masie explains. With between 50 percent and 70 percent of the government’s workforce population eligible for retirement in the next six years, he says, these entities are going to deal with an unprecedented “talent transition.”

Since 9/11, Masie says, training and e-learning have played crucial roles in helping these agencies transform themselves.

He cites the Transportation Security Administration, which didn’t exist before the terrorist attacks, as just one of many training and e-learning public-sector success stories.

Masie, who lives in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and owns thoroughbred horses, believes it’s a safe bet that learning technologies will continue to grow in importance in the coming years.

Companies, he says, are continuing to cut back on business travel, partly because they’re not seeing enough of a return on their investments. “Instead, they’re turning to e-learning,” he says.

At the same time, he adds, they want the learning to take place faster and closer to the event.

If true, Masie should have plenty of opportunities to help shape e-learning going forward.

HIPAA Authors:

Sen. Edward Kennedy and former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum

HIPAA. Just mention the acronym or the federal law’s name–Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996–and HR executives either sigh or cringe. Some still mumble it in their sleep or under their breath, especially with the April 2003 compliance deadline for the final portion of the law–administrative simplification–still fresh in their minds.

While opinions about the law’s necessity vary, no one questions its enormous impact on the HR community.

Although many people contributed to HIPAA, two U.S. senators top the list: Sen. Edward “Ted” Kennedy, D-Mass., and former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kan. Following the enormous political debate over President Clinton’s proposed health-care reform regulations, the senators began drafting legislation that tackled problems in the nation’s health-care system.

During the 1995-1996 congressional session, they pushed a bipartisan health-insurance bill through the Senate that provided employees with portable health insurance and limited exclusions for pre-existing conditions.

“This legislation has helped to ensure that more Americans are covered by health insurance and has enabled them to change employers without fear of losing this coverage,” says Kennedy in a statement released by his press office. “We have a long way to go in ensuring that all families have access to health care but the HIPAA legislation was an enormously important step in this process.”

Tacked onto the bill was an administrative simplification provision supported by two Ohio Congressmen–Republican David Hobson and Democrat Thomas Sawyer. The provision introduced universal standards for administrative electronic transactions to health-care providers.

It’s a rare day when Democrats and Republicans can agree on anything. But the bill united some politicians toward a common cause.

“(HIPAA) was sort of a high point in health policy,” says Maria Ghazal, director of health policy at the American Benefits Council in Washington. “Politicians came together on a bipartisan basis and didn’t let partisan bickering take over.”

Not quite. At the time, state laws protected the confidentiality of patient information but left many gaps, creating a need for national patient record privacy standards.

Although Congress recognized the problem, members couldn’t agree on what those standards should be, so a provision was added to the bill that if a solution couldn’t be reached within three years, the Department of Health and Human Services would develop them.

By 1999, Congress was no closer to reaching a consensus so HHS developed privacy rules. After publishing them, it received 52,000 comments from the public via e-mails, letters and phone calls. Not all were flattering.

The law required many HR executives to make significant policy changes and, in some cases, spend a big chunk of their budgets on compliance. The regulations were complex, to say the least. There were at least 14 steps required for compliance. HR had to appoint a privacy officer. Employees had to be trained on applying the new standards. Written privacy procedures had to be developed. Contracts had to be amended with vendors that were considered business associates.

Like the bunny on the Energizer battery commercials, the rules went on and on.

“At most, HIPAA has reinforced the awareness that keeping medical information private is important,” says Gregory Nelson, vice president and health-care practice leader at Development Dimensions International, a global company based in Bridgeville, Pa., that focuses on building high-performing workforces. “But the buzz in HR is that there’s yet another government agency that provides another regulation that it’s forced to comply with.”

Likewise, some industry sources say that the 900 pages of compliance regulations have only created an expensive headache. Others believe the law is needed. Either way, HIPAA shook up the HR world. But will it serve its intended purpose? Stay tuned.

The ‘Monster-Idea’ Man,

Jeff Taylor

The World Wide Web is such a fixture in our lives that sometimes we forget much of it came into existence only a decade ago. We take for granted the mind-bogglingly convenient things it has given us.

It’s amazing to think that, only a decade ago, we used those impossible-to-refold road maps to find our way; we scanned the fine print in newspapers to find out what was playing at the movies; if we wanted news at any time of the day or night, we needed cable TV.

And, only a decade ago, HR departments and job seekers found each other, for the most part, via “help wanted” columns and word-of-mouth.

The Web has changed forever the way HR executives do their job, and for that you can thank a guy named Jeff Taylor who, in the summer of 1993, was president of Adion, a recruitment advertising agency that he’d founded four years earlier.

“Adion specialized in designing and placing recruitment advertisements in traditional media for high-tech clients in New England,” Taylor recalls. “My clients were experiencing difficulty recruiting candidates with technical skills, and newspapers just were not meeting their needs for finding qualified candidates.”

At Adion, the young and energetic team described their mission as a search not just for ideas, but for “the big idea.” If they could constantly give their clients “the big idea,” they knew they would succeed. But beyond that, Taylor also encouraged his team to be on the lookout for that rare “monster” idea–a concept even bigger than “big.” Such an idea came to Taylor in 1993, in a dream.

“I awoke one morning with a ‘monster’ idea,” he says. “Having a little bit of knowledge about the Internet and a dream-induced brainstorm, I began to sketch out a new platform for matching job seekers with employers. The Monsterboard was born.”

It was the 454th “dot-com” registered, at a time when a program called Mosaic was the only way one could view Web pages. It was essentially an online job bulletin board, linking high-tech employers computer-savvy enough to understand this newfangled Internet thing, and job hunters with similar technological knowledge.

Adion, and its subsidiary, the Monsterboard, were sold to TMP Worldwide in 1995. The ad agency may not have changed the world, but that subsidiary, now known as, certainly has.

“There are more options for HR managers, as the Internet has offered a faster, easier and more cost-efficient way to find, attract and hire employees,” Taylor says, adding that the lives of HR executives “are going to continue to get easier and keep changing.”

“Online recruiting is the future of recruitment. The feedback we have received from HR professionals regarding product enhancements has greatly helped Monster continuously improve and create products to fit their specific needs.”

Beyond constant innovation, Taylor sees a continuum in which power will continue to shift back and forth between employers and job hunters.

“Back in 1999, the U.S. economy was at the height of the technology boom and rise of the dot-com frenzy,” says Taylor.

“As the nation’s unemployment rate reached 3.9 percent, a 30-year low, power shifted away from employers to job seekers.”

The end of the dot-com bubble reversed the balance of power, but, predicts Taylor, “by the second half of this decade, the balance of power will be back in the job seekers’ favor.”

Perhaps it will be one of those job seekers who dreams up the next “monster” idea.

Leader Within the Profession,

Ursula Fairbairn

Add up the parts, and Ursula Fairbairn might just be the prototypical human resource executive.

Fairbairn — Ursie to those who know her — is equal parts power player (executive vice president of human resources and quality for New York-based financial giant American Express Co. since 1996), HR strategist (she was touting strategic HR before it became a buzzword) and self-proclaimed “people person.”

Those attributes have served her well in several ways, and Fairbairn’s influence within American Express and the HR community in general are exemplified by her impressive career credentials, her work in helping women succeed in business and her leadership during the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

“Ursie’s insight is dazzling,” says Sheila Wellington, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business who worked with Fairbairn in 1993 at Catalyst, a nonprofit research and advisory organization working to advance women in business. “In her position in HR, she was getting a real sense of the impact globalization was having on women in business leadership.”

When it comes to being strategic, Fairbairn’s input proved valuable in American Express’ decision to outsource 2,000 IT jobs to IBM Global Services in early 2002.

The agreement significantly affected employees in 25 countries, and Fairbairn’s HR team came to the table as strategic partners early on. “Throughout the process, we remained committed to ensuring the well-being of our employees [and made] certain that any partner who was ultimately selected offered our employees comparable positions,” Fairbairn says.

Perhaps the toughest test of her HR executive mettle came on Sept. 11, 2001, when 11 American Express employees lost their lives and 5,000 more had to be evacuated from the firm’s corporate headquarters at the World Financial Center, adjacent to Ground Zero.

Fairbain’s leadership under the most trying of circumstances helped the HR staff carry out already existing emergency and recovery plans that quickly got the company back on track.

Majoring in mathematics at Upsala College and later earning a master’s degree in math from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, Fairbairn has always been “facile with numbers, [which] has been useful in human resources,” she says. “But I always wanted to teach math, not be involved in mathematical theory. I really am a people person.”

She never made it to a school classroom, but she did get to teach. Her career began in 1966 in the IBM training department, specifically because of her education background.

Later at Big Blue, as part of the company’s career development process, Fairbairn moved into several key line positions, including regional director of marketing, executive assistant to the chairman, vice president of marketing operations and, eventually, director of personnel.

“When I went to IBM, I had no concept I would ever do anything in HR,” says Fairbairn. “At the time, it wasn’t what I wanted career-wise.”

Along the way, she says, the profession of HR began to change. And she began to gravitate to it. Throughout her tenure at American Express, she has pushed hard to make HR a real part of the senior-management decisions. To that end, she serves as executive resource for the board of directors’ Compensation and Benefits Committee and is a member of the company’s global management team.

One of the most important attributes for any HR executive, says Fairbairn, is a constant focus on learning, especially beyond the occasionally narrow borders of HR.

Apart from working together at Catalyst, Wellington and Fairbairn currently serve as officers of the National Academy of Human Resources. Wellington says discussion topics within the academy frequently go beyond HR to broad explorations of business in general. Fairbairn is often among the leaders of those discussions.

“Ursie is one of the most cutting-edge thinkers out there,” Wellington says. “She’s very well respected among her peers and beyond, and I’ve seen that played out at the National Academy. She’s a leader of leaders, a very strategic thinker . . . but, even more than that . . . Ursie’s a lot of fun.”

by Staff Writers / April 2004 / LRP Publications

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