Vol. 45, No. 12
A tribute to retiring SHRM President and CEO Michael R. Locey.
Michael R. Losey, SPHR, CAE, long has planned to retire at the end of this month after 10 years as president and chief executive officer of the Society for Human Resource Management. As a farewell tribute, HR Magazine solicited recollections from SHRM volunteer leaders, staff members and others who worked with Losey before and during this period of unprecedented growth and accomplishments. SHRM members may say goodbye to Losey Dec. 20 during his final online "chat session" on SHRM Online.
If you’d like to join in, log onto www.shrm.org at 3 p.m. EST.
A Unique Job Interview
Wanda Lee, SPHR, senior vice president, corporate human resources, for Pacificare Health Systems in Santa Ana, Calif., served as chair of the SHRM Board of Directors in 1990—the year Losey was hired as president and chief executive officer. As board chair, she played an instrumental role in the Society’s executive search effort and in bringing Losey to SHRM.
I didn’t know Mike at all when his name was first mentioned as a potential candidate for the president’s job. Everyone who knew Mike said he would be an excellent choice, so I decided to meet him face-to-face.
Since I live on the West Coast and essentially had two full-time jobs as a vice president of HR and chair of the SHRM board, there really weren’t too many windows of opportunity for us to meet. As it happened, I was set to go to Portland, Maine, in early September to attend a regional HR conference. I arranged my flights so that on my return I changed planes in Philadelphia. Since Mike was in Blue Bell, Pa., at the time, he agreed to meet me at the Philadelphia airport, where we would have the chance to talk during my layover.
My layover was supposed to be about two-and-a-half hours, but the fog was really heavy in Portland and my flight was delayed. When I arrived in Philadelphia, Mike was waiting at the gate, and my connecting flight was scheduled to depart in 25 minutes. He had already checked to find out if I could take a later flight, but the next one wasn’t for several hours, which meant I would get home very late. Mike said it just wouldn’t be fair to make me take the later flight, so he offered to walk me to my plane and said we could talk along the way.
As we started walking down the concourse, he automatically picked up and carried my bags, which I really liked because deep down I really appreciate old-fashioned courtesy. So there we were conducting a job interview on the move through the airport terminal, but he was very friendly and answered my questions without hesitation. The interview really turned out to be a friendly conversation, and I could tell immediately that I felt very comfortable with him. Mike had also organized the "elevator" version of his credentials, so that he could quickly share the highlights of his career most relative to the job opportunity.
When we arrived at the gate, Mike had already talked with the agents there and arranged for me to be the last person to board, which gave us a few extra minutes to talk. Though it wasn’t your typical job interview, I learned a lot about Mike in the 20 minutes or so we talked. I was very impressed because he clearly was a man who thought ahead and made excellent decisions quickly.
I had stepped off the plane not knowing him at all, but when I boarded my flight for home 25 minutes later Mike Losey had become the leading candidate for the job as far as I was concerned. Ten years ago, I could never have imagined the level of success SHRM would have under Mike’s leadership, and I’m proud that I had a small part in hiring him to be president and CEO—it’s one of the best decisions I have ever made.
A Passionate HR Executive
As a young attorney fresh out of law school, 2000 SHRM Board of Directors Chair Michael J. Lotito, SPHR, says Losey’s intelligence and passion for HR work made a lasting impression when they first met nearly 25 years ago. Lotito is now partner with Jackson Lewis in San Francisco.
I met Mike when he was a client and worked out of New Holland, Pa., and I was in New York City. We actually first met in Grand Island, Neb., where the United Auto Workers were poised to organize the 1,400 employees of a New Holland farm implement manufacturing plant and I was called in during the organizing drive.
The company sent the former HR director of the plant, Michael R. Losey. Mike immediately impressed me with his professionalism and strategic thinking. He was thinking and working on a strategic level 25 years ago that most HR professionals are aspiring to reach today.
He also was very passionate about his job and truly cared for the people within the organization. I remember seeing him make some very impassioned and articulate presentations to the corporate board of directors about employee relations issues and the importance of doing the right thing. We traveled together several times to the Grand Island plant, and he obviously had a wonderful rapport with the workers and office staff there. Mike had maintained some very strong ties to the community, seemed to know everyone’s name and remembered the names of their spouses and children, too. It was obvious that he was well-respected and missed by the people at the plant, and Mike was really in his element there.
He truly enjoys getting to know people and becoming involved with their lives and their community. I think he really missed that part of his job after being promoted to the corporate offices. While Mike is one of the best HR executives that I have ever met, I know he missed the grassroots aspect of the HR job at Grand Island. To this day, he still speaks about touching people’s lives as an HR professional.
In the late 1980s, Sue Meisinger [now SHRM chief operating officer] asked me if I would be interested in chairing the Society’s Legislative Affairs Committee [now called the Legislative Action Committee]. I thought it was an interesting challenge and agreed to do it. Mike was one of the very first people I called to ask if he wanted to participate as a committee member.
Mike joined the committee, but it turns out that he wasn’t a member of the Society. Yet he always came to the meetings so prepared and made a couple of excellent presentations on employment-at-will issues to the committee. I had just assumed a person who was that passionate and articulate about the profession would be a member. When I asked why he hadn’t joined the Society, he replied, "No one has ever asked me." So I asked him to join, and I think this was the beginning of the "presumption of membership" within the Society.
When Mike’s name was mentioned as a possible candidate for the job as SHRM president and CEO, I wholeheartedly endorsed him. And obviously Mike has done a remarkable job. He has helped to set a direction of financial stability and organizational credibility that has allowed the Society to achieve its goal of being a global force within the HR profession.
Red Tie at Morning
Kathryn D. McKee, SPHR, CCP, served as chair of the SHRM Board of Directors in 1991 and worked closely with Losey to establish the Institute for International Human Resources, which was renamed this year as the SHRM Global Forum. McKee may be the most active volunteer leader in the history of SHRM. In addition to serving as chair of the SHRM board, she also has headed the boards of directors for the Human Resource Certification Institute and the SHRM Foundation.
In 1990, I was one of the SHRM volunteer leaders on the search committee for a new president and CEO. SHRM was in financial distress; the board was in transition from a "task-driven, volunteer-hands-on" board to one that would focus on strategy and policy. Those of us on the board were grappling with how we needed to change our behavior, the finances, and how to move the organization forward. It was not a pretty picture.
I was asked to meet with a candidate—some guy named Michael R. Losey who would fly to California and meet me in the United Airlines terminal, talk for about an hour or so, and then hop back on a plane and return to Blue Bell, Pa.
How would I know him? "I’ll be wearing a red tie," he said—like he’s the only man who wears a red tie! "And, I’m short." Well, that narrowed it down. I’m short, too, so that meant I could look for someone whose eyes would be at my eye level.
And out of the jetway he came, flipping his red tie with the greatest smile and the rest, as they say, is history. He was smart, articulate, had a keen business sense and strong strategic thinking skills. He understood profit and loss. He understood business turnaround. He understood and had practiced leadership skills. He had an impeccable track record of personal and professional success, was an SPHR and had been involved with SHRM. We had a great conversation; he hopped back on the plane and into a tremendous run as president and CEO of SHRM.
He and the staff went from a deficit in his first year to a stunning profit, and in 10 years built the association’s annual revenue from approximately
$13 million to more than $50 million by adding a stunning array of products and services for SHRM members. He also worked to develop a team of sterling professionals in Alexandria and never once raised the membership dues. He brought us tremendous leadership, encouraged our hearts, inspired us, challenged the status quo and was a statesman and international ambassador for the profession we love with pride.
Mike is a friend and mentor, and I’m a better person for knowing him.
Paying Dues to Minimize Dues
Susan R. Meisinger, SPHR, is executive vice president and chief operating officer of SHRM. As a member of the executive search committee in 1990, she was the first person to approach Mike Losey about whether he was interested in applying for the job of president and CEO for SHRM.
I first met Mike when he became a member of the Legislative Affairs Committee. I realized very quickly that he was smart and an excellent addition to the committee.
And I wasn't too embarrassed at having to call him and say, "Hey Mike, you need to be a member of the Society to sit on a committee; would you pay your dues?"
When I was asked to be on the search committee to find a successor to then-President Ron Pilenzo, I thought about Mike and asked him if he'd be interested in throwing his hat into the ring. After all, he was smart, business-savvy and passionate about the profession--qualities I wanted in a new leader. The rest, as they say, is history.
While the Society and the profession have undergone dramatic changes in the last decade, Mike has remained steadfast in his commitment to the profession and the members, always asking how we can enhance the competencies of the profession, what else we can do for the members, and how we can do it without raising the dues.
Some will focus on the fact that the dues never increased during Mike's tenure, but I hope that people understand the broader implications of that achievement. Mike made this happen through an understanding of business, an appreciation of the finances and a leadership style that allowed the staff to be all that they could be on behalf of the membership. And isn't that, after all, what the human resource profession is all about?
An Ace Association Executive
Peter Moran is executive vice president and chief executive officer of the Society of American Florists (SAF) in Alexandria, Va., just a block and a half from SHRM headquarters. Moran has known Losey since he became president and CEO of SHRM in October 1990. Since then, Moran and Losey have remained active members of the association executive group ACEs (Alexandria Chief Executives) and are close personal friends.
I remember distinctly when Mike took over the CEO job at SHRM. He attended his first ACEs meeting just a month or so after he started. When he introduced himself to the group, he told us that he came from a for-profit background and didn’t know much about being an association executive. He asked us to forgive his ignorance about the not-for-profit world and said he was looking forward to learning about association management from the group.
Well, as it turns out, everyone in the group ended up learning something from Mike Losey about how to be an association executive. He always said that associations are businesses, too, and need to be run that way. He never lost sight of that, and I think it’s why he has been so successful at SHRM.
It’s probably selfish for me to say so, but I truly wish Mike wasn’t retiring. He has been a tremendous resource and great friend to me. I could always count on him for support and advice. He always told me to feel free and call anytime if I wanted to talk. And whenever I did call, he always had time to take my call. Even with his busy schedule, Mike would give me his undivided attention and be very interested in what I had to say. He has given me some very good feedback and invaluable advice through the years, and I will sorely miss having him right down the street.
Friend of the Devil
Shirley Raybuck, senior production designer for the Society for Human Resource Management, has worked for SHRM since 1983 and remembers clearly the first days of Losey’s tenure as president and CEO.
Mr. Losey started his job sometime in mid-October, and no one in the office really knew what to think of him. During those first couple of weeks, we had seen very little of him around the office. He was obviously getting settled into his new job, and everyone knew that he was moving down from Pennsylvania—so the staff wasn’t surprised that he had been keeping a low profile. But Mr. Losey had a real surprise in store for us.
Every year, the SHRM staff has an office Halloween luncheon. Back then, we just packed into the tiny lunchroom at our old offices at 606 N. Washington St. and had a potluck lunch and costume contest. We never expected Mr. Losey would come to our little get-together, let alone dress up.
I think I was dressed up as a Viking or something like that, with the big horned hat and metal breastplate. I was getting my lunch, and suddenly Mr. Losey appeared next to me, dressed like the devil. He had gone all out—painting his face red and pasting red horns to his forehead. I didn’t recognize him at first, but when it finally dawned on me who he was, it literally took my breath away.
"Oh my stars, you scared me," I said.
He smiled and said it was just the little devil in him. I knew right then and there that things were about to get fun and interesting at SHRM.
A Sad Day for Unisys
Judith Eckert is the widow of the late J. Presper Eckert who, before his retirement, was part of senior-level management at Unisys Corp. Eckert was a mentor and friend to Losey, who was Unisys corporate vice president of human resources.
My husband just loved Mike Losey. He thought Mike was the greatest and never had a bad word to say about him. I had the pleasure of meeting Mike several times through the years, and I always was impressed by his intelligence and good humor.
My husband always said it was a sad day for Unisys and a great day for the human resource association when Mike announced that he was accepting the job as president of SHRM. After he left Unisys, Mike kept in touch through the years even after my husband passed away. I still receive Christmas cards and notes from him, and I appreciate that. My husband did think the world of him, and I know he wouldn’t be at all surprised with the level of Mike’s success and would be very proud of his accomplishments. I wish Mike the best in his retirement.
A Launch into Cyberspace
Michael S. Frost, director of Internet operations for SHRM, began working for the Society in 1994 as manager of the SHRM Forum on the online service Prodigy. Frost was instrumental in helping create the Society’s web site, SHRM Online, which is now consistently ranked among the top web sites for associations and for human resource information.
In 1994, SHRM became one of the first associations in cyberspace—largely thanks to the vision of Mike Losey. I was hired in October 1994 to help launch the SHRM Forum on Prodigy, which was the largest online service at the time.
The idea of an online service for members was born in the minds of Mike Losey and John Adams, SHRM vice president of publications. John and Mike often tell the story of how they both were in the shower when the idea occurred to them—then quickly clarify that they were in separate showers in their respective houses.
When the SHRM Forum launched at the SHRM Leadership Conference in November 1994, we immediately saw the value of using electronic media to deliver member services. Even when the SHRM offices were closed, members from around the country could share information with each other, download white papers, communicate with the organization and more. But we also saw a significant limitation: To participate you had to be a member of Prodigy—and the service didn’t have much to offer SHRM members besides the Society’s forum. So SHRM began laying the groundwork for its foray onto the Internet.
In April 1995, I was with Mike Losey, John Adams and others attending a planning meeting for the SHRM web site in Pennsylvania. As we were driving back to Alexandria, we heard the news on the car radio that the federal building in Oklahoma City had been bombed. Losey knew that Mike Rogers, a prominent SHRM volunteer leader, worked in downtown Oklahoma City.
When we got back to the office, John and I prepared news stories about the bombing, including an interview with Rogers, and had the articles posted on Prodigy within hours of the bombing. At that moment, I truly saw the potential of the vision Mike Losey, John Adams and others had for an electronic forum that could instantaneously communicate information to members. The SHRM web site launched just a few weeks later and has been going strong ever since. We now have over 800,000 visitors per month and serve more than 6 million pages each month.
The Quality to Excel
Audrey Lee was hired by Losey in 1969 as a receptionist for the HR department at the New Holland North America Inc. plant in Grand Island, Neb. Lee retired from New Holland in 1998 and recalls fondly the day Losey called to offer her the job.
I did not even apply for the job, but Mike called me and asked if I’d be interested in working for him. Even though I had never held a clerical job, he believed that I could do it. It turns out he was right, and I loved my job and the company and ended up working there for 29 years.
Mike was a great boss, and you felt that he trusted you and believed in you, which motivated me to do my best. I have the highest respect for Mike. Even though he was my boss for just a short time before he was transferred to the corporate office, he has stayed in touch with me all these years. Every year, he would call to wish me a Merry Christmas, and he even called me to wish me a happy retirement.
I always knew that he would be successful and make it to the top—he just had that quality and would excel at anything he chose to do.
The Art of Mentoring
Tim Walkup, PHR, CCP, is vice president of human resources for SHRM. Walkup began working for SHRM in 1996 as an HR manager and was rapidly promoted to director and then vice president of HR. He reports directly to Losey.
Mike Losey has been a great mentor to me. He has almost always taken the time to teach me something about the art of HR management regardless of how insignificant the point may appear. I remember a time about two years ago when I was really pushing for a new employee benefit. I had done all of my homework and made a good business case for the benefit. Mike did not disagree with the benefit or the case I made but he wanted me to understand how good intentions can sometimes have severe consequences.
So, we jumped in his car and traveled to SHRM’s old location at 606 N. Washington St., where Mike knew there was a picnic table. He brought a measuring tape and had me write down the dimensions of the table.
From there we went to lunch, where he told me, finally, the point he was trying to make. Early in his career, Mike had witnessed an HR manager at a manufacturing plant purchase a number of picnic tables for employees to use for breaks or lunches and to relax during downtime.
Mike said it sounded innocent enough but when plant management started adding up the cost of the tables and the floorspace the tables occupied then it became a pretty expensive benefit that really did not add any value.
Needless to say, Mike told me that the HR manager fell out of favor and eventually left the organization.
The Drive to Succeed
Jerry Hay, CPA, CAE, senior vice president and chief financial officer for SHRM, began working for the Society in 1981 when it was called the American Society for Personnel Administration and was headquartered in Berea, Ohio.
Not long after I had attended the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) weeklong course for executives and managers in Colorado Springs, Colo., Mike Losey decided he wanted to have another CCL teambuilding event with all vice presidents at SHRM.
CCL arranged a teambuilding exercise in Williamsburg, Va., and we all were excited about the event. I don’t know if you ever have had the opportunity to participate in a CCL course, but it is a wonderful experience and I recommend it highly.
For one of the teambuilding exercises, the CCL staff hid about 20 items around Colonial Williamsburg, and our job was to find these items, which were hidden in trees, bushes, under benches—just all over the place. The CCL staff gave us directions and would time us to see how long it took to find everything. They recommended that we break up into smaller groups because we could cover more ground that way. But Mike said no, he wanted us to work as a team.
We started off doing really well and, after finding about half of the items, Mike told us that he really wanted us to break the CCL record for this exercise.
It was a really nasty day and was pouring rain. We were all huddling underneath our umbrellas and were still getting drenched. We were looking at the map and directions to find the next hidden item when Mike took off alone. The rest of us followed the directions. He really didn’t need to say anything, we all knew what he was thinking.
Sure enough, when we arrived at the right spot Mike was already there and had found the item. He had taken a shortcut across some very wet lawns and climbed over a fence. He did all this in a driving rain while carrying a huge golf umbrella. Our team ended up breaking the CCL record for the exercise, and we have this beautiful crystal trophy of sculpted dolphins in the SHRM lobby to prove it.
The experience taught me a couple of things. It showed all of us clearly who our leader was and why Mike was such an effective leader. It also was a great example of Mike Losey’s drive and determination to succeed, which has served SHRM and the HR profession so well over the past 10 years.
Bill Leonard is senior writer for HR Magazine.