Profile: Understanding the Business of HR

Bette J. Francis, SPHR, outlines her vision for her two-year term as board chair of SHRM

By Bill Leonard Feb 1, 2013

0213cover.gifIn January, Bette J. Francis, SPHR, began her two-year term as chair of the Society for Human Resource Management’s Board of Directors. As SHRM’s top volunteer leader, she says she will continue to focus on efforts to educate HR professionals and elevate the HR management profession to new heights. In an interview with HR Magazine, Francis discussed what HR professionals must do to ensure the growth and prosperity of their companies, and how SHRM can help them achieve their professional and organizational goals.

How did you decide on a career in HR?

I started my professional life thinking I wanted to be a hospital administrator. As I went through the educational programs for that career track, I came upon the HR department. For me, this was an epiphany, because I realized that if any organization was going to be successful, it would have to rely heavily on the performance of its people. It is interesting to me how an organization can build a culture people want to be a part of and actively contribute to the business.

Bette J. Francis, SPHR

Education: 1985, Bachelor of Science in business administration, Thomas Edison State College, Trenton, N.J.

Current job: 2007-present, vice president of human resources, Wealth Advisory Services, Wilmington Trust N.A., Wilmington, Del.

Career: 2001-07 vice president, human resources and administration, Strategic Products & Services, Cedar Knolls, N.J. 2000-01, director, human resources, Nutratech Inc., Fairfield, N.J. 1997-2000, director of human resources, Clarity HealthCorp, New York City. 1983-97, director of human resources and customer service, Pentax Precision Instrument Corp., Orangeburg, N.Y.

Personal: Born in Pearl River, N.Y.; daughter Barbara; grandson Cameron.

Diversions: NASCAR, family and friends, and cooking. Desserts are a favorite because "they are just fun to eat and can be a creative pursuit."


Is there a particular job experience that helped shape your career?

One of my first jobs was with the medical instruments division of Pentax. I was helping to set up the U.S. division, and I worked directly with the Japanese president. He was a great mentor, and he taught me what makes a business work. This was the late 1980s and early ’90s. Working with a Japanese boss during this time may not have been a positive experience for some women. However, I was very lucky, and my experience was great.

Honestly, I don’t think I realized all that my boss was doing for me. He moved me around the organization so that I spent time working in different departments, like sales, accounting, marketing, and I spent time on the repair floor where technicians were working on complex, high-tech medical instruments. It made me roll up my sleeves and understand how the company actually worked. I was working extensively in Tokyo, Beijing, the European offices, as well as Argentina and Brazil. The experience really shaped my approach to HR.

At successful organizations, employees understand the direction and how they contribute.

How would you describe your approach to HR management?

For HR to be an effective part of an organization, you have to really understand the business. An HR professional must know the organization from the inside out and from top to bottom to be truly successful.

You also must approach HR ethically and with integrity. I don’t think you can do this job without integrity and without a strong commitment to ethical behavior. I’ve always strived to make sure that I was doing the right thing and that the businesses I’ve worked for treated every employee equally and fairly.

How do you apply that philosophy to your current job?

Day in and day out, the needs of employees do not always align with the direction the company might be headed. The challenge I face in my job is how do I communicate the direction and needs of the business to employees and how it might diverge from what they want to do or need. You have to communicate this with honesty and integrity. Organizations are changing all the time, and employees must understand these changes and how the changes affect them.

What is the toughest challenge in making sure you and employees keep up with this fast pace of change?

One of the top challenges HR professionals face every day is that you have to understand what’s coming three to five years from now. With your eye on the future, how do you manage today? You can achieve this by keeping employees informed, letting them know the direction of the organization, and helping them to understand and think about the decisions they will have to make for themselves and their families. The most successful organizations are those with employees who understand the direction of the organization and how their decisions and efforts contribute to reaching the business’ strategic objectives.

What are your goals or objectives for your two-year term as chair of the SHRM board?

What I would like to focus on is to educate the professional and elevate the profession. SHRM has the opportunity to interact at very senior levels of businesses and can positively influence the direction of the profession. We still have work to do in terms of how the profession is viewed overall. By using the expertise in the SHRM organization, we will focus on building and strengthening new and existing relationships with business and government leaders around the world and through these efforts enhance and elevate the profession.

At the same time, we have to look at opportunities and new ways to educate HR professionals so that they can meet the demands of their jobs in the years to come. To help meet the challenges, SHRM has established and codified competencies that HR professionals should possess. The process of educating the professional and elevating the profession will occur through these sets of competencies. Since these competencies apply globally, SHRM must continue to keep a global perspective and strive to elevate the profession and educate professionals around the world. The HR management profession today is very different from what it was even four or five years ago. As HR continues to evolve, SHRM is uniquely positioned to carry the message and propel the profession forward.

The interviewer is a senior writer for HR Magazine.


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