At Kodak, Betty Petro’s career has tracked the history of outsourcing.
By Debbie Bolla
Betty Petro didn’t pursue a career in corporate HR—it found her. Raised in Upstate New York (though she was born in Greece), she has worked at Eastman Kodak Corporation in Rochester ever since her high school and collegiate co-op days, when she dabbled in everything from data entry to list marketing to administrative work during her flexible schedule. Petro’s nearly 20-year tenure at Kodak has since evolved in a similar fashion to the company itself—with efficiency and innovation. So how did she end up as director of talent acquisition and strategy, and leading the company’s recent perusal of proposals for revamping it’s outsourced HR services? It somewhat stems from frequent cases of cubicle-itis.
“Every two to three years I’ve done something different because I need a challenge,” she said. “Working at a big company like Kodak, I get that opportunity. You have to do your own career planning—you are in the driver’s seat. If I voice my interest, they will do what’s necessary to get me to my next goal.”
Before Petro made her way into the HR sector, she blazed a trail in outsourcing. Upon graduating with a degree in management information systems from St. John Fisher College, she became a business analyst in Kodak’s IT department, focusing on projects that centered on Oracle Financials. Petro always had a knack for anything IT.
“I feel strongly that technology can enhance and help business process,” she explained. “You can really be into IT programming and not understand the impact to business. But blending the two was something that really interested me.”
Working in application maintenance, Petro began managing leadership teams that worked to improve efficiency, and she was seeing areas in which Kodak could improve. It was early 2000, and the buzzword in the industry was offshoring. Petro pointed to GE as then being one of the pioneers of that practice. She leveraged some of her industry relationships, including one with Gartner, to see if this was a viable option for Kodak.
“I went to the CIO because I thought this [offshoring] was something that we should be exploring, if not in a big way, then as a small pilot way, because it was an opportunity to reduce some costs,” Petro recalled. “The indications at that time were that the quality was equal if not better.”
Petro conducted the necessary due diligence for a successful liftoff of her pilot of outsourcing Lotus programing, including several requests for proposals (RFPs) in India. Offshoring brought in additional cost savings with little effect on quality. Petro feels their end-result is two-fold: a strong client/provider partnership and a vigilant governance structure. Both, she said, are keys in change management.
“Our company’s nature is complex, and we expect a lot from our suppliers, but we are also fair and balanced,” Petro said. “We want to partner with someone who will work through issues and support our business model.”
As anyone in the industry knows, offshoring is a topic that has its critics. But Petro was unapologetic about the often complicated matter.
“Kodak is a global company, and we sell our products and services to people in all countries of the world,” she noted. “So why couldn’t we create jobs for them in different countries? I have had the opportunity to visit many of our sites and suppliers. It’s fascinating that you go to big cities, like Bangalore, and the employees working on your account are spending their dollars at McDonald’s and Gap and other U.S. companies. I’ve gotten past that we are sending jobs off. It’s a global world. You are giving them jobs, and they are spending money on your products and services.”
Next Stop: Global Shared Services
By 2007, the movement toward outsourcing was full-speed ahead. Petro’s CIO headed up Kodak’s plan to launch a global shared services center, which was to house an abundance of outsourced functions, including business structure purchasing, financial and HR services, and a contact call center.
Petro explained the reasoning behind the push toward outsourcing. “When there’s a better way or an expert that would benefit us, or if we’re spending too many internal resources on a certain process, we look at what the market has to offer, and that sparks the RFP process.”
She took the lead on the effort for the global shared services project.
“In the RFP effort, we looked for a provider who could do fixed assets, accounts payable, and general ledger on the finance side, and on the HR side, we had relocation, benefits, call center, payroll, and HR administration,” Petro said. “We looked for a BPO provider who could provide services in various functional areas. We realized a lot of savings as part of that consolidation.”
That was three years ago. (Petro declined naming the provider.) While the company gained an abudance of cost savings, about one year ago, Kodak dismantled its global shared services organization. It came to the point where the company could’t reach any additional cost reduction. It brought process areas back into the business and is looking to continue outsourcing some single process functions.
“We’ve learned a lot since that first one on the BPO side, and where we are today is completely different. I am doing another RPF on the HR side in my spare time,” she said with a laugh. “Critical success factors of an RFP are making sure we define the scope, and our statement documents are clear stating the work. This time around we were very detailed with statement of work documents. A lot of time has been spent in this process, sending out RFPs, conducting face-to-face time, understanding what’s behind their solutions—a deeper dive in due diligence. We’ve done several rounds, and this time around we are going with more specialized providers, and no longer a big BPO company that can do everything. So it’s more specialized based on the services.”
Although a recommendation has been made, Petro couldn’t divulge the provider or providers that has/have been chosen, since nothing has been formally announced.
Talking About Talent
Aside from her recent extensive work on the RFP process, Petro heads up Kodak’s talent acquisition division. The number of global firm’s total hires per year varies she says, but it’s under the 1,000 mark. When she was approached with this opportunity, she was uncertain about making the move. Although Petro lacked any HR experience besides the offshoring RFP oversight, she was fully engaged in the world of outsourcing and the vetting process. Her desire for life-long learning encouraged her to take on the new task.
“I wasn’t in HR at the time, and if anything, I thought, I would learn something new,” she said. “I came into HR without experience in the HR world, and I didn’t understand hiring process.” An internal audit at the time helped Petro break down the process into every miner detail. “It helped me understand who is doing what. What is the hiring process? What are the key things you have to consider from a compliance standpoint?”
And what better way to learn than to get out in the field and leverage insight from industry experts? Petro wasn’t happy with the provider she inherited, so she went out with a new RFP. This process proved to accelerate Petro’s learning curve—she spoke with providers, gained insight into services, processes, and solutions and became a talent acquisition expert herself. Upon Petro’s recommendation, Kodak selected recruitment process outsourcing provider, Pinstripe.
“They handle the process end-to-end, from the time we have a requisition to the time a new hire starts, including the on-boarding and the provision side,” explained Petro. Entering their third year working together, she says the overall experience has been very positive in terms of quality of candidate, time to fill, and cost savings metrics.
“We felt as a team they understood recruiting and had a main focus on sourcing,” she noted. “At the end of the day you could have best process, but unless you are able to find the right people, all of that doesn’t matter.”
Although it’s tough to call any of Petro’s days typical, she says she spends a lot of her time in meetings. In these discussions, she is meeting with business leaders around strategic staffing and their needs on an organizational level. Budgets are still tight and Petro is there to analyze requests and usher executives through the approval process.
Changing With the Times
With more than five years of experience in the outsourcing industry, Petro has certainly seen the market mature. 2009 was an unprecedented year for many companies, but with a deal pending, this executive is sensing a bit of optimism for 2010.
“On the outsourcing front, I’m hopeful that we’ll get more savings and better services. I think the timing was perfect for us because of where the economy was. The suppliers were hungry,” she explained.
And other numbers are going up as well. “I’m starting to see signs of increased hiring volumes for us,” she said. “That’s a good sign.”
At Kodak, Betty Petro’s career has tracked the history of outsourcing.