From Plant Manager to HR Chief

Strategic HR Leadership Award

By Stephen Miller Nov 1, 2006

HR Magazine, November 2006

Liz Gottung has a unique resume for a chief HR officer. She took a detour away from HR and spent several years on the manufacturing side as a plant manager.

After joining Kimberly-Clark (K-C) in 1981 as an employee relations counselor, during her first 10 years at the company, Gottung held positions in labor relations, recruiting, training and safety in a number of Kimberly-Clark offices and manufacturing facilities.

But she also has an extensive background in manufacturing, having been a team leader for tissue manufacturing at K-C's Lakeview mill in Neenah, Wis. Shortly thereafter, she moved to another K-C facility as operations manager and, in 1993, became a plant manager in New Milford, Conn. In 1997, Gottung was named manager of the company's Nonwovens mill in Corinth, Miss., where she was responsible for a significant machine retooling. During this time, the Corinth mill was recognized by the governor of Mississippi for exceeding environmental standards and for an exceptional training and development program.

In 2001, Gottung was named Kimberly-Clark's vice president of human resources and was appointed to her current position in 2002.

How has her background as a mill manager helped in her top HR role? "I had been very quick to give advice and counsel to people who then would turn to me and say, 'Yes, but you know what, you don't have to implement this.' So when I had an opportunity to move from HR into manufacturing, I knew it would be a broadening experience that would add to my toolkit and provide insight that I didn't have. And that's exactly what happened."

Running a plant, she says, "is a great place to see where the human capital strategy of a company becomes real. It can drive engagement and business performance, or not. You have full line responsibilities, from the budget to employee safety and morale, community affairs, environmental and regulatory compliance. And when I came back into HR, I had developed a substantial network of people in different functions throughout the company. It gave me additional credibility and access, and provided a full-business perspective I could then bring back into HR."

Stephen Miller is manager of SHRM Online’s Compensation & Benefits Focus Area.

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