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HR Magazine, September 2003 - Cover Story: Businss Partners

By Steve Bates  9/1/2003
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HR Magazine, September 2003Vol. 48, No. 9

Delta: 'Marriage of Finance and HR'

Nothing fosters cooperation as much as crisis, and crisis has been a constant in the airline industry since the September 2001 terror attacks. At Delta Air Lines, Michelle Burns and Laura Butcher have had plenty to talk about.

Butcher, managing director of HR, has "a strong dotted line to me" on the organizational chart, says Burns, executive vice president and CFO. Though Butcher reports formally to an HR executive, she also serves as a consultant to the finance operation. In the past two years, that relationship has been a particularly important one.

For starters, the airline has downsized by more than 16,000 employees. Working together, HR and finance developed an initiative by which workers were offered incentives to leave the company voluntarily and avoid a possible pink slip. Butcher says that about 85 percent of employees facing a layoff—and more than 95 percent of nonunion workers in that category—took those buyouts.

Another project focused on employee benefits. Delta determined that it had particularly high benefit costs but that some of the most expensive benefits were not valued highly by those receiving them. The resulting changes cut costs for health care, pensions and many other elements of the benefits program without much employee pushback, the officials say.

In addition, the two worked together on an initiative designed to make the workforce more flexible and thereby save money. "It's the marriage of finance and HR," states Burns. "HR comes in with the tools, and finance comes in with the analysis."

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