It Chooses You: An Unexpected Route to a Career That You Love

Stephanie Harris Human Resources Leave a Comment

Stephanie Neuvirth, Chief HR and Diversity officer at City of Hope, planned on working in marketing after college. Fate had other ideas.

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“A transformationalist at heart – Stephanie brings her multidisciplinary background to bear on each challenge, exhibiting fresh thinking and novel approaches to advance her organization’s mission. We are proud to be her collaborative partner in OD/HR Strategic Development, Inclusion & Diversity and Executive Coaching.”
— Denise Kirwan, TracksGlobal Business Consulting and Executive Coaching

Sometimes things do not always turn out as planned, and sometimes it is for the better. As a marketing student at the University of Denver, Stephanie Neuvirth never imagined she would end up working a successful career in human resources (HR). But as the current Chief HR and Diversity officer at City of Hope, and a member of the organization’s executive team, that’s exactly what happened.

Right out of college, Neuvirth was accepted into an executive training program with the retailer Bullock’s Department Stores (which was eventually purchased by Macy’s). After receiving a couple of customer service awards, she was presented an opportunity with the organization’s Learning and Development department.

“It was a big deal to me because I was a marketing major and had seen myself going into marketing and purchasing from a buying perspective,” Neuvirth recalled. “I candidly was horrified at first to move so quickly into a different area of discipline. I really didn’t understand what HR was, but I was flattered that somebody was finding interest in my skills and abilities.”

Neuvirth decided to accept the position and see where it would take her. It ended up leading her to an HR manager role for one store, then multiple stores, and eventually to a corporate HR role for the company. After Bullock’s was purchased by Macy’s, Neuvirth moved on to serve in HR roles for various organizations, such as Mars Inc., the Walt Disney Company, and Advantage Sales and Marketing LLC, before joining City of Hope as the Chief HR and Diversity officer.

Although it is not the field Neuvirth initially thought she would be working in, HR has turned out to be her passion, which is why she is a firm believer in trying as many roles as possible early on in your career and always be open-minded to learning new things.

“It’s important to figure out what you don’t want to do as much as it is important to figure out what it is you are good at,” she said. “You should try lots of things and figure out quickly where your skills and abilities help you and where you maybe don’t have as much talent.”

Left to Right:  Stephanie Neuvirth (Chief Human Resources & Diversity Officer),  Christina Sermak (HR Manager, Strategic Partner), Paul Tapia (Senior Director, Organizational Development & Learning), Jodi Burke (HR Vice-President)

Left to Right: Stephanie Neuvirth (Chief Human Resources & Diversity Officer),  Christina Sermak (HR Manager, Strategic Partner), Paul Tapia (Senior Director, Organizational Development & Learning), Jodi Burke (HR Vice-President)

Passion for the Organization
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“Stephanie’s energy is contagious and so is her mission of advancing purpose-driven companies through the power of their people. I’m honored to be a creative collaborator in her efforts.”
— Greg Nelson, Principal, DESIGN ENGAGENCY

As an employee for the City of Hope, a private, not-for-profit clinical research center, hospital, and graduate medical school that specializes in cancer treatment, Neuvirth has found herself serving an organization with a cause she feels passionate about.

“I see our work and how it impacts not only our patients but also their family’s and it is incredibly rewarding,” she said. “There is such an urgency around our work because people’s lives are perishable. It fills me with a ton of purpose.”

In addition to enabling an organization that is working to improve the lives of its patients, Neuvirth has been involved in an initiative that aims to improve the future of the healthcare industry’s workforce, through a newly launched program called the TEACH Project.

“The healthcare industry is targeted to grow by 17% and the reality is that we have a lot of jobs and not enough people coming up the pipeline with the right skillsets to be able to assume those roles,” she explained. “We have an aging industry, largely the nursing and physician industry, and we need more talent as the world ages and baby boomers get older.”

The TEACH Project is the concept of 6-year high school and aims to keep kids in school for two additional years of high school. “When they graduate, assuming they have taken the right courses, students will graduate with an AA degree in Health Information IT,” said Neuvirth. “It’s a creative way in partnering with a local school system and a local college to try to keep kids in school longer and help them achieve a degree that can be applicable.”

The program will provide a larger, more qualified workforce for the healthcare industry. “There is a shortage of healthcare IT professionals, and as part of the Affordable Care Act, all healthcare organizations need to have electronic medical records. So there is a whole segment of the industry that didn’t really exist before that now we need lots of people to help support,” she said. “It’s an innovative win-win. We’re hoping to keep kids in school longer and help them get a job where we really need them.”

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Left to Right: Jodi Burke (HR Vice-President), Jessica Morrissey (HR Manager, Strategic Projects), Stephanie Neuvirth (Chief Human Resources & Diversity Officer), Christina Sermak (HR Manager, Strategic Partner), Paul Tapia (Senior Director, Organizational Development & Learning)

Who’s Advocating for You?

While Neuvirth has found success in a field she initially did not plan to pursue, a lot of her accomplishments can be accredited to the fact that she was always advocating for herself, which is something that can be difficult to do—especially for women.

“It’s not only what you do and who you know, but it’s who knows you,” she explained.  “A lot of times, women can be quietly effective, meaning they’re doing their thing and getting the job done and then rushing home to get to their families. But they oftentimes are not poised and ready with their elevator speech.

The ‘who knows you’ is an important piece building a successful career, according to Neuvirth. “Oftentimes, the important career decisions are going to be made when you are not in the room, so who’s advocating for you?”

If senior leaders do not know who you are or what it is you do, you likely will not be included on the list of those who should be promoted. Neuvirth has found that women, in particular, can be uncomfortable talking about their own accomplishments, but any amount of face time with a senior leader is an opportunity that should not be wasted on small talk.

“It’s important for those leaders to know who you are,” she explained. “Get comfortable with senior leaders and present yourself in a way that you can talk about yourself or your work. Have your elevator speech ready, be present at key events, ask questions, send thank you notes—whatever it is to be visible in a good way.”

By taking the unexpected route, trying new things and accepting opportunities, as well as advocating for herself, Neuvirth has found herself in a role she loves for an industry she feels passionate about. ♦


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Managing The Family Business

Stephanie Neuvirth may oversee the HR function for the City of Hope during working hours, but at all other times of the day she is running a family with two young girls. While trying to maintain a healthy work-life balance, she has learned that some of her most valuable business tips can be useful at home, too. 

Your Choices Matter

“I’m not good at [maintaining a healthy work-life balance], but I’m trying,” Neuvirth said. “One of the main reasons I’ve made different career changes in my past was because I wanted to be more available for my children and I wanted to be more present. Our choices matter, and I’m trying to spend more time being present for my family and in the moment.”

Clarify Expectations

“Make sure everybody knows what their role and responsibility is, as well as how to support and enable each other. And be very good at communicating. As a parent, being in the moment is very important and hard to do.”

Compartmentalize and Focus

“Focus on being with your kids when you are with your kids, and really focus on your work when you’re trying to work,” she recommends. “The concept of multitasking is overrated—focus is important. It’s hard to do things well when you’re fragmented.”

Have a Broader Planning Perspective

“You have to plan for everything to go well, but knowing what your backup plan is and who your backup resources are is vital. This is important particularly as a working parent who travels.”

Put Your Mask on before you Help Others

“It’s a bit like being on an airplane,” Neuvirth explained. “If you need 15 minutes to get yourself together before walking in the house and engaging with family, then by all means take the 15 minutes. It’s important that we are at our best not only at work but also at home. I think too many people let themselves get run down on both fronts. Balance is about what your definition of balance is and it’s one that we all struggle with, but we have to feel good about what we do and we have to create the best balance.”

Do Things with Your Children

“If I’m going to volunteer, I try to volunteer at an activity that my children are a part of.  I try to do things where they can come with me. I also feel strongly about allowing kids to come to work. Whenever possible, we have a ‘Bring Your Child to Work Day,’ and we try to be very supportive of families in our work community.”


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Planning for Depth and Breadth

Why breadth of experience is just as important as functional expertise

When reviewing resumes for C-suite roles, the common issue Stephanie Neuvirth comes across is a lack of diverse experience.

“My advice is to plan for breadth,” she said. “When people plan to achieve a C-suite roles, the issue I find when I’m reviewing resumes is that they don’t have the breadth of experience needed for the role because many of them were functional experts.”

While it’s critical to be a functional expert, Neuvirth finds more value in breadth of experience. “If you focus your whole career on some kind of functional expertise, at what point are you going to get the breadth that you need?” she asked.

Neuvirth advises young professionals to plan for depth and breadth early in their career and shares some tips to do so.

Explore different roles early on in your career

It helps you to understand what it is you are good at, as well as what you are not so good at. It also gives you a broader lens and context of an organization. Try a lot of things if you can.

Volunteer

Volunteer to work on projects where you can have the opportunity to have cross-functional exposure and learn from others what it is they do.

Learn about Others

Learning about people’s backgrounds and careers is something everybody should do. A lot of times, people don’t take the time to ask others about their background and what it is they like about their current role.


 

Level 5 Leadership

Stephanie Neuvirth always tries to lead her team with an organizational mindset, or what she would call “Level 5 Leadership.”

“It’s leading from the organization’s vantage point first and then from the HR vantage point secondary or third,” she explained. “It allows for a helicopter perspective of what’s most critical to the whole organization and then backing in.”

Level 1: Yourself
Level 2: Yourself and your direct reports
Level 3: Your peers, yourself, and your direct reports
Level 4: Your boss and everyone below
Level 5: The organization

 

Stephanie's Key Partners:
Tracks Global (Business Consulting, Executive Coaching) | Design Engagency (Brand Design) | Guttman Development Strategies (Consulting, Leadership Development)
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Stephanie Harris

Stephanie Harris is a freelance writer based in Chicago, Illinois.
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