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HROT Celebrity Interview: Geraldine Ferraro

Decades before Geena Davis played Commander-In-Chief on TV, Geraldine Ferraro almost became the real thing. She has been a VP candidate, talk show TV star on CNN’s “Crossfire,” district attorney, school teacher, Congresswoman, U.N. representative, grandmother, cancer survivor, and now an international management consultant. In our 2nd annual interview with her, Ferraro weighs in on several heavy issues.

by Jay Whitehead

Let’s set the stage: It’s a cold November morning several days after a contentious 2005 New York mayoral election that saw Geraldine Ferraro’s Democratic candidate Fernando Ferrer finish second behind incumbent Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In her office overlooking Ground Zero, the phone rings non-stop. Callers seek post-poll words of wisdom from the grande dame of American politics. Ferraro, as it turns out, is the oracle of more political wisdom than any female since Eleanor Roosevelt.

On this day, Ferraro’s electric baby blues—the eyes of a former prosecutor—are focused on the new regulatory environment. In her post-political life as a management advisor at Global Consulting Group (GCG), Ferraro spends lots of time knee-deep in the recent Sarbanes-Oxley inspired prosecutions on Wall Street, led most prominently by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

“Eliot has done it to two friends of mine,” she admits. “But remember, he gets guilty pleas because someone actually broke the law.”

While investors are being protected by Sarbox, she admits that because of the law, “everyone is uptight.” Ferraro, who sits on the board and governance and audit committees of an energy company, says, “Every auditor at Big Four firms like KPMG is looking over his shoulder, which costs a great deal of money.”

Even though Spitzer and the SEC’s top guy on Wall Street, Mark Schoenfeld, have gotten big publicity—including the recent cover story I wrote for FAO Today magazine on Schoenfeld’s prosecution of former Citigroup CEO Thomas Jones—the former district attorney says, “neither one of them is doing it for the TV or the media.” They are upholding the law, she says.

“Your story told it right. It is just as if Jones ran into a grocery store and stole out of the register. He stole from shareholders.”

She does not, however, feel the same way about how the government pursued domestic diva Martha Stewart for insider trading allegations. “If Martha Stewart had not been Martha Stewart, she would not have been pursued,” Ferraro claims. “If she had gotten a lesser sentence, there would have been an outcry.”

As part of GCG, Ferraro is surrounded by smart, well-connected folks. Take Jacinta Gauda, head of the firm’s corporate communications practice. One of her strengths is handling controversies—like outsourcing or offshoring announcements.

“CEOs are extremely concerned about the regulatory impact of an outsourcing project,” Gauda tells me. She says there are three secrets for companies to protect their brand from being tarnished by a bad outsourcing experience: keeping employees informed, explaining to the public why outsourcing is good for them, and doing more than what companies need to do to communicate and retrain.

On today’s hottest employer topic—employee engagement—both Ferraro and Gauda respond with passion. Gauda admits that today’s workforce “takes a different type of leader to get the best out of … employees who are saying ‘I will have a balanced life,’ and will not bring their whole lives to the job anymore.”

Ferraro agrees. “Lots of people are more like me, lots of careers. And the unions have become weakened because employees feel they are not necessary. Engaging employees today is more challenging than ever  and with slow growth of skilled workers, more important too.”

As for her personal experience with HRO, Ferraro points out that GCG is an HRO user since it is a client of Administaff, a professional employer organization. Its services “are cheaper [than in-house HR] and growing in functionality,” she says. “Now we have an office in L.A., Sacramento, and international offices in London, Brussels, and Tel Aviv. Now this is a pretty big business, with a growing staff. We’re a set of outsourced specialists, who appreciate the value that other specialists bring.”

So, for those in private-sector enterprises such as Ferraro, HRO is deserving of support. On the topic of public-sector outsourcing, however, she admits, “You can’t run the government like a company. Government’s brand is responsible to more than shareholders. You have to provide services, housing.”

But, Ferraro is quick to remind me that private-sector expertise—even outsourcing experience—is tremendously useful to government work. “Look at Bloomberg. He’s done a magnificent job—a great job with the schools, no social promotion, giving kids the chance to catch up. You wonder how a career politician could ever run an enterprise like this city.”

Tags: Benefits, Contributors, Employee Engagement

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