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“I loved it,” says Yvonne Jackson, senior vice president of human resources at Pfizer, referring to her first job in human resources. In 1970, fresh out of Atlanta’s Spelman College, Jackson joined Sears, Roebuck & Co.’s Los Angeles office as its first female African American merchandising management trainee. Her first staff rotation assignment was in human resources. “In marketing and merchandising you were dealing with product,” continues Jackson. “In human resources you were dealing with the human potential. I saw people grow and develop, and thought, ‘This is great!’ I still have the same feeling and the same focus today. Human potential: How do you capture, develop, and unleash it?”
The essential focus of human resources has not changed, yet the scope, impact, and demands of a career in this field have evolved dramatically since the 1970s. While clerical employees in “personnel” could aspire to lead the planning of company outings and payroll and benefits administration, today’s top human resources professionals serve as equal partners in the executive suite and are expected to optimally leverage human capital through economic booms and busts.
Jackson is now head of global human resources at Pfizer, the largest research-based pharmaceutical company in the world. She is responsible for more than 122,000 employees worldwide, reports to Chairman and CEO Henry A. McKinnell, and is an integral part of the company’s leadership team — the top nine Pfizer executives tasked with running the company. Pfizer, producer of the blockbuster prescription drug Viagra, achieved 2003 global sales of $45 billion. Jackson also guided Pfizer’s April 2003 acquisition of Pharmacia Corp.
In today’s environment, human resources professionals are expected to come to the table with highly developed strategic, financial, analytical, and technical skills. They must produce metrics demonstrating the bottom-line impact of human resources initiatives and, increasingly, differentiate themselves by acquiring advanced degrees and certification demonstrating functional competency. Human resources encompasses a varied slate of disciplines:
- Labor and employee relations — as a functional specialist or a full-fledged lawyer
- Compensation and benefits
- Organizational development
- Equal employment opportunity compliance
- Occupational health
- Safety or human resources information systems
Many follow a generalist track but have expertise in one area and work with specialists to deliver the full array of human resources functions to segments of an organization. Rewards are keeping pace with increased expectations.
Human resources hiring at all levels has been relatively resilient. “Human resources graduates are still in demand, although the economy is faltering,” says Regina Duffey Moravek, director of career services at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. The school is the only one in the world dedicated solely to the study of labor relations and human resources on the undergraduate level. Many employers consider it the premier source for entry-level hires in this field. “As organizations grapple with rapid change