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Strategic Human Resource Management Center Trek to Milwaukee

By Prachi Garg

April 16, 2024

Prachi Garg

Every year, the SHR center embarks on a trek, alternating between destinations like Chicago and Milwaukee. This year, we ventured to Milwaukee, marking my inaugural trek as an MBA student. My Center Director, Tanya Hubanks, had meticulously planned this excursion for quite some time. The trek spanned two days, with our departure from Madison on April 4th and our return late on April 5th. The main purpose of the trek is to engage with numerous HR professionals, learning from their expertise and seeking their advice. It also serves as an excellent networking opportunity. The agenda included visits to four companies: Komatsu Mining Company, Northwestern Mutual, Baird, and Molson Coors.

The first company we visited was Komatsu Mining Company, a leading manufacturer of construction, mining, forestry, and industrial heavy equipment. They are dedicated to building machines that cater to the needs of society, emphasizing their belief that they were born out of necessity. They call their machines gentle giants. They don’t hire people to build machines. They build machines to hire people. Their brand promise, “Creating Value Together,” reflects their commitment to collaboration. We were welcomed by Human Resource Director Kristy Kintop, who boasts over 9 years of experience with the company. Given Komatsu’s Japanese roots, its organizational structure is matrixed. During the presentation and tour of their manufacturing facility, a team of human resources experts elucidated how they navigate employee challenges and shape the organization’s future. They serve as strategic partners, collaborating with business unit leaders to address various HR needs, including training, skill development, talent acquisition, and compensation analysis. Ensuring adherence to safety regulations is paramount, with comprehensive training provided to every employee. Innovative features are implemented to enhance worker safety, such as alerts to indicate crane movements, thereby minimizing accidents. The tour of the manufacturing facility provided invaluable insights into the assembly process of these colossal machines, culminating in a comprehensive understanding of Komatsu’s operations.

After this visit, we rested for a bit in our hotel room before heading out to an alumni reception. The event featured special guests including Colleen Scheibel, HR Business Partner at Northwestern Mutual; Jennifer Pfannenstiel, VP of Human Resources at Amedisys; and Samantha Dobbins, Client Service Leader at River Run. The drink of the night was ‘Dirty SHRley’, which proved popular among attendees. Personally, I tried Shirley Temple for the first time and found it quite enjoyable. The reception provided an excellent opportunity for networking and reconnecting with second year SHR students, who are often occupied with diverse schedules. The atmosphere was welcoming, and everyone relished the chance to catch up while indulging in delicious snacks. Following the reception, we headed to Café Benelux for dinner, where I savored the Jerk Shrimp Pasta—a dish truly worth raving about. It was a delightful conclusion to the day, enjoying a cozy dinner in the company of excellent peers.

On April 5th, we commenced our company visits with Northwestern Mutual, where we were warmly greeted by Colleen Scheibel, HR Business Partner; James Hynek III, Assistant Director, Compensation; Todd Smasal, Vice President Total Rewards & Campus Experience; and Kate Von Behren, HR Business Partner. Northwestern Mutual, a financial planning, life insurance, and investment services company, espouses the ethos that “When people feel good about their money, good things happen.” People are part of Northwestern Mutual’s DNA. Central to its operations is a dedication to its policy owners, as it operates without shareholders, directing profits back to them in the form of dividends. Embracing a client-centric approach, the company tailors financial strategies to each client’s unique life and priorities, crafting plans aimed at achieving their individual goals. Our tour of their newly completed building, finalized in 2020, showcased amenities such as complimentary lunch, a cherished perk among employees who often schedule lunch partners for the entire year in advance. Noteworthy is their forthcoming convenience store on the first floor, a testament to Northwestern Mutual’s commitment to employee satisfaction and well-being.

After a refreshing stroll on a pleasant, sunny day in Milwaukee, we arrived at Baird. There, we were greeted by Kathryn Steffen, PWM HR Consultant; Mei Robinson, Director of Culture and Integration; Todd McClement, Director of Talent Acquisition; and Cory Davitz, HR Business Advisor Manager. Baird is an international financial services firm providing private wealth management, trust, asset management, investment banking, capital markets and private equity services. Baird distinguishes itself through its employee ownership model, fostering a personal investment in client success. Referred to as ‘Associates,’ Baird’s workforce embodies its core values encapsulated in “The Baird Way” – Honesty in our business dealings and integrity in everything we do. Todd McClement highlighted Baird’s human-centric approach to application review, providing avenues for associate feedback to nurture a collaborative and respectful workplace culture.  A distinguishing characteristic about Baird is its emphasis/insistence on teamwork. The ‘No Asshole Rule’ is a clear warning to all associated not to engage on selfish, self-centered conduct.

At noon, we enjoyed our HR Professionals lunch, graced by distinguished guests including Deidre Garrett, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Goodwill; Mary Rindo, Senior HR Business Partner at GE HealthCare; Sandy Tellefson, Director of Outreach & Member Engagement at the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans; and Ben Topercer, Executive Vice President & Chief Human Resources Officer at Enerpac Tool Group. The meal was not only delicious and flavorful but also provided an invaluable opportunity for insightful discussions and networking within the HR community.

The last company we visited was Molson Coors Beverage Company, renowned for its iconic brands such as Coors Light, Miller Lite, and Molson Canadian. Upon our arrival, we were graciously welcomed by Davis Pegorsch, Director of Global Organization Development, and Samantha Morris, Organizational Development Partner. Davis provided insights into Molson Coors’ employee training initiatives, highlighting their innovative approach through designated rooms such as the Asian Room, Hispanic Room, African American Room, LGBTQ+ Room, and Women Room. These spaces serve as avenues for employees to confront and address biases, fostering a culture of inclusivity and respect. Notably, the LGBTQ+ room featured a closet adorned with messages and inner thoughts, serving as a poignant reminder of the importance of combating stereotypes and promoting understanding in the workplace.

We concluded our trek with a delightful activity, attending a baseball game where we had the opportunity to meet Cas Castro, Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Planning at Milwaukee Brewers. He shared insights into the team’s management of full-time, seasonal, and part-time employees, highlighting the unique dynamics of Major League Baseball (MLB) compared to the National Football League (NFL) due to MLB’s lack of a salary cap. Later, we ascended to the Northwestern Mutual suite to enjoy the game. As a first-time spectator of baseball, my understanding was limited to a few basic facts, leaving me feeling somewhat clueless amidst the excitement of the game that included fireworks during home runs. In conclusion, the trek to Milwaukee proved to be an enriching experience, blending education, networking, and camaraderie. From engaging presentations to immersive tours, each encounter left an indelible mark, fostering a deeper understanding of industry practices and fostering meaningful connections within the HR community.