Cornell University

International Programs

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Alumni Profile

Kathy Fritz Chiaravalli MILR ‘81

Managing Director of Strategic Human Resources will be teaching GPHR certification classes.

Kathy ChiavaralliKathy Chiaravalli, MILR ’81 has spent 20 years in International HR, the last seven running her own consulting firm specializing in global HR solutions and total rewards. Prior to launching her business, Kathy was VP Total Rewards with Allied Domecq, the UK company which was the world’s second largest wine and spirits company. As VP Total Rewards, there were only four women in the 50,000 person company at a higher level. She has traveled to over 25 countries to work on HR projects for several companies in consumer products, high tech, automotive and services.

She agreed to meet 'virtually' with MILR Dina Gabriel to discuss her international career path after ILR.

DG: We would love to hear any reflections on your time at ILR, did you have an international experience while you were here?

KC: The ILR school had very limited international breadth in the 80s. An international union meant the US and Canada. There were a few international students.   In fact, I came back to Cornell in the 80s to do some recruiting and delivered a lecture on International Benefits.

DG: What were your interests and goals?

KC:  I was interested in Human Resource Planning and Compensation.

DG: What is your current role at Strategic Human Resources?

KC: I am the CEO, CFO, CTO and VP Sales. I sell and deliver consulting projects. Frequently I help companies that are just beginning to globalize. Often this involves developing expatriate policies, cost estimates and processes. I also help companies plan for all of the HR issues associated with globalization (compensation, benefits, talent management, OD). In addition, I consult in compensation and benefits, often for US subsidiaries of foreign companies. 

DG: How has your time at ILR contributed/helped in your role?

KC: The education at Cornell was excellent. I studied with some of the smartest people I’ve ever met. I met my husband there. Cornell provided me with a research assistantship and tuition waiver so that my expenses were completely covered. Cornell alumni are always very supportive of each other.

I studied Compensation and Benefits as well as Human Resource Planning and the rudiments of HRIS. 

I also took classes in the business school. Prof. Lee Dyer taught Human Resource Planning and Prof Olivia Mitchell taught benefits – she is at Wharton now and has revolutionized social security systems around the world. One of my favorite classes was taught by Prof Karl Weick in the business school, The Social Psychology of Organizing. Organizing, not Organizations because he liked to emphasize the dynamic nature of organizations. It really taught me how to think differently and I still use some concepts today. 

I remember a really influential assignment from an OD class. Students were required to go to a meeting or event that would make us uncomfortable and take us out of our element. I went to a Muslim prayer meeting; I accidentally sat with the men, didn't bring a veil, or a prayer rug. The people at the meeting were very gracious and the message actually had a lot of universal appeal - it was about good works and good intentions. The assignment built cross cultural competence. It was really worthwhile. I encourage everybody to try to attend something very foreign to you - if you are liberal, go to a Rush Limbaugh event, if you are conservative, go to a ACLU event. Get out of your cultural, religious, ethnic, geographical mindset and build bridges.

My summer job during years at Cornell was at IBM where I actually did some international policy work along with HRIS projects.   

DG: How did you get to the role you are in today?

Kathy on the Yangtze River in China after delivering a lecture at University of Beijing.KC: I was always sort of a heat seeker. I met and married my ILR sweetheart, Robert Chiaravalli in 1981. He already had a job in Detroit where there was 20% unemployment. I always felt that good men were harder to find than good jobs. I was very fortunate; I found a job doing Personnel Research. I did statistical analysis at an insurance company faced with multiple consent decrees and I wrote and validated selection tests and performance appraisal systems. From there I went to Brown University and managed their HRIS system and then to Data General (of Soul of a New Machine fame) to work on a revolutionary HRIS system. The Benefits Manager really liked the HRIS work I did, so when an opening for International Benefits Manager came up, she hired me even though I had no experience only had a couple courses at Cornell on benefits and two courses at the University of Wisconsin Madison. From there I accepted a couple of Manager of International Compensation and Benefits jobs, first in Automotive and then in Services. Finally I was recruited as VP of the British wine and Spirits company.

DG: What advice would you give current ILR students, both Undergraduates and Masters level, who are interested in international/European careers as HR professionals?

KC: One of the most important classes I ever took was Cultural Anthropology. I grew up rather isolated in Menomonee Falls Wisconsin. Cultural Anthropology taught me to understand and respect differences.

Travel as much as possible. Study abroad. Network constantly, intelligently.

Keep learning, go to the best possible universities you can. I took executive education classes at INSEAD in Fontainebleau France along with CEOs and VPs from around the world – an incredibly enriching experience. 

Become very good at some HR specialty. Understand the business. Executive Compensation is a great specialty for this because you have to understand the corporate performance drivers and you control important people’s pay.

Work at highly profitable, high growth companies.

DG: Anything else you would like to share with us?

KC: Strive for balance as a person. Work is only part of life. Surround yourself with people you love and nurture those relationships.

DG: Thank you Kathy!

For more information on the GPHR certification classes please see this brochure.

- Kathy Fritz Chiaravalli MILR ‘81

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