Interview by Kathy Gurchiek
The Chicago River shimmers outside the window-filled conference room of the CME Group Inc., the for-profit, publicly traded holding company of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange; Chicago Board of Trade; Kansas City Board of Trade; New York Mercantile Exchange; and New York-based COMEX, or Commodity Exchange Inc. Hilda Harris Piell, CME's senior managing director and chief human resources officer, made the transition from attorney to HR professional nearly six years ago.
Piell's employer ties together the world's leading derivatives marketplaces, where investors trade futures and options on interest rates, equities, energy, foreign currencies, metals and agricultural products. The company has offices in the U.S., Brazil, Canada, China, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom.
Piell joined CME's legal department in 2000 and was involved in its acquisition of the Chicago Board of Trade in 2007. After the merger, she was offered the opportunity to use her business experience to lead the integration from an HR and culture perspective. She is responsible for talent management, pay-for-performance programs, learning and development, and performance management. Piell oversees the benefits, compensation, employee relations, organizational effectiveness, professional development, HR information systems and recruiting functions.
She recently talked to HR Magazine about her career.
Hilda Harris Piell
Education: 1992, juris doctor, University of Michigan Law School. 1989, bachelor's degree, University of Michigan.
Current job: 2007-present, senior managing director and chief HR officer, CME Group Inc., Chicago.
Career: 2007, managing director and senior associate general counsel; 2002-07, director and associate general counsel; 2000-02, associate director and assistant general counsel, CME Group Inc. 1996-2000, associate commercial counsel, WorldCom Inc., Chicago. 1992-96, litigation associate, Jenner & Block, Chicago. 1994, federal law court clerk for The Honorable Ruben Castillo, U.S. District Court, Chicago.
Personal: Age 45; born in Michigan and raised in Florida; husband, Jeff; one daughter and one son.
Connections: www.cmegroup.com, (312) 930-1000.
How did you prepare for the transition to your role in human resources?
In my previous work for CME's legal department, I had interaction with HR professionals as a people manager. Upon entering HR, I spent two weeks at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business' Human Resource Executive Program and read a lot—I found The HR Value Proposition by Dave Ulrich [Harvard Business Review Press, 2005] very helpful. My husband specializes in employment law and has been a resource.
I have a strong compliance background and familiarity with those aspects of HR. Although I lacked the technical HR expertise of recruiting, benefits, compensation and employee relations, my experience on the business and legal sides has been excellent preparation, bringing a strong business focus and strategy to our HR function.
Describe CME's workforce.
The CME staff is made up of employees who manage operations of markets that trade nearly 24/7 and develop products and services. Only about 100 employees are market reporters who ensure that trading transpires properly on the floor. Most are technologists who work on electronic trading.
I put in 12-hour days but don't spend too much time on the trading floor. We have 2,500 staff members worldwide—about 2,000 in Chicago, with a significant presence in New York, London and Singapore. We have HR team members in London who support the Middle East/Africa region and Asia. I travel there several times a year; we try to bring them here once a year.
How do you manage such a far-flung group of employees?
There's no substitute for face-to-face interaction, but we stay in touch with e-mails, phone calls and weekly videoconferences.
What advice would you give to someone considering entering the financial sector as an HR professional?
Anything that gives you crossfunctionality is going to be good for your career. It's important throughout our worldwide organization, so CME introduced Talent Exchange in 2012. The development program connects project owners with employees who are interested in broadening their skills and experience by working on short-term projects across other areas of the company.
Around 50 employees have been involved in this cross-functional work. HR professionals manage the Talent Exchange. We want to make sure the projects are suitable and well-defined and that the time commitment needed for a project is realistic.
Who does CME recruit?
We hire computer programmers, software developers, quality assurance professionals. We look for "technologists" who have some financial services background. We hire from banks, other transaction processing companies such as credit companies and payroll processors. We use Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to recruit.
What is the biggest lesson you've learned since entering HR?
To come into a field where I didn't have technical expertise required me to trust the people who were in the function and trust the work they do. I was fortunate to inherit a team of seasoned HR professionals. I have tremendous respect for their experience. I spent a lot of time with my team understanding their work and developing my own expertise.
The SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition will be held in Chicago this month. What do you recommend conference attendees see?
The Chicago Botanic Garden, one of my favorite spots to spend the day.
Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.