Profile Magazine Q3/21

Page 1

A Global Focus


Finan c


Full-Cou r

Five executives on what it takes to lead internationally P7

AJ Harris coaches his accounting team toward innovation at the Los Angeles Lakers P88

sonom a coa st best in cl a ss

© 2021 La Crema Winery, Windsor, CA


Cover: Tommy Garcia

Back in the Game AJ Harris, Los Angeles Lakers, p88 Marcy McGovern, Pittsburgh Pirates, p94 Susan Pikitch, USGA, p97 Kisha Smith, Tepper Sports & Entertainment, p103 Andrew Odze, eXecutive leadership partners, p107 Teddy Collins, SeatGeek, p110




Six executives are warmed up and ready for the p os t- pa ndemic sports comeback





Define Your Own Success

A Logical Progression

After forty years in finance, Reed Brimhall found a fun and flexible fit at Scentsy that allows him to prioritize his family

Michelle Halkerston combines her technology background with leadership skills to take Hassett Logistics to new heights



Ready to Deliver


Supply chain strategist James Nissenberg helps Santa Monica Seafood improve customer value during a pandemic


Change for the Better Kelsey Letizia instills her teams with a desire to always improve and drive growth

Circuitry of Finance A Passion for IP Law From electrician to CFO, John Wilkinson reflects on the universal lessons of his many roles in the workplace


Gaurav Asthana leads at the intersection of technology, law, and business as senior IP counsel at Atlassian

Accounting for Every Detail Los Angeles Lakers’ AJ Harris was photographed by LA-based photographer Tommy Garcia. To see more of his work, point your cell phone camera at the QR code to be directed to




Brandon Smetak sharpens his financial analysis skills to help Smart & Final make more informed growth decisions


Sara O’Brien (Letizia), Robert Duron (Nissenberg)






Blending Mission with Success

Family Over Fortune

Kurt Kober unlocks his team’s potential by engaging “through the heart and through the head”

For Dara Engle, making the Howard Hughes Corporation a beacon of inclusion and diversity is paramount




Good for the Soul


Denise Townsend does what she loves— helping others—both in and beyond her role as CHRO at Hazen and Sawyer


“Dangerously Knowledgeable” Melissa Ribeiro leans into flexibility to keep Actian employees top of mind, no matter the circumstances

The Perfect Fit As CHRO, Larry Callahan helps Howard University produce tomorrow’s top leaders

Virtually the Best Survive and Thrive


Lockton Companies’ Kenneth Ralff turns the challenge of remote work during a pandemic into a competitive advantage

Lacee Ecker supports a litany of creative solutions to benefit American Eagle Outfitters long after the pandemic


Andrew Buda (Ecker), Winni Wintermeyer (Ribeiro), Courtesy of Howard University (Callahan)

Growth through Innovation

Humility and Strength

Spirit Airlines’ Rocky Wiggins is always ready for unexpected challenges—including a pandemic

Lauren Baer leads QEP Resources with humility and strength to overcome any challenge

75 156

An Engineering Mindset Karen Griffin tackles compliance at Mastercard with out-of-box thinking and novel methodology


Guiding Rapid Growth A Trusted Voice Harry Ross builds relationships across departments to ensure HR is a trusted business partner at Cascade Designs

Mark Flournoy brings wisdom and a strong sense of leadership to rapidly growing Intuit









Director, Creative Production Kevin Warwick Managing Editor Frannie Sprouls Editors Melaina K. de la Cruz Sara Deeter KC Esper Hana Yoo Staff Writer Billy Yost Journalism Resident Lindsey Lubowitz Contributing Writers Zach Baliva Dan Caffrey Lucy Cavanagh Peter Fabris Owen Howard Frederick Jerant Natalie Kochanov Keith Loria Cristina Merrill Paul Snyder Zayvelle Williamson Clint Worthington Designer Melody Pohla Photo Editors/Staff Photographers Cass Davis Gillian Fry

CEO & Publisher Pedro A. Guerrero Chief of Staff Jaclyn Gaughan President, Group Publisher Kyle Evangelista VP, Hispanic Division Head of Audience & Engagement Vianni Lubus VP, Finance David Martinez Director, Client Services Cheyenne Eiswald Senior Client Services Manager Rebekah Pappas Client Services Manager Brooke Rigert Director, Talent Acquisition Elyse Schultz Talent Acquisition Manager Jacqui Bergman Haylee Himel Director, Strategic Partnerships & Accounts Krista Horbenko Director, Events Jill Ortiz Senior Director, Sales Ben Julia Director, Sales Training & Development Alexa Johnson Content & Advertising Managers Allyssa Bujdoso Emily Devine Tyler Durrett Brandon Havrilka Kippin Keller Cameron Macko Holly Miller Annie Peterson Angela Reeves Jason Slusher Hannah Tanchon Drew Thomas Michael Velazquez Ashley Watkins

Profile® is a registered trademark of Guerrero, LLC.

© 2021 Guerrero, LLC 770 N. Halsted, Unit 307 Chicago, IL 60642

Subscriptions + Reprints For a free subscription, please visit subscribe. Printed in China. Reprinting of articles is prohibited without permission of Guerrero, LLC. For reprint information, contact Reprints & Circulation Director Stacy Kraft at

Over the past year, I ’ve rea l i z e d ju st how i mpor t a nt it is to recognize the milestones. And Profile has hit an exciting accomplishment despite the pandemic circumstances. In your hands is our fiftieth issue. I didn’t realize it myself until we neared the end of production. We’ve been showcasing executives and their leadership stories since 2010, which feels like a lifetime ago. The magazine has gone through two redesigns—the first in 2016, which introduced the square logo we still use today and our five main sections: Talent, Strategy, Company, Culture, and Impact. Our second redesign in spring 2020, led by our designer Melody Pohla, served as a refresh, introducing a new color palette and the use of photo illustrations. Our issues have grown in size as we reached more executives across industries. We’ve had issues that have stretched beyond two hundred pages, and our Issue 2 in 2018 was split into two volumes. Some iconic covers that come to my mind are PayPal’s Doniel Sutton, AARP’s Terry Bradwell, the New York Yankees’ Alan Chang, and serial entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk. Since I became the managing editor in spring 2019, I’ve watched the brand evolve beyond its pages as we built our digital presence through our biweekly Insight newsletter. Last year, we launched our first virtual roundtable event series. Eric Hutcherson, former chief human resources officer at the NBA, kicked off The New HR: A CHRO Virtual Roundtable series, which brought HR leaders to connect on innovative ideas to reshape the workplace. Square’s Ajmere Dale hosted the first Behind the Numbers roundtable series, which brought finance and accounting executives together to discuss strategies and technology innovations. We’re bringing that energy into 2021 with a new HR series—Tomorrow’s Workforce—as well as quarterly events that will celebrate executives featured in each issue. You can view the event lineup at I cannot wait to see what’s in store for our next fifty issues and beyond. I’m glad you’re on this journey with us.

Frannie Sprouls Managing Editor Gillian Fry

Facebook: @gh.profilemagazine LinkedIn: @Profile_ExecMag Twitter: @Profile

Celebrate the Wins





Illustrations in this section: ltan1409/

Focus: Global Five executives

Lorna Hagen, Guest Editor P8

showcase what

Norman Buchanan, Willis Towers Watson P13

it means to be

Grace Eapen, HUGO BOSS P18

a global leader

Ali Pourghadir, Jackson Family Wines P22

across industries

David Needham, Oportun P27





Read additional commentary from Guest Editor Lorna Hagen

It’s a Small(er) World Guest Editor Lorna Hagen spoke with Profile’s Kyle Evangelista about how HR and global leaders can lean into a remote, global reality

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the working world as we knew it. Almost overnight, companies went entirely remote and had to pivot to the new normal. Employees didn’t have to be based at a central headquarters, and recruitment strategies expanded to include remote workers who were based in a different US state or even outside the US. COVID-19 shrunk our small world even smaller. Working remotely won’t be changing any time soon. So what can executives do to lean into this

By Frannie Sprouls

new global reality?





“Every people decision is a business decision. My argument is that the CHRO is absolutely primed to be there because the CHRO is at the intersection of everything.” —Lorna Hagen

Profile brought in Lorna Hagen, former chief

worker revolutions that we're seeing. What I'm find-

Every people decision is a business decision.

people officer at iHeartMedia, as its guest editor

ing, however, is that the playbook for M&A hasn’t

My argument is that the CHRO is absolutely primed

to expand on this new normal. Hagen has spent

changed at all.

to be at the start of M&A work because the CHRO

nearly two decades exploring the HR space,

That becomes highly problematic. What's really

starting as an associate at IMG and throughout

interesting is that in 2019, there were about fifteen

is at the intersection of everything.

her subsequent leadership roles at HarperCollins

thousand M&A transactions. Now, statistics say

KE: Could you expand on how to bridge the culture

Publishers, Dow Jones, Ann Inc., OnDeck, and lead-

that 80 percent of those are going to fail and 60 per-

gaps between the departments or between two

ing software company Namely.

cent of those are going to lose shareholder value.

merging companies?

Kyle Evangelista, Profile’s president and group

That's staggering. What we also know from some

publisher, spoke with Hagen over video in January

studies is that culture counts for a lot in determining

LH: A fantastic way to build a cohesive culture is

2021 about what HR and global leaders can do to

whether a transaction like this succeeds or fails. So

through a very clear strategy. MYOB in Australia is

support not only their companies’ growth strategy

why wouldn't due diligence teams do everything in

one of those companies that has done that. I was

but also a cohesive culture and people strategy.

their power to predict a successful financial out-

fortunate enough to work with them a little bit

come through a successful culture outcome?

when I was at OnDeck, and they were really were

Kyle Evangelista: How does a CHRO support

The University of Michigan came up with some-

masterful at thinking about their organization in

a company when it’s going through an M&A or

thing called the Competing Values Framework. And

three-year time frames and then working through

thinking about entering new markets, domestic

it's a diagnostic of organizational cultural fit that

their strategy ideation, implementation, and exe-

or international?

predicts a successful or a less successful M&A

cution. When you see a strategy outlined in that

outcome with a 95 percent confidence rate. It's

manner, it's easy to then build a people strategy

Lorna Hagen: One of the things that I find really

absolutely incumbent on all executives to really

on top of it.

fascinating is that the whole M&A landscape has

think about this culture fit in the very beginning of

changed to be very much in line with the types of

the process as opposed to the end.




A very clear business strategy gets your entire company marching to the beat of the same


KYLE EVANGELISTA President and Group Publisher


drummer. This is the key in bridging internal culture gaps. The implementation phase of your corporate strategy should include a discovery phase of each team: are they aligned to the strategy? Are there gaps in understanding or agreement? The second phase of implementation is a robust change management program that brings your teams in into alignment. Alignment doesn’t mean everyone is doing the same thing in the same way. You need to allow for creativity and autonomy in execution. The beauty of the clarity is that we are all working towards the same strategic goals now—that in and of itself is a way of building a cohesive culture. I really do believe that US-centricity around employment is starting to decrease. I've worked at companies that were global, but policies and programs were all US-based. I think employees are losing patience with that. This is where leadership comes into play. You need to be vulnerable to say, “I don't know.” You have to be really conscientious about all of those different cultural norms that are small to you but important to others. KE: It's funny because before I started working for

Profile, I was actually a high school teacher and I had the opportunity after I graduated to travel the sticks out to me is Mexico. When you show up to work in Mexico, the first thing you have to do is hug and kiss everybody and tell them good morning. I




Gillian Fry

world and teach abroad. The one place that always


LORNA HAGEN Former Chief People Officer (iHeartMedia) HR Consultant and Tech Advisor

think it's really humanizing. It makes you slow down and appreciate the little things in life. LH: I love that you use the word humanizing. Here is this notion of how I think culture is changing, especially in the context of diversity: we should stop talking about the golden rule in business and we should start talking about the platinum rule. The platinum rule is to treat others as they want to be treated. The golden rule operates under the conditions that the norms of the majority apply to the minority. The platinum rule opens you and your companies up to a globalized perspective of the workplace that is more diverse, more human. KE: When we look at the events that have transpired in the past twelve months, it feels like organizations are losing control over staff, over environments, etc., and employees are gaining more control. What does this look like moving forward in the future? LH: It really depends on the role and the person. People that have jobs of great responsibility are still finding their way through the importance and diversity, inclusion, and especially equity. Courtesy of iHeartMedia

We are still trying to figure out how to manage and motivate fully distributed teams. I do think, however, that this creates a lot of opportunity for young entrepreneurs and people that have been thinking about their own thing and what's next.





Drive Your Organization and Career Forward Twice a month, Profile delivers exclusive insights from business leaders straight to your inbox.

“You need to be vulnerable to say, ‘I don’t know.’ You have to be really conscientious about all of those different cultural norms that are small to you and important to others.” —Lorna Hagen

For those of us who are really thinking and

needs to be agile. To me, agility requires humility

committed to the organizations that we're in, it

and vulnerability from leaders. Saying you need

is almost a Herculean task for us as executives to

help is a sign of confidence and strength. One of

really think about and design the next normal. Or-

the things that I've been really successful at do-

ganizations are going to have to work really hard

ing is finding those leaders of my team with deep

to figure that out because employees that they’re

subject matter expertise—deeper than mine—to

trying to hire and retain want clarity on what their

ensure we have diversity of thought and constant

programs are and how their company operates. Last

fresh ideas.

year [2020] opened the floodgates to the reinvention of work, the workplace, and the workforce.

KE: And what about the folks that are currently in global executive leadership roles? What would you

KE: To wrap up, what type of advice do you have for

say to them right now?

these executives who are up and coming and wish to take on these larger global roles?

LH: Every ship needs a captain. Your organizations need to be led from a place of growth and curiosi-

Sign up for the Insight newsletter at

LH: Stop underestimating the importance of values

ty. The world isn't getting bigger. The world is get-

and culture. Culture equals values plus behaviors.

ting smaller. Embrace that ability to listen to more

Employees are really asking us to stand up for the

voices. Ask yourself at what point do you decide to

types of behaviors that we want in companies and

collaborate versus compete? And I think that differ-

telling us to show up in that way.

entiation only comes if you have a growth mindset.

And don't only think of technology as agile. Your entire business, starting with your C-suite,




Open yourself up to new ideas and don’t let yours define you or your reputation.


Point your cell phone camera at the QR code to be directed to the online article.

How a “Couple Days” Abroad Defined a Career Norman Buchanan was supposed to do some tax due diligence in France for a few days in 1995. Four years later, he returned to the US as one of the foremost experts in international tax expertise.

Norman Buchanan has established himself as a specialist in global tax matters over the course of a forty-year career. His résumé includes an array of financial juggernauts, including PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Crown Holdings, Cephalon, and his current role as managing director of tax at Willis Towers Watson. But when he traveled to Paris in 1996 for his first international acquisition work abroad, he says, he didn’t really understand the extent of what he was being asked to do. “I got a call on a late Friday night from the CFO and audit partner at [PwC],” he recalls. “Crown Holdings was looking at acquiring a French company, CarnaudMetalbox, and I was told I needed

Thoughts from the Guest Editor

to get on an airplane to Paris on Sunday night. I agreed, but I didn’t really have any background or information on the magnitude of the deal. My boss

“Norman Buchanan’s skill set building is a terrific blueprint for designing an expansive and fruitful

at the time said to me, ‘You’re only going to be there

career. I often see employees uniquely focused on one role or one vertical, limiting their learning

a couple of days. Take a small bag with a few days

paths and by extension serendipitous opportunities. The strategy of building adjacent strengths

of clothing, see what’s going on, and then head

to your core ones opens up literal new worlds.”

back.’ I said, ‘OK, fine.’ I was just given an address and a place to go. I showed up at the company, I’m sitting in the lobby, and I tell someone I’m here as part of this project. I’m told to wait a few minutes, and someone will come to collect me. “So, I look down at the table and there are these two huge documents on the company—one in English, and one in French—detailing this very complex company structure. I’m looking through this thinking, ‘I wonder what division we’re purchasing?’ They take me into this big conference room with about twenty attorneys, who ask if I’m there for

By Paul Snyder

the tax due diligence. I said, ‘Yeah, what’s going





NORMAN BUCHANAN Managing Director of Tax Willis Towers Watson

on and what are you guys doing here?’ They explained that they were here for the merger. I said, ‘I’m only expecting to be here a couple of days. Do you know which divisions we’re buying?’ At that point, all of the attorneys at the table look at the woman that was running the process. She says, ‘The whole thing.’ I said, ‘I think I’m going to need more clothes.’” What was supposed to be a couple days’ journey for Buchanan ended up turning into a four-year expatriate assignment in Paris as he helped manage the European tax department of the newly acquired company in Paris. That experience provided him not only a sturdier foundation to work on local international tax matters, but also an appreciation of just how big the world really is. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Buchanan took an early liking to bookkeeping in high school. Though he attended Drexel University on an athletic scholarship, he was encouraged to pursue accounting and finance so that he could still professionally earn a good living if an athletic career didn’t pan out. His early career included a lot of auditing work, and he says he soon recognized the difference between how he was perceived as an auditor and how he was later seen when he went to help companies prepare tax returns. It was like night and day. “There’s a definite stigma in being an auditor,” he notes. “People think you’re looking for errors and mistakes, and fear they’re losing their jobs. It was always a difficult and different mindset. When I went to help prepare tax returns, though, people were taking me out to lunch, handing me cigars, and excited to learn ways that I could find to help them save money.” Buchanan began building up a portfolio of corporate work, personal income, tax planning, and wealth management—in addition to spetransactional work that would become the bedrock of the workload he ultimately assumed with Willis Towers Watson. When he first joined Towers Perrin, he did a lot of the preparatory work including recruiting an




Donna Marie Buchanan

cializing in international inbound and outbound


“The job we do is rigorous, but my team enjoys coming to work. We actually get up in the morning and look forward to seeing each other in the office. Not a lot of departments can make that statement.” ­­—Norman Buchanan entire tax department to help the private company

How to Establish Yourself on an International Stage

move into the public sector—and just as the company was about to make that jump, it was acquired by Watson Wyatt.

As told by Norman Buchanan

“I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m most likely out of a job,’” he remembers. “I was approached by

“Technology is rapidly developing and increasingly, making the world a smaller place to work. I think

the CFO, who was impressed with my body of work

the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated something that would have taken place anyway, within a few

to that point and said, ‘We’re looking for someone

years. It basically revolutionized the concept of a mobile workforce.

that can help us on the international side—maybe with some effective tax rate planning. We’d like

“We are all now working in an extremely mobile environment. But for me personally, if you had an

you to stay on and manage the company’s tax af-

interest in working at the international level, my first piece of advice would be to pick up another

fairs of the combined company.’ So, we did a lot of

language. I didn’t have that opportunity, and I had to learn French on the go because I was traveling

integration work, creating the building blocks for

and working in Paris while transitioning to my job in the US. I was kind of a one-man band doing a lot

longer-term international planning.”

of things, and I really didn’t dedicate the right amount of time focusing on being proficient.

Buchanan notes that the landscape at Towers Watson remained pretty stable for several

“I would also recommend anyone graduating from college to take a gap year and travel. Go backpack,

years, but the company struggled to improve

go out and experience cultures and see how it’s done throughout the rest of the world. It gives you

on its effective tax rate because it wasn’t com-

an appreciation for what you have, and more importantly, it gives you a bigger appreciation of other

petitive enough with other companies that were

cultures to see them up close. Be open, but be your own judge. You may be able to notice that other

domiciled offshore. Because Towers Watson was

countries might be ahead of us and operating much better. Go out and decide for yourself. I was kind

US-owned with foreign subsidiaries, the company

of thrown into it, yet it turned out to be four of the best years of my life.”

was continually penalized under US international tax rules and, as a result, its effective tax rate





“This merger created the opportunity for us to do some global restructuring, which improved our effective tax rate with a very good result. We became a lot more We Congratulate


competitive with these companies that used to have a major advantage over us.”

Managing Director of Tax at Willis Towers Watson, for being ahead of the curve. It has been a pleasure working closely with Norm and serving as counsel for Willis Towers Watson.

­­—Norman Buchanan remained static. Buchanan’s international knowhow would prove to be an invaluable asset.

Buchanan’s strong leadership doesn’t go unnoticed by others. “Norm is a transformative

“In 2016, we merged with Willis in what became

leader with a larger-than-life personality,” says EY

known as a ‘merger of equals.’ Willis PLC was a

Global Client Service Partner Michael Harad, who

publicly traded company domiciled in Ireland. This

has worked with Buchanan over the past fourteen

merger created the opportunity for us to do some

years. “His loyalty and commitment bring out the

global restructuring, which improved our effective

best in his team, and his strategic thinking has cre-

tax rate with a very good result. We became a lot

ated tremendous value for Willis Towers Watson.”

more competitive with these companies that used to have a major advantage over us.”

Now nearing retirement, Buchanan notes that one of the things he’s proudest of in his time with

Buchanan says his leadership style can be

Willis Towers Watson is that the vast majority of

traced back to the athletic days of his youth. He

the tax team he recruited more than a decade ago

notes that his strong personality typically led to

is still there with him.

him being captain or cocaptain of the teams he played for.

“No one’s left,” he notes. “The job we do is rigorous, but my team enjoys coming to work. We

“I’d ask my coach why I was picked as captain

actually get up in the morning and look forward to

and he’d tell me my teammates did it,” he says.

seeing each other in the office. Not a lot of depart-

“He’d tell me, ‘You’re the guy they all want to get

ments can make that statement.”

behind.’ I thought it was because I was always arguing with the referees and umpires, so my coach

Baker McKenzie: “Norm is a seasoned professional who has

said, ‘Yeah, that too.’ It helped me mature quickly.

demonstrated amazing skills throughout his career. His technical

You realize you’re setting a work ethic for everyone

ability, management style, and judgement have benefited Willis

to follow and building loyalty. You basically want

Towers Watson and earned Norm high levels of respect and loyalty

to fight and stand up for your teammates. It is the

from those that work with him, both internally and externally.”

same for your employees.”

—Jonathan Martin, Principal




People who are moving the world forward, these are the kinds of people who build our success at EY. We’re pleased to recognize Norman Buchanan on his successful leadership style and having what it takes to be a global executive. Visit

© 2020 EYGM Limited. All Rights Reserved. 2010-3606028. ED None.

Look how far you’ve come. Envision how far you’ll go.


Grace Eapen Doesn’t Back Down

Point your cell phone camera at the QR code to be directed to the online article.

HUGO BOSS Fashions Inc.’s HR leader built the department from the ground up while promoting a culture of growth and accountability

Grace Eapen couldn’t say no when she had the chance to develop HUGO BOSS Fashions Inc.’s human resources function. In 2008, when she first landed at the German fashion house, the organization in New York did not yet have a very comprehensive HR department.

Thoughts from the Guest Editor

With the growth of the retail business, there was an increased need for HR support and strategies.

“Grace Eapen makes a great point about the ‘customerization’ of the employee experience. The

“We were not where we needed to be from an HR

best employers are finding ways and designing programs that treat their employees as equals to

standpoint,” recalls Eapen, who is now the senior

customers in the value chain. Companies work extremely hard to inspire their customers, get their

vice president of HR for the Americas.

feedback, and provide great service. Imagine a company where purposeful work, 360 feedback, and great management training were the norm.”

Eapen’s journey to HR began when she majored in psychology with a minor in biology in college. Her dream was to go to medical school—the traditional path for South Asians at that time— but ultimately decided it wasn’t the direction for her. She graduated right before 9/11 and was

By Cristina Merrill

concerned about her career prospects when she





GRACE EAPEN SVP of HR, Americas HUGO BOSS Fashions Inc.

landed an opportunity at Sara Lee Coffee & Tea, a consumer packaged goods company straight out of college. There, she learned the foundations of human resources and loved it so much that she opted to pursue a master’s degree in industrial-organizational psychology. She found her stepping-stone into the fashion world when she assumed an HR role at Liz Claiborne before being recruited to HUGO BOSS as HR manager for the US market in 2008. It was not an easy beginning. Eapen’s early work revolved around educating employees and building a foundation that made human resources a place of understanding. “In the fashion industry, it’s not very black and white,” Eapen says. “You have to find a way to balance between the left brain and right brain. You work in a gray zone where you are expected to follow HR processes, procedures, and employment laws, but you still need to be able to get people to do what they need to do in the way they understand it. It’s changing the mindset of individuals. “You have to get people to go on the journey with you,” she adds. “If you don’t, then you’re not going to be able to do your job, and that was the biggest challenge in the beginning.” Eapen was never swayed, though. She was grateful for the opportunity and eager to show what she could do. “I’ve always been that type of individual who is not afraid of challenges, and

Gina Porembski

I wanted to prove it to myself,” she says. “I wanted to change the perception of human resources.” Twelve years later, Eapen is now responsible for more than 270 retail stores, 4 corporate offices, 2 distribution centers, and approximately 2,000





“You have to get people to go on the USI Honors Grace Eapen SVP, Human Resources, Americas HUGO BOSS

journey with you. If you don’t, then you’re not going to be able to do your job, and I think that was the biggest challenge in the beginning.”

Recognizing Your Passion, Innovation, & Leadership.

We are Proud to Partner with HUGO BOSS. For decades, our local teams have provided the employee benefits and risk management solutions and services that companies count on to protect their businesses and employees. Risk Management Employee Benefits Personal Risk Programs Retirement Consulting

­­—Grace Eapen

employees, overseeing all aspects of human re-

the five corporate values that underline our daily

sources for the Americas region (US, Canada,

working relationships.”

Mexico, and Brazil). Some of her notable accom-

Eapen’s expectation for HR is to translate this

plishments include executive organizational man-

into how her team manages the organization and

agement, systems optimization, regionalization,

its people. “The experience we provide to custom-

and realignments.

ers sets us apart from our competitors and the ex-

In her role, Eapen serves as a strategic busi-

perience we provide employees throughout their

ness advisor to the president and CEO for the

life cycle sets us apart as employers,” she explains.

Americas and to the Americas executive leader-

“HR professionals need to have a passion for build-

ship team. As a key member of the global HR lead-

ing an organization and creating an environment

ership team, Eapen engages in global workforce

that inspires employees to do their best work.”

strategies and translates this into holistic plans

To inspire the millennial workforce, Eapen

to meet regional objectives. Leading HR for a

notes that you need to not only understand how

global brand, she notes, is a balance between the

to motivate them but also relate to the cohort

organization’s vision and the local adaptation in

while being an open-minded thinker. “You have

each country.

to set a vision, lead transformation, and focus on

“At the end of the day, we have to speak with one voice,” she says. “We want to make sure there is uniformity within our brand. This uniformity

continuous improvement.” When it comes to her leadership style, Eapen believes in the motto “work hard, play hard.”

stems from our brand DNA to HR. We believe that

“I have very high expectations as a leader,” she

our employees are key to our success. Quality,

says. “I don’t expect my team to do anything that I

passion, respect, cooperation, and innovation are

would not. I have no problems rolling up my sleeves, 20




but my expectation is that we work smart, collaborate, and serve as true business partners. This can only be accomplished by integrity, transparency, and trust. All of this is serious business but at the end of the day, we are in fashion, so how can you not have fun?” Like other fashion companies, HUGO BOSS Fashions has been affected by COVID-19. Eapen notes that the early days of COVID-19 were especially difficult and involved making quick decisions for multiple countries on a 24/7 basis. “It was speed to action,” she says. “It took all of the years of my experience in human resources and compressed into this short period of time.” HUGO BOSS’ first and foremost priority was the health and safety of its employees and customers in the region—a commitment that continues. Eapen and her team had to create protocols and policies based on federal and state health mandates across four countries. There were numerous factors to consider, and each location was managed individually and not as a “one-size-fits-all” approach. “We still have a way to go,” Eapen notes during her October 2020 interview. Gallant Employment Law: “I have had the pleasure of working with Grace Eapen and her team for more than a decade, providing legal advice on Canadian HR issues. Grace is a knowledgeable and innovative leader who shares her vision, and provides clear instructions, ensuring the right solution for HUGO BOSS. It is

Congratulations to Grace Eapen on this well deserved spotlight. With your unwavering commitment and dedication, HUGO BOSS Fashions Inc. couldn’t be in better hands. We’re proud to be your longtime friend and partner in immigration.

At Littler, we’re lawyers. We’re also innovators and strategists, passionate problem solvers and creative disruptors. And we’re committed to helping our clients navigate the complex world of labor and employment law by building better solutions for their toughest challenges.

an honor to celebrate Grace’s appearance in Profile magazine.”

Fueled by ingenuity.

Littler is proud to support Grace Eapen. We are privileged to work

Inspired by you.

—Donna Gallant, Canadian Employment Lawyer, donna@

with Grace and extend our congratulations to being recognized by

Profile magazine. Q3/21




Wine in His DNA Ali Pourghadir brings both international experience and financial expertise to help Jackson Family Wines thrive

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Sonoma County is a special place. Its serendipitous placement between Napa Valley and the Pacific Ocean gives it a unique landscape and fertile soil. Days are mild and nights are cool. Mountain ranges, rolling hills, creeks, and tributaries crisscross the land. This is Northern California at its best. This is wine country. For the 24 million tourists that visit California wine regions each year, Sonoma County is an inviting destination that offers some of the best wines in the world, including distinctive pinot noir and

Thoughts from the Guest Editor

chardonnay. But to Ali Pourghadir, the vineyards are an office. Pourghadir is a tax professional and

“I’ve found a common thread when speaking to some of the most successful executives I have met—

finance expert. And in 2015, he joined Jackson Fam-

they have always asked for or volunteered to take on additional work. In some instances, it’s work that

ily Wines to work with the leadership team and help

would lessen the burden on their supervisors. In others, it’s work that will enhance their skill set and

one of the world’s leading wine companies—which

sets them on a new learning journey. Ali Pourghadir shows the successful outcome of that strategy.”

includes heritage wineries like Kendall-Jackson, La Crema, and Cambria—to grow and thrive. Pourghadir works out of Jackson Family Wines corporate office in Santa Rosa, and in some ways, the role as senior vice president of global finance has brought him full circle. Pourghadir was born and raised in Tehran, the capital city of Iran, shortly after the 1979 Revolution. As the upheaval made life volatile and dangerous, his parents decided to

By Zach Baliva

pursue a better future. When Pourghadir was two






years old, they fled to Germany. After nine years,

mester instead of the traditional twelve. “Both of

SVP of Global Finance

they packed their belongings in small suitcases

my parents are my heroes because of the sac-

and made the long journey to the United States.

rifices they made and how hard they worked to

By then, Pourghadir was eleven years old. Although

provide a better life for me,” he says. “I inherited

he had learned German, he didn’t speak a word of

their work ethic because I know it’s my responsi-

English. His family settled in the Northern California

bility to make something of the tremendous gift

city of Santa Rosa.

they gave me.”

Jackson Family Wines

The transition was difficult. Pourghadir found

While at Sonoma State University studying

himself in the back row of a sixth-grade classroom

business, Pourghadir made a realization that

in a school district that didn’t offer English as a

would shape his philosophy and change the

second or foreign language curriculum. Instead,

course of his career. “I saw so many people exit-

an assistant helped him use flashcards to learn

ing the university without jobs. I knew I had to find

basic vocabulary. As Pourghadir raced to learn the

a niche within business that would set me up to

language, he realized his German education had

add value and help drive a business forward,” he

prepared him well in mathematics. In fact, he was

explains. He added an accounting concentra-

years ahead of his American peers. He flourished

tion and set his sights on a job with the world’s

with numbers, and at age thirteen, started his own

most well-known professional services firm:

small business by selling jewelry he had learned to

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

Valorie Andersen

make from a Native American neighbor.

The strategy worked. Pourghadir landed a full-

Pourghadir continued working through high

time role at the San Francisco-based company. He

school and into college where he worked thirty-five

joined various audit and tax teams, where he worked

hours a week and took eighteen credits per se-

in assurance and advisory roles. Pourghadir main-





tained the same vision that drove him during his

received a call about an opportunity at Jackson

college years. “Business is about more than the

Family Wines. The family-owned wine business

bottom line, and accounting is more than crunch-

was looking for a director of accounting and tax.

ing numbers. I wanted to develop real, well-round-

The move would give Pourghadir the opportunity

ed expertise to distinguish the value I bring and

to drive strategy in a senior management role

prepare myself for an executive level or senior

and bring him back to Santa Rosa. He accepted

management role,” he says.

without hesitation.

After starting in banking and capital markets

Today, Jackson Family Wines exports its wines

industry at PwC, he volunteered for additional

worldwide, including the best-selling chardonnay

responsibilities and transitioned to start work-

in the United States, Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s

ing closely with a head partner in PwC’s wine in-

Reserve Chardonnay. Early in 2021, Pourghadir

dustry practice. Soon, Pourghadir was advising

was promoted to senior vice president of global

boutique vineyards and large global wineries, in-

finance, a leadership position that leverages his

cluding Jackson Family Wines. Pourghadir learned

finance, tax, and accounting expertise to oversee

to provide value and be a trusted business advisor

global financial results, ensure growth and profit-

to his clients.

ability, and contribute to strategic planning for the Jackson family and the enterprise.

his own family led Pourghadir to scale back his

It’s a challenging and complex role, but one

seventy-hour work week. He took a job at a full-

Pourghadir is uniquely positioned to execute. The

service CPA firm, joining two individuals who had

company owns and farms wineries and estate vine-

started a new practice where Pourghadir helped

yards that span the premier wine growing regions

them grow their book of business and they helped

of California, Oregon, France, Italy, Australia, Chile,

him grow professionally as well. Five years later, he

and South Africa.




Valorie Andersen

After five years at PwC, the desire to start


“Business is about more than the bottom line, and accounting is more than crunching numbers. I wanted to develop real, wellrounded expertise to distinguish the value I bring and prepare myself for an executive level or senior management role.” ­­—Ali Pourghadir Pourghadir, who has lived in three continents

and ensure the company’s long-term success. In

and speaks four languages, says his internation-

addition to producing world-class wines, he says

al experience is an undeniable asset. “My life and

the company fosters a family-oriented culture

career experience have provided a broad perspec-

and is a progressive leader in environmentally

tive of the world that helps me navigate business

and socially responsible business practices

across markets here in the United States and in

through various sustainability achievements

global markets where we do business or have a

and goals. Jackson Family Wines generates more

presence. It’s rewarding to bring this unique ex-

solar energy than any American winery, uses

perience to my work, as it gives both me and our

50 percent less water than it did a decade ago,

company a competitive advantage,” he explains.

and has made a commitment to become climate

In 2021, as global businesses continue to emerge

positive by 2050.

from the COVID-19 pandemic, Pourghadir is focused

In just sixteen years, Pourghadir has followed

on working with the Jackson family and executive

a methodical plan he created that has helped him

team in continuing to elevate the portfolio of wines

become an influential executive at a leading global





“My life and career experience have provided a broad perspective of the world that helps me navigate business across markets here in the United States and in global markets where we do business or have a presence. It’s rewarding to bring this unique experience to my work, as American AgCredit is proud to be a financial partner to

it gives both me and our company a competitive advantage.”

Jackson Family Wines

­­—Ali Pourghadir

and honored to help recognize the outstanding achievements of Ali Pourghadir. wine company. Aspiring tax and financial pros, he

Riesling. Their journey later took them to Santa

says, should learn their target industry well and

Rosa, a California city surrounded by vineyards.

start their career with a specific goal in mind, and

Some leaders are lucky enough to find a job that

understand that the road to achieving that goal is

aligns with their interest, passion, or hobby. But Ali

not a straight line nor will be handed to you—it has

Pourghadir has wine in his very DNA.

to be earned. But in some ways, for Pourghadir, the journey

Partnering with American AgCredit has helped Jackson Family

was a natural progression, and importantly, the

Wines succeed. Ali and his team work closely with Ed Adams to

journey is not over yet.

finance vineyard and winery acquisitions, primarily in California and

Wine making thrived in Iran until it was out-

Call 800.800.4865 or visit

Oregon. “Working with Ali and his team on financing opportunities

lawed after the Revolution of 1979—the same

to support the strategic wine production and grape sourcing needs

revolution that forced Pourghadir’s family to flee

of Jackson Family Wines has been extremely gratifying,” said Ed

to Wiesbaden, a part of Germany known for its

Adams, vice president of corporate banking at American AgCredit.

A part of the Farm Credit System. Equal Opportunity Lender.





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Embracing the Gift of Diversity Living in a cultural gray zone can be difficult, but Oportun’s David Needham sees it as a gift that allows him to encourage the best in others

You know someone like David Needham. You may have gotten him confused for a high school student well into his early career. It’s happened to Needham more than once. When he showed up to conduct company software training, he was routinely asked which parent he was waiting for. It’s not just his age that doesn’t show. One would probably never guess that the chief technology officer (CTO) of Oportun for the

Thoughts from the Guest Editor

past eight years grew up speaking Spanish as his first language in California’s Central Valley. It con-

“Solving the problem the customer has, rather than the one you think they have, is the key to ideation.

founded his kindergarten teacher so much that it

David Needham is spot on when he cites humility as the entry point for a successful customer

was thought he may need special assistance. “My

relationship. The ability to say ‘I don’t know’ creates a culture rooted in learning that serves

mother had to convince the teacher that I knew all

customer and employees well. It’s also critically important when entering new markets, whether by

of my ABCs and 123s, just in Spanish,” Needham re-

segmentation or geography to ensure product-market fit.

members. The CTO grew up white and Latino, but, having been raised in a primarily Mexican house-

“Our diversity conversations have finally begun to speak about equity—the idea that everyone needs to be able to reach the same outcomes. That happens when there is a level playing field of opportunity. Needham’s philosophy on opportunity sets up an environment of true diversity and acceptance of different ideas.”

hold, he felt a strong connection to his mother’s Latina side of the family. Walking that bicultural line also was also a challenge at those same early company trainings at his first employer. In Miami, after convincing the office manager that he, not his parent, would be conducting the training, Needham asked if he should conduct the session in Spanish. He was told no. After introducing himself, he heard a torrent

By Billy Yost

of unenthused chatter from the back in Spanish,




Erin Lubin






“It was important for me to set aside my preconceived notions of who someone is or what their background is.” ­­—David Needham

DAVID NEEDHAM Chief Technology Officer Oportun

a language he presumably didn’t understand. “I

low- and moderate-income people, Needham says

just let it roll for a few minutes,” Needham recalls.

it starts with his own team striving to do the same.

“I knew this was going to be fun. When I responded

“I seek to empower and trust those that are

in Spanish, you just heard everything stop and the

closest to the problem,” the CTO explains. “It’s

crickets chirping.”

those who are closest that can find the best solu-

Needham’s takeaway from his earliest work

tions. I believe in a customer-first approach in

experience wasn’t a gotcha or a chance to inflict

the products we design and build. My team and I

retribution. “I realized that my heritage is a gift,” he

are driven to seek a deeper understanding of our

says. “It was important for me to put down all my

customers’ needs. At the end of the day, it’s our

preconceived notions of who someone is or what

customers who will be using the platform and ben-

their background is. Just as they couldn’t see their

efiting from our approach.”

bias with me, I never want to be that person in the back of the room.”

It might seem elementary, but it’s a principle held strongly by almost any tech innovator that has

That openness meshes well with what is al-

stood the test of time. “You hear a lot of people say

most immediately apparent with Needham: he lis-

that they want to get into the customer’s mind,”

tens, and he cares. In Oportun’s efforts to become

he explains, “Humility is the key to achieving this.

an omnichannel and inclusive platform that serves

Instead of trying to get in their mind, just ask the





“I want to help young professionals get their first internship, to coach them along the way, and provide all those little micro-opportunities that I look back on and realize I had.” ­­—David Needham

That One Thing

customer, ‘What do you like? What do you not like?’

along the way, and provide all those little micro-

Getting direct feedback can lead you to answers

opportunities that I look back on and realize

that you might not want to hear, but it’s those

I had.”

things that are the true gifts.”

That motivation has led Needham to sponsor

Needham speaks of gifts often. “My approach

and participate in numerous mentorship oppor-

David Needham’s advice is most pressing for

comes from a place of just wanting to see others

tunities in California Central Valley’s most un-

those feeling overwhelmed by the demands

having a similar opportunity to what I had,” he says.

derserved communities. That includes STEM and

of a new challenge. “There are lots of things

“I consider myself very lucky. Every day, at some

hackathon programs as well as Oportun’s partner-

I’m terrible at,” Needham begins with a

point, my wife and I just look at each other and

ship with the University of California, Merced in the

laugh. “But because I found one thing that

think about how grateful we are for what we have.”

Oportun Modesto Technology Center.

I was really good at and passionate about,

He also believes that key mentors who un-

“There's a community that is really wanting

it allowed me to build a career on that one

derstood his life experience have been critical to

to grow their technical talent. Many children and

thing and eventually get to a place where

advancing his career, and he seeks to provide the

young adults in those communities share my

I’m able to figure out the rest by surrounding

same opportunity to others. “I have three people in

background and are waiting for an opportunity to

myself with others, where we can all build off

my life who have vouched for me and advocated for

share their gifts,” Needham explains. “I come from

each other.”

me in my career,” Needham continues. “Our CEO,

a space of gratitude and wanting to figure out how

Raul Vazquez, is one of those people. I want to help

I can help to do my part to create similar opportu-

someone get their first internship, to coach them

nities for someone else.”






Hitting the Brakes After a long and distinguished career in finance, Reed Brimhall took a position at Scentsy that would allow him to spend more time with his family—while also helping the company to thrive By Z A C H B A L I VA

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Reed Brimhall was on time for his interview. He carried a folder loaded with copies of his impressive résumé as he made his way from the parking lot to the building. The sun bounced off the glass facade, revealing his reflection on the door. He saw his best pinstriped suit. A perfect Windsor knot. He was ready. He stepped inside and was greeted by a troll at the reception desk. Scentsy, a direct-sales company based in Meridian, Idaho, was celebrating Halloween. CEO Or ville Thompson met Brimhall wearing jeans and a Metallica T-shirt. The candidate didn’t know if Thompson’s outfit was a costume, but he was aware that Scentsy’s culture was a bit unusual. Brimhall went home with an offer to step in as the organization’s new CFO.


Reed Brimhall CFO

Jen Satterthwaite


In many ways, the hire was a perfect fit for both parties. As it continued to expand, Scentsy needed a veteran finance leader to create the infrastructure to support its growth. Brimhall, nearing retirement, wanted a fun and flexible assignment. During the more than forty years he’s worked in finance, Brimhall has often had to make sacrifices to do what was best for both his career and his family—and with this position, he didn’t have to sacrifice anything. Brimhall studied accounting at Idaho State University and started his career in 1978 at Touche Ross (now Deloitte & Touche) in the firm’s office in Boise, Idaho. A university audit took him to New Mexico before he accepted a transfer to Oregon. After thirteen years with the public accounting firm, Brimhall took a position at Stanford University and moved his family to California. Although his family was able to put down roots, Brimhall was not. Stanford was accused of mischarging students, and as director of the Office of Government Cost & Rate Studies, Brimhall spent two years traveling between Palo Alto and Washington, DC, to argue the case before the federal government. While Brimhall’s efforts led to a favorable settlement, the stressful period full of politics and press took a toll. A year later, Brimhall was leading finance and administration for Stanford’s medical school, a position he calls his “dream job.” But with five children, including one autistic son, and challenges in California’s public school system, he knew things needed to change. He took a 60 percent pay cut so his family could return to Idaho. While the move brought more stability, Brimhall continued to rack up airline miles. After working as a controller at an engineering and construction firm in Boise, he became the chief accounting officer for URS, a competitor based in California. He

commuted from Boise to San Francisco for twelve years so that his kids wouldn’t have to change schools. When AECOM acquired URS in 2014, Brimhall decided to give up his frequent flyer card. After years of travel, he was ready to stay home. He sent his résumé out to a network of friends and colleagues, which led to his interview at Scentsy. The direct-sales fragrance product company operates in eleven countries.

Scentsy has nearly two thousand employees but roughly $860 million in annual sales, because it operates with a network of independent sales consultants. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought an influx of new consultants to the organization. “ We’re counter-c yclical, so any time unemployment hits, we see a spike,” Brimhall explains. He is helping Scentsy fund inventory and meet other demand-related challenges.





Recognizing extraordinary efforts It takes hard work, discipline, and collaboration toward a shared purpose to achieve great heights in any endeavor. Wells Fargo is committed to supporting organizations that make a difference in our community.

“Scentsy talks a lot about simplicity, authenticity, and generosity, and those things resonate with me because they’ve always been a part of my own values.” REED BRIMHALL

Brimhall has decided to stop working full time but will stay on as an advisor in 2021. For now, he’s in the perfect pre-retirement job. “Scentsy talks a lot about simplicity, authenticity, and generosity, and those things resonate with me because they’ve always been a part of my own values,” he says. Every year, the company lines Boise’s busiest street with dozens of rocking chairs for the Rock-a-Thon, which raises money for local charities. In 2020, Scentsy presented $273,531.39 to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Idaho. Brimhall gives back in other ways, too. The veteran finance leader and mentor teaches a class called “Career Success Factors” during an annual culture day. It’s been standing-room only for five years in a row. LEGO fans can also find Brimhall at Bricks and Minifigs (BAM), a resale shop his family opened in 2016. For the Brimhalls, operating a BAM franchise is more than a

© 2020 Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. IHA-6845570 34



business venture. “I saw how hard it was for my autistic son to earn respect and find opportunities in life, so I decided to do something about it myself,” Brimhall explains. His son loves LEGO, and working at the store has helped him master life skills. Brimhall is now part owner and CFO of BAM Franchising, but running his own store is a family affair. Walk into their Boise location, and you’ll find family members hosting birthday parties, leading robotics events, ordering inventory, and working with customers. In Career Success Factors, Brimhall shares the key principles he’s tried to follow in his own working life. “I tell my students to define what success means for them,” he says. “I left my dream job and repeatedly took steps back to give my family what it needed. That’s success to me.” And now, Brimhall is ready to enjoy what he calls the best part of life—grandchildren.


Change for the Better As global controller for RXBAR, Kelsey Letizia instills her team with a desire to always improve and drive growth By K E I T H L O R I A

When Kelsey Letizia first started as global controller at Chicago-based RXBAR, it used to take two weeks to close the books. Less than four years later, it now only

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takes two days. That’s just one of the impressive finance and accounting changes Letizia has been able to make for the company, as it’s grown from a twenty-five-person team to approximately two hundred after being acquired by Kellogg’s in a $600 million deal. “We were a start-up when I came aboard, doing around $30 million annually in revenue, so we were still small,” she explains. “I was initially tasked to evolve the accounting

function. This was my first experience with a CPG product and manufacturing, so I wanted to hit the ground running.” It was immediately clear to her that the product had potential, so Letizia helped prepare an infrastructure for people, processes, and systems to ensure that potential was realized. “I knew we needed more people, and we needed a more scalable tool as we grew, so I was assessing an ERP early on and focusing on tightening up our financial close process,” Letizia shares. “We were booking revenue and processes manually, in Excel, using information from various other systems. The file sizes were large, taking days to complete which was not sustainable.





Kelsey Letizia Global Controller

“The communication was strong, and I always try to instill with the team the desire to seek continuous improvement and become more efficient.” KELSEY LETIZIA




We went live with the new ERP in January 2018 to improve time management and overall outcomes.” Shortly after the company was acquired by Kellogg’s, Letizia was motivated to get her team’s performance consistent with standards they set. “As the team was growing and adjusting to the new environment, they were coming to me with great ideas,” she notes. “The communication was strong, and I always try to instill with the team the desire to seek continuous improvement and become more efficient.” Letizia became interested in accounting during her sophomore year of college when a favorite professor explained accounting simplistically—she came to think of the field as a type of foreign language of business. With her bachelor’s degree in accounting in hand, Letizia didn’t take the traditional accounting route. “A lot of people go to the Big Four immediately after school, and although I was offered that exciting opportunity, I wanted to explore other options,” she explains. “I decided to go to DePaul University for my master’s, and that brought me to Chicago, where I’ve been ever since.” Letizia spent three years as an analyst at Spencer Stuart, four at SP Plus, and found a new home in September 2016 at RXBAR, a brand she was excited about. “Growing and scaling the business as it was all happening is one of the accomplishments I am most proud of,” Letizia

Sara O’Brien



“Growing and scaling the business as it was all happening is one of the accomplishments I am most proud of.” KELSEY LETIZIA

shares. “With my role as a controller, I’m constantly balancing priorities and trying to promote quick decision-making. The commitment to weave in change management is also imperative.” Letizia has also brought on more efficient tools to support the business from a systems standpoint, such as trading out an expense management system for something more robust and adding an accounts payable automation software to simplify the process for the entire team. “I look to implement ways to keep the team running lean, but running well,” she explains. “Rather than multiple people doing excessive data entry, we use automation where it’s available in the market and where it makes sense for us.” She’s also working on getting better visibility to reporting, making sure the entire team is on the same page from finance to other functions across the organization. Goals for 2021 include continuing to help the RXBAR team to find efficiencies. “ What ’s bogging down the team? What are the requests we get from sales, for example, or asks from our customers

that currently take significant time to put together?” she describes. “For me, the foremost goal is the accuracy of the numbers and the availability of financial information for our stakeholders.” Reflecting on her career, Letizia is thankful for that professor who guided her toward the accounting role, as it is more than she ever thought it would be. “What’s been most rewarding to me is seeing the pivotal role accounting plays in the growth and success of the company. I am proud to be part of that journey and story,” she remarks. “Being exposed to a lot of different things has been great. I love that I’ve been able to experience and learn so much.”

We're proud to congratulate Kelsey Letizia on her career achievements. Thank you for inspiring us to look out for each other every day.

Editor’s Note: At the time of press, Kelsey Letizia is no longer with RXBAR.

Huntington Bank’s commercial middle market and corporate portfolio includes capital markets and institutional banking, specialty banking, commercial real estate, treasury management, and asset finance. Huntington is dedicated to strengthening communities and enhancing lives throughout our footprint, and we share our time and resources to foster strong businesses and vibrant neighborhoods.




Member FDIC. © 2020 Huntington Bancshares Incorporated.


The Circuitry of Finance From electrician to CFO, John Wilkinson reflects on the universal lessons of his many roles in the workplace By D A N C A F F R E Y

“You’ve read Hillbilly Elegy, right?” asks John Wilkinson. “That’s the world I grew up in, although we had a different side of the story, shall we say.” Wilkinson reflects on his childhood in Middletown, Ohio, where he came of age as the son of an electrician and a school nurse. He clocked in about a decade as an electrical contractor himself before finding his way to accounting, facilities management, and, eventually, higher education. Most recently, he served as vice president for finance and CFO at Tusculum University, a private Presbyterian university in eastern Tennessee. Despite a career that started off in what looks like a wildly different place and




profession, Wilkinson feels that he learned some of his most important—and most universal—life lessons in the very beginning. “Electrical work requires a mathematical mind,” he explains. “If this whole circuit’s not working, you need to investigate why. Start by checking out all of the light bulbs because it could be one of them that shorted out. Then, let’s pull different light fixtures out and switches and plugs—try to isolate it. You have to do that in finance, too. You think like be a detective. In accounting work, we always laugh about trying to find that last dime when you're trying to reconcile your accounts. We spend ten dollars trying to find ten cents.” Wilkinson’s brain is—to borrow a term from electrical work—hardwired to think


John Wilkinson Former VP of Finance and CFO

Stacey McGill

Tusculum University

this way. When speaking to him, he’s constantly drawing connections between each arc of his career and pointing out the similarities between every one of his occupations. It may be because his work as an accountant sprung from his father’s work as an electrician. While recovering from a disabling injury at ARMCO/AK Steel, his father passed on the bookkeeping of his family’s finances to a young Wilkinson. “I was a teenager, and he just got fed up with doing it,” he remembers. “I was working on some homework, and he handed me his checkbook and his books and said, ‘You’re good with numbers and you’re your mom’s favorite. So here you go.’ It was one of those defining moments that started my journey.” But what began as a necessity evolved into a passion as the director of facilities at a hotel where his father had done some work, Wilkinson started learning the ropes of accounting from a professional standpoint. “The director of facilities at this company was very much a partner to the general manager,” he says. “So, the company taught





“There are days where I sit here and say, ‘How does a electrician get to here?’ But the best place to start is where you are.” JOHN WILKINSON

Truist Foundations and Endowments Specialty Practice is proud to partner with Tusculum University and wishes them continued success.

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me about profit and loss. Facilities can be a big, black hole that you can throw a lot of money into if you don’t know what you’re doing.” Wilkinson moved from the hospitality industry to education when his wife, then a schoolteacher and Title 1 reading specialist in Cincinnati, Ohio, encountered her own challenges with facilities. “They always stuck the reading specialists or Title 1 teachers in closets or the back part a gym,” Wilkinson says. “From a facilities standpoint, that’s ridiculous. You have the most sensitive kids and students with learning disabilities, and you’re sticking them in a void. One place that my wife had to teach was literally a closet.” In an effort to aid his wife’s work situation, Wilkinson had a lot of conversations with her school’s principal about space improvements, which led to a recommendation as a business manager for a school district. An internship with their CFO soon followed before he landed his own CFO position at the nearby Three Rivers school district. Wilkinson once again chalks up his success to his experiences as a child. “I understood Ohio public school funding and finance,” he says. “Part of that is because my mom was a school nurse. I’m used to that rise and fall that they always have in Ohio public schools because they’re




funded mostly from the property taxes of the people who live in the school district. You have to be very good at selling your school district to your community.” According to Wilkinson, another element of financial success in education—whether in K12 or the work in higher ed he conducted at Tusculum—is developing multiple revenue streams, even if it’s a concept that some people are reluctant to apply to schools. “At Three Rivers, we had a very vocal anti-tax group,” he says. They couldn’t understand why the parochial schools in the area charged tuition but also did an excellent job fundraising. But we could do the same thing. They just couldn’t understand that, even as a public school, you’re a charity, actually. You can fundraise.” To prove it, Wilkinson hired the district’s first director of development to help bring more financial stability. “If you’re not out developing partnerships, seeking grants, and doing research, you’re not going to survive,” he continues. “It’s just like any corporation.” Hotels, gymnasiums, classrooms, conference rooms—they all have similar wiring. And in John Wilkinson’s eyes, being in one place doesn’t qualify to bridge another. “There are days where I sit here and say, ‘How does an electrician get to here?’” he posits. “But the best place to start is where you are.”


Life Lessons of HR From living in inner-city Detroit to becoming the head of human resources at ACH Food Companies, John Smith shares how a career in HR has changed his life By D A N C A F F R E Y

For some executives, it takes one influential person to usher them onto a path of success. For John Smith, head of huma n resources at ACH Food Companies, that person was Prasanna Datta, a counselor at the Placement and Career Services Office of Oakland University, where Smith earned his bachelor’s degree in communications. Smith remembers how their bond struck him as somewhat unusual—Datta was an academic of Indian descent and Smith was a first-generation college student from inner-city Detroit. At the time, Siemens was about to open a new headquarters in the Rochester Hills, Michigan area, and they had contacted Datta looking for an HR student intern.

“There were thousands of students at the school, and he called me,” Smith remembers. “He encouraged me to take advantage of this opportunity. That's why I am where I am today.” Despite initially thinking he might study law—not to mention he barely knew what human resources was—Smith took his mentor’s advice and embarked on a career that greatly expanded his HR expertise and his overall worldview. While he was still at Siemens—where he worked on an early, DOS-based HR software called PeopleSoft—he got offered another internship at Ford Motor Company, a phone call that sent him running up and down the hall, screaming with joy. “Here’s a boy from the inner city of Detroit, a place where Ford Motor Company is this huge, iconic organization,” Smith

enthuses. “My father and uncle worked in the factory, and those were great jobs. But I didn’t know anybody who worked on the professional side of any company, let alone Ford. It was a big thing to get hired for an internship on the professional side of the house.” Of course, this new world came with its fair share of learning curves. “As an intern, I couldn’t afford things,” Smith remembers with a laugh. “I didn’t have a suit. I had one pair of dress shoes that were brown and green. It was like fake leather.” Once he got his first paycheck, he bought more suitable footwear. The next day as he was walking through the office, a coworker looked down and said, “You caught on.” “It told me that, even if you don’t realize it, people always observing you,” Smith continues. “My time at Ford helped me establish confidence as a professional in





John Smith Head of HR

George Nwia

ACH Food Companies





On behalf of Lockton, congratulations to John and his team for their many accomplishments at ACH Food Companies!

“In one organization, you may be expected to have an opinion right off the bat. In another one, you have to build that trust, that understanding, that connection.” JOHN SMITH

corporate America. I just didn’t have those examples before that.” Smith remained at Ford for over five years, where he ascended through a variety of roles. One formative experience he brings up is when he got to work in Chihuahua, Mexico, for a year as one of Ford’s International HR Generalists. “From a diversification perspective— diversity of mindset and viewpoints—it helped me appreciate and value other perspectives more so than I already did,” Smith says. “I saw places in the world that I would have never seen to this day, had it not been for Ford Motor Company. I learned how to view things from a global perspective and appreciate others’ viewpoints and backgrounds.” After Ford, Smith spent nine years at Chicago-based technology solutions CDW as the senior director and eventual vice president of HR. Smith views each of his workplaces as providing different lessons to him as a professional, and at CDW, he learned the importance of culture. “I had joined this ver y successful homegrown company,” Smith says. “A lot of the employees there had gone to college together, then gotten on the roof and put

tape on holes in the building. No joke—this was their company that they built. I was maybe the second executive hired from outside the Chicago area. I was the first one that stayed longer than a year that was hired from outside. I didn’t come from tech. It taught me how to adapt my style and approach for whatever environment I’m in as an executive. In one organization, you may be expected to have an opinion right off the bat. In another one, you have to build that trust, that understanding, that connection.” Today at ACH, Smith’s role is the culmination of a career that, to a kid back in Detroit, probably seems like some kind of fever dream from another dimension. He works closely with CEO Imad Bazzi on defining new strategy and executing it across the company. He’s also found an indispensable partner in the Lockton organization to help roll out ACH’s total rewards program—a comprehensive benefits package that includes medical and dental insurance, and a robust 401(k). There have been acquisitions and reorganizations and increases in revenue. Life looks a lot different than he could have ever imagined. Prasanna Datta would be proud.




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Racing Toward Success Robert Wernick went from a two-week job into a long and successful career at Ticketmaster, and he’s finding new ways to contribute and give back By Z A C H B A L I VA




Robert Wernick has always been fast. As a high school junior, he placed second in the 400-meter dash at the Wisconsin State Track & Field Championship. He entered the finals as the number one seed and led for most of the race, only to be passed with just twenty meters to go. The stinging loss motivated the young Wernick. He maintained good grades, doubled down on a strict training program, and worked overtime with his coach. Finally, in his senior year, Wernick won the 400-meter dash, and then brought his skills to the Ohio State University Wernick says the very same characteristics that helped him excel as an athlete have helped him excel in his career. “I’m driven and determined, and I always want to push the limits of what people think I can do or accomplish,” he explains. The approach has served Wernick well. Today, just fifteen years after graduating from law school,

he’s a vice president and senior counsel at Ticketmaster. Wernick’s journey to the top of Ticketmaster’s legal department was anything but typical. He started on a two-week temporary assignment through a legal staffing agency. Ticketmaster extended the assignment once, then twice, and then again. Each time, Wernick made a point to ingratiate himself by offering to take on extra work. Soon, Wernick was working on major projects. He coordinated a fifty-state survey on sweepstakes and lottery laws and amassed expertise in other areas usually reserved for senior employees. Within six months, two departing lawyers created openings in the department and Wernick found his opportunity to stay with Ticketmaster full time. More than ten years later, Wernick has helped steer Ticketmaster through several ups and downs. He’s had a front-row seat to a spin-off, a public launch, controversies


“I’m driven and determined, and I always want to push the limits of what people think I can do or accomplish.” ROBERT WERNICK

and lawsuits, a major recession, and a global pandemic. Over his tenure, he’s taken on marketing, products, technology, procurement, charitable solicitation, SEC matters, and other major issues. He’s worked for most partners, divisions, and affiliates within Live Nation. He’s interfaced with major sports leagues like the NFL and MLB. There was a two-year period in which he ran the legal and Government Relations departments. On a Blackberry. Without an assistant. The former track star built for stamina and competition traveled three days a week and wrote contracts in the back of a hired car. He rarely took a vacation day and would often send emails all hours of the night. Wernick knows his incredible work ethic (which he attributes to his late father, a neurosurgeon) is a bit over the top. However, he says it’s given him a wealth of institutional knowledge he can leverage for dramatic results. “The history of this company is naturally ingrained in my everything I do,” he says. At the start of 2020, Wernick and Ticketmaster were preparing for what they thought would be an incredible year with lots of major acts on national tours—and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, forcing venues across the country to close. To date,

Ticketmaster has refunded over $2 billion in sales. As big companies work together to weather the storm, Wernick is again leveraging his institutional knowledge to help venues and sports leagues figure out the right strategy and, ultimately, reopen safely. In response to the pandemic, Live Nation created Crew Nation, a global relief fund designed to assist affected music industry crew members. In response to other prominent events occurring in 2020, Ticketmaster pledged funds to nonprofits committed to ending systemic racism in the United States, and the company is actively looking to add more diverse employees, executives, and board members. As Ticketmaster looks to make a positive impact, its veteran lawyer is also finding ways to give back. Wernick started an internship and mentoring program in 2012. Previous participants have continued on to careers in high-profile companies, and Wernick finds additional opportunities to give back by offering pro bono services to different nonprofits including Sandy Hook Promise. In learning the value of teamwork throughout his career, Wernick excels at helping others thrive. “The door of opportunity is always open with me because it was open for me,” he says.





Christin Spigai delivers transformational growth at Broadridge Financial Solutions By F R A N N I E S P R O U L S




Christin Spigai didn’t set out to be in human resources. When she began studying psychology at George Mason University for her bachelor’s degree, she thought she would become a psychologist. But she realized she didn’t want to move forward with that track during her graduate studies at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Then someone suggested she look into human resources—and that’s what led to her two-decade career in HR. Since graduating with a master’s degree in industrial psychology, Spigai spent six years at ADP as an HR business partner and director


From Psych to Global HR


BROADRIDGE IN THE COMMUNITY Broadridge strives to provide its employees with the tools needed to address the issues that matter to them. Broadridge Foundation The foundation identifies meaningful ways to engage with communities to make a local impact. In response to COVID-19, the foundation committed to make $1.5 million in charitable donations. An additional $1 million in grants were committed to organizations that promote social justice and related causes, including the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. of HR services before joining Broadridge Financial Solutions. Broadridge began as the brokerage services division of ADP in 1962 and spun off in 2007 as a global fintech company with more than $4.5 billion in revenue. As executive vice president of talent acquisition and HR shared services, Spigai leads a team of seventy employees across three countries to support Broadridge’s ten thousand employees. Spigai has seen her role and leadership evolve over the past fifteen years, moving up to senior director of HR technology solutions before becoming vice president of HR shared services and then executive VP of HR shared services. From 2016 to 2020, she oversaw forty acquisitions, including due diligence and integration—the largest of which was a $2 billion revenue organization in three weeks. In early 2020, Spigai increased her team scope to include talent acquisition and wellness clinics with HR operations, HRIS, HR communications, and payroll.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has become more of a focal point for Broadridge. In June 2020, Broadridge joined 190 of New York’s top leaders in signing an open letter from the Leaders of Partnership for New York City. The company is also a charter pledge partner of the Board Challenge. Broadridge’s goal is to “ensure our associates at every level of the organization better represent the diversity of the clients we serve and communities in which we work,” according to the company website. “By partnering with community organizations, providing educational opportunities in underserved areas, donating resources to charitable causes, and volunteering our time, we hope to strengthen our communities, protect their most vulnerable members, and share in collective success.” Spigai developed the DEI strategy to increase diverse candidate slates and interview panels, in addition to deepening relationships with external professional organizations and internal employee network groups. In six months, she significantly

NPower Broadridge partnered with NPower to help provide STEM-related educational opportunities to disadvantaged young adults. Through NPower’s Community Corps and Technology Services Corps, Broadridge provides free technical classes and resources. Matching Gift Program Broadridge will make a dollar-for-dollar match up to certain annual amounts when employees contribute to eligible institutions of their choice. Volunteer Time Off To support employees’ community involvement, Broadridge offers up to three days annual of paid time off for eligible volunteer activities. Source: Broadridge Financial Services





increased the diversity of executive leadership through internal recruitment efforts and agency partnerships. In taking on talent acquisition in 2020, Spigai and her team revamped the campus and early career programs and designed a strategy to focus on candidate pipelines such as internal mobility, succession planning, and diversity. Two global initiatives she led were the Workday Recruiting implementation and the new assessment tool for candidate interviews and skills training for internal employees. And as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Spigai is a key member of the COVID-19 Return to the Office task force, which provides guidance on safety, manager toolkits and communications, and metrics to senior leadership. Working in a fast-paced industry like financial services requires HR to take charge and be adaptable and willing to change with




what’s in front of you, Spigai notes. Her HR team is skilled at project planning, and they do a lot of prep work upfront to ensure relatively smooth transitions. Spigai didn’t have the background in human resources, and she says people initially asked her what she was going to do with her psychology degrees. Project management and good communication have been key to her success along with relationship building, she says. Her advice to up-and-coming leaders: don’t be afraid to try something new—you never know what you’re good at until you try it.

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A Logical Progression Just two years after being hired at Hassett, Michelle Halkerston was promoted to company president. She now owns the logistics company and uses both her technology experience and small-town upbringing to help it thrive. By Z A C H B A L I VA

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Michelle Halkerston began her career as a database specialist at NASA, and she never dreamed that she’d eventually make the leap to owning a logistics business. But as owner, president, and CEO of Hassett Logistics, Halkerston combines a technology background with the leadership skills she’s built over three decades to take her company to new heights. Although unexpected, Halkerston’s career journey was a natural evolution. After three years at NASA, she left to join a large logistics company that used the same database and programming language. She eventually became director of logistics systems and developed a deep interest in creating transportation software solutions. That foundational era showed Halkerston the potential for combining logistics and technology. Halkerston was part of a team that developed a logistics management system (LMS) supporting dedicated fleets and complex dispatch and routing operations. The company was among the first to


“I saw that Hassett focused on operations excellence but needed to leverage technology in order to be efficient and meet customer expectations.” M I C H E L L E H A L K E R S TO N

Michelle Halkerston Owner, President, and CEO

Kyle Halkerston/Hassett Logistics

Hassett Logistics

have telematics systems installed in truck dashboards which, when integrated with their custom LMS, provided real-time visibility of products and vehicles. Creating these innovations helped Halkerston expand her business expertise. “In order to design effective software solutions, you have to ask lots of questions and learn the business and the industry you’re supporting,” she says. Halkerston then transitioned to Caliber Logistics as director of e-commerce strategy, a move designed to help her step further into the business side of the industry. FedEx

acquired Caliber in 1997, and Halkerston stayed on for a couple more years before leaving for a brief stint at a start-up. Her career at Hassett began in 2001 when the airfreight forwarding company was the recognized leader in the transportation of time-sensitive magazines. Company owners were looking for someone to lead the organization’s marketing and strategic planning efforts, and Halkerston was one of several candidates in a nationwide search. Halkerston believed she had more to offer than her competitors. “I saw that Hassett focused on operations excellence but needed

to leverage technology in order to be efficient and meet customer expectations,” she says. She pitched herself as the right logistics leader with the right technology background and got the job. She focused on learning the specifics of airfreight and traveled the country, meeting with customers to understand their distribution challenges. Halkerston led Hassett through a months-long initiative to map internal workflows and functions, resulting in improved business processes. T wo years later, Halkerston became president of Hassett. Under her leadership,





“It was a unique opportunity to bet on myself and my team.” M I C H E L L E H A L K E R S TO N

the company diversified its customer base and transportation modes. By 2013, Hassett’s longtime owners had decided to sell. Halkerston, fearing that new owners would disrupt the culture and limit opportunities for the existing team, took matters into her own hands. She talked to the owners and worked with a legal advisor and a bank on funding before deciding to buy the company herself. “It was a unique opportunity to bet on myself and my team,” she says. “We would be able to protect our culture and autonomy. Plus, it gave a sense of stability to our team.” As Halkerston took the reins, she thought a lot about the team and bringing on new talent. “Our team was known for their long tenure as well as strong operations and customer service experience,” she says. “I wanted to build on that foundation and strengthen our team by recruiting people with different experiences.” Halkerston made a few key hires to complement her existing team but says she didn’t focus on MBAs and data scientists as other logistics companies often do. “Certain roles require specific skills and training, of course,” she explains. “We look for people who are dedicated to our customers and who are savvy problem-solvers, and who




also support each other and have a healthy sense of fun. That’s what sets us apart.” The approach is a bit unusual, but Halkerston, who grew up in a two-traffic-light town, says her parents demonstrated the importance of resiliency, a positive attitude, and a strong work ethic. Both parents were impacted by mill closings in the late 1970s, losing good paying jobs and forced to find work in other industries. “I grew up seeing both of my parents work to support our family,” she says. “They found ways to adapt in the face of challenges and taught us the value of not only working hard but doing it well.” With Halkerston’s team in place, it was time to scale the business. “We are probably the biggest domestic airfreight forwarder that no one has heard of, but we’re ready to shed that image and share our story. We focus on providing an exceptional customer experience through a combination of deep industry knowledge, technology, and strong partnerships,” Halkerston says. In early 2019, Hassett restructured around service verticals to support customers in areas including e-commerce, events logistics, self-service kiosks, retail rollout projects, education, gaming, and publications. Hassett Express rebranded



“We focus on providing an exceptional customer experience through a combination of deep industry knowledge, technology, and strong partnerships.” M I C H E L L E H A L K E R S TO N

as Hassett Logistics to better reflect the company’s offerings. The new structure is designed to support growth while also enabling the company to withstand downturns. When the pandemic hit in 2020 and one major business segment—live events—shut down, Hassett redeployed personnel to its other service verticals. Halkerston says 2020 also underscored the strong culture of teamwork and trust built over many years. Leaders devised plans to keep essential workers safe and personally communicated with team members. Managers worked to source and purchase personal protective equipment, sometimes from existing customers. The entire team came together to keep Hassett open for business. And now, with an experienced leader at the helm and a new structure in place, the company is ready for what lies ahead.

A shared passion for success. You deserve a partner who shares your vision. One with deep industry expertise and a consistent commitment to your business. BMO Harris Commercial Bank is here to put your plans on the right path.

BMO Harris congratulates Michelle Halkerston on her notable accomplishments. As one of the oldest and largest banks in the US, we are proud to be a financial partner to Hassett Logistics.

Accounts are subject to approval. BMO Harris Commercial Bank is a trade name used by BMO Harris Bank N.A. Member FDIC Q3/21




Ready to Deliver How supply chain strategist James Nissenberg helped Santa Monica Seafood improve customer value during a pandemic By Z A C H B A L I VA




Ma ny people used t he COV ID -19 pa ndemic to catch up on a hobby. Pop culture enthusiasts queued up TV shows, locked-down jet setters learned languages, and amateur chefs mastered their favorite recipes. James Nissenberg read a book. He didn’t thumb through his favorite novel; he read Operations Rules: Delivering Customer Value through Flexible Operations. MIT Press says the book shares author David Simchi-Levi’s “set of . . . rules that management can follow to achieve a quantum leap in operations performance.” Nissenberg, who earned his master of


James Nissenberg VP of Logistics

Robert Duron

Santa Monica Seafood

science degree in transportation from MIT, had actually read the book before. The nonfiction bibliophile revisited the tome to uncover new insight and inspiration. Nissenberg is a logistics and service operations executive with vast experience in network design, capacity planning, process engineering, and systems implementation. He’s worked in corporate and management consulting roles to help clients and companies across multiple industries improve processes, increase revenue, and maximize efficiency. Currently, Nissenberg is a vice president at Santa Monica Seafood (SMS), where he leads logistics for a high-velocity food processing and distribution operation that uses a fleet of eighty trucks and five logistics service providers to deliver daily to 1,300 customers in twenty states. Nissenberg’s

team also operates or coordinates supplier pickups at key air cargo gateways in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami. Besides air, some popular products like wild salmon arrive by truck from British Colombia and the Pacific Northwest. It’s a complex operation. Nissenberg, who came in to reduce costs and support growth from new accounts and prior acquisitions, spent his early days at SMS in research mode. “I figured all deliveries were made successfully the day before I got there,” he says. “There was no immediate crisis to solve. It was important to avoid the temptation to implement changes too soon, and I wanted to really understand what was already in place.” The approach earned Nissenberg the trust of his counterparts in sales, production, procurement, finance, and other

departments. He then took “parallel paths” to review SMS’ people, processes, vendors, technology, and metrics in search of potential improvements. After completing his review, Nissenberg moved quickly. He cut fleet size by 10 percent, worked with vendors to lower expenditures, and automated numerous manual processes. He also centralized logistics management and improved customer service by optimizing routes and making an investment in telematics. These changes also support the company’s goal of delivering to most customers within a three-hour time window and providing real-time ETAs and delivery alerts. On the food service side, Santa Monica Seafood serves restaurants, hotels, casinos, event venues, and theme parks, among other customers. The coronavirus pandemic





“I figured all deliveries were made successfully the day before I got there. There was no immediate crisis to solve. It was important to avoid the temptation to implement changes too soon, and I wanted to really understand what was already in place.”


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threatened to slow much of that business to a halt. Nissenberg and his colleagues, however, took advantage of the situation to open a whole new line of business. Nissenberg was part of an internal “quick launch” team working together to create Dock Direct, a direct-to-consumer brand and website that offers a variety of curated seafood packages for next-day parcel delivery. SMS launched the new endeavor in less than a month. “COVID-19 has forced companies to search for other revenue sources, and we were able to move into e-commerce because we already had a top-quality product, a great brand, and the right infrastructure in place,” he says, adding that Santa Monica Seafood plans to keep Dock Direct active even after the pandemic ends. SMS took other steps to respond to the crisis. A decline in food service businesses led the company to strengthen its value proposition for grocery customers. SMS started calling stores from one chain for orders and delivering directly with its own fleet while continuing to fill some orders for outlying stores at the customer’s distribution center. By serving stores directly, SMS enhanced product shelf life by up to two days and increased sales through new items tailored to consumer buying behavior. “We’ve been




able to navigate many unexpected events and circumstances because we’ve been creative with customer service and implemented process improvements that have put us at an advantage,” Nissenberg says. COVID isn’t the only challenge Santa Monica Seafood must overcome. Nissenberg says the company must also respond to supply chain disruptions resulting from social unrest, labor strikes, or capacity reductions in key supplier markets. For example, since late 2019, conditions in Chile have sometimes impacted the company's ability to source salmon from farms in the country. In early 2019, WOW Air ceased operations in Iceland, reducing the air cargo capacity SMS relied on for several products. A diverse network and good business relationships help the company find alternatives when these situations arise. Through it all, the eighty-one-year-old business is maintaining its longstanding commitment to customer service. “I came to this company for many reasons, including its high-quality reputation and the excellent leadership team,” Nissenberg says. With these improvements in place, Santa Monica Seafood is poised for continued growth in grocery and food service—as restaurants re-open and travel resumes.


A Passion for IP Law

Gaurav Asthana leverages his curiosity to build Atlassian’s patent portfolio and defend against litigation and licensing threats By K E I T H L O R I A

Gaurav A st ha na ha s always had a curiosity about how things work. As a child, he happily put together LEGO Erector sets and took apart broken household electronics. “I just always had a fascination with the sciences because of that,” Asthana says. “I wasn’t familiar with patent law as a kid, or even in undergrad, but I fortunately had a gentleman in my senior design class during engineering school who was an attorney.” This friend explained to Asthana that if he was interested in continually learning about the latest innovations and how to protect them, patent law would be a great





“Here, I get to experience the intersection of technology, law, and business in an everexpanding journey, and I have learned so much along the way.” G AU R AV A S T H A N A

career. Asthana was intrigued. He began his career in patent prosecution, after passing the patent bar exam offered by the US Patent and Trademark office. “I did that for a number of years, but I really wanted to do a deep dive into other areas of patent law—such as patent litigation and licensing—which required me to have a law degree,” he explains. “So, I eventually went to law school at night while working as a patent agent during the day.” Asthana trained in IP law for fifteen years, first at Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox in Washington, DC, and then at Latham & Watkins in San Francisco, perfecting his craft while exploring his interests in the patent world. In 2019 he decided to move in-house to software company Atlassian, where he currently serves as senior IP counsel. “Here, I get to experience the intersection of technology, law, and business in an ever-expanding journey, and I have learned so much along the way,” Asthana says. “My training in patent prosecution and patent litigation gave me a background in understanding how to advise and guide the business in my current role.” Among his chief responsibilities are strategic patent portfolio development, defense against patent litigation and licensing threats, M&A, IP, due diligence, open-source




compliance, product and contract support, and DMCA and trademark enforcement. When dealing with open source, he’s responsible for making sure the software is in compliance with any open source rules and that there are no viral licenses implicated. And, when purchasing a company in an M&A deal, he must make sure the target company has no IP entanglements or open source issues. It’s a lot of responsibility for an IP team of just two people: Asthana and his supervisor. As a result, he says, he is constantly learning and developing new skills. “It’s a small but mighty team, and that allows me to take on a variety of responsibilities compared to a position at other companies that have very specialized IP roles,” Asthana says. One of the most important aspects of his job is helping to build Atlassian’s patent portfolio through strategic patent prosecution and defend against patent lawsuits—from both competitors and patent trolls. To build the patent portfolio, he relies on a two-pronged approach. “I have a top-down and a bottom-up approach to source ideas from our engineering teams. In the top-down approach, I interview the engineering and product leadership on a regular cadence and drill down the organizational chart to find out where innovation has taken place. We also


“I love interacting with the engineers, business folks, and the legal team to come up with solutions that are creative and protect the company at the same time.” G AU R AV A S T H A N A

look at the product road map as a guide,” Asthana notes. “The bottom-up approach is a grassroots capture where we do periodic town hall presentations to engineering teams, along with blogs to educate and encourage our engineers to come forth with their ideas.” Since Atlassian is a global company, with offices around the world, the pandemic affected them less than many other companies; many of their employees were used to collaborating remotely already. “The company recently offered employees the chance to work remote permanently, even after COVID is under control. Because we build collaboration software, we understand the tools needed to successfully collaborate even when working remotely,” Asthana says. One of his proudest accomplishments has been building strong relationships with the engineering and product teams. “I really love the people at Atlassian and the technology we are developing in the DevOps, ITSM, and work management areas. I am continuously learning about different in-house legal issues, along with the latest

technology coming down the pipe, which is exactly the kind of thing I had hoped for in an in-house career,” he says. “At the same time, I am learning about the business needs. I love interacting with the engineers, business folks, and the legal team to come up with solutions that are creative and protect the company at the same time.” He also leads quarterly innovation drives and recently introduced a ShipIT Patent Award, given to the most patentable idea each quarter. “We also police brand violations and piracy (i.e., if someone is using our brand inappropriately or selling our software without permission). Trademark protection and enforcement is yet another piece of the puzzle.” His goal in the year ahead is to continue building the patent program and creating a strong defense against patent litigation and licensing concerns. Asthana hopes to get a compliance and piracy detection program in the works, fortify the open source compliance program, and work on more strategic patent acquisitions. He has plenty of work ahead of him, but he’s more than ready.





Accounting for Every Detail Brandon Smetak was a certified public accountant with a Big Four consulting firm, but joining Smart & Final forced him to sharpen his skills to improve cash flow analysis By P E T E R FA B R I S

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Several years ago, when Brandon Smetak was looking to make a career change that would reduce his business travel, he had very specific requirements. At the time, he was a Los Angeles-based assurance senior manager with the consulting firm Ernst & Young (EY), where he’d worked for nine years. He wanted to move to a Fortune 1000 public company based within fifty miles of his north Orange County home, so he compiled a list of more than thirty organizations that fit that profile. Through his personal network, Smetak learned that the director of financial reporting for Smart & Final, a southern California grocery warehouse chain on his list, was preparing to retire. The company, which owned and operated about 320 stores, matched his criteria perfectly. Smetak pounced on the opportunity and accepted an offer to be Smart & Final’s director of financial planning and reporting in July 2017. Within two years, his duties changed drastically: Smart & Final was purchased

by private equity firm Apollo. It was a move he hadn’t foreseen, and it required a major adjustment for himself and the finance and accounting department. Apollo wanted a lot more detail on how the company was spending money and how those expenses impacted cash flow. Smetak had spent much of his career focused on external SEC reporting, a requirement that became unnecessary after the company went private. Internal financial analysis would now take precedence. Smetak was up for the challenge—one that eventually resulted in significant growth in his expertise and abilities as a financial analyst. His first task was a broad effort to provide Apollo with a far more granular look at company spend. “After going private, internal reporting really jumped to the forefront, and delivering value-added analysis to our internal stakeholders became my primary focus,” Smetak says. The company had implemented a new ERP system during Smetak’s tenure, so the required financial data was available, but


Brandon Smetak VP of Financial Reporting & Accounting

Christian Yi

Smart & Final

not easy to understand. It was up to Smetak and his team to develop enhanced reporting tools and strategies to extract meaningful information from the sea of numbers. Apollo had exacting criteria for that goal. “They wanted to know where every dollar went during every period, and to turn that data into a cash forecast,” Smetak says. Armed with this information, Smart & Final could take actions that would improve cash flow, such as finding ways to control capital spend and discontinuing nonessential services. It took extra effort and long hours to reach proficiency. “Early on, it was tough,” Smetak recalls. “It took a couple of reporting period closes to get up to speed.” Eventually the work paid off, and the analysis yielded strategies to improve cash flow. “It’s second nature to us now,” he says. With better cash flow reporting, Smart & Final was able to make more informed decisions on store growth plans and whether to pursue new construction projects or remodels. Such decisions can now be optimally timed so that the company saves money on capital costs. Apollo managers imparted this more sophisticated approach to financial planning, Smetak says, and that has been a valuable asset for the company. It has also boosted his own financial acumen. When Apollo decided to put Smart Foodservice Stores, a seventy-location subsidiary catering primarily to business customers, up for sale, Smetak led a carve-out audit to





Duff & Phelps congratulates Brandon Smetak and wishes him continued success

“I’m one of two or three experts here. My expertise is therefore valued more. Management is very appreciative of the work I do.” B R A N D O N S M E TA K

present the financial results of the subsidiary on a stand-alone basis for the three prior years. This work informed potential buyers of the subsidiary’s strong financial standing so that it could be accurately valuated. “This set of carve-out financial statements was integral in getting the transaction completed,” he says. The resulting $1 billion sale of Smart Foodservice Stores was a boon for Apollo, especially since the firm had reportedly paid $1.1 billion for the entire company. Smart & Final continued on with about 260 locations, minus the subsidiary. Smetak and the company faced another unprecedented challenge in early 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic roiled corporate America, and Smart & Final, as an essential business, could not shut down—even temporarily. Company executives had to quickly devise ways to keep its twelve thousand employees and customers safe while continuing to operate. “We had to drop everything and meet in the boardroom to roll out a response,” Smetak says.




The early days of the pandemic saw consumers rushing to stock up on essentials. “We sold through all of our inventory in stores and warehouses in two weeks,” Smetak says. This posed a financial management challenge. With demand sky-high, suppliers had the upper hand in negotiating deals, and were likely to serve their largest customers first. Smart & Final couldn’t compete with giants like Walmart and Costco. “We couldn’t order more without first paying our vendors,” Smetak says. Accounts payable had to step up the pace to make those payments. Smetak has met the challenges of moving from an outsider consultant role at EY to an in-house financial executive. “At EY, nearly everyone was an expert at financial accounting,” he says. At Smart & Final, by contrast, his skills are unique and keenly needed. “I’m one of two or three experts here,” he says. “My expertise is therefore valued more. Management is very appreciative of the work I do.”


Better Employees, Better Lives Fourteen Foods CFO Chad Underwood says investing in people is key to their success in business and in life By F R E D E R I C K J E R A N T

In larger tow ns across the country, Dairy Queen stores are places to grab a quick bite or a frozen treat, similar to Wendy’s, McDonald’s, KFC, and other quick-service restaurants (QSRs). But in smaller communities—especially in rural locations throughout the South—the local DQ has a different cachet. “Many times, such little towns have only three or four restaurants total,” says Chad Underwood, CFO at Fourteen Foods, headquartered in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. “When those people want to celebrate something, it’s often by visiting the Dairy Queen. We’ve developed strong relationships within those

communities, something that many other QSRs just don’t have.” Fourteen Foods owns and operates over two hundred DQ Grill & Chill restaurants and Dairy Queen Braziers in Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. Its mission is driven by five core values: honesty and integrity in words and actions, passion for the Fourteen Foods family, foundation built on faith, driven to exceed expectations through accountability, and play like a champion every day. Fourteen Foods’ name has nothing to do with the number of items on the menu. It’s a reference to the miracle of “the feeding of





Chad Underwood CFO

the multitude” in the Bible. The company strives to adhere to that mission, Underwood notes, by having a passion for serving others and providing wonderful experiences to its customers. In addition to the typical CFO duties, Underwood provides strategic leadership to achieve board-directed financial and operational metrics and oversees all of the facilities and IT infrastructure. “My team and I contribute plenty of information from the financial perspective whenever it’s needed,” he says. “It’s one thing to have wonderful ideas, but another to work out whether they’re actually beneficial. “For example, we might consider a new wage policy from a financial viewpoint,” he




continues. “But it would also need to adhere to our core values. Decision-makers need as much meaningful data as they can get, but in the end our focus is on doing whatever we can to help the stores focus on running more smoothly.” Underwood works with external partners to help keep Fourteen Foods operating seamlessly. “In a world that has us all looking to do more with less, Restaurant Magic knows how important improving costs can be,” notes Michael T. Beck, vice president of sales and marketing at Restaurant Magic. “As an organization, we are committed to Fourteen Foods’ continued growth and success.” Underwood also adds that the administrative side of the company strives to stay

focused on essential matters. “There’s so much going on in this business that it’s easy to get distracted into different metrics. We hire good people and then work tirelessly to support them well.” Underwood’s leadership approach was formed early. “I played a lot of sports growing up in Texas,” he notes, “and my dad was also my coach for much of that. He taught me always to set high expectations, and then to push myself to achieve them and to support the rest of the team. I try to do the same thing for my own staff by setting goals and then giving them the tools and knowledge that they need to be successful.” Underwood says that “the QSR business is simple, but not easy.” The equation for

Rachel Frosch

Fourteen Foods


“It’s one thing to have wonderful ideas, but another to work out whether they’re actually beneficial.” CHAD UNDERWOOD

success can be expressed easily: hire great people and provide them with great processes and tools. But the processes won’t work without great people performing them. Thus, a key initiative at Fourteen Foods is the continuing investment in its people. “We’re almost like two distinct companies,” Underwood says, “the stores themselves, plus the administrative aspect that supports them.” Fourteen Foods underwrites courses and other programs for its admin employees, such as online studies and certification processes. “Much of this is like continuing education,” he suggests, “helping our employees stay current in their fields. My own department has several CPAs who benefit from that program. We also help other employees to maintain professional certification and licensure in their fields, such as cybersecurity, various equipment certifications, information technology licensure, and so on.” At the store level, “working at a Dairy Queen is often the first high school job for students,” Underwood says. “We can easily teach them the in-store procedures, but they also learn a lot by standing shoulderto -shoulder w it h more ex per ienced workers—the importance of being on time,

taking on responsibilities, and paying attention to details. “But we also want them to be productive citizens, so we teach them various life skills as well, such as developing and sticking to a budget or how to write a résumé,” he continues. “In fact, we’ll focus even more on teaching those skills throughout 2021. “Over time, we’ve found that the best general managers make the strongest district managers,” Underwood notes. “They know the operation intimately, and that can be an invaluable resource. I actually spend a lot of time with district managers, asking for their feedback on many subjects. If one district manager has a concern, it’s likely that dozens of others have the same one. By encouraging feedback, we are able to best leverage our scale.” A key factor for success at Fourteen Foods is adaptability. “The costs of labor and food change all the time,” Underwood explains. “And because it’s such a seasonal business, we usually do twice the volume in the summer than we do in winter. And at the store level, situations change day-byday, even shift-to-shift, so you must be able to respond quickly. That’s why I often say sometimes that one week ahead constitutes long-range planning!”




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Leading with the Heart and Head Kurt Kober blends a humanistic mission with quantifiable success at the Honest Company

Going from politics to vice president of e-commerce and retail for a wellness brand might seem like an unlikely career move, but as you get to know Kurt Kober and the vision and mission of the Honest Company, the switch begins to make plenty of sense. The Honest Company, founded in 2012 by actor and entrepreneur Jessica Alba, is a mission-driven company, supplying thoughtfully formulated, safe, and effective baby, beauty, personal care, and home products dedicated to “empowering people to live happy and healthy lives.” Given Kober’s continued commitment to serving his community, he was an ideal choice for vice president when he







Kurt Kober VP of E-Commerce & Retail The Honest Company

Jon Erlien

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joined the company back in April 2019. “It’s important for people to be engaged both through the heart and through the head, because that is how you unlock your team’s full potential while also delivering solid results,” says Kober when discussing his philosophy as a leader and as an entrepreneur. After nearly ten years working for the Clorox Company, Kober was inspired to make a difference in his community. That drove him to run for lieutenant governor of Wisconsin in 2018 with motivations like ensuring access to broadband internet, investing in education, and creating a culture of entrepreneurship. Though Kober did not win the election, he is proud to have influenced the conversation and to have gone on to assist in the election of Tony Evers, the current Wisconsin governor. Kober found himself at a unique crossroads after the election. “I had a few different options,” he explains. “I could go on to work for the governor, go back to my old company, or go on to something new.” To a resident of Sheboygan, Wisconsin,

a wellness brand in Los Angeles may not seem like the natural thing, but the company’s mission and the team’s dedication to bringing that mission to life through content, education, and product innovation showed him that it was a great opportunity. When Kober arrived at the fast-growing Honest Company, he first spent his time learning and listening to founder Jessica Alba and other members of the leadership team so they could figure out their goals and how they were going to make a meaningful impact. “Good leadership is finding a way to triangulate what is important, knowing what I am passionate about and what my team is passionate about,” Kober elaborates. “That intersection: that’s where the magic is.” He was met with the challenge of creating brand awareness and maintaining consistency as the digitally native brand continued to expand into retail. “We needed to create a seamless, positive experience for the consumer, whether they were encountering us on Amazon, on our own website, or at a Target or Walgreens,” he says.





“It’s important for people to be engaged both through the heart and through the head because that is how you unlock your team’s full potential while also delivering solid results.” K U R T KO B E R

Kober found no shortage of passion among his team for the company’s mission, but such a humanistic approach to business proved hard to quantify. These hardworking and ethically committed individuals were having a tough time gauging how their efforts translated into revenue, market share goals, and visibility targets. “We saw progress on the macro level,” he explains, “but you couldn’t see how the work on your desk made it happen.” To remedy this, one of Kober’s very first initiatives involved bringing everyone together as a team to map out in granular detail what the plan for 2020 looked like and what the steps involved were to make that plan come to life. Starting with the numbers, they broke down everything so employees could see how their work on something like product description pages transferred into dollars and cents as well as consumer satisfaction. “All of a sudden, it was very clear,” he recalls. “By the time we walked out of the room, everyone felt empowered and that they had a sense of purpose. Everyone knew what we were trying to accomplish as a team and the specific role they played in making it happen. And stronger team bonds were established as result of leading with a people-first approach. Now




more than ever, the people-first approach has become critical for talent and business success as we navigate changes caused by the pandemic.” His motivational leadership style doesn’t go unnoticed by external partners. “Kurt motivates people without them even realizing it,” says Tierney Wilson, managing director of January Digital, the Honest Company’s digital leadership partner. “He brings a level of positive energy that encourages those around him to show up as their best selves.” Kober’s ongoing dedication to serving his community is proven beyond the mission statement of the Honest Company. Though he works for a company located in Los Angeles, Kober remains an active part of the community in Wisconsin. He is the vice president of the Sheboygan Public Education Foundation, a nonprofit that funds grants for both tech and nontech requests in the school district. Through getting to know Kober, you see how his philosophy to ethical business is one and the same with his philosophy in life: humility and patience. “Use your ears and your mouth in the proportion to which you have them,” Kober says. “Spend more time listening and understanding, and then speak when it is time. That’s what I’ve tried to do in my career.”


Survive and Thrive Lacee Ecker provides vast institutional knowledge to keep American Eagle Outfitters soaring in difficult times By B I L LY Y O S T

Lacee Ecker is one of those rare lawyers who transitioned directly out of law school into the in-house world of business partnership and support—at US Steel, no less. Bypassing the world of billable hours provided Ecker the immediate opportunity to put her business-focused undergraduate degree to work. Now as senior director and associate general counsel at American Eagle Outfitters Inc. (AEO), Ecker is providing the legal support and agile business response needed to not only survive the COVID-19 pandemic but also thrive in spite of it. The move from steel to apparel wasn’t nearly as pronounced as it seems on paper. That was, in part, due to the mentorship Ecker received at US Steel. “My boss at US Steel was a former steel worker who had then gone to law school,” Ecker says. “I benefited so much from him and getting that mentorship along with the





Lacee Ecker Senior Director and Associate General Counsel

Andrew Buda

AEO Inc.





“We’ve enacted a lot of creative solutions that will serve us long after the end of the pandemic.” L AC E E E C K E R

experience of what felt like its own little law firm in-house.” Since coming to AEO in 2016, Ecker has been promoted several times into positions of increasing responsibility, gathering essential experience in virtually every aspect of the parts of the company that legal touches—which is all of them. “My focuses and roles have morphed along with the business as it has innovated over the years,” Ecker explains. “Retail is a fastpaced industry, and AEO is a fast-paced company that has been around for a while. My work has been about adjusting to those changing demands.” Ecker has watched those demands shift in real time, even prior to the immediate adaptation required by the pandemic of 2020. Aerie, which started as a women’s intimates sub-brand under the larger company umbrella, has quickly become one of the most exciting lifestyle brands in retail. Aerie had physical stores in less than half of the US when Ecker came onboard. That, too, has changed. The same goes for the company’s presence outside of the US. All of this evolution has benefited from the senior director’s ever-increasing institutional knowledge. “I’ve been able to develop this resource of knowledge based on how the company has developed and the different aspects of the company I’ve been able to support,” Ecker says. “My team and I are the commercial attorneys here, and that essentially covers the entire enterprise.” From

vendor agreements to third party relationships to international transactions to new store designs, Ecker has touched nearly every part of the business. The same cannot be said of the senior director’s experience with a pandemic that would shut down every single one of her company’s brick-and-mortar locations for several weeks at the beginning of 2020. “I am hard-pressed to think of a single part of the business that hasn’t been affected by COVID,” Ecker says. “All of retail has been impacted by the pandemic, but at AEO we quickly implemented three priorities: protect our people and business, preserve liquidity, and prepare for a new future, which have guided us since March in making decisions in response to COVID-19.” The legal team is essential to any company, and Ecker’s team had to quickly pivot to working from home. “We were preparing guides on simple things like electronic signatures and figuring out the bare bones of conducting business from home and circulating standard operating procedures as fast as we could,” Ecker says. “That was just the beginning.” The way the senior director explains it, whatever a lawyer’s area of focus may have been on her team for the year, it quickly became about servicing supply chain and logistics. “As our business shifted online, there were so many areas that needed to evolve,” Ecker explains. “Returns processing, reimagining our entire distribution




IN THE COMMUNITY Outside of her role, Lacee Ecker is helping vulnerable populations navigate difficult circumstances. Ecker has been a “big sister” to nonprofit Big Brothers Big Sisters even prior to coming to AEO. Ecker was president of the organization’s Young Professional Outreach Board for the past two years. Ecker also serves as a trustee of the Allegheny County Bar Foundation and serves as a volunteer for the Criminal Records Expungement Project, which files criminal record expungement petitions for those seeking better opportunities for employment and housing. The AEO legal department also partners with the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund Name Change Project, offering pro bono services to those looking for help changing their names while transitioning. “The amount of money this company donates to causes and charities is so amazing,” Ecker says. “They offer matching funds for employee donations to charities and volunteer time off to work with the organizations that you are passionate about. It’s an incredible place to be.”


McGuireWoods knows only a collaboration of bright minds and different viewpoints can create the innovative solutions our clients need in today’s marketplace. We celebrate Lacee Ecker for her leadership and impactful organizational growth as Senior Director and Associate General Counsel at American Eagle Outfitters.

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“My focuses and roles have morphed along with the business as it has innovated over the years.” L AC E E E C K E R

network, and preparing our e-commerce for the holiday season—these were all incredibly important issues that we were suddenly focusing on all at once.” Even amid all of the turmoil, AEO was still finding ways to innovate. At its distribution centers, a “pick and pack” robotic organizing arm that had been piloted in 2019 came into its own. Twenty-six additional robotic arms were put online to help fulfillment workers focus on higher-level work. That’s just one example of the adaptations the company made during a stressful period that will ultimately benefit AEO for the long haul. “We have ramped up our distribution network to allow us to get goods to our customers more quickly,” Ecker says. “We’ve enacted a lot of creative solutions that will serve us long after the end of the pandemic. It’s an overall enhancement and improvement to our processes that I think will truly serve our associates and customers for years to come.”





Innovation for the Skies A pandemic won’t stop CIO Rocky Wiggins and his team from innovating the travel experience at Spirit Airlines By K E I T H L O R I A

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When Rocky Wiggins joined Spirit Airlines in 2016, the company was preparing for an era of rapid growth, so he quickly got to work on several initiatives, both short-term and long-term. “Every year, we have a long list of capital IT projects that the business requests, which is not unusual at all, especially in a growing airline,” says Wiggins, Spirit’s senior vice president and chief information officer. “As you grow, you need bigger and better systems, so you need to automate things you might not have needed to when you were smaller.” While he and his team were always ready for unexpected challenges, things pretty much went according to plan. Spirit Airlines grew, and Wiggins took on the hard work required to encourage that growth.

And then came COVID-19. “There’s a lot of inherent demand associated with the growth of the airline, so we entered 2020 with a whole lot of stuff on our plate that we wanted to be doing. When COVID hit, the demand just disappeared,” Wiggins notes in his October 2020 interview. “What we had to do is take a hard look at the cash flow. We had to take a hard look at the money we were about to spend on some of these projects and say, ‘Does it still make sense for us to spend it that way? Which projects should we continue to do? Which projects should we put on hold and save our cash, and which projects that we hadn’t thought about should we do?’ COVID really made us rethink everything in a hurry.” If anyone was prepared for this challenging era, it’s Wiggins. He originally wanted to be an electrical engineer, but he quickly developed an interest in computers





Rocky Wiggins SVP and CIO

and technology. Working in aviation was a natural step for him as his family worked in the industry in Kentucky, where he grew up. Wiggins even worked at the local airport while in high school and college. “I had aviation in my blood, or jet fuel in my blood, as they say,” he jokes. He started his career at Air Kentucky Airlines, when technology was starting to make its impact in the travel industry. He then worked for Allegheny Airlines in Pittsburgh, which soon became US Airways, and was involved in artificial intelligence and operations research to help determine demand patterns, how many seats to sell at various prices, etc. It was while working at US Airways that he developed his interest in and passion for building decision-support systems. “I kind of migrated from the business to the technology side and immersed myself in the building of systems that would be used for this kind of work,” Wiggins remembers. He eventually took the position of senior director of decision-support systems for US Airways, then held roles at Sabre Airline Solutions in Dallas, AirTran Airways in Atlanta, Sun Country Airlines in Minneapolis, and WestJet in Calgary, Canada, before joining Spirit in Miami. Though the pandemic has put a halt to many initiatives across the country, Wiggins




Miguel Echenique

Spirit Airlines


Spirit Airlines remains committed to optimizing its operations and enhancing its guest experience. By teaming up with Publicis Sapient — a business transformation partner — we believe we can yield long-term value by delivering meaningful, customercentric experiences.

“We had to take a hard look at the money we were about to spend on some of these projects and say, ‘Does it still make sense for us to spend it that way? Which projects should we continue to do?’ . . . COVID really made us rethink everything in a hurry.” ROCK Y WIGGINS

and his team have been able to continue with projects that were in motion leading into 2020. One such project is the launch of the redesigned loyalty program. “From an IT perspective, the real roll-your-sleeves-up coding work—the real engineering work of it all—was planned to kick off at the beginning of this year,” Wiggins says. “We had just started that when COVID hit.” Another initiative is touchless technology, which he explains is not just a temporary trend but something that has become more prominent due to the pandemic. “When guests started to come back and start flying again, we needed to be ready to give them as close to a touchless experience as we could,” he points out. This includes promoting the airline’s home check-in process, which allows travelers to list the number of checked bags. At the airport, a kiosk provides tags that customers apply themselves for agents to scan. That process, along with using the mobile app, cuts down on paper. “When you come to the airport and walk through that door, we want you to be ready to get on the plane,” Wiggins says. Another new technology combines kiosks and a bag-scanning device that lets customers know if their bags are the proper weight and size. It’s a customer-friendly program that has been introduced at New York’s

LaGuardia Airport, Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport, and Chicago O’Hare International Airport. Spirit’s touchless strategy also includes a prototype through which customers can identify themselves by sliding a driver’s license into a scanner that uses biometrics to confirm the traveler’s identity. It’s an innovation the airline has been working on with the TSA. “Not only have we exceeded that target, we greatly exceeded it,” Wiggins confirms. “We’re doing it very successfully, and we’ll be rolling that out into the future. We’re the first carrier to do this, and we’re really excited about that. The TSA has been super supportive, and we hope to see that rollout through the industry as more and more people see what we’re doing.” And with the innovations Wiggins and his team are making, lots of people are sure to notice how Spirit continues to grow.

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Initiatives with Impact Bradley Haws brings his financial expertise to University of Iowa Health Care to help the medical institution expand its physical presence By C R I S T I N A M E R R I L L




Bradley Haws had a few different offers to consider when he completed graduate school in the early ’90s. He ultimately went with a Utah-based company called Intermountain Healthcare, not because healthcare had been his intended field, but because he was impressed by his interviewer (his future supervisor) and by the role itself. That move launched a successful and fulfilling career in the healthcare industry. Today, he brings his talents to University of Iowa Health Care, which he joined in August 2018 as its associate vice president of finance and CFO after fifteen years at the University of Virginia Health System. The


Bradley Haws Associate VP of Finance and CFO

Susan McClellen

University of Iowa Health Care

Colorado native soon realized he’d joined a very special place. “The organization is great,” he says. “It has a great reputation. When I talked to people as I was interviewing, they all said, ‘You’re going to a wonderful place that’s full of collaboration and people who are working hard and trying to get things done.’” Haws was also glad to continue living and working in a university town, especially one such as Iowa City, which consistently ranks as one of the best college towns in the US. He even gets into the teaching game. While at UVA, for example, he taught a finance class to fourth-year medical students. At Iowa, he teaches in the Master of Health Administration program.





“One of the things we’re focusing on— and we actually are really aggressively moving through a planning phase and then a financing stage—is to add to our physical capacity.” B R A D L E Y H AW S

“I love the energy of a university,” he says. “Just being around students, there’s just so much energy and a lot going on all the time— whether that’s in the arts, athletics, or just creative people who are coming to campus and giving lectures about different things. I’ve always been attracted to college towns just from that perspective.” For Haws, being part of a medical academic institution means playing a large role in both its research strategy and the expansion of its medical presence. “One of the things we’re focusing on—and we actually are really aggressively moving through a planning phase and then a financing stage—is to add to our physical capacity,” he says. “It’s exciting to envision how you want to do that.” He notes that building a hospital can cost millions of dollars per bed and take as long as three to four years to complete. Indeed, time is of the essence, especially at UI Health Care, which had a bed shortage even prior to the throes of COVID-19 and where the adult medicine side often runs above 100 percent capacity, according to Haws. “What that means in some ways to us is that we’re providing an essential service to the state, because if you look at where our




patients come from, it’s not just our surrounding seven counties,” he says. “They’re coming from all over.” Haws has already accomplished quite a bit at UI Health Care since he joined. For one, he was part of an effort in which UI Health Care partnered with Encompass Health to create an inpatient rehab facility as a way to add capacity for patients who no longer needed the services of an acute care hospital but still needed supervised care. The facility began admitting patients in June 2020. On the university side, Haws was part of a group that did a public-private partnership that took advantage of the University of Iowa’s electricity-producing capabilities. “We entered into a deal with a couple of French firms to franchise that energymaking capability for the next fifty years in exchange for an upfront payment that we could then invest, put in kind of an endowment, and use that to finance some of the strategic plans of the university,” he says. “At the end of the day, that upfront payment from that deal exceeded $1 billion.” Haws also led the effort to reorganize the funds flow between the hospital, the school, and the physician group. He notes there is “always a complex set of financial


We’re proud to support Brad Haws and the team at University of Iowa Health Care.

arrangements” among the three entities and that just about every academic medical center in the country has a challenge around funds flow. “The funds flow system here had been based on a lot of history, a lot of one-off negotiations, and was not really aligned with our strategy and our goals,” he says. “One of the things I actually did in the last year was redo that funds flow system so that it’s more transparent and people understand the rules and believe that it is now reinforcing our strategy and hard work and excellent performance. We just implemented that on July 1, 2020. Some people are still getting used to it in that redo, but I think we have a much better system moving forward.” Haws is thrilled he took the healthcare route all those years ago. He feels privileged to work in an industry where the common goal is the betterment of people’s health. “When you go home at the end of the day and you’ve helped develop something or finance something or created an opportunity, it’s usually around something that’s curing patients,” he says. “Or we helped develop a new technology or create a service that’s new. Those things just feel good.”

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Compliance Engineering Mastercard’s Karen Griffin on how a business background wound up making her an ideal fit for compliance By B I L LY Y O S T

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Karen Griffin would like you to think about your skill set—more specifically, how it might be applied to something outside of your comfort zone. It’s an exercise that the executive vice president and chief compliance officer at Mastercard has employed often over the years, and it helped get her where she is today. At a former company, a new head of HR wanted to make sure employees with the right skills would be identified to fill critical new job openings and created a massive global database that would match skills to open positions. Griffin, then a supply chain director, was asked to interview for an executive compliance position—an area where she had no previous experience.

“I thought someone else should be interviewing for this role,” Griffin remembers. “But I went home and talked with my husband about it and he said I should take the interviews and just have fun with it.” Through a progression of interviews, Griffin realized that the general counsel was seeking a businessperson for the compliance role: someone who understood how work was done, how policies were executed, and who had personally been affected by the policies and procedures the compliance team put in place. She began to think she might have the skills for the job. Not only was she correct, but more than fifteen years later, she’s still working in compliance. That’s how a mechanical engineer became the chief compliance officer for one of the top financial services organizations in


Karen Griffin EVP and Chief Compliance Officer Mastercard

Heidy McIntyre

the world—and Griffin encourages others to step outside of their comfort zones as well. “Don’t box yourself in, thinking that your education and the experience that you have only fit into a very narrow set of opportunities,” she says. “Knock down those walls, take stock of your skills, and you will quickly see that they can be directly transferable into numerous other roles. Then go for it.” Griffin has moved from straight engineering roles into business leadership roles that give her a unique vantage point. “I have found over the years that these experiences have proven to be invaluable in my compliance journey, in how I designed and implemented controls that the business can execute, because I have a sense of what would work and what wouldn't,” Griffin explains. “I’m able to see how you would actually look to embed compliance requirements into existing business processes, so employees can just continue to work through one process that is streamlined and simplified.” Over the course of her career, Griffin has seen virtually all phases of the product

AN EXERCISE IN COMPLIANCE Karen Griffin brings her creative approach to compliance training, among other things. For one area of training, Griffin engaged Richard Bistrong, a former international sales executive who served fourteen months in a United States Federal Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, after pleading guilty to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in 2010. By enlisting Bistrong to share his journey, Mastercard created storytellingbased modules in memorable training that Griffin says has helped engage employees around the world.







“Don’t box yourself in . . . Knock down those walls, take stock of your skills, and you will quickly see that they can be directly transferable into numerous other roles. Then go for it.” K AREN GRIFFIN

life cycle. She led product engineering and customer loyalty with international clients. She also served as the global head of quality, led customer delivery operations and held numerous leadership positions within the supply chain. By applying engineering principles to the otherwise legal compliance framework, Griffin has approached the traditional compliance practice in a completely different way. Griffin’s past experience has influenced Mastercard’s innovative compliance system. “We want to make sure that the compliance outcomes we desire are embedded into processes, with measurements and testing of controls,” Griffin explains. “By applying engineering principles of data-driven feedback loops and failure mode analysis, we drive transparency, accountability, and continuous improvement.” Mastercard’s compliance team utilizes advanced data analytics, AI, and bots to validate the effectiveness of the control environment. Griffin says, this ensures the reliance on facts and data in managing the compliance system. The building of easy access to key compliance metrics in close to real time provides another layer of assurance. “We quickly realized that these metrics that we have made available to the compliance team, are also very useful to other internal control functions,” Griffin says. “So we make them




available to those folks as well. And it’s basically available with the touch of a finger.” Griffin has also paid close attention to the make-up of Mastercard’s compliance team. “I’ve been laser-focused on ensuring that our compliance function has a diversity of experiences on the team,” she explains. “This means ensuring that we have critically important lawyers and compliance professionals, but I have also augmented the skills on the compliance team with business professionals.” Griffin’s team also includes data analysts, data scientist, and technologists. “It was very important for me to bring these folks together, because I have seen firsthand that having a rich set of talent with diversity of thought and experience really helps eliminate blind spots when building out key elements of the compliance system and executing robust monitoring and testing programs,” Griffin says. “I’m so proud of the talented team we have here at Mastercard, and I’m just honored to work alongside these remarkable colleagues every single day.”

Under the leadership of Karen Griffin, real-world ethics and compliance training videos are now available to multinationals, in partnership with Front-Line Anti-Bribery LLC. Corporations can now request evaluation access to both award-winning training videos, Behind the Bribe: The Richard Bistrong Story and From Beach House to Blackmail, by scanning the QR code on our ad.

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C O V ID -19 m ay h av e pa u s e d in person sporting events, but these executives are primed and ready for the post-pandemic fan experience AJ Harris, Los Angeles Lakers, p88 Marcy McGovern, Pittsburgh Pirates, p94 Susan Pikitch, USGA, p97 Kisha Smith, Tepper Sports & Entertainment, p103 Andrew Odze, eXecutive leadership partners, p107 Teddy Collins, SeatGeek, p110





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AJ Harris VP of Accounting & Finance and Controller Los Angeles Lakers

AJ Harris helped modernize the accounting function for the LA Lakers when it mattered most By



Portraits by


ight after he finished college, the first client AJ Harris had at PricewaterhouseCoopers was the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers—one of the most storied franchises in all of sports. “I was starry-eyed walking past security and seeing all of these nice cars out front,” Harris says, laughing. “I walked upstairs by all of the photos of these amazing

players and then all of a sudden I found myself in the audit room, which was a closet. But I knew all of the glitz and the glamor of this amazing organization was right around the corner.” Harris’s first client would eventually become his employer. Since coming to the Lakers in an assistant controller position in 2015, Harris has risen quickly through the ranks: he’s

been promoted twice and currently serves as VP of accounting and finance as well as controller. He breaks every stereotype of an accounting guy: he’s outgoing, warm, and prefers to be in the company of his team, sometimes to a fault. “It’s been funny working from home. I know people can get tired of the meetings,





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“Especially in these troubling times we’ve faced, I want to make sure that these young men of color have the exposure and ability to connect with successful people that look like them.” but I always want my team on so we can chat though issues or problems in person to just talk it through,” Harris says. “My team’s not always down for that,” he adds with a laugh. “One thing I’ve had to learn to adapt to since taking over this department is to try and coach and manage based on people’s strengths and how they prefer to work.” Harris is responsible for one of the most important adaptations of the accounting and finance function for the Lakers. When he arrived in 2015, the new recruit was surprised to find that the entire function was completely manual. In the years since, he’s managed to rectify that situation. The Lakers moved to Oracle Fusion Financials, a cloud-based ERP, and worked to familiarize the department with other collaboration tools, which would become critical for sharing information and providing timely feedback as employees moved to working from home during the pandemic. “I’m very lucky that people were open to my vision,” Harris says. “As of 2020, when the pandemic hit, we were essentially able to pick up, move home, and do our jobs remotely. Had


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this been three years ago, that would not have been the case.” Despite a curtailed 2019-2020 season and the real possibility of a 2020-2021 season with no fans in attendance, Harris said he’s proud that his organization hasn’t furloughed any employees. “We’ve been able to maintain our entire Lakers family,” Harris says. “This place really feels like a family, and it starts with how Jeanie [Buss, owner] and ownership treat the organization and support everyone.” Mentorship is an issue Harris takes very seriously, which becomes clear when he discusses the Lakers ownership, his own boss (CFO Joe McCormack), and the larger executive team. Harris lost his father to cancer just before his college graduation and his mother the very next year, so he has had to navigate his entire professional career without parental guidance. He’s able to rattle off a list of the mentors who have helped guide him on his journey: they include his basketball coach, who helped the Atlanta youth apply for and receive a scholarship from the Boston-area Milton

Academy, and a sibling who helped him navigate his first year of college. Others have also continued to help him open doors that might have otherwise stayed closed. One important mentor for Harris has been Don Dyer, the first African American partner ever at PricewaterhouseCoopers and the executive director of the Principles of Success Motivational Program, an outreach and motivational program for young men of color to which Harris still devotes time. “Especially in these troubling times we’ve faced, I want to make sure that these young men of color have the exposure and ability to connect with successful people that look like them,” Harris says. Harris has also been tapped to head a new BIPOC business program at the Lakers, which he is looking forward to building out in 2021. “We’re currently going through the process of getting to know our vendors better by issuing a survey to get some benchmarks,” he says. “We recognize there are systematic racial biases that have prevented individuals like myself and other people of color from pursuing their







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“We recognize there are systematic racial biases that have prevented individuals like myself and other people of color from pursuing their goals and dreams.”

goals and dreams. Not only do we want to utilize the Laker brand to provide economic assistance through that vendor-customer relationship, but also provide potential mentoring across our network to other largescale organizations.” And while Harris may still struggle to find people who look like him in roles similar to his own, he says the mentorship and acceptance he has received at the Lakers is world class. “Joe [McCormack] is the best boss,” Harris says. “He is open, transparent, and from very early on, we had candid conversations around where I want to be in my career, my strengths, weaknesses, and where I am currently.” Harris just graduated with his executive MBA and is well on his way to a CFO role, but his ambitions don’t end there. He hopes to open a bar and restaurant one day—an admission he made during his Lakers interview that he says, while it was a bit odd, won over team owner Jeanie Buss. “It’s just another avenue to meet, network, and hang out with people,” Harris says. “I may be from Atlanta, but I’ve really loved adapting to this California lifestyle.”

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The Practice of Putting People First Whether reshaping legal services or addressing employees’ HR concerns, Marcy McGovern of the Pittsburgh Pirates approaches her work with empathy




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hen Marcy McGovern reflects on what she learned in law school, she remembers the Socratic method. From McGovern’s perspective, legal education is more about adopting a style of analytical thinking and problem-solving than understanding specific areas of practice. This methodology has certainly aided McGovern in her career, but her on-the-job experience and human interactions have been just as central to her success. “You cannot practice law in a vacuum,” explains McGovern, the senior vice president of legal and people and culture at Major League Baseball’s Pittsburgh Pirates. “You need to remember that it’s affecting real people.” This people-first approach, built at the intersection of law and HR, not only inflects all aspects of

McGovern’s work at the Pirates but also distinguishes her from her peers. McGovern got her start at central Pennsylvania law firm McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC, where she participated in a mix of counseling, training, and litigation. She made the jump to the Pittsburgh office of labor and employment law firm Littler Mendelson in 2009, handling single-plaintiff employment litigation as well as wage and hour class and collective action litigation for a few years as an associate before realizing that her passion lay elsewhere. Fortunately, Littler facilitated McGovern’s exploration by laterally transitioning her into the knowledge management department, the firm’s in-house entrepreneurial arm. “That transition aligned me with work and opportu-


Marcy McGovern SVP, Legal and People & Culture

Josh Lavallee/Pittsburgh Pirates

Pittsburgh Pirates

nities that better fit my propensities and what I preferred to do,” McGovern says. In knowledge management, McGovern lent her insights to an internal group examining Littler’s single-plaintiff litigation practices. The group’s brainstorming sessions culminated in the development of Littler CaseSmart, a data-driven model that applies technology, enhanced case management processes, and an alternative staffing model to improve legal services. “Working on that project from ideation to initial execution is something that I’m particularly proud of,” McGovern says. In fact, her contributions to the model’s development resulted in a promotion. “I learned as program director how imperative it is to have empathy and to understand how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes,” she says of her first leadership role. McGovern discovered the perfect venue for exercising that empathy upon joining the Pirates as senior director of HR and development in 2015. Although she had always expected to go in-house in a legal capacity, she found her background in labor and employment law very relevant to HR. She drew on this background to build out foundational HR practices at the Pirates as well as to assist with the organization’s risk management program. In her role as vice president of people and culture, McGovern oversaw all elements of the employee experience, from recruiting and onboarding to performance and compensation. In addition, she collaborated with the organization’s executive team to institute a series of changes, such as remote work opportunities for the majority of Pirates employees and increased scheduling flexibility, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. McGovern has focused on employee mental health and well-being as well as diversity and inclusion throughout 2020. With respect to mental health and well-being, she cites





Littler proudly congratulates our friend, Marcy McGovern, on her achievements and well-earned recognition. We value our partnership and look forward to what we’ll accomplish together.

Marcy McGovern

At Littler, we are lawyers. We are also innovators and strategists, passionate problem solvers and creative disruptors. And we are committed to helping our clients navigate the complex world of labor and employment law by building better solutions for their toughest challenges.

“You cannot practice law in a vacuum. You need to remember that it’s affecting real people.”

the availability of curated mental health resources to employees as absolutely critical. “It’s been very important for us to understand what’s keeping our employees up at night and to put together resources to help with those life stressors,” she elaborates. As for D&I, McGovern has translated recommendations from an internal task force into features of the organization’s long- and short-term strategic planning. Examples of those features include restructuring recruiting practices to attract diverse talent, community listening sessions with executive team members, and examining supplier relationships to prioritize working with diverse businesses. Still, McGovern acknowledges the efforts as works in progress. “When we talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion, it’s a learning journey,” she emphasizes. “We can formulate programs or responses—and the power of being a professional sports team is that our voice gets amplified—but if we don’t stop to listen first, we will have missed the point entirely.” McGovern will continue to have a hand in D&I moving forward. In January 2021, she was promoted to senior vice president status

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at the Pirates, with both the legal and the people and culture departments falling within her purview. The dual role will enable her to combine her keen instincts for refining legal and project management practice models with the compassionate leadership that she has brought to the organization’s HR division. For McGovern, her promotion exemplifies culture at the Pirates, which engenders a mutual respect among employees by recognizing the pull of familial and other outside obligations. This culture places people like McGovern—a woman who is also a mother and a spouse—and her colleague Kim Matthews, who was also promoted in January 2021 as a rising star within the organization and as part of the Pirates’ succession planning efforts to senior director of people and culture, in meaningful leadership roles. As SVP, McGovern will nurture the same culture to empower the organization’s employees and equip them with the tools that they need to thrive. “At the Pirates, we are continually trying to foster a supportive work environment,” she says. “It’s that supportive work environment that then allows persons, myself included, to succeed.”


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A Champion for the Game The USGA works to make golf sustainable, accessible, and welcoming to everyone, and CFO Susan Pikitch makes that happen by charting a course for financial success By



or a very select few of the best golfers in the world, playing in a US Open or USGA Amateur Championship is a dream that can come true. For the rest of us, golf is something else entirely: a weekend outing, a hobby, a passion. Susan Pikitch, the CFO at the United States Golf Association (USGA), learned to play golf in part to be included in business networking opportunities on the course. She and her husband took up the sport later in life and enjoy playing together, sometimes casually and at other times competing on a level playing field, thanks to the World Handicap System that the USGA helped create and manages on behalf of millions of golfers in the US. In her six years at the USGA, Pikitch has helped take one of golf’s few 501(c)(3)s from

the fairway to the financial green, bringing a more corporate-leaning financial outlook to the golf nonprofit. She has touched all points of the organization, from maintenance of the association’s campus to the continued technological innovations of GHIN, the Golf Handicapping Information Network, which serves more than 2.5 million golfers and 15,000 golf clubs worldwide. In all of her efforts, Pikitch remains committed to the USGA’s larger mission: to champion and advance the game of golf. The beginning of Pikitch’s USGA tenure aligned with the beginning of the nonprofit’s strategic partnership with Golf Genius Software Inc., and Pikitch has been the executive partner since then, says Michael Zisman,




A CAROLINA WELCOME The legendary golf community of Pinehurst, North Carolina, will soon become an even bigger golf epicenter. In September 2020, the USGA announced its intention to build a center for science, research, and innovation, as well as a welcome center and satellite for the USGA’s world-class museum at its New Jersey headquarters. The USGA has committed to maintaining a minimum staff of fifty people at the new location, and groundbreaking is expected in spring 2022.


Susan Pikitch CFO

co-CEO of Golf Genius. “Susan has always been very professional, playing the long game, seeking a win/win relationship between the USGA and Golf Genius Software, and helping us navigate through the many departments of the USGA,” Zisman says. “Our partnership with the USGA has evolved over the past five years in an exceptionally positive way thanks to Susan." Pikitch is relatively new to the nonprofit world. She mostly gained operational and financial experience during her twenty-plus years at Standard & Poor’s/McGraw-Hill, acquiring M&A experience and negotiating transactions, including McGraw-Hill’s acquisition of CVC (Corporate Value Consulting), which after integrating into the parent company she subsequently sold five years later. Pikitch has implemented new compensation systems, helped integrate acquired companies’ systems and cultures into that of the parent company, supported international expansion of business opportunities, and employed technology to gain efficiencies. Then, having become an expert on the ins and outs of the corporate world, she took on a new challenge by moving to a nonprofit organization. “I was so used to the corporate quarterly earnings grind and M&A transactions that I wasn’t sure what the role would require and whether I would be challenged enough,” Pikitch admits. “But I am more than ecstatic that I’ve been able to do things here that I would not have been able to do in the corporate


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Courtesy of USGA

United States Golf Association (USGA)


“I am more than ecstatic that I’ve been able to do things here that I would not have been able to do in the corporate world.”

Hirtle Callaghan is a proud investment partner of the United States Golf Association Congratulations Susan Pikitch on your valuable contribution to preserving the spirit and love of golf

world. We are a nonprofit association dedicated to delivering on our mission, but we are also increasingly evolving our management functions to operate as many leading commercial enterprises do. At the same time, we have a long-term view of the impact we need to deliver back to golf.” As CFO and a member of the USGA executive team, Pikitch is responsible for advancing key USGA functions and employing “business” best practices that have benefited the nonprofit. Her first move was to help the finance team shift its primary focus away from transaction processing and more to financial planning and analysis to help guide the organization and facilitate data-driven decision-making.

During her time at the USGA, the organization has increased its sophistication both in understanding its expense run-rate and in helping it manage to its stated five-year rolling break-even goal. Pikitch and her finance team also developed the first fully allocated P&L, enabling leadership to understand the various contributions of, and investments in, its championships and programs. “Susan is a strategic thinker who leveraged her corporate experience to bring the USGA to the next level,” says Tom Spano of Hirtle Callaghan. “Her leadership is thoughtful and deliberate—when she speaks, people listen.” With facilities and technology also under her purview, Pikitch set her sights on addressing deferred maintenance, in terms of both the









One of Susan Pikitch’s core beliefs is that golf should be for everyone—and she takes the same view of finance. Whether she is providing financial information to the USGA staff, senior leadership, or the USGA Executive Committee, Pikitch takes a special interest in making sure her presentations are comprehensible to all.

To champion and advance the game of golf

“I want finance to be viewed as a business partner and as a facilitator,” she says. “When I speak to nonfinancial folks, I endeavor to present information in a way that is understandable to every level of the organization. I take that communication very seriously and want finance to be seen as an enabler of the USGA’s mission.”


A thriving, welcoming and sustainable game

Making an impact that matters Congratulations on this well-deserved recognition, Susan! Your strategic leadership has always made an impact that matters for the USGA and the future of the game. We look forward to collaborating with you and your team for many years to come.

To learn more about how we help make golf all it can be, visit

buildings and the technological infrastructure, that had taken its toll over time. “One of the first major projects was the renovation of our administrative building on our campus,” she explains. “The building needed to be taken down to the studs, and now it’s really something we’re proud of.” Additional space was built out at USGA headquarters, located in Liberty Corner, New Jersey, and more collaborative, open, and natural-light-filled work environments were created. “We were able to bring more of the outside in, which ties to the game being an outdoor sport.” Pikitch has also endeavored to find the nonprofit more funds to invest back into the sport. The USGA’s main financial engine is the US Open, but in a year that saw that event postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pikitch wants to make sure the organization continues to maintain adequate financial reserves and seek out new sources of revenue. The postponement of the US Open in 2020 provided more challenges than simply pushing back the event a few months. The championship’s television home since 2015 had been

Copyright © 2020. Deloitte Development LLC. All rights reserved.


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Courtesy of USGA


Fox, but discussions to accommodate the new date eventually led the USGA to strike a new deal with NBC that brings the US Open back to NBC through 2026. What’s more, the deal was struck in just a few weeks. “There was a lot of financial analysis that went into that evaluation and decision,” Pikitch says. “The fact that the transition was so seamless still amazes me.” The television deal will help bring golf into homes across America, but Pikitch is also personally invested in getting more people out of their homes and onto the golf course. She serves on the board of the LPGA Foundation, which, along with the USGA, created the LPGA*USGA Girls Golf initiative. “We need to attract and retain young girls and women into the game,” Pikitch explains. “And we can

do that by making golf more accessible, more affordable, and more welcoming.” Beyond that effort to introduce more young girls to the game, Pikitch has also inspired many women to pursue leadership roles, both at the USGA and at her prior companies. A traditionally male-driven organization, the USGA has modernized its approach to welcome a more diverse workforce and provide more pathways for women to work and advance in golf. In all that she does, Pikitch says her efforts help the USGA achieve the same fundamental end: delivering services to golfers, golf facilities, and golf associations, and ensuring that the game—as well as the courses where it is played—remain environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable for all.

With interest rates at historic lows, investors are increasingly challenged to achieve their financial goals. Since 1988, Hirtle Callaghan has been offering innovative investment solutions to institutions and families as their chief investment officer. We provide the expertise of a fully resourced investment office with sophisticated, global, comprehensive investment programs. Our business is intentionally structured to avoid conflicts so that every decision is made in our clients’ best interest. We are inspired by the trust placed in us by clients with serious responsibilities— the investments we make help provide for families, open possibilities for cures, improve education and expand opportunities.

Deloitte Consulting LLP: “Bringing fresh ideas and experiences to the game of golf. Reimagining future revenue streams. Driving sustainability across golf facilities. They’ve all been part of our rich, six-year collaboration with the USGA. We couldn’t be more proud to congratulate Susan on this recognition.” –Tom Marriott, Principal





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A New Era for Carolina Entertainment Kisha Smith leans into transformation to not only support Tepper Sports & Entertainment’s success but also grow as an HR leader




uman resources is often seen as the administrative, reactive department. Kisha Smith is still well aware of the stereotypical perception, which she’s worked tirelessly to change since joining Tepper Sports & Entertainment (TSE) as its vice president of HR in late 2019. Smith came shortly after a company-wide overhaul. After buying the Carolina Panthers in May 2018, owner David Tepper wanted to expand the organization into being more than just an NFL franchise team. Thus, TSE was born as an umbrella company for the Carolina Panthers; its home of Bank of America Stadium; the Panthers’ new headquarters and practice facility in Rock Hill, South Carolina; live events; Waterford Golf Club; and Charlotte FC, the city’s first Major League Soccer (MLS) team in 2022.

“W hen Dave bought the Panthers, he knew he wanted to host more than eight home games a year,” Smith says. “He wanted it to be a bigger, broader, and bolder organization, operating within a business model that would lead the organization to be the ultimate entertainment choice within the Carolinas region. It has been about transitioning into that mindset.” Transformation is complex and multifaceted, and TSE’s vision pressed Smith to bring forward her expertise. She had previously put in nearly two decades at Walmart, starting off as an HR manager and ending as a senior director and HR business partner at Sam’s Club. “ W hile I’ve been a leader before in significant transformations, so much of this is new for me,” Smith says, comparing her


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Kisha Smith VP of HR Tepper Sports & Entertainment

For TSE’s transformation to be real and lasting, Smith knew she and the company would benefit from company transformation advisors. Early on in TSE’s journey, Smith was at a conference roundtable discussion led by An-


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Kitling Williams

corporate roles with privately owned TSE. “I have to be very intentional in the way I translate my big company experience into solutions that will fit and take root here at TSE. I learned so much at Walmart, but to be successful here I know those practices can only inspire our solutions, not necessarily determine them.” Smith says she’s proudest of bringing her holistic HR Business Partner experience, which has allowed her to lead and influence various people and business initiatives at TSE. She credits this more holistic and influential approach to an ongoing modernization of the role. “HR leadership is necessary to help orchestrate the various people components of the business,” she explains. “It’s best to have an HR business partner who can lead and influence people decisions that ensure the organization takes care of their people.” TSE President Tom Glick, who has been part of several significant business transformations, has always found the transformation of the people most rewarding. “We’ve all grown through the early stages of TSE’s journey already,” he says. “Kisha has been a key role model for the team in the way she has come into her role, expanded her influence on the team, and is leading changes in our culture while helping us all to lead more effectively in each of our roles.”


“It’s best to have an HR business partner who can lead and influence people decisions that ensure the organization takes care of their people.”

drew Odze, founder and managing partner of eXecutive leadership partners (ELP). “He was describing the work leadership teams must do to deliver on their strategy, and it sounded like he was describing TSE,” she says. “I knew he and his team would be the right advisors to us.” ELP is a management consulting firm headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, that is composed of doctoral-level experts in business and psychology who assess, coach, advise, and develop leaders. “One of the reasons transformations are so complex is because companies need to continue running the existing business, while they make significant changes now that will produce a different company in the future. Managing today and shifting for tomorrow can be daunting,” Odze explains (p.107). He notes that Smith is a master at operating in the now while keeping her eye on the vision. “She can turn from solving an employee relations problem between two employees, put her pen on the company strategy, coach a peer on how to build followership, and then dive into the company’s response to major social justice issues,” Odze says. “Her ability to move TSE toward

the future, while managing the current context, is inspiring to me and to her peers on the leadership team.” One of the key learnings Smith has taken from TSE’s journey is the “hard stuff is the soft stuff.” “There is much of the hard or tangible stuff you just have to get right for a transformation to happen, like the strategy, organization design, selection of leaders,” she explains. “But the really hard stuff in the transformation is the soft stuff.” As if transforming the business wasn’t enough, TSE has faced all of the external challenges facing other leading businesses right now with the COVID-19 pandemic. TSE has had to make some hard staffing choices during this period and changes on the leadership team have naturally provoked anxieties among her and her colleagues. “There have been times on this journey when it has been possible to get out of alignment with one another,” Smith notes. “In those situations, it is on each of us to pull each other back by building trust individually and looking for ways to collaborate around the strategy.” When COVID-19 is contained, TSE anticipates a pent-up demand for the vision the

organization has been building: compelling sports, live events, training centers, and more. For Smith and her colleagues, delivering on fans’ expectations is only part of the promise. Her growth, and the growth of the entire TSE team, will be equally significant. “What we've not allowed is for COVID to halt our growth or our ability to think futuristically,” Smith says. “In the past, this stadium probably only had one or two concerts a year. But once it’s time for live events to pick back up, there’s going to be such a huge desire for it that this business might just blow up bigger than we ever thought.”

eXecutive leadership partners knows that for your company to achieve results, you need highly effective leaders and high performing teams. Organizations report that 75 percent of cross-functional teams fail to deliver on their objectives and executives indicate their senior teams are most often focused on priorities that do not deliver tangible value. Our Accelerated Team Performance service gets teams to the highest level of performance in the shortest period of time and our leadership advisory services ensures your leaders can deliver on the highest value priorities. Talk to us today so you can be sure to deliver on your strategy tomorrow. |


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Leadership Begins with What You Believe

How Andrew Odze and eXecutive leadership partners help industry leaders achieve their highest potential By



hen Andrew Odze was seven years old, he was diagnosed with leukemia. The survival rate for children at that time was only 20 percent, but new treatments were saving more patients. Odze was one of those survivors—his father, a medical doctor, played an essential role in diagnosing and managing his treatment and recovery. Odze’s experience would be the start of his lifelong pursuit of helping people triumph over their challenges and reveal their full potential. A few years into his recovery, Odze realized that while his physical battle with cancer was over, he was mentally still fighting the disease. “I tearfully said to my mother, ‘Why me?’” he recalls. “She simply said, ‘We don’t get to choose what happens to us in our life, only how we respond. I believe God only lets us face things we can handle. So, how will you respond to what has been asked of you now?’” The power of that conversation has stayed with him to this day. “I was inspired by how a conversation could change what I believed and who I became as a result of it,” Odze says. “By the time I was in college, I knew I wanted


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Andrew Odze Founder and Managing Partner

to spend my life in positions of such influence for others.” Today, as the founder and managing partner of a consulting firm, Odze and his team engage their clients in such consequential conversations everyday. The firm, eXecutive leadership partners (ELP), supports senior leaders in making decisions and shifting their beliefs and behaviors in ways that create strong cultures, more effective teams and better business results for their companies. While it is often said that people do not change and people resist change, the ELP team operates differently. “If we start with the belief that we and others can’t change, surely no one will change,” he explains. “We don’t reject the notion that people can be resistant to change. We just also know there is a widespread appetite by most of us to be able to change in some way, and we see leaders demonstrating profound and deliberate changes all the time in our work with them.” For Odze, supporting and provoking change in others is a primary leadership re-


P R O F I L E Q3/21

sponsibility. He suggests that leaders are always attempting to shape what their followers believe and what they do. “The best leaders help you see things you didn’t see before, such as the vision for the organization, the opportunity to create specific value for stakeholders, and your unique role,” he says. “Most importantly, they inspire you to believe in the cause, in the team, and in yourself.” Odze’s credibility in advising leaders extends far beyond his life experiences. He holds master’s degrees in clinical and organizational psychology along with a doctorate in clinical psychology and is a licensed clinical psychologist. His academic qualifications stand on par with his corporate experience. Odze spent the first seventeen years of his career in senior human resources roles at Motorola and Bank of America, where he developed his expertise assessing and developing C-suite executives, architecting the organization design, and accelerating team and talent development. ELP is known for its differentiated leadership assessment, executive coaching, and

team acceleration services, but it is the mission that guides the firm’s work. “My partners and I are inspired by the opportunity that is created for our country and our community when our clients grow, and we know how much opportunity is lost when a business stumbles,” Odze says. “Our purpose is to develop leaders who create enduring value, because leaders at the top of these massive companies are pressed to create and sustain economic value in addition to demonstrating leadership.” The firm developed a proprietary technology for profiling the unique ways that leaders create economic value in addition to assessing leadership effectiveness as part of their eXecutive Development Assessment (XDA). ELP has also earned its reputation in accelerating how quickly leadership teams get to and sustain their performance through their Accelerated Team Performance (ATP) offering. “We just finished taking the leadership team of a multibillion-dollar business through the process and their business pivoted brilliantly during the pandemic as a result,” he

Scott Ritchie

eXecutive leadership partners


Andrew Odze (third from left) and the eXecutive leadership partners team at their annual strategic planning meeting.

“The best leaders help you see things you didn’t see before, such as the vision for the organization, the opportunity to create specific value for stakeholders, and your unique role. Most importantly, they inspire you to believe in the cause, in the team, and in yourself.”

says. “Given the measurable results they achieved, the client has us doing the same thing with ten teams and over one hundred leaders at the next level down.” Odze and ELP are also active in shaping the Charlotte, North Carolina, community where they dedicate the firm’s resources to not-for-profits that uplift children and families. As a board member for the Soccer Foundation of Charlotte (SFC), Odze and his firm supports SFC in providing yearlong soccer, literacy, and personal development to children in Title 1 schools. “My life experience and my training as a psychologist compels me to find ways to give to others the support I’ve received in my life,” he says. “With SFC, our kids build a relationship with a coach and their teammates that will surely shape their future.” Nearly forty years after that fateful conversation with his mother, Odze is living his aspiration by contributing to the success of companies, leaders, and people in the community.


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It’s All in the Data How Teddy Collins helped give SeatGeek’s finance department a strategic voice by connecting people, data, and systems




P R O F I L E Q3/21


eddy Collins started his career cultivating his financial modeling and Excel prowess. In recent years, he has been on a mission to eliminate spreadsheets and move finance into the front office. Throughout his twelve years in finance, Collins has built his expertise across financial planning and analysis (FP&A), operational, and strategic roles. “I enjoyed the data and analytics aspects of investment banking, but I wanted to go deeper on the operational aspects and help build a company over several years,” Collins explains. He honed his operator’s playbook with a strategic finance role at mobile gaming startup Pocket Gems and then within the iPhone business planning at Apple, working on the launch of the iPhone 6s. In 2015, Collins’s family moved back to New York City where he joined SeatGeek, a mobile-focused ticket platform that enables users to buy and sell tickets to sporting events and concerts. “It’s a very interesting company that is gaining market share from some large players,” he says. “I was fortunate to join


Teddy Collins Senior Director of Corporate Finance & Investor Relations SeatGeek

early in the company’s journey and help it grow from a ticket search engine into a robust ticket marketplace and B2B software provider. My early years were all about building foundational finance structure and processes.” Today, as SeatGeek’s senior director of corporate finance and investor relations, Collins leverages business partnering, data, systems, and process to keep SeatGeek’s strategy and operations in sync. One of his primary focuses now is bringing real-time, source-of-truth data to all areas of SeatGeek’s planning and business functions. “How we design and orchestrate systems will take on an increasingly important role as SeatGeek scales and continues to move fast,” he explains.

Sound leadership is important to Collins, and he notes that all starts with strong communication among all members of the team and giving them opportunities to grow. “Having a culture that is accepting of mistakes and gives people a lot of responsibility is what I’ve really tried to focus on and help people figure out what they want to do both medium- and long-term,” he shares. “If they haven’t thought about that already, I try to push them to start thinking a few steps ahead.” During the pandemic, SeatGeek has stayed focused on its mission of helping people experience more live events. “In the years leading up to COVID, we positioned the company to take a balanced approach to growth. We’re positioned to bounce back quickly once the world returns to more live events,” Collins says.





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“In the years leading up to COVID, we positioned the company to take a balanced approach to growth. We’re positioned to bounce back quickly once the world returns to more live events.” “From an operational perspective, our focus on scalability and automation has allowed us to use more of our time to be a strategic voice within SeatGeek.” That’s helped the company stay nimble and react quickly when COVID started, with Collins keeping the finances on track for success. “We started our journey to eliminate spreadsheets back in 2018 and we are 95 percent there. We’ve partnered with our business systems team to connect our HR, accounting, sales, and business intelligence systems. Getting all of those systems talking together automatically has been a great first phase of our finance journey.” Collins is not shy about admitting his aspirations of becoming a CFO one day and believes his experience and professionalism has prepared him well for the role. “I think there’s a new blueprint for CFOs with more of a financial planning and analysis


P R O F I L E Q3/21

background. The role requires strong business partnering skills and providing a strategic voice in the company.” Collins believes a well-rounded background is the key to success. He’s built on his M&A and FP&A background with deep experiences in HR operations, investor relations, and accounting. “I’ve always tried to stay on the cutting edge from a systems and modeling standpoint,” Collins notes. “But I see the most important role of the modern finance professional is to add value wherever they can, anywhere within the enterprise.”

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Family Over Fortune Dara Engle once had to step away from her career because of an unsupportive environment. Today, she makes sure that doesn’t happen to anyone at the Howard Hughes Corporation. By B I L LY Y O S T




Portraits by A H M A D S W E E N E Y

It was the year 2000. Dara Engle had successfully navigated almost a decade in her HR career. She worked for Blockbuster in the days when the movie rental giant was as much of a retail fixture as McDonald’s or Jiffy Lube, then moved on to big-box titan Best Buy to aid its massive expansion. Engle was making all the right moves, but there was one problem. “I was growing my family,” Engle says. “I had two toddlers, extensive travel requirements, and the role was a tough one. The idea of a ‘family-friendly’ employer just wasn’t that prevalent at the time.” It was the dawn of a new millennium, but Engle still felt like she was trapped in the eighties.


Dara Engle Chief People Officer The Howard Hughes Corporation

“I felt like I had to modify my career trajectory because I chose to raise a family.” DA R A E N G L E

She found her happy ending, but it took time. Engle left her in-house career to begin consulting because she couldn’t find another way to prioritize both her family and her career. “I just couldn’t get to a point of balance that was workable in my personal life,” Engle says. “I felt like I had to modify my career trajectory because I chose to raise a family.” She wouldn’t go back in-house for another decade: in 2010, she joined the Howard Hughes Corporation, where she now serves as chief people officer. Fortunately, during that decade, the corporate world slowly began recognizing that people’s lives outside the office matter. And employees at Howard Hughes have no bigger advocate for that view than a CPO who had to endure the exact opposite mindset. “That experience is one that really informs my role today, and I think HR in general,” Engle says. “It’s our responsibility to create an environment in an organization where people don’t have to make those types of choices and





don’t have to compromise their career goals to fulfill their family obligations.” With time, Engle says that she’s even come to consider herself lucky. “I was able to take the skills I had developed earlier in my career and repurpose them to continue working as a consultant,” she says. “Not everyone who has to make the same critical decisions is always so lucky.” Going back in-house came with its fair share of growing pains, Engle says. In fact, if she had known what she was getting into, she’s not sure she would have had the courage to take it on. “I had worked for a public company before, but I didn’t run the HR function,” she explains. “I did not see the responsibilities that were incumbent on me, I didn’t quite grasp the magnitude of the job, and I think ignorance was bliss.” And yet Engle persevered. In explaining exactly how she grew into her role, she references a quote from Matt Damon’s character in the 2015 film The Martian: “At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you . . . everything’s going to go south and you’re going to say, this is it . . . You solve one problem . . . and you solve the next one . . . and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home.” “That’s kind of what I would liken this job to,” Engle says, laughing. “It’s been ten years





“If I can advance diversity, equity, and inclusion within our organization over the next decade, then I will feel good knowing that I have done a service to this company.” DA R A E N G L E

For more than 30 years, CEL & Associates, Inc.’s business consulting and in-depth understanding of the real estate industry have enabled us to assist clients in defining and achieving their long-term vision and exceeding their strategic goals.

REAL ESTATE STRATEGIES of figuring out the next thing that has been thrown my way, and somehow I’m still here.” Part of the reason that the last ten years have been so challenging is that from the onset, Howard Hughes was a spinout organization with a fast growth trajectory in diverse lines of business that required different types of HR support. The emergence of the company in 2010 also happened to be the day after her birthday (“it was supposed to be on my birthday, but the SEC didn’t get it done that day”). That meant her ten-year anniversary fell in 2020—a rough year to celebrate, when the pandemic meant the party had to be hosted on Zoom. But Engle’s team created a celebratory video experience to look back at the last decade. “It was a testament to the fact that

change is abundant, and if you think you know what’s next, you’re foolish.” In her time with Howard Hughes, Engle has seen numerous changes, including recent leadership transitions and the relocation of the company’s headquarters from Dallas to The Woodlands, Texas, just north of Houston. But she says the most important part of her job is supporting the people she works with. “I have loved seeing people flourish at our company,” she says. “I think the people on my team can be president of a company, or even of the United States for that matter.” It’s not the last ten years Engle is excited about, though, but the next ten. In an industry whose numbers are “severely lagging” when it comes to the representation of


We applaud Dara Engle on her commitment to The Howard Hughes Corporation’s success.





“It was a testament to the fact that change is abundant, and if you think you know what’s next, you’re foolish.” DA R A E N G L E

both women and minorities, she says that along with her traditional responsibilities, making Howard Hughes a beacon of inclusion and diversity is paramount. “I feel a responsibility as a woman in leadership, knowing that other women may look to me and say, ‘If she can do it, then I can too,’” Engle explains. “One of my goals for 2021 is to increase diversity on our leadership team. Having a woman on this team is critical, but it cannot be only a symbolic gesture—true forward progress is the key.” Howard Hughes recently conducted a diversity evaluation to get more raw data for a baseline measure of success. When compared with the industry, she says, Howard Hughes was close to the top of the pile, but when compared to other industries, there is significant work to be done. “I feel like I can do so much more in the next ten years than I have in the past ten,” Engle says. “The societal pressures of the past year have opened a door to allow for significant change. If I can advance diversity, equity, and inclusion within our organization over the next decade, then I will feel good knowing that I have done a service to this company.”

CEL & Associates Inc. congratulates Dara Engle on this well-deserved recognition for her long-time commitment to employee diversity, inclusion, and equity, and to the Howard Hughes Corporation for their engagement of her leadership role as chief people officer. We are proud to have them as a client, to support their values, and to be a part of their success.





And we’re working to make it better, together. To learn more, contact your Cigna representative or visit

Cigna is proud to congratulate Dara Engle. We are grateful to call her a partner and friend.

All Cigna products and services are provided exclusively by or through operating subsidiaries of Cigna Corporation, including Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company. The Cigna name, logo, and other Cigna marks are owned by Cigna Intellectual Property, Inc. 12/20 ©2020 Cigna


The Power of “Yes” How a three-letter word created opportunities for Karen Rieck to build a successful career and transform HR departments By K E I T H L O R I A

Always say yes. That’s the philosophy of Karen Rieck, vice president of human resources for Farm Bureau Financial Services. “If you always say yes, you will have opportunities that you would never have dreamed of,” she explains. Rieck had hoped to be a math teacher, but after a short tenure teaching, she knew it wasn’t what she’d thought it would be. As a college student, she worked for a home healthcare agency, assisting in payroll and staffing. In that role, she realized there were opportunities for her outside teaching. “I loved the numbers part of that job and working with people, so after I graduated, I took a payroll and benefits role,” she recounts. “After a few years in that role, the controller asked if I would be interested in starting a human resources function there,




even though I didn’t know exactly what that was.” Rieck said yes and prepared by taking a five-day training class designed to “teach you everything you need to know about HR.” That was twenty-eight years ago, and she’s been forging a successful HR career ever since. One of her biggest stops was at the Iowa Bankers Association, where she spent more than ten years as vice president of human resources, planning, organizing, and managing all internal HR functions for the association and its affiliates. “What was awesome about that was, with the membership association, I had the opportunity to do a significant amount of consulting work with the four hundred-plus member banks. I would get calls from their human resources leaders or CEOs asking questions and seeking advice on a variety of HR topics,” Rieck


Karen Rieck VP of HR Farm Bureau Financial Services

HOW TO TRANSFORM YOUR HR DEPARTMENT FIVE TIPS FROM HR EXPERT KAREN RIECK 1. Identify the need. “Change starts with you. It’s not about changing for the sake of change but identifying the true need for change.” 2. Create a vision. “If you don’t know where you want to go, you’ll never know if you’ve gotten there.”

Beth Shelton

3. Communicate. “You can’t just create a vision and post it on the wall. You must communicate the message continually until it is ingrained in your team culture.”

recalls. “During my last four years there, I ended up doing a lot of traveling, providing strategic planning facilitation services for community banks across the state.” In 2012, she was offered a job at Farm Bureau Financial Services. Though she loved what she was doing at the time, Rieck sought a better work-life balance. So she again said yes, taking the role of director

of compensation and benefits before transitioning to her current position after two and a half years. “I was tapped on the shoulder by the CEO, who knew human resources could be something different than the administrative-centric function it was,” she explains. The move was unusual because the leader she replaced stayed on as part of the

4. Hold yourself and your team accountable. “Never put something on a scorecard you can’t take action on. Know what you’re measuring and why.” 5. Celebrate successes. “It’s important to review and take snapshots of the team’s successes. Take time at least once a year to see how far you’ve come and how much you have accomplished.”





We recognize the work of

Karen Rieck

“Whatever we do, we look at how it will drive business impact and then make sure we stay focused on that.” K AREN RIECK

Vice President of Human Resources

Farm Bureau Financial Services Thank you for keeping your employees’ smiles happy & healthy!

HR leadership team. She took on the challenge and has since been instrumental in the strategic transformation of the HR department, in creating a recognition culture, and in advancing effective leadership development and succession planning programs within the organization. “It was a very interesting opportunity to transform the human resources function with the previous long-term leader still part of the team,” she notes. “It helped me push myself and collaborate to bring the team together in strategic transformation. The team was full of great people, so we were able to make the transformation without changing team members, including the previous leader.” Her top initiative was transforming the HR function into a proactive, business-centric function, which involved restructuring the team, creating an inspiring vision of “partners connecting people of strategy,” and setting a forward-looking strategy for the department. “Whatever we do, we look at how it will drive business impact and then make sure we stay focused on that,” she shares. 122



“It absolutely changes how the function is seen inside the organization. When you go beyond simply fighting the daily fires that come with being human resources and set the vision to be a trusted strategic partner, you become an integral part of business success.” Another big accomplishment was creating a culture of recognition through the You Earned It program, which has vastly improved the work environment. She’s also proud of the advances she’s made in succession planning and leadership development, where critical role successors are at the ready, learning from the leaders ahead of them. Rieck believes her role as an HR leader is to be a trusted advisor. “My job is about developing leaders, so on a day-to-day basis, I’m doing one-on-ones and helping support my team with our overarching human resources strategy,” she says. “It’s also about building relationships and supporting leaders across the organization. We are here for the employees, but the leaders are the direct line to employee experience, so we know how important they are.” Whatever the challenge, it’s a good chance Rieck will say yes to getting the job done.


Good for the Soul Denise Townsend does what she loves— helping others—both in and beyond her role as CHRO at Hazen and Sawyer By N ATA L I E K O C H A N O V

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Growing up on the island of Jamaica, Denise Townsend always went along when her mother volunteered in the community. Those early outings taught Townsend the power of giving back to others—a lesson she has carried with her throughout her life. Much like her mother, who serves as president of the local Kiwanis club in her retirement, Townsend volunteers on a regular basis as an adult, at venues such as her own church and the community food pantry. “It isn’t any secret that volunteering is good for the soul,” Townsend says. “It gives me a sense of purpose, making a difference in someone’s life.”

Considering her appreciation for interacting with and helping out those around her, it’s little surprise that Townsend ended up pursuing a career in HR. “I have an innate ability to listen and to get people to confide in me,” she explains. “In a way, HR chose me before I realized that I had chosen HR.” Townsend, now chief human resources officer at water engineering firm Hazen and Sawyer, came to the United States in 1989 to study business administration and accounting at New York Institute of Technology. After completing a master’s degree in HR management and labor relations at the same institution, she worked for three years as an HR associate at antenna manufacturer Dorne & Margolin before joining





“If we can provide a program to help alleviate employees’ anxiety and stress levels, that’s much more important than achieving our original goals.” D E N I S E TO W N S E N D

Philips Electronics North America as an HR generalist. “I had to learn quickly how to be sensitive to and aware of employees’ needs and desires while maintaining an impartial stance, especially when communicating or explaining the rationale behind our organizational policies,” says Townsend of her role at Philips. By the end of her seven years at the company, she had not only honed her HR skills but also developed a talent for multitasking and balancing a varied workload. In between her Philips position and her current one at Hazen, Townsend held two consecutive roles in the legal industry, first at Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy and then at Kelley Drye & Warren. Her expertise saw her promoted at each firm, to HR manager and director of HR, respectively. Townsend still views her jump to Hazen in 2019 as a leap of faith, even now that she’s settled into her role as chief human resources officer. Hazen employs upward of one thousand people nationwide, many of whom are numbers-driven engineers. Although Townsend has increased her use of hard data as a result, her overarching strategies remain founded on her decades of HR experience, through which she understands




better than most the crucialness of adaptability. “No two days in HR are alike,” she admits. “But I have always loved the variety and the challenges that come with the job.” To tackle those challenges, Townsend strives to lead by example. She applies a hands-on approach to problem-solving, inspiring employees to assist her in addressing issues by showing them her own commitment to doing so. T he ef fec t iveness of Tow nsend ’s approach, which also features an open-door policy and emphasizes accessibility and transparency, is evident from her implementation of multiple company-wide initiatives during her time thus far at Hazen. Among her accomplishments, she put into place an interim review of new hires at the conclusion of their first ninety days at the firm as well as an across-the-board respectful workplace training program. Both initiatives facilitate employees’ successful integration into the company while ensuring a cohesive onboarding process at every office. In addition, as chair of the Recruitment & Retention Committee, Townsend spearheaded Hazen’s response to the calls for greater diversity and inclusion that


Denise Townsend CHRO

Mark Sagliocco

Hazen and Sawyer





“Passion is the one emotion that I always come back to when I think about HR. I’m truly passionate about the work that I do.” D E N I S E TO W N S E N D

sounded across the United States in 2020. Townsend, along with other committee members, developed and presented to the board a proposal of steps that the firm could take to meet those calls. The first step was to engage an outside consulting firm to identify areas needing improvement and to make recommendations to Hazen based on an in-depth assessment. The board approved this assessment along with several of other ideas, including creating a part-time D&I coordinator position and adjusting recruitment practices to expand opportunities for people of color. Townsend further redefined her priorities for 2020 in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of continuing to focus on optimizing Hazen’s management training




program and HR system as planned, she decided to concentrate above all else on keeping the firm’s employees safe and healthy, a shift in thinking that led to the approval of an employee assistance program launching December 1, 2020. “If we can provide a program to help alleviate employees’ anxiety and stress levels, that’s much more important than achieving our original goals,” she says. Her attitude toward Hazen’s employees reflects the compassion that she exercises in all areas of her life. But in her eyes, compassion cannot be complete without passion. “Passion is the one emotion that I always come back to when I think about HR,” she says. “I’m truly passionate about the work that I do.”

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“Dangerously Knowledgeable” As chief people officer, Melissa Ribeiro leans into flexibility to keep Actian employees top of mind, no matter the circumstances By C R I S T I N A M E R R I L L

Portraits by W I N N I W I N T E R M E Y E R

There is one major theme that has resounded throughout Melissa Ribeiro’s career, and that is her ability to always be “dangerously knowledgeable.” The catchphrase of her career started when she was an eighteen-year-old intern—and the only English-speaking person—at Ingersoll Rand in her native Brazil. At the time, the company was going through a merger, and high-level executives depended on her for her language skills, which resulted in a sort of “baptism by fire” and a chance to learn everything about the human resources function.




Melissa Ribeiro Chief People Officer Actian


“I start with ‘How are you?’ and I pause, because that’s how I’m going to really be the best leader, the best human, the best person that I can be. It’s by just listening and being there.” MELISSA RIBEIRO




“I just embraced that,” says Ribeiro, who is now the chief people officer at Actian. “Being exposed to the C-level so early in my career helped me develop an executive presence and taught me how to work with different cultures and adapt to merging groups. That’s when I became dangerously knowledgeable because I had to do a little bit of everything.” This f lexibility has served Ribeiro extremely well ever since, especially at Actian. She joined Actian in November 2018 just months after the computer software company was purchased by HCL Technologies and Sumeru Equity Partners. Today, Ribeiro leads a “lean” team of seven people


“Being exposed to the C-level so early in my career helped me develop an executive presence and taught me how to work with different cultures and adapt to merging groups.” MELISSA RIBEIRO

that oversees the human resources function across the globe. Her primary job, she says, is to advise and elevate the company’s C-level, particularly CEO Lewis Black. “I always strive for them to be people managers, no matter what they do,” she says. She adds, “I feel very proud that our CEO believes that he needs to work in concert with me, because that’s the way we’re going to make sure that our employees are always top of mind.” When it comes to Ribeiro’s leadership style, she believes in being “absolutely democratic,” the type of accessible leader with whom employees can enjoy a beer. She’s also keen to raise employee engagement and have

her team be visible to the entire organization. To this end, she is a strong believer in collaboration. “I care about every individual, from my team to leadership to every employee in the organization,” she says. “I start with ‘How are you?’ and I pause, because that’s how I’m going to really be the best leader, the best human, the best person that I can be. It’s by just listening and being there.” Ribeiro also embraces her status as a Latina leader. She notes that, as a woman working in technology, she’s often been the only woman in the room and the only Latina within her organization. She often heard skepticism directed at her throughout her

career, whether that was for being Latina, for being Brazilian, for being a woman, and even for being considered too young for a role. Ribeiro never let that dismay her, though, as she knew she brought a valuable diversity of thought to the table. Instead, she focused on her mission to be respected and worked hard to confront bias and ignorance. “It makes no sense whatsoever, but you have to confront that bias and you have to build yourself. On top of that, you need to build everybody around you to make sure that people who have the same differences are going to be respected,” she says. Ribeiro is currently involved in several efforts to help keep Actian top of mind in









“I feel very proud that our CEO believes that he needs to work in concert with me, because that’s the way we’re going to make sure that our employees are always top of mind.” MELISSA RIBEIRO

the marketplace. For one, she and her team developed programs and virtual events to help keep Actian’s employees engaged and connected when the company switched to working 100 percent remotely at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ribeiro and her team implemented a new summer internship program that started in 2020. Actian had previously offered one-off internships, but this year marked the debut of the official program. The eight-week internship program was 100 percent remote and involved a buddy system, capstone projects, and regular weekly meetings with the human resources depa r t ment . Progra m feedback wa s “extremely positive,” according to Ribeiro. Throughout all this, Ribeiro has worked closely with the Actian leadership team, especially as everyone continues to plow

through the COVID-19 pandemic and as Actian continues on its postacquisition trajectory. She notes the importance of continuing to keep employees engaged, as there is never a shortage of job options in the enterprise software space, and she wants to help Actian retain its talent. She proudly points to the company’s consistently positive employee engagement surveys. “People are everything, so if we have a culture where people don’t want to be there and don’t want to work with each other or aren’t proud of the product, we’ll disintegrate,” she says. “Believe me, engineers have jobs out there. In the Valley, they can find a job at any time, so what is the difference between working for us and for another company? It’s because the culture of Actian is about excellence and collaboration.”

Congratulations Melissa Ribeiro The ABD Team is proud to honor Melissa’s success, accomplishments, and continued dedication to developing leaders and building teams around the globe.

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Enhancing the Employee Experience in Pet Care CHRO Maura Stevenson is applying her analyticsdriven brand of HR expertise to manage the challenges of rapid growth at MedVet Associates By N ATA L I E K O C H A N O V

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Maura Stevenson’s interest in data and human behavior preceded her interest in human resources. In fact, the now chief human resources officer for MedVet Associates, a growing group of veterinary hospitals, studied organizational and quantitative psychology at the doctoral level with the intention of going into academia. When Stevenson opted instead to explore her coursework’s practical applications inside organizations, her knowledge of data and analytics set her apart from other HR candidates. “I became part of what was essentially a big data function before big data existed,” she explains. As unusual as

it may have been for Stevenson to enter HR as a statistician, her unique vantage point­– one driven by values numerical and cultural alike—propelled her to success. Stevenson pinpoints joining wealth management company Merrill Lynch in 1999 as her first major career pivot. Building on her prior experience at insurance company the Hartford, Stevenson held multiple HR and non-HR roles at Merrill, including in the employee research group. The rapid pace of the financial industry suited her. As she puts it, “If an organization doesn’t move fast enough, it won’t be a great fit for me.” Her desire to work for an ever-evolving company factored into Stevenson’s decision to accept an offer from coffeehouse chain


Maura Stevenson CHRO MedVet Associates

“I’m at my best when an organization is rapidly evolving, and the talent needs to catch up with the business.”

Courtesy of MedVet


Starbucks in 2004, as did the opportunity to collaborate with the existing HR leadership in a global capacity. “It was an exciting time because the head of HR at Starbucks had a vision for how HR could become more data driven,” Stevenson says. “I was brought in to build out that vision.” Starting out in employee analytics at Starbucks, Stevenson moved next to an organization development role at the company before climbing to an executive-level HR business partner position. Through her contributions, she helped leadership navigate a time of transformation from a talent and capability perspective. When she and her husband moved to the Midwest to be closer to family, Stevenson found a role as head of talent at Wendy’s, the fast-food restaurant chain. The position marked Stevenson’s first executive-level talent role—a hurdle compounded by the presence of a new CEO at the company. Still, Stevenson delivered: she developed and executed a three-year plan that shaped leadership and talent under the new CEO. In 2017, Stevenson took on her current position at MedVet, a specialty and emergency veterinary care provider. As a first-time CHRO, she needed to leverage her HR knowledge to lead diverse functions across the company while maintaining a big-picture focus on MedVet’s status as a growing business in a growing industry. Fortunately, this very status attracted Stevenson to the role. “I’m at my best when an organization is rapidly evolving, and the talent needs to catch up with the business,” she says. Stevenson also admired MedVet’s values, which MedVet is working to preserve as the company scales. “Culture is MedVet’s key differentiator in the veterinary profession. It’s a competitive advantage, and it’s why I came here,” she elaborates, underlining




Courtesy of MedVet

MedVet technicians treat dogs outside during the COVID-19 pandemic in summer 2020.





“A lot has to change as we grow, but we need to stay true to our core values in the process.” M AU R A S T E V E N S O N

the importance of continuing to foster the company’s care-first approach. “A lot has to change as we grow, but we need to stay true to our core values in the process.” Stevenson’s emphasis on positive culture extends to her work on diversity and inclusion at MedVet. She led the team that built the company’s D&I approach from scratch, taking into account larger challenges within the veterinary profession as they determined what MedVet could do to address those challenges internally. In addition to deepening company culture, Stevenson has been concentrating on recruiting and retaining talent and on emerging strong from the COVID-19 pandemic. After having introduced executive assessments and launched a “leadership in action” development program, she hopes to continue increasing quality of hire, especially at the leadership level, heading into 2021. “We used data and alignment to make progress in terms of hiring talent that could scale with MedVet, and we’ve already seen significant increases in our survey scores around quality of feedback, manager ratings, and other people management components,” says Stevenson of changes that she’s led at MedVet. Other changes include developing an employee experience framework and survey, refreshing the MedVet employee handbook, and implementing wellness offerings for

all employees. As with human healthcare workers, veterinary workers often experience “compassion fatigue” as a result of their jobs’ emotional demands. MedVet made ava ilable to ever yone tools and resources dedicated to mental health management and suicide prevention. Further benefiting employees and their families, she led efforts to increase base pay and launch an employee relief fund to cover unplanned financial hardships. As MedVet keeps growing, Stevenson will continue to rely on her understanding of human behavior, data, and the intersections between the two, as she’s done throughout her career. “People have taken some great bets on me,” she admits. “Now, I’m betting on the ability to drive business growth at MedVet through culture, quality of talent, and leadership capability without losing sight of our values.”

We congratulate Maura for being recognized as a top CHRO! She is certainly deserving, and Everhart Advisors is blessed to be one of her strategic partners. We have enjoyed supporting her many significant initiatives at MedVet—focused on improving employee engagement and overall well-being. Maura is an elite leader, with a clear vision and extraordinary passion for the team members of MedVet.

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A Trusted Voice Harry Ross, vice president of HR at Cascade Designs, curates the company’s culture to make it a great place to work By K E I T H L O R I A




Harry Ross has spent seven years in HR, but it’s not how he began his career: before that, he was a retail executive for more than twenty years. His seventeen years working for Macy’s department store—first as a store manager, and then district vice president based in Seattle—gave him a good understanding for people and delivering outstanding customer service. Eventually, though, he began to wonder whether it was time for a change. “As I was thinking about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, I thought back on retail, and I questioned whether I wanted to keep doing this as a career,” Ross says.


Harry Ross VP of HR

Jim Meyers

Cascade Designs

“It’s a lot of hard work, and retail was starting to deteriorate.” As Ross thought about the aspects of the job he loved, he realized that delivering business results through motivating and managing people was his passion. And when he looked for a job that would allow him to do that, his research led him to human resources management. “I started networking and talking to HR executives to really try to understand if my skill set as a retail executive would match a human resources career,” Ross recalls. “HR people fall into two categories: they look at my résumé and say I don’t check the boxes, or [they] see my people management background and believe I could do well.”

With some encouragement by those in the latter group, Ross earned his certificate in human resource management from the University of Washington and took the SPHR certification test. In 2013, Ross landed his first HR job with Brenthaven (now Pioneer Square Products), a small mobile tech case company in Seattle, and handled HR duties for approximately fifty employees. “It was a great place to start, and I learned the basics of doing benefits and payroll as well as people management,” he says. About four years ago, Ross took a job as HR director of Cascade Designs, a Seattlebased company known for making outdoor equipment, and was promoted to vice president of HR in November 2019. “I came

into a little bit of dysfunction, which I saw as an opportunity,” he says. “I saw that as a way for me to come in and flex some HR muscles and really impact an organization.” One of Ross’s main goals was to make the human resources department a trusted business partner—an element he felt was missing when he arrived. “People didn’t really feel like HR listened and paid attention to their concerns,” he explains. “There was some rebuilding trust, starting with making their jobs easier.” He accomplished that both by making it easier for managers to approve employees’ hours and by instituting “Coffee with the Bosses” with the CEO, an open forum for people to say what was on their minds.




Jim Meyers






“I think people would describe me as being an even-keeled manager. I can handle tough situations where there is pressure and stress, and I don’t transfer that stress to those who work for me or people in the organization. People appreciate that.” H A R RY R O S S

“It allowed us to take people’s concerns and either solve issues that they brought up, get them on the calendar of things we could solve down the road, or tell them why we couldn’t solve that issue,” he says. “That helped create trust with myself and helped increase trust in senior management as well.” His aptitude for building trusted relationships doesn’t go unnoticed. “What sets Harry apart is his desire and ability to connect and engage with his internal and external partners,” says Jim Hartz, agency president at AssuredPartners. “HR departments need to develop and maintain relationships, and that fits Harry’s skill set perfectly.” Ross knows how important it is that employees trust him and feel they can talk to him. He keeps candy out on his desk so people will stop by and talk with him about their concerns, and he often walks around the office, looking to start dialogue. At Macy’s, he says, this was referred to literally as “management by walking around,” a way to learn what people care about and who they really are. He also does a weekly digital newsletter to provide brand updates and other communication about Cascade. “I’m really involved in the company’s business. I don’t just sit in my office—I get out there,” he says. “I think people would describe me as being an even-keeled manager. I can handle tough situations where there is pressure and stress, and I don’t transfer that

stress to those who work for me or people in the organization. People appreciate that.” Another goal of Ross’s is not just to drive human resources, but to look at things through a business lens. In the future, Cascade is looking to improve its performance management—and Ross is working hard to make that a reality. “We had a fairly casual performance management platform, which did get feedback back to people, but the feedback was not about specific metrics or measurables,” Ross says. “Going forward, we can give employees more consistent and meaningful feedback on how they are doing by making sure they are clear on expectations and holding them accountable for delivering results. I believe that increases job satisfaction and engagement.” He’s also planning to increase communication to all levels of the company on business strategies and business results for Cascade in the years to come. “We’re putting together things like our first-ever virtual all-company meeting and increasing the frequency of our digital communication to all employees,” Ross says. What’s next for Ross’s career? “As I look to the further-away future, I would like to find a way to take my knowledge, experience, and skills and get it down to people who are newer in HR,” he says. “I want to give back to those coming up in the business.”





Geared Toward Greatness SVP Geri Williams-Fitts explains the culture and practices that have made Highgate Hotels an undisputed leader within the hospitality industry By Z AY V E L L E W I L L I A M S O N




When Geri Williams-Fitts began her career in the retail group at Mac y ’s, there was one coworker at the department store giant who inspired her above all others. Williams-Fitts looked up to this coworker as a role model and mentor, a person who “could not have exuded a more professional and polished sense of leadership.” One day, Williams-Fitts gathered the courage to walk up to this colleague and ask her one simple question: “What do I have to do to be where you are?” From that day on, Williams-Fitts followed in that coworker’s footsteps to understand how she worked and how she operated. Eventually, they became friends. When her coworker advanced into the human resources department, William-Fitts asked her once again: “What do I have to do to be you?” Soon enough, Williams-Fitts achieved her goal, not only securing a position equal to her mentor’s but also later landing a position above her as Macy’s director of human


Geri Williams-Fitts SVP of HR

Joe Hernandez

Highgate Hotels

resources. This time, Williams-Fitts’s coworker came to her. “What do I have to do to be you?” she asked. “We had developed such a close relationship,” Williams-Fitts recalls. “We really paralleled each other: her strengths were my areas of opportunity, and her areas of opportunity were my strengths.” Today, that eagerness to learn and grow—and that drive to excel—serves Williams-Fitts well as senior vice president of HR at Highgate Hotels. The largest hospitality employer in Manhattan and one of the most prominent hospitality management companies in the world, Highgate’s portfolio encompasses an array of luxury properties as well as full-services brands such as Hilton, Marriot, Hyatt, and Westin Hotels and Resorts. Over the past eleven-plus years, Williams-Fitts has seen Highgate’s portfolio explode, increasing from just 38 hotels to more than 140. But no matter how large the organization has grown, Highgate has maintained its reputation as a leader in quality and service. The SVP attributes this to the

caliber of the ten-thousand-plus associates working at the organization. “We hire great people, and we give them a great working environment so that they deliver great service to our guests,” she says. “We’re proud to offer unique experiences throughout our portfolio—all our properties are so different, so distinctive. “But they all share one common thread,” Williams-Fitts continues, “and that’s a commitment to excellence. The organization has stayed true to that by taking care of its associates and giving them a platform to thrive and help build the organization. They’re the core of our business.” As SVP, Williams-Fitts is determined to foster a culture of passion and innovation, an environment that “drives creativity and generates action.” Highgate is very entrepreneurial, she explains, but associates need to feel that their ideas and suggestions are both seen and supported. To that end, Williams-Fitts has taken to sitting with the company’s senior leaders to read—line by line—the hundreds of pages of employee feedback that her team receives each year.




FOUNDATIONS OF PHILANTHROPY AS TOLD BY GERI WILLIAMS-FITTS “As an organization, all our great growth means nothing if we’re not giving back to make the world a better place. That is one of our core principles, and if anything, it’s been dialed up since I joined years ago. There’s our workplace giving program, our charitable foundation, our tremendous affiliation with Save the Children— we’ve raised more than $1 million for Save the Children and the Highgate Charitable Foundation—and we continue to see how we can impact the communities in which we work and operate.”


Congratulations Geri Williams-Fitts SVP, Human Resources Highgate Hotels

Honoring Your Passion, Innovation and Leadership

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“We hire great people, and we give them a great working environment so that they deliver great service to our guests.” GERI WILLIAMS-FIT TS

She has also instituted an online daily employee engagement survey that allows associates to submit their ideas and suggestions to the company. And Highgate acts on those suggestions. The company seeks to adjust and improve in real time, Williams-Fitts explains, instead of waiting until the end of the year to implement any modifications. That is one reason why, the SVP notes, Highgate is able to move and adapt more quickly than other organizations of its size. Of course, another reason for Highgate’s agility is Williams-Fitts’s own determination to hire only the individuals who will truly thrive at Highgate and help it succeed. “Not every organization is right for everyone,” she notes. “We don’t just rely on the one traditional cycle of interviewing—we utilize a variety of tools that assist us in making sure we’ve identified the right leaders who are going to be successful within the organization.” According to the SVP, emotional intelligence is one of the most important indicators in the hiring process. “It’s a huge advantage for anyone,” she points out. “It’s a set of skills that allows someone to recognize their own impulses and to analyze situations accurately. A lot of people can read out numbers, can be taught about the analytics and validity of various reports. But emotional intelligence can’t be taught.” During her tenure as SVP, Williams-Fitts has developed a success factor outline of skills—including emotional intelligence— that represent the most common qualities found in successful leaders at Highgate. 144



She and her team use the outline as a road map for hiring, but they also use this tool to help current leaders gain greater insight into their performance, leadership style, and personal brand. “It’s not a task,” Williams-Fitts emphasizes. “It’s an opportunity for everyone to learn, to validate some of their skill set and compare who they are today to who they want to be.” Even now, decades after Williams-Fitts first asked how she herself could become who she wanted to be, the SVP continues to push herself and evolve alongside the company. But no matter how many changes the years bring, one thing remains the same. “This organization has always had a vision to spread the light and warmth of hospitality around the world,” Williams-Fitts explains. “That was something that was illustrated very early on to me as I met the principals and leaders within the organization. Today, it is what’s delivered through our incredible associates, the brilliant people who are so focused and so gifted in so many different ways.”

Established in 1970, Meltzer Lippe’s founding vision was to create a Long Island-based firm that specialized in tax and real estate. Fifty years later, it is exactly that, and so much more. Today, with sixty-five attorneys and offices in Mineola and Manhattan, Meltzer Lippe is a regional legal powerhouse; an acknowledged leader in tax, trusts and estates, labor and employment, real estate, corporate and commercial litigation. Our strong client base extends from our Mineola headquarters to New York City, throughout the US and beyond providing experienced, thoughtful effective and efficient counsel and advice. Ever striving to enhance our client service we ask old and new clients alike: WANT MORE? DEMAND BETTER! TALK TO US.



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The Perfect Fit After a long career in human resources for various corporations, Larry Callahan is helping Howard University produce tomorrow’s top leaders By Z A C H B A L I VA




A you ng How a rd Un iversity student paused, surprised by the voice on the other end of the line. Although the caller was not in her contacts list, she answered anyway. The voice that greeted her belonged to university President Wayne A. I. Frederick. While it’s unusual for university leadership to call students directly, 2020 was no ordinary year. After discussing the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic with his cabinet, Frederick joined provosts, chancellors, and others in calling to check in on the mental and physical health of students, faculty, and staff.


Larry Callahan Associate VP and CHRO

Courtesy of Howard University

Howard University





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Larry Callahan, associate vice president and chief human resources officer, helped birth this idea and matched each name in the directory with a volunteer caller. “If the president is calling, we’re all calling,” he says, laughing. Callahan remembers speaking to an incoming student council president before leaving a message for one of the university’s football coaches. When the coach returned the call, the two spoke for forty-five minutes. “It was meaningful just to connect with another person and let them know they are cared for,” Callahan says. “Everyone was overwhelmed and grateful.” No one who has worked with Callahan during his long and distinguished career in HR would be surprised to discover that he encouraged Howard University (HU) to weave a personal element into its pandemic response. Church and community were centerpieces of his life in Tennessee, where Callahan was born, and West Virginia, where he was raised. “I always had people to look up to and that was never in doubt,” Callahan says. “They showed me the right path in life.” He learned to value community while singing in choir, attending Sunday school, playing sports, and serving in the Key Club and the National Honor Society. After starting his undergraduate studies at Marshall University, Callahan was drafted into the US military, where he became a policeman. Although Callahan’s service wasn’t voluntary, he decided to make the most of the opportunity and surround himself with positive influences. “Where you go in life is not an accident. You can often choose to put yourself around good, bad, or indifferent people,” he says. “Your values guide you toward or away from certain people and certain things.” While 148



Courtesy of Howard University


serving in Germany, Callahan was soldier of the month many times; he received an honorable discharge after two years of service. During his time in Germany, Callahan transferred from Marshall to West Virginia State University, one of the nation’s most well-known historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), where he also tutored other students for $2 an hour while studying political science. He then graduated and immediately started an advanced degree program back at Marshall, where he also served as a graduate assistant. As Callahan entered the workforce, he began to execute what would become a key strategy in both his life and his career. “If you put yourself close to good people doing good things, you’ll find the right opportunity,” he says. When his sister introduced him to a recruiter, Callahan earned a spot as one of six people in a training program for the company that is now Sprint Corporation. When his friends and colleagues at Sprint started interviewing with Siemens, a German manufacturing company, Callahan did the same. In 1983, he moved to Boca

Raton, Florida, to implement digital business telephone systems for Siemens. This started a twenty-three-year phase that would take him across the eastern United States, and into the world of HR, where he had a wide variety of responsibilities, including serving on global teams and traveling internationally. At first, Callahan was in support and training roles, but when a manager became aware of his skills and experience in working with people, he was offered a position as a regional HR manager. Callahan was soon in the field working as a true HR generalist during an important time of rapid growth for the company. Promotions came every few years, and along the way to his role as senior vice president of human resources, Callahan developed global programs, led mergers and acquisitions, and created emerging leaders’ workshops. In 2006, Callahan left Siemens for the medical field, where he helped university hospitals and other healthcare systems modernize HR functions that were lagging behind other industries. During those

years, Callahan developed a reputation for driving change as he revamped executive compensation and benefits packages, created diversity programs, and helped hospitals make dramatic increases in patient satisfaction scores. After stacking up accomplishments year after year, Callahan jumped at the chance to join Howard University in 2018. “This place is special and fits who I am perfectly,” he says. “Howard serves a certain constituency, including the underserved, it operates a hospital, and it needed someone to elevate HR.” Callahan has been busy at Howard. He leads all HR functions, advises on organization development, and serves in the president’s cabinet. In his first year, he helped migrate Howard’s retirement savings plan, taking $800 million in assets from five vendors and uniting them in a single TIAA plan. “The success of Howard University ’s retirement programs are attributed to Larry’s innovative leadership,” says John Doyle, associate partner, at Aon Investments. “He understands





“Where you go in life is not an accident. You can often choose to put yourself around good, bad, or indifferent people. Your values guide you toward or away from certain people and certain things.” L A R RY C A L L A H A N

how important benefits are to improving retirement outcomes.” He also helped Howard increase its minimum wage. In early 2020, nonunion employees earning less than $35,000 saw their pay increase to $34,999—one cent below the amount where expensive healthcare premium payments are required. The move illustrates Howard’s countercultural style, which was on full display during the coronavirus pandemic. As other institutions suffered layoffs, Howard, led by President Frederick, maintained all staff and faculty benefits and did not lay off or furlough any employees. The leaders of the university moved to a teleworking environment, implemented robust COVID-19 testing, took students to a temporary pass/ fail system, and promoted an on-campus food bank for students struggling with food insecurity. Callahan sees serving at one of the nation’s top HBCUs as a privilege, especially given Howard’s commitment to diversity, both in its leadership and its academic offerings. Nine of HU’s thirteen deans are women. Howard offers more than 120 degree programs and is the top provider of African American undergraduates in the STEM




fields. Its College of Medicine produces more minority graduates than all other HBCUs combined. Some of the nation’s top legislators, attorneys, entrepreneurs, and entertainers have studied their craft at its campus. Alumni of the influential and prominent institution include the newly elected Vice President Kamala Harris, Chadwick Boseman, Toni Morrison, Thurgood Marshall, Debbie Allen, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. By helping produce graduates of this caliber, Howard is changing the world and developing the next generation of leaders.

We congratulate Larry Callahan on this well-deserved recognition! TIAA is a long-term partner to Howard University and proud of the work we have done together in helping drive financial wellness and retirement readiness on behalf of their employees. TIAA ( is the leading provider of financial services in the academic, research, medical, cultural, and government fields.

UnitedHealthcare StudentResources (UHCSR) congratulates and thanks Larry Callahan for his contributions and unwavering dedication to Howard University. Through collaboration and trust we have established a solid foundation that helps students at Howard University live healthier lives. Thank you for choosing UHCSR to meet the needs of Howard University students.

A Leader in Higher Education Congratulations Larry Callahan! Aon is proud to partner with Howard University and strategic leaders like Larry, who provide mission-focused leadership for employees.

Aon was not involved in the selection process related to this Profile Magazine Award for Larry Callahan and its client, Howard University. Receipt of this award is in no way indicative of any individual client or investor’s experience with Aon or Aon’s future performance.


Lockton Companies’ Kenneth Ralff led his team through the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, turning the challenge of remote work into a competitive advantage By P E T E R FA B R I S




When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, most companies had to pivot quickly to remote work . L ock ton Companies faced a bigger challenge than most: in addition to coming up with a plan for its own employees, the consulting firm also needed to provide guidance for its 52,000 clients across the globe. Fortunately, Lockton already had the infrastructure in place to quickly transition its workforce to function outside the office, says Kenneth Ralff, senior vice president and benefits office leader at the company’s Boston location. This allowed Lockton to focus on its mission of helping clients manage employee

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“My team is fairly young. Many were single and living in apartments. I was concerned about the isolation factor.” KENNETH R ALFF

benefit programs and advising on other human resources matters. “Ken and Lockton have always been committed to supporting their clients, and that is even more critical in today’s environment. That shared commitment to putting our clients first is why Lockton and Lincoln Financial Group are such strong partners,” says Bob Reiff, senior vice president and head of distribution and client solutions for Lincoln Financial’s Group Protection business. In the weeks that followed, many advisees faced critical decisions such as whether to lay off staff or apply for government loans that would allow them to retain workers. Lockton helped clients sort out the pros and cons of each option. Most also sought help in how to transition to exclusively remote work. Lockton’s quick reaction to the unprecedented conditions not only helped it to advise its clients, Ralff says, it also put the company in a great position to win new business. Meanwhile, Lockton was making sure its own employees were properly equipped to work from home. A paperless, cloud-based platform was already in place, but most of Ralff’s staff needed two monitors to perform

their jobs. Since many had just one monitor at home, the company reimbursed them if they needed to buy another. To make videoconferencing work better, Ralff modified how his team interacted with each other and with clients online. “My team is fairly young,” Ralff says. “I had hired some new people in February. Many were single and living in apartments. I was concerned about the isolation factor.” To remedy that, he insisted that everyone turn on their cameras during meetings. Lockton hired consultants to advise employees on how to boost the quality of the video conferencing experience. In addition to help with optimizing computer and networking performance, consultants advised on how to adjust lighting and backgrounds within employees’ homes to improve how they appeared on screen. Virtual meetings with prospective new clients posed other challenges. Months before, Ralff’s team had replaced PowerPoint-style presentations with a “place mat approach,” which uses an 11-inch by 17-inch sheet of paper displaying a matrix-type presentation of key points. “This allowed us to jump around from point to point in a more fluid way,” Ralff says. The nonlinear





Kenneth Ralff SVP and Benefits Office Leader

approach fostered more interaction between his team and the prospective clients, making for more engaging conversations. This approach would not work remotely, since video screens showing each participant would not be able to display a place mat large enough for everyone to read. That meant it was back to the PowerPoint method, and that Ralff’s team would have to work harder to spark interest. “When we meet in person, you can read the room,” Ralff says. “You can tell by their expressions and body language if there is something that they are not as interested in. You can drop that and go on to another point.” Making those calls is tougher on a video screen. A few adjustments helped the remote PowerPoint format work better. First, additional pre-meeting contact with the prospective clients clarified what they were most interested in so that Ralff’s team could focus accordingly. Ralff’s sales pitch participants also held pre-meeting huddles to practice the meeting flow—who would address which points, and in what order. Ralff’s team also discovered how to tweak videoconferencing applications for the best experience. “Some apps work best if you use sound over the computer,” Ralff says. “Others work best if you have




Keith Clayton

Lockton Companies


“When we meet in person, you can read the room. You can tell by their expressions and body language if there is something that they are not as interested in. You can drop that and go on to another point.” KENNETH R ALFF

the sound over the phone.” All the work to optimize the videoconferencing experience paid off: they gained several notable new clients, Ralff says. He adds that because some competitors were struggling with remote presentations, clients saw Lockton’s ability to adjust quickly as an indication of its overall performance abilities. Lockton’s pandemic response has proven that employees can work effectively from remote locations. After the pandemic subsides, some workers may continue in that mode, Ralff says. In fact, just before the shutdown he recruited someone who faced a miserable commute to Lockton’s Boston office, so Ralff fought to hire her as a remote worker. He expects the company to be more amenable to such arrangements in the future. Ralff still prefers the office environment, though, and expects most workers at Lockton and elsewhere to be office-based after the pandemic subsides. He learned the importance of personal interactions at a previous position, when he was charged with building a new outpost for a consulting firm

in Boston. It was a New England expansion of a firm with a location about two hours away in Connecticut. Ralff realized in hindsight that he would have been more successful in building the satellite office had he spent more time at the Connecticut location getting to know key players there. Such personal interactions are crucial to gathering information and obtaining help when needed, he says. When Ralff took the position at Lockton, he was again tasked with bolstering a satellite office in Boston for a firm with a larger presence in Connecticut—and he drew on his earlier experience. “I made sure that I went to Farmington [Conn.] at least once a month even if I had no specific reason to go,” he says. Most of Lockton’s consultants are generalists but tend to have an area of concentration, and knowing who has expertise in what areas can be crucial. For this reason, Ralff believes the pandemic will not spell a major decline of corporate offices. While there are benefits to remote work, in-person interactions can’t be entirely replaced by videoconferencing.


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Out of the Frying Pan and into the Fire On the heels of a major reorganization, HR executive Lauren Baer helps QEP Resources navigate a worldwide pandemic By B I L LY Y O S T

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The last time Profile spoke w it h Lauren Baer, t he vice president of human resources and community investments had recently come out on the other end of a position it’s hard to imagine any HR professional enjoying. Following a shift in strategy, QEP Resources underwent a rightsizing that included a downsizing of its workforce by approximately 60 percent over an eighteenmonth period. The strategic and cultural realignment that has occurred since that difficult period for the company is immense, and even more so that it has been able to take place during a pandemic when so many of those at the company were forced to work from home. Imagine successfully navigating


Lauren Baer VP of HR & Community Investments

Courtesy of QEP

QEP Resources

an obstacle course only to find that the prize was having to do it again blindfolded. That’s where Baer’s tenacity comes in. “One of the things I’m most proud of in this entire process is really being able to stand strong on difficult topics and being able to have stamina,” Baer explains. “The last two years has been an incredibly challenging time to be a leader, but I’ve been able to stay strong and fight for things that are really important, and see people make decisions to do the right thing.” Baer says the work QEP was able to put in prior to the pandemic has made it more resilient, more communicative, and more streamlined in essential ways. “Our company focused intensely on communication and opportunities for feedback to ensure we were adjusting throughout the year to meet the ever-changing needs of our workforce while also operating safely and executing with excellence,” the VP says. “Our culture also allowed us to be innovative and creative in how we engaged with each other as a company. We found ways to connect even in this isolated environment, and it directly and positively impacted how this challenging year progressed for us as a company.” From the HR perspective, Baer has been on the front lines of QEP’s COVID-19 response. She is leading the organization’s task force, providing her with the chance to directly positively affect all those under the QEP banner. “As an HR executive, I see myself as a business leader with the great opportunity to focus on human capital





“We’ve had to drive this engagement virtually, but I’m so impressed with the ability of people to think outside the box. The creativity has just been astounding.” L AU R E N B A E R

A RISK WORTH TAKING Lauren Baer is the executive you want in times of crises, but her advice for those early in their HR journeys is just as compelling. The lateral move is so often seen as a harbinger of doom on a résumé, but Baer asks those on their journey to see a larger picture. “I can remember one time very specifically that I took a step back in order to move forward,” Baer explains. “I knew where my ultimate goal was, but I had to veer to get there. There’s always a risk, but for me, it was a risk worth taking.”




strategies,” Baer explains. “This year I was able to be at the front lines of addressing the pandemic with both the business performance perspective and the perspective of our people with all their various needs and circumstances.” The VP says soliciting feedback from the QEP workforce was essential in understanding how to respond in kind. The blurring of the lines between workers’ professional and personal lives was one the task force took very seriously. “We are in meetings where we see people in their personal space, with their children and whatever they may be facing while also trying to do their job well,” Baer says. “I think HR was key to support this and recognize and acknowledge the personal and professional aspects of the situation.” As a result, QEP began focusing on both the personal and professional lives more widely to not only ensure employees had what they needed to work, but also that QEP was also being mindful and attentive to employees’ personal health, well-being, and the demands at home. Baer says it would have made sense for a lot of organizations to pause on development and training, but QEP chose to press forward on these initiatives to “aggressively recognize that employees needed to continue to understand that the company was invested in them and their professional development and growth.” The progressive push didn’t stop there. Baer was able to shake up the structure of QEP Cares, the organization’s community

investments and partnerships program. The program, originally managed by a leader, has instead been employee-council led. “As we moved that process towards employee-led councils, we worked to drive engagement and involvement and decision making by those same people,” Baer explains. “We’ve had to drive this engagement virtually, but I’m so impressed with the ability of people to think outside the box. The creativity has just been astounding.” The program has been such a success that it was honored as one of the Civic 50 Colorado awards for the most community-minded companies. Through this program, Baer says inclusion and diversity has been able to take center stage both internally at QEP and with its extended community. Baer encountered every sort of challenge imaginable in 2020, and resilience continues to be what defines Baer in any role she inhabits. “Major changes, transitions, and challenges are never clear-cut, and they don’t follow a straight line,” Baer says. “Authenticity and transparency in communication to the extent feasible is key. And resiliency, while a bit of a buzzword these days, is something I lean on. You will be knocked down at times, but you will ultimately be able to navigate the change if you learn the ways that you restore yourself and bounce back.” Baer says that having a strong team, both professionally and personally, has helped her remain steadfast in her commitment to weathering any storm, come what may.

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Catalyst, Strategist, Operator, Steward Intuit’s Mark Flournoy brings decades of wisdom and finance expertise to oversee the financial giant’s expansion and support its longevity By C L I N T W O R T H I N G T O N

If you’re a taxpaying American with a bank account, chances are you’ve interacted with Intuit’s products at some point. The company behind ubiquitous financial software programs Mint, TurboTax, and QuickBooks has established itself as the premier financial solution for millions of Americans. In the final weeks of 2020, it also expanded its reach with a $8 billion acquisition of credit score website Credit Karma. A trusted financial giant like Intuit requires a firm hand at the wheel of its




own finances. For the past seventeen years, that hand has belonged to Mark Flournoy, senior vice president and chief accounting officer. Drawing from years of experience in accounting at companies like Adidas and accounting firm Ernst & Young, he brings not just wisdom but a strong sense of leadership inside the rapidly growing company. When Flournoy first joined Intuit in 2003 as director of internal controls, he was focused on a role designed to build out Intuit’s internal control structure, while creating and upgrading the company’s less-developed technical accounting

processes. At the same time, he also created an accounting principles group focused on establishing solid technical expertise and high-quality external reporting. In his current role as the chief accounting officer, Flournoy has to keep a lot of different plates spinning: technical accounting, corporate tax functions, financial systems administrator, and so on. “You’re really expected to become a catalyst for change, a strategist, an operator, and a steward all in one,” he explains. In previous years, chief accounting officers functioned as more technical experts


Mark Flournoy SVP and Chief Accounting Officer Intuit

“We try to disrupt our business every day, allowing us to stay one step ahead of the competition.”

Kelly Wood


than anything else. Flournoy’s function also encompasses a financial systems team that works across the company, go-to-market capabilities for the business, corporate tax, payroll operations, as well as duties to run the company’s global accounting and quote to cash activities. Managing so many different tasks for a $9 billion in revenue fin tech company requires a principled hand at the wheel. Central to Flournoy’s mindset are the values of integrity, honesty, and transparency, which help him foster a cooperative environment within his department. “You need to share the right level of information to empower your team, so they can drive decisions without you needing to be involved in every facet of the business,” he says. These priorities line up nicely with Intuit’s “True North Goals,” its internal corporate strategy that involves delivering





“The reason I’ve been here for seventeen years is that it’s an incredible company.” M A R K F L O U R N OY

the best results possible to key stakeholders (employees, customers, partners, and shareholders) while building the foundation for a stronger future. He takes care to facilitate clear communication across the organization. “Not just the folks you lead, but your internal customers across the organization, both in and out of finance,” he emphasizes. One major element of that communication is the Glint surveys that Intuit employees take nearly every quarter, which offers valuable feedback to management from the day-to-day workers. Based on the scores they receive from those surveys, Flournoy and his team work to keep their employees highly engaged with not just big-picture initiatives but also day-to-day activities. It’s also vital, Flournoy says, to understand the needs of the business from more




than just an accounting perspective. You have to be an accountant and a business partner, bringing strategic insights and strong knowledge of the business to bear when making decisions within a technical function like accounting, he notes. One potent example of this is the Credit Karma acquisition. Flournoy is playing a major part in implementing Credit Karma into Intuit’s broader umbrella of online services. Intuit’s decision to move from “shrink-wrapped software in a box” to cloud-based SaaS services has opened the door to even greater accessibility for customers. With the addition of Credit Karma, Flournoy says, Intuit has now pieced together a suite of services that help consumers and small businesses succeed in achieving their personal financial goals. What’s more, he’s particularly proud of Intuit’s merchant credit card services, payroll,

and loans for small businesses, all with an eye to helping small businesses succeed. “It’s great to not just wait for the business to come to you, but going to them and asking: ‘What are you doing? Let’s talk about your vision and how to support it,’” he notes. Flournoy also oversees the entire go-to-market function for Intuit’s fleet of products and ensures these new products and platforms reach customers as quickly as possible. “The reason finance is so involved in creating an awesome customer billing experience is that pricing and promotions, entitlement of our services, invoicing, collecting cash, recognizing revenue, are all part of our customer experience and in turn create financial transactions that end up in our financial statements,” he explains. “I’ve had to step in and really become a partner with our technology, product management, and marketing teams.” This way, not only


do customers get the best experience but their transactions are conducted with the utmost integrity. For Flournoy, managing such allencompassing tasks means proactively cultivating relationships with the marketing and product management departments, as well as the executives. “Anticipate and talk to them about the strategy, then predict what particular vision they’re describing,” he advises. “The reason I’ve been here for seventeen years is that it’s an incredible company,” Flournoy says about Intuit, whose dominance of the online financial services space offers him a host of exciting new opportunities in his long-standing role. The key to the company’s longevity, he argues, is its flexibility. In its thirty-five years of existence, Intuit “hasn’t become complacent” but has constantly evolved and changed to anticipate the needs of its customers. “We try to disrupt our business every day, allowing us to stay one step ahead of the competition,” he says. With the addition of Credit Karma to its robust roster of personal finance services, Intuit is set to expand its already vast reach even further, guided by Flournoy.

Inspire. Influence. Impact. Leaders Aim do it all. higher At KPMG, we never underestimate the power of passionate people who are committed to success. We are proud to recognize and congratulate Mark Flournoy for his inspired leadership, which has helped Intuit achieve outstanding results.

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KPMG is one of the world’s leading professional services firms. It provides innovative business solutions, audit, tax, advisory services, and industry insight to many of the world’s largest and most prestigious organizations. KPMG LLP is the independent US member firm of KPMG International Cooperative, whose member firms have 219,000 professionals in 147 countries.

Congratulations to Mark Flournoy, outstanding thought leader and innovator in the industry, for this well deserved recognition. At PwC, our purpose is to build trust in society and solve important problems. Think bold. Apply technology in new ways. Enhance experience. Realize value. This is the PwC experience.




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P E O P L E + C O M PA N I E S



ACH Food Companies 41 Actian Corporation 128 AEO Inc. 71 Asthana, Gaurav 57 Atlassian 57

Griffin, Karen

H Hagen, Lorna Halkerston, Michelle Harris, AJ Hassett Logistics Haws, Bradley Hazen and Sawyer Highgate Hotels Honest Company, The Howard Hughes Corporation, The Howard University HUGO BOSS Fashions Inc.

B Baer, Lauren 156 Brimhall, Reed 32 Broadridge Financial Solutions 46 Buchanan, Norman 13

C Callahan, Larry Cascade Designs Collins, Teddy


146 138 110

8 50 88 50 78 123 142 68 114 146 18

I Intuit

E Eapen, Grace 18 Ecker, Lacee 71 Engle, Dara 114 eXecutive leadership partners 107


J Jackson Family Wines


K Kober, Kurt

F Farm Bureau Financial Services 120 Flournoy, Mark 160 Fourteen Foods 63

Brandon Smetak, VP of Financial Reporting, Smart & Final

L Letizia, Kelsey Lockton Companies Los Angeles Lakers



35 152 88

M Mastercard 82 McGovern, Marcy 94 MedVet Associates 134

N Needham, David Nissenberg, James

27 54


O Odze, Andrew Oportun Inc.

107 27

P Pikitch, Susan Pittsburgh Pirates Pourghadir, Ali

97 94 22

Q Mark Sagliocco (Townsend), Christian Yi (Smetak)

QEP Resources


R Ralff, Kenneth 152 Ribeiro, Melissa 128 Rieck, Karen 120 Ross, Harry 138 RXBAR 35 Denise Townsend, CHRO, Hazen and Sawyer


S Santa Monica Seafood

Scentsy 32 SeatGeek 110 Smart & Final 60 Smetak, Brandon 60 Smith, John 41 Smith, Kisha 103 Spigai, Christin 46 Spirit Airlines 75 Stevenson, Maura 134

Tepper Sports & Entertainment 103 Ticketmaster 44 Townsend, Denise 123 Tusculum University 38

U Underwood, Chad 63 United States Golf Association 97 University of Iowa Health Care 78

W Wernick, Robert Wiggins, Rocky Wilkinson, John Williams-Fitts, Geri Willis Towers Watson

44 75 38 142 13






Test Your Sports Knowledge See how well you know the organizations featured in our Sports section (P86)

1. Which city did the Los Angeles Lakers play in before the franchise moved to California in 1960? a.  Detroit, Michigan b.  Buffalo, New York c.  Minneapolis, Minnesota d.  Syracuse, New York 2. When did the Pittsburgh Pirates last win the World Series? a. 1971 b. 1979 c. 1982 d. 1988 3. How many golfers are part of the USGA’s Golf Handicap Information Network? a.  2.3 million b.  1.5 million c.  3 million d.  5 million 4. What year is the Charlotte FC planning to start playing? a. 2021 b. 2022 c. 2023 d. 2024 5. Which NFL brother duo has invested in SeatGeek? a.  Jim and John Harbaugh b.  Matt and Tim Hasselbeck c.  Peyton and Eli Manning d.  Travis and Jason Kelce

Answers 1. C; 2. B; 3. A; 4. B; 5. C 166



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