A Day in the Life of Sue Hagen HR Models Work-Life Balance at Dole
Westlake Village, California
Sue Hagen, 37, has what she calls: "A great but somewhat mixed-up job." Her primary role is that of vice president of HR for Dole Food Co., Inc.’s operating groups, which includes providing support for the business units, including training, staffing and employee relations. The other hat she wears is corporate HR director for the company’s corporate campus based in Westlake Village, California, which houses about 250 people in two buildings—it includes the support group staff, packaged goods staff and the fresh fruit division (primarily the banana business), including salespeople. On this side, she’s responsible for general HR policy, health and welfare programs, plan design, communication (including the HR intranet site) and salaried payroll issues for the firm’s North American operations. She also interacts with divisional HR group and international HR operations. "The corporate philosophy for many years has been to have as small a corporate staff as possible—so there are only about 80 true corporate employees," she says. "It’s a highly decentralized company."
The company is set up more from a regional standpoint than from a product line standpoint. The organizational structure includes four divisions:North America, Asia, Latin America and Europe, with regional managers assigned to each. Each division has its own HR organization that supports it. Because her job is so varied, I quickly see it reflected by the many meetings and issues she deals with during her busy day.
Bright and early Monday morning, Sue’s already out the door for an early morning, before-work, 10-mile run. She’s training for an upcoming marathon, and hopes to qualify this year for the Boston Marathon. Then she takes her two dogs, Peanut and Hoover, for a walk before her shower. Then it’s a short, two-mile drive to the office.
Sue arrives at the office a little earlier than usual this morning after taking Friday off for a personal day. She’s a big believer in work/life balance, which spills over into her HR philosophy and the programs she’s helped develop for Dole Foods Co., Inc., where she’s worked for the past 13 years. When I arrive, it’s a short walk from the reception area to the corporate HR department. Sue greets me and ushers me into her large office, which has a view of Lindero Canyon Road and local shops, and rolling hills in the distance. She’s already been catching up on e-mail and voice-mail after her long weekend. "I used to get about 50 calls a day," says Sue. "As for e-mail, I get 100 e-mails every day." She seems to take it all in stride, and fires off responses with ease. Many of the questions these days concern the move to the company’s new building being built just down the road, which will be finished later this summer. Most of the other e-mail she gets concerns employee benefits, payroll, policy questions, project work for HR and vendor issues.
We walk down the hall to the company boardroom to meet with the heads of Dole’s packaged foods division. The group is meeting to discuss the division’s results for the last period (there are 13 4-week periods a year) and to discuss forecasts for the next period. With a world map on the wall behind him, Peter M. Nolan, the division president, heads the meeting of seven people. Each executive gives an update for his or her area. They discuss their Thailand operations, pineapple sales, a customer database, the upcoming peach harvest, who their "Broker of the Year" was and a recent promotion. The group agrees the promotion was a great morale booster. Sue asks if they need her group to update org charts with pictures.
While the other execs are giving their updates, Sue munches on a blueberry bagel and sips coffee. When it’s her turn, she begins by discussing a current problem with payroll accruals, then goes on to add that soon Dole employees will be able to access their 401(k) information and make changes directly to their own accounts through their vendor’s new Web site. Sue also talks about pulling some people together to be on a steering committee to coordinate details for the upcoming move. She also wants to pull another committee together to work on parking and security issues. After one other exec’s update, they finish.
Sue meets with the HR administrative assistant, Heidi Hintz, in her office. Heidi’s one of 16 people that Sue manages directly or indirectly. After reviewing Sue’s schedule for the week, they discuss Dole’s wellness program called "Healthy Lifestyles" and their HR-sponsored "Lunch & Learn" seminars. Employees can earn flex-benefit credits for attending these sessions. This week’s luncheon is on self-defense. They talk about other possible topics (such as back health—which they agree would be a good topic because of the upcoming move) and who they might invite to present on these topics at other upcoming events in May and June. Heidi agrees to call a couple of experts and invite them to speak. They move on to discuss Heidi’s performance development goals, and where she needs to adjust the time she spends on certain activities. They agree she needs to spend more time posting information on the company’s intranet so that updates happen once a month.
Sue spends the next 15 minutes checking e-mail and taking phone calls from a consultant and fields a request for Dole to participate in an upcoming local event with the Rotary Club.
Sue and I head upstairs to a meeting with Pete Nolan, head of packaged foods, and Dave Payn, senior HR consultant. This time, they meet in Pete’s corner office to discuss the intricacies of possibly reorganizing one of the company’s divisions to encourage efficiencies. The division currently is organized into "silo" groups, and few, if any, members of the division have crossfunctional expertise within the division. They agree that this could be a problem should senior members of the group leave for any reason. It’s clear a consultant needs to be called in for an objective look at the division to see how and if it needs to be reorganized and they talk about who they might call.
Sue suggests she might begin looking at succession planning within the group related to individuals’ performance development plans and related comp issues. The discussion moves into the tight staffing market. They talk about the longer time-to-fill jobs. Sue says people can be pickier these days, but she’s not sure if the company’s hiring managers have changed their hiring strategies. Some managers are still having just about everyone in their departments meet every candidate. It may be overkill. They talk about the employee referral program. Sue says they upped the ante last year to get employees more interested by doubling the incentive. Sue wraps it up by saying they’ll meet next week to discuss consultants and project criteria.
Sue tackles the pile in her in-box. She explains that she makes a quick assessment of what mail is important and throws away what’s not critical, and she saves most mail to read at home on the weekends. "I just can’t take the time to read some things thoroughly at work," she explains. On weekends, she catches up on trade journals, business magazines and other industry-related news. She makes a couple more phone calls.
Sue walks over to the payroll department to meet with David Dale, Nashawn Smith and Soccoro Garcia about a payroll problem with some expats’ paychecks. It seems their accounting system was incorrectly withholding the wrong amount of "hypotax." Sue later explains to me that they were referring to the federal taxes that Dole employees living outside the United States (but still American citizens) must pay on their wages each year, even if they’re working elsewhere. Dole helps employees estimate "hypothetical tax"—how much tax they think they’ll need to pay each year—and withholds the amount. However, the system overestimated hypotax for the last pay period. After the payroll people explain the extent of the problem, Sue helps suggest solutions. She seems to have a calming effect on the group. They agree they need to make manual adjustments right away for those people whose paychecks were affected, and they’ll tweak the system calculation to ensure it doesn’t happen going forward. Nashawn and Soccoro leave, and Sue stays to talk with Dave about another matter of concern to him regarding a co-worker.
Sue and I walk across the street to a local Chinese restaurant. She explains that she often doesn’t take a formal lunch. She usually grabs something to eat quickly and gets back to work.
Between bites of cashew chicken and spicy egg-drop soup, we talk about her career at Dole and how she started as a secretary with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in the HR department at Dole when the corporate office was much smaller and had just moved to Westwood, California. Later, the corporate headquarters was moved up the road 40 miles to Westlake Village. After a few promotions, Sue went back and got her MBA.
"Things just kept coming up under my responsibility in HR, and eventually I was promoted to director of HR," says Sue. "I never said early on, ‘This is my calling.’ It’s just that the work was very interesting. And it still is. It’s so varied. It requires that you not only have knowledge of legal issues, but you need finance knowledge and you need to understand the business itself. It’s challenging to keep current with everything you have to know." She keeps current by reading The Wall Street Journal every day. She also reads Fortune, Forbes, Workforce and other HR-related journals.
We go on to talk about outsourcing issues (she outsources as much as possible) and how her job helps directly impact the bottom line at Dole. Sue clearly loves her job, and what she can contribute to her organization.
We return to her office and she makes more phone calls. She receives a call from someone at Levi Strauss who’s aiming to organize a coalition of employers to look at "living wages" and other self-sufficiency issues for workers overseas. Sue also makes a call to one of Dole’s corporate attorneys to discuss drawing up a contract that would bind an employee with Dole for a certain time if they arrange and pay for the costs involved in helping the employee establish permanent residency.
Sue walks to the office of Henry Cassity, who’s the director of purchasing. She tells him about an employee survey she’s implementing (the company’s first-ever). She explains the reasoning behind it: The company’s costs to recruit and relocate keep going up. They want to understand the reasons why employees stay and why they go, and what makes them happy long-term. The survey, which will be administered, scored and analyzed by Hewitt Associates’ office in Newport Beach, California, will look at seven areas, including leadership, quality of life and compensation. Henry thinks it’s a great idea. Sue asks him for his support of the survey and he agrees to encourage his group to fill the surveys out.
One door down from Sue’s office, Jacqueline Hill, human resources consultant, has been working on comparing compensation data against industry norms for two particular employees. Sue walks to her office to discuss what she’s found out and whether the two employees should be eligible to participate in the executive bonus plan. It’s clear from their discussion that the two employees are critical to company operations, but may not qualify as executives. They think they should look into perhaps creating another incentive plan for "mission-critical" employees such as these. Because Dole is a flat organization and highly decentralized, there are many employees who have organizational impact, but not in the "executive, profit-and-loss" sense. Sue asks for copies of Jacqueline’s reports, and they agree to meet at a later date to discuss the possibility of a new incentive plan for these types of employees.
Sue pops into George Horne’s office at the end of the hall. George is a Dole vice president who oversees HR. He asks her how her weekend went and whether she won any money. This is when I learn that Sue’s long weekend was in Las Vegas. She quips that she didn’t win any money, but she had a good time. The joking quickly turns serious as they discuss a job candidate for one of the company’s high-level positions, then talk about transitioning HRMS support from the IS group upstairs during the move to the new building. They talk about confidentiality and security issues, and how to back up the system during the interim. Sue then shows George data on total executive compensation for the past three years, showing the variances in targeted comp and actual comp. Sue also lets George know about the hypotax problem and how they’re resolving it, then has him sign off on some bonus payouts. They discuss their job opening for another HR generalist, and the fact that no good candidates have been identified yet. They joke that they might have to have some former HR people back in as consultants.
Sue spends the rest of her afternoon returning phone calls and e-mails, verifying vacation accruals, checking back in on the hypotax problem, and hunts for a consultant for the divisional design study.
Sue makes the short trip home, and goes out for another run. Then it’s a quiet evening fixing dinner and relaxing. The sun sets on another busy day in the life of Sue Hagen.