We recognize 12 CHRO of the Year finalists for their leadership, vision, and willingness to transform HR.

By Debbie Bolla

For our second annual CHRO of the Year awards, HRO Today is recognizing those CHROs with the capabilities to adapt to a competitive business environment in order to deliver the insight needed for HR transformation. We understand the importance of CHROs who drive workforce initiatives through innovation with measurable excellence in employee engagement and retention to prove it.

We have 12 finalists selected from a roundup of incredible nominees. These CHROs are responsible for providing leadership to ensure talent acquisition and retention, business growth, and a culture that can lead in a global workforce.

The CHRO of the Year finalists will be evaluated across three dimensions to determine the winners:

  • The scope of the nominee’s impact on his/her organization/community
  • The extent to which the nominee drove this initiative
  • The individual reputational or professional risk taken by the nominee.

Here’s some insight into the nominees. They are listed in alphabetical order.


bentonCathy A. Benton, CHRO, Alston & Bird LLP

As CHRO for Alston & Bird LLP, Cathy Benton oversees more than 1,600 lawyers and employees in nine offices. She has been in her current position for 29 years. In 2008, she received the Chris C. Kjeldsen Work Life Legacy Award from the Families & Work Institute for being a pioneer in the work/life movement. She was educated at The Georgia Institute of Technology and received her senior professional in HR certification in 1991.


With transformational leadership, Benton developed Alston & Bird’s Top Echelon program that empowers employees with daily learning, discussion, education, and recognition practices to create an environment to grow professionally as individuals and as a workplace.


Eileen-Benwitt-squareEileen Benwitt, Chief Talent Officer, Horizon Media Inc.

As chief talent officer, Eileen Benwitt oversees the success of Horizon Media’s talent management practice by striving to build a team of ambitious and driven employees, with an approach that fosters integration between the personal and the professional. She has developed numerous initiatives that focus on improving employees’ lives such as instituting consumer-driven wellness benefits, philanthropic initiatives, coaching and training in skills development, and health and wellness practices. Prior to joining Horizon Media, Benwitt was EVP of HR at MPG.


Benwitt implemented a forward-thinking wellness program that allows employees to distress and rejuvenate in Horizon’s state-of-the-art wellness facility. Benwitt’s program includes rejuvenating “breathe, release, and restore” classes, a quiet zen zone with sessions led by a mindfulness guru, as well as massages and acupuncture appointments.


yves-squareYves Deschenes, Associate VP HR and Organizational Development, Centennial College

Yves Deschênes is associate VP of HR and organizational development at Centennial College. Working in the public and broader public sector for the past 20 years as an HR leader collaborating with CEOs and other organizational leaders, he has focused extensively on the development of learning and other interventions designed to enhance organizational performance. Deschênes has been in the role of executive CHRO at Centennial since 2008. Previously, he was CHRO of Ontario Place Corporation.


Deschênes has brought a service culture to Centennial’s HR department where management works strategically with schools, departments, the college sector and community partners. He has influenced policy at Centennial and at the Ontario college level, significantly improved the College’s labor relations, and helped Centennial achieve greater overall employee engagement (10 percent higher than the average public sector in Canada).


ron-garrow-squareRon Garrow, CHRO, MasterCard

As CHRO of MasterCard, Ron Garrow is responsible for all HR functions globally, including driving cultural transformation, building leadership capability, and creating a company that is most valued to work for. Prior to this role, he was executive VP, global human resources plans and programs. Garrow has more than 27 years of experience in HR with broad skills and knowledge of various HR disciplines, including managing multiple HR functions. He has experience with commercial and consumer businesses, corporate and investment banking, credit card, and call center operations.


With a strong passion for the organization, Garrow has driven culture change, transformed the talent agenda, and created an HR team that is poised to ensure success in the long term. MasterCard’s global recognition program allows employees to share great work via an online hub, encouraging a culture of transparency. Engagement survey scores show levels over 80 percent, exemplifying a culture of high morale, trust, recognition, and career development.


ann-harten-squareAnn M. Harten, Global VP of HR, Haworth Inc.

Ann M. Harten leads Haworth’s global human resources initiatives including the design and implementation of a multi-tiered, global leadership development program. She began her career at Haworth in 2005 as VP of global information services, adding responsibility for human resources in 2008. Before joining the Haworth team, Harten served as SVP and chief information officer for SIRVA, Inc.


Harten’s forward-thinking approach to management is based on data driving informed decisions. Metrics guide the HR practice: an overarching People Dashboard helps address current issues and anticipate future needs. Harten is also the driving force behind Haworth’s Promote From Within program.


sara-hill-square1Sara Hill, CHRO, Ceridian

In her role as CHRO of Ceridian, Sara Hill oversees the global human resources functions across Ceridian and has responsibility for enhancing the employee experience, increasing employee engagement, and developing people and talent management strategies to bring Ceridian to the next level. Prior to joining Ceridian, she most recently served as SVP, HR at U.S. Bancorp, providing HR leadership for the wealth management and securities services division. She has worked at Fidelity Investments as VP of management effectiveness.


Hill has been a champion at creating an environment that provides career advancement opportunities and supports lifelong learning by offering several programs: Career Path Site (allows employees to create job paths); Manager Essentials (leadership training programs); Top Talent Program (training and mentorship program); and Learn @ Work Week (career development with more than 25 courses). These initiatives prove valuable: 30 percent of open positions were filled internally.


laubach-squareKawel LauBach, CHRO, Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority

Kawel LauBach was named CHRO of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority in February 2013 to oversee all human resource and guest service functions. He was was an original member of the Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs’s management team tasked with opening the first casino in Pennsylvania and most recently served as the VP of administration, overseeing non-gaming operations, human resources, and guest service functions. Prior to joining Mohegan Sun in 2005, LauBach worked for Harrah’s Entertainment and subsequently Boyd Gaming as a human resource executive at their Louisiana properties.


LauBach has helped create a uniquely competitive guest-centric culture at Mohegan Sun. His innovative employee engagement initiatives -including complimentary meals for employees and a chance in a money booth for perfect attendance -have increased productivity while developing a more passionate and committed corporate culture. His personal approach to leadership has resulted in guest and employee sentiment hitting the mid 90th percentile.


IMG_6471_Jenn_headshot_150x150Jen Mann, VP of HR, National Aquarium

Jenn Mann leads a global HR organization that acts as stewards of the SAS culture and engages a global workforce of more than 13,000 employees with diverse talents and skills. She is responsible for developing and guiding SAS’ HR vision and articulating the organization’s strategy to help acquire, develop, reward, and retain the best talent. Mann joined SAS in 1998 where she worked closely with executive leadership on employee performance and organizational effectiveness initiatives. She led an HR team supporting worldwide marketing and research and development divisions.


Mann drives organizational talent management by ensuring SAS has the right skills in the right place at the right time. In fact, 40 percent of SAS’ positions are filled internally, which promotes career development and growth. Internal development is also key: Mann’s organization enlisted programs to train hundreds of global SAS leaders and helped launch the new sales and technical support academies.


candace-osunsade-squareCandace Osunsade, VP of HR, National Aquarium

In her role as VP of HR for National Aquarium, Candace Osunsade has implemented strategic human capital management, program design, organizational development, project management, and process design. She is a results-orientated HR leader with demonstrated strengths in driving business results while building strategic partnerships. She has 20-plus years of varied HR leadership experience including being director of HRMS at Erickson Retirement Communities.


Osunade has led the HR function from a primarily administrative role to one that is a true strategic partner by implementing structure and managing transformational change through incremental and digestible steps. Examples of her accomplishments include the implementation of a fully-functional HRIS; strategic workforce planning based on talent assessment; nine-box succession planning; goals-based performance assessment; a true compensation program with data-driven decision making around merit and incentive awards, promotions, and equity; and a best in class benefits program that includes a virtual wellness program and a financially stable self-funded medical & prescription plan.


DebraPunkeDebra Punke, SVP Human Resources, Concord Hospitality Enterprises

Debra Punke joined Concord Hospitality in 1994 and has made countless contributions to the company throughout her career. As SVP of HR, Punke oversees company culture, organizational growth strategies, and champions HR initiatives in the areas of technology, talent acquisition, training, benefits, risk and compliance. She also leads the company’s efforts around sustainability, charitable giving, and wellness.


Punke has implemented a major initiative that aligns Concord Hospitality Enterprises around its values (quality, integrity, community, profitability), its metrics (associate turnover, customer satisfaction, financial success, rev par index, internal controls and safety at work), and four core initiatives (wellness, charitable giving, sustainability, and safety) -a 4-6-4 philosophy. This program has helped drive the associate engagement score to close to 90 percent.


torsone-squareJohnna G. Torsone, Executive VP & CHRO, Pitney Bowes

Johnna Torsone is EVP and CHRO of Pitney Bowes. As a member of the senior management leadership team and staff liaison for several committees of the board of directors, she provides important strategic and operational guidance. The scope of her responsibilities includes the development of HR business strategies, strategic talent management and succession planning, diversity, total rewards and analytics, employee relations, and shared professional and transactional services.


Torsone took a counter-intuitive approach to the structure, delivery, and cost sharing in healthcare to ensure a focus on both employees and the bottom line. During the first seven years, total annual healthcare costs per employee were more than 15 percent lower than benchmarks. She also revolutionized HR by taking a clean-slate approach to the structure, processes, and supporting technologies. Moving to a self-service model reduced HR’s cost structure by 30 percent and increased their strategic focus.


carla-williams-squareCarla Williams

Human Resources Director

Alcorn State University

Carla Williams serves as human resources director at Alcorn State University with responsibility for leading and managing the overall provisions of human resources services, including developing employment policies and programs; recruiting and staffing; performance management; regulatory compliance; employee orientation; training and development;and compensation and benefits administration, among others. She serves as a member of the President’s Cabinet and is a certified Professional in Human Resources (PHR) (SHRM-CP).


Williams streamlined the talent acquisition process by moving to an automated paperless system for hiring and payroll. Under her leadership, the University implemented the first online performance management program and a first-anniversary recognition program.

Tags: april-2015

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