Colleagues Remember Ron Pilenzo, Former SHRM President, COO

By Kathy Gurchiek Jul 28, 2015
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Ronald C. “Ron” Pilenzo, SPHR, Ph.D., 86, former president and chief operating officer for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), passed away July 28, 2015, at his home in Hobe Sound, Fla.

The Detroit native had more than 50 years of HR and senior management experience, including 23 years in the private sector working with such companies as Ford Motor Co., Allied Supermarkets and International Multifoods.

Pilenzo led SHRM from July 1980 to January 1991, beginning his tenure when the HR organization was known as the American Society for Personnel Administration (ASPA). Under his leadership, the organization moved in 1984 from Berea, Ohio, to Alexandria, Va., just outside of Washington, D.C. ASPA changed its name to SHRM in 1989.

While Pilenzo was president, membership grew from 27,500 to more than 44,000, the organization’s staff nearly tripled and its budget grew from $3.4 million to $14 million, according to a tribute written in 1991 upon his retirement.

Pilenzo’s involvement with the organization that would become a global voice for HR professionals began in 1969 as a volunteer for ASPA. He was a charter member of its compensation and benefits committee—which he chaired at one time—according to a 1990 Conference Daily article. He also was a vocal advocate on behalf of HR certification and standards and served on the Standards Committee for the Personnel Accreditation Institute (which later became the HR Certification Institute).

In 1990, he received the George Petitpas Award from the World Federation of People Management Associations (WFPMA), which today represents more than 600,000 people management professionals in over 90 national personnel associations around the world, according to the WFPMA website.The award has only been given 15 times since 1986; it recognizes the individual who has contributed the most to the HR profession in the world. That same year he also wrote one of the first HR articles to be published in the USSR.

“Ron was a pioneer in the HR profession, and his passion continues to guide our efforts,” said Henry G. “Hank” Jackson, SHRM president and CEO.

After Pilenzo retired from SHRM, he became president of International for Personnel Decisions, International. He managed consulting engagements with the U.S. Postal Service, The World Bank, the Edison Institute and the Federal Aviation Authority.

Pilenzo had an undergraduate degree in economics and industrial relations and a master’s degree in business administration with an HR emphasis, both from the University of Detroit Mercy. He received his doctorate degree in international business from Kennedy-Western University after retiring in 1994 from full-time employment and joining the faculty at Florida Atlantic University, where he taught in the business school for seven years. At the time of his death, he was the founder and president of The Global HR Consultancy, a management consulting firm.

He was a keynote speaker at global conferences in 23 countries and the U.S. He authored professional articles and was an adjunct professor at George Mason University Graduate School of Business, the University of Illinois and Florida Atlantic University.

Pilenzo was serving as board director and vice president of the Martin County Taxpayers Association (MCTA) in Stuart, Fla.—the state’s oldest taxpayers’ association—at the time of his death. He also wrote a bi-monthly column for MCTA that appeared in the Scripps Treasure Coast newspapers and was a member of the Executive Service Corps of the Treasure Coast, which provided volunteer consulting services to nonprofits in a four-county area.

Remembering Ron Pilenzo

SHRM’s Jackson cited Pilenzo’s many contributions to the HR profession.

“The excellent leadership and vision of Ron Pilenzo helped make SHRM a beacon for HR professionals to use in navigating their careers for many, many years,” he said.

“Under his tenure as president and chief operating officer, both the HR profession and SHRM experienced a tremendous amount of change and growth. His substantial contributions to both the HR profession and SHRM—first as a longtime SHRM member and volunteer and then as president—have earned him our deepest respect and gratitude. It is our goal to continue his efforts.”

Michael Losey, who succeeded Pilenzo as SHRM president and CEO, cited Pilenzo’s dedication to the profession.

“Ron was dedicated to the human resource management profession and the people in it. His influence on the profession and his contribution to SHRM were respected by all,” Losey said.

Susan R. Meisinger, who retired as SHRM’s president and CEO in July 2008, noted that Pilenzo remained professionally active up to the time of his death. She pointed to an e-mail he sent her earlier this month in which he shared his delight that an article he had written for a Japanese HR magazine was being published and news about articles he had written for a new French HR publication, Expatriate Magazine.

Meisinger remember Pilenzo as a “good man” who was “very smart and very thoughtful.” He became SHRM’s COO when it was a young organization and its growth in membership under his leadership was no mean feat, she noted.

“It was much more challenging to grow an organization then because the financial costs were very different before the Internet,” she said. Moving what was then ASPA to the D.C. area was not an easy task, she added, and involved building the headquarters and dealing with resistance from a group that balked at uprooting the organization.

“It was a significant move,” she said, that positioned it to be more involved in public policy that impacted the profession.

Lisa Block, vice president of meetings and conferences for SHRM, joined the organization about six months before Pilenzo retired. She recalled him as “a strong presence and a voice for the profession. He cared tremendously about the profession and had a great connection with the volunteers.”

Madelyn Jennings, a member of the SHRM board during Pilenzo’s tenure, recalled his gift for seeing opportunities others did not. “Ron Pilenzo thought outside the box, seeing things most others missed,” she said. Jennings is principal, Cabot Advisory Group, and a former senior vice president of human resources for Gannett Co.

“As head of SHRM, he added features for members, diversified conferences and strengthened the board. A proud veteran who loved planes and adored jazz, he was also a strong leader and strategic thinker. I will sorely miss him,” she added.

Tammy Finnell, membership manager for SHRM, said Pilenzo was a visionary. “I was just 19 when I started at SHRM. Looking back now, I see that Ron had a vision for the HR profession—of HR doing more than payroll, of HR [having a seat] at the table.”

Gary Kushner, who has taught courses for SHRM, served as a subject matter expert and served as a board member, recalled Pilenzo as a great leader at SHRM “and a good friend.”

Pilenzo died “peacefully in his sleep in the comfort of his own bed,” according to his son’s Facebook post. Service arrangements are pending, according to the family. Survivors include wife Lorna, son Christopher and daughter Paula. Notes of condolence may be sent to the family at 4932 SE Lost Lake Way, Hobe Sound, Fla., 33455.

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News. Follow her @KathyGurchiek

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