Business Strategy, Not Just HR Strategy

Leviton Manufacturing's HR Leader moved beyond departmental goals.

By Nov 1, 2007

HR Magazine: November 2007

"At Leviton, I get to do work that's every HR executive's dream," says Mark Fogel, SPHR. "Things most people only read about in HR Magazine."

As head of the HR function for Leviton Manufacturing, Fogel and his HR team work closely with top managers as business partners, involved every step of the way in the Little Neck, N.Y., company's strategic business decisions.

And Fogel has become the prime mover of the transformation that aligns HR with the organization's goals. "I used to call myself an HR executive," he says. "Today, I view myself as a business executive, and the entire HR team as businesspeople."

For this work, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has named Fogel the Human Capital Business Leader of the Year, an award that goes to a senior HR professional who serves as a leading force in executing organizational strategy that directly impacts the organization's performance and prominence.

On a Roll

2007 has been a banner year for HR at Leviton, a year when many of Fogel's efforts to change the HR function from a tactical operation to a strategic one have come to fruition. "We got three or four years' worth of HR work done in nine months," he says. "I'm a member of the operating committee, and Kim [Kimberly Shephard, SPHR, senior director of human resources] and I attend strategic planning meetings regularly. We know every big project the company does."

Leviton underwent a paradigm shift last year, when President Donald Hendler initiated a companywide reorganization. As Leviton moved from a function-based operation to a team-based approach centered around small business units, HR became a catalyst for change.

Under the "management by objective" structure, every company decision and program must contribute to advancing one of these goals: grow revenue, develop business sources, invest in human development (HR), reduce costs and achieve quality. A new performance management system ties directly into these five goals. Senior managers set individual goals for each of the company's top 100 executives. Then, Fogel and his team review them and make sure they are covered in executive performance reviews.

Fogel and Shephard have worked hard to break down silos that existed under the previous organizational structure—beginning with the HR function. Fogel says the department was viewed with "skepticism" by many employees, who tended to avoid it.

Attitudes started to change after HR employees began reaching out with enrichment programs based on employee interests. Fun activities such as lunch-and-learn sessions, Hobby Week and a picnic drew people in. Through "opportunities for engagement, we began building relationships across the silos," says Fogel. Eventually, employees who formerly avoided the office started lining up outside HR's door to sign up for events.

Serendipity at Work

Fogel never expected to be where he is. When he graduated from college in the 1980s with a degree in sociology and a master's degree in professional studies, he thought he might work in social services for children. So how did he wind up in HR?

Some might call it serendipity. A graduate school friend gave Fogel's resume to officials at the R.H. Macy Co. in New York. He was called in for an all-day interview and then hired on the spot as an executive trainee.

A stint in HR during his seven-year tenure at Macy's piqued Fogel's interest and led in 1997 to a staffing and employee relations position at The Limited Inc. Fogel says he had "my wake-up call at 36. After 12 years in business, I discovered a passion for HR."

Lacking a VP of HR for Dummies book, Fogel began focusing on personal development, working to learn more about HR and "fill my toolbox quickly."

And he did just that. When Leviton executives offered him the job of corporate director of HR in 2000, he was ready. He had learned about the opening from a former Macy's contact, who gave his resume to Leviton. This family-owned business, founded on the cusp of the electric light era by Isadore Leviton, has had just three presidents in 101 years. Its first product, in 1906, was a gas-mantle tip. Isadore's son Harold succeeded him in 1965 and remains chief executive officer today at age 90. Two years ago, Hendler, Harold's son-in-law, became president and now handles the manufacturer's overall operations.

"The development of human capital is critical" to the continued success of the company, Hendler says. He works closely with Fogel and Chief Operating Officer Daryoush Larizadeh to keep HR "totally immersed in the business." Hendler says Fogel is "well-attuned to the tenets of HR management. And he will speak up" when he disagrees with something, a trait Hendler appreciates, saying, "I don't want a 'yes' man."

Just as Hendler himself must "maintain neutrality" with employees and managers, he expects HR employees to be advocates for both groups. "Mark's done a great job of earning the respect and trust of both employees and management," he says.

Fogel's enthusiasm for his work gives rise to good-natured teasing from colleagues, says Hendler. "Mark can talk a blue streak around something. He'll ask to talk to me for two minutes and then spend 30 minutes in my office."

According to Hendler, this paternalistic company's culture is lighthearted and informal, and a sense of humor remains important. "We nearly had [Fogel] arrested once at a Mets game. [A group of Leviton employees] called security and complained that he was making a nuisance of himself by cheering so loud." They've given him a nickname—"The Fogelator." Although Hendler has forgotten the story behind this title, he says it's "typical of our humor."

Balancing 'Life Buckets'

Fogel strives to balance life's three "buckets": work, home and community. He tries not to miss his 12-year-old daughter Morgan's sports activities, and the two enjoy going to movies and sports events together. Fogel and wife Alisa, a former corporate executive who opened her own Internet marketing business three years ago, share home and child care responsibilities and make time for community activities.

To give back to the profession, Fogel writes and reviews articles and presents workshops for the SHRM Foundation and WorldatWork.

And he says he has found "a hidden treasure" in Leviton, a company whose caring culture remains evident as the organization moves with the times. "We still give watches for 25 years of service," he notes, and many people have been with the company that long or longer. His proudest moments at work come when helping his staff develop and grow. "To see people flourish under you" is satisfying, says Fogel, who displays delight with Shephard's success.

"Mark looks at the big picture," says Shephard. "He doesn't micromanage." She appreciates his encouragement and the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with him and Larizadeh in making HR a strategic partner with managers. Recently, she was promoted to senior director of HR and given responsibilities that keep her engaged and eager to do more.

The challenge for Fogel, the one that "never goes away," is developing relationships and building credibility and respect. "It took us five years [2002-07] to build the foundation" for the new management structure. It's not easy work, but he revels in the challenge. Recruiting, in particular, "gives me an endorphin high that's like the runner's rush."

Hendler says Fogel is "never an obstacle; he's a facilitator to get things done. I want a manager who can identify a problem, offer maybe three solutions, say, 'Here's the one I recommend,' and then get the hell out of my office and execute.

"Mark executes."

Ann Pomeroy is senior writer for HR Magazine.


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