The 2014 HRO Today Awards winners are innovating their way to strategic partnerships.
By Russ Banham
Over the past generation, the people heading up HR in many organizations have become key strategic partners to their respective CEOs, entrusted to lead diverse workforce initiatives to improve talent acquisition and retention, spur business growth, enhance sustainability practices and cultivate a workforce culture that differentiates the organization.
These CHROs are transforming HR in an era where vital skill sets are increasingly difficult to come by and hold, when global outsourcing decisions have never been more complex and challenging, and when the economic environment has demanded greater cost-effectiveness, particularly with respect to finding a balance between retained labor and outsourcing. Workforce innovation is now a strategic imperative at many enterprises, and it is the CHRO who is in charge of achieving and nurturing it.
To honor those HR leaders who have made a difference
at their organizations, HRO Today annually presents the CHRO of the Year Award, the Sustainable Workforce of the Year Award, and the Lifetime Achievement Award
at the HRO Today Awards Gala during the HRO Today Forum. The awards aim to recognize the CHROS who drive workforce initiatives through innovation and measurable excellence in employee engagement and retention.
Nominees were evaluated based on the scope of their impact on their organization or community, the extent to which the nominees drove these initiatives, and the individual reputational or professional risk taken by each nominee. Here are this year’s winners, their stories, and achievements.
Sustainable Workforce of the Year Award
In determining the Sustainable Workforce of the Year Award, judges consider several dimensions of the candidates’ performance, including the scope of the workforce’s impact on the community, measurable excellence in citizenship initiatives, and overall workplace innovation. This year’s recipient is Michelle DiTondo, senior vice president, HR, at MGM Resorts International, a gaming and hospitality business with $9.8 billion in 2013 revenues.
Workforce diversity is evident in the company’s more than 62,000 employees. To promote teamwork, a core value, MGM Resorts initiated a Diversity Champion training workshop in 2000.
Diversity also was the key theme of a 90-minute musical performance called “Inspiring Our World,” created, produced and performed by and for employees in 2013. This shared, enterprise-wide experience was a resounding success, enhancing the significance of the company’s culturally diverse workforce to its continuing success.
MGM Resorts’ sustainability efforts are exemplified in its approach to the communities in which it operates. The company believes the health of these communities has an impact on the health of the company, and vice versa. In this regard, the company sponsors a Corporate Giving Program, an employee workplace giving program via the MGM Resorts Foundation, and an Employee Volunteer Program.
CHRO of the Year
In determining the CHRO of the Year award, judges consider the leadership skills of CHROs and evaluate the innovations driving their organizations’ transformative HR initiatives. The latter extends to such key HR responsibilities as talent acquisition and retention, the development of
a workforce culture, and business growth from effective talent deployment and expense management.
In the for-profit category, this year’s winner is Jan Becker, senior vice president of HR, at Autodesk. In the non-profit category, the winner is Joseph Cabral, senior vice president and CHRO at The North Shore-LIJ Health System.
North Shore’s Joseph Cabral
Cabral joined the large, integrated healthcare network in 2004, and has played a pivotal leadership role reshaping its workforce culture. He has piloted several pioneering workforce initiatives promoting talent development and employee engagement. These programs have energized and empowered the workforce, while assisting the healthcare system’s expansion objectives and abetting its goal to establish The North Shore-LIJ Health System as a national leader in healthcare.
Cabral is credited with centralizing the organization’s talent recruitment functions, and redesigning the performance management structure to better link employee performance to key success indicators.
Among Cabral’s many achievements was the development of a talent pipeline to identify and develop highly skilled individuals to assume more expansive leadership roles in future.
Autodesk’s Jan Becker
As a member of Autodesk’s senior executive team, Jan Becker enjoys great influence in moving the strategic agenda of HR forward. In addition to her role guiding HR strategy, she is senior vice president for corporate real estate, facilities, travel, and safety and security (CREFTS). Altogether, she leads a team of nearly 300 employees globally, who design, deliver and support both HR and CREFTS at Autodesk.
The 7,500-employee public company is a world leader in 3D design software for entertainment, natural resources, manufacturing, engineering, construction, and civil infrastructure. It tallies more than 100 offices across 45 countries, and annual revenues exceeding $1 billion.
Throughout her tenure, Becker has championed engagement as critical to employee feelings of satisfaction, which in turn affects their productivity. She has put great stock in enhancing employee engagement at Autodesk, with great success.
She also was a pioneer in leveraging social media to recruit talent, including being a beta customer for LinkedIn Recruiter. The company uses video job descriptions to humanize its employment brand, just one of many factors that have led it to earn the 70 spot on Fortune magazine’s 100 Best Places to Work in 2014 list.
Lifetime Achievement Award
This year’s winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award is Roger Gaston, senior vice president of HR, at global business collaboration and communications provider Avaya Inc., where he is responsible for employee compensation and benefits, employee communications, workforce relations, organizational development and transformation, recruitment, talent management and labor relations. A respected and highly regarded HR leader, Gaston was corporate vice president and senior vice president of HR, respectively, at two multi-billion companies—StorageTek and Toys `R’ Us—prior to assuming HR leadership at Avaya.
At StorageTek, now part of Oracle, he led the HR organization in transforming the business into a leader in the global storage services and solutions business. He also was at the helm of a global learning initiative focused on technical, sales and leadership development for employees, partners and customers. Gaston also oversaw an early RPO deal with the Kenexa Corporation. The reason to outsource recruitment was two-fold: across-the-board cost savings and an efficient and effective recruitment system.
At Toys `R’ Us, Gaston was responsible for delivering programs and services to more than 72,000 employees worldwide and was charged with transforming HR into a world-class organization. During his tenure, numerous competitive challenges confronted the $11 billion toy retailer, chief among them Internet sales and the move away from board games to electronics games. As the company restructured operations to address these disruptive changes, altering everything from the floor layout of stores to the links in its supply chain.
Gaston is widely regarded for his team-building skills, not all that surprising as he studied behavioral knowledge as a psychology major at Baldwin-Wallace College in Ohio (he minored in business). In his senior year of college, he interned at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Although an intern, he nonetheless performed a key staffing role—recruiting students at colleges across the country to work at NASA. To this day, talent acquisition and retention are two of his primary areas of focus, and he takes great prides in having assisted many people over the decades to acquire the skills needed to achieve their dream careers.
Hard work, inventiveness, tenacity, and great skill define all of this year’s award recipients. Each has assisted
the profession of CHRO to achieve greater respect and momentum.
Russ Banham can be reached at

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