Cornell University

International Programs

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Alumni Profile

Laurel Marshall, BS '91

Pioneering a career in International HR

Laurel and Darrin

After years of international HR experience, Laurel is taking several months off to travel with her husband, Darrin. Six continenets and 25+ countries! She plans to write about her experience and share updates on their travels via the web. Before leaving in January, 2007, Laurel agreed to share a bit of her career background and some advice to students who are considering an international career. 

How did you decide to pursue a track in international HR? 

I’ve always had a bit of wanderlust, a curiosity and passion for venturing into the unknown, and learning about new people, places, cultures… the more remote, exotic, more difficult to communicate and make my way around, the more exciting the adventure, and the greater the learning experience. Through my own personal travel abroad, and through interactions with professors and career mentors who had a love for international culture & business, I soaked up lessons from their experience, enough to know that living and working abroad was a personal and professional goal I wanted to pursue. 

How did you prepare yourself with the skills necessary? 

Before entering the job world…

When I was an ILR student there were limited International courses, but I made sure I took those that were available, such as, Cross Cultural Work Organizations, and International HR Policies. In class I learned about HR tools and, through colleagues, friends and other resources—I learned to view HR through other lenses. For example, compensation programs & leadership styles may be applied very differently across cultures to motivate and optimize productivity. I actively sought out resources that addressed international organizations, management, culture & HR, and I was committed to joining an organization where I would be exposed to new cultures, and make a difference on an international basis.

During my final semester at Cornell, I sought out employment with organizations that had a global presence and potential for exposure to international relations and business. That effort paid off with my first employer, NCR.

On the job….

Once on the job I aimed for an expatriate assignment. At the time, most expat assignments were reserved for senior leadership as they carried more risk and were more costly for companies. I knew that I needed to first demonstrate strong competency across all HR functions at home. My first employer, NCR, provided a fantastic learning environment. By the end of my 4th year, I had successfully rotated through assignments in OD/Training; Compensation & Benefits; Employment; Employee Relations and, as a generalist, supported a range of business client groups. The turning point for me was taking on a short stint at our corporate headquarters in Ohio, where I was exposed to global executive leaders, including a special mentor. I grew significantly through other HR leaders who shared their experiences. That assignment was the open door that afforded me the chance to develop strong networks and career champions. 

Tell us about your Expatriate experience: 

About a year after completing that assignment in Dayton, my Laurel and Darrinmentor became the head of HR for Asia Pacific and sponsored my move to Sydney, Australia. The change management and OD components of my role made for the perfect learning experience. While I had the basic building blocks established from an HR technical perspective, this assignment required me to take skills and learn how to effectively apply them in different countries. I leveraged this experience to develop strong relationships with my local HR and business colleagues throughout the region, and transferred my observations and insights to other initiatives such as leadership development & coaching, competency development, succession planning, and talent acquisition and retention. This was during the mid ‘90s and the region was in a state of unprecedented growth and change. As many will tell you, an expatriate experience is life changing. It expanded the way I embrace others, they way I think, listen, act, lead, build relationships, approach situations and make decisions. It was an experience of a lifetime, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Choosing development & experiences selectively…

I had a taste of international work but knew I needed experience building and managing a team of my own. I accepted an opportunity with Johnson & Johnson where I was responsible for six European and U.S. sites, and a globally dispersed HR team. Working in cross-cultural teams provided a learning lab to better explore, understand, and work with new cultures and new ways of thinking. It was during my employment with J&J that I decided to pursue my MBA in International Business. This was fueled by my interest in the business development process and evaluating acquisition targets, along with work re-branding our employment value proposition. I had a passion to better understand the line operations, and perhaps take an assignment out of a traditional HR role. 

The program inspired me to seek out line opportunities, and propelled me into my next assignment, back into the fast paced high tech market… I joined Gateway, with a key assignment to build out a product development center in Taiwan. Taiwan was a country I had spent time in with NCR, and one of my cultural mentors was still there. I worked hand in hand with cross functional EVP’s to pull together the organizational design, infrastructure and capabilities to launch the new organization. I reconnected with my local cultural mentor and several close colleagues to learn more about Taiwan business practice. As we accelerated progress and the project was moving into a more mature stage, my main executive client took on the role of leading International Strategy, to evaluate international markets to distribute products into, after Gateway had withdrawn internationally based operations years earlier. Knowing my interests to move into the business, and leverage my MBA, he seconded me to be a member of his start-up 4 person strategy team. A great opportunity and exposure to a new role. 

In my most recent role as VP HR for a Life sciences company, I had the opportunity to lead all HR international operations, and also focus on building a robust Global Commercial capability to scale the business for high growth expectations. I inherited a team of 35 globally dispersed field HR leaders and generalists. Equally important to me, was the ability to be part of building start up organizations in China and India, a new regional China-based leadership team, and getting hands on experience in Latin America. This work allowed me to reconnect with the colleagues and cultures I had spent so much time with earlier in my career. My network of mentors and colleagues helped guide me in the right directions, and sped up my learning curve. I also gained valuable experience navigating through employment and labor laws in Argentina and Brazil and rebuilding an office in Buenos Aries. I tapped into my mentors within NCR and Johnson & Johnson to point me toward trusted resources and contacts locally to again, guide and navigate through the language, law and cultural aspects. 

So what’s the next step in your international career?

My next step was a huge decision, to leave the corporate world and pursue a dream that I’ve shared with my husband. We share the same passion for international travel and adventure, especially spending time in developing countries. In January ‘07 we plan to hit the road for a 14-16 month trip around the world. Our mission is to immerse ourselves in local culture, socioeconomic conditions, language, people, and to experience life as locals do in their homelands, seeking out opportunities to spend time with people in remote areas, and in the business world, and potentially contribute through a volunteer avenue as well. We’ll head first from NZ and Australia to India, Nepal and Southeast Asia, then continue west, with stop offs in Egypt, Morocco, Spain, and onto Central and South America. You can travel virtually with us at There’s no better way to develop yourself internationally, and prepare yourself to understand others points of view, and enable more diverse decisions and actions, then by getting out there and immersing yourself in life outside the US. It’s definitely different than traveling business class, staying in 5star hotels, and viewing the culture by peering through conference room windows and dining at top rated establishments. We’re looking for the full local cultural experience, and keen to see how it changes our perspectives on our lives and what direction it takes us in. I could see doing work for an International non-profit or NGO as my next step.

A niche for ILR Alumni to fill…

Often I thought about how powerful it would be to have a network of Cornell ILR Alumni that I could tap into when venturing into new cultures and territories. A network where you could identify contacts with specific expertise in desired countries and cities; reach out through the internet and chat with a local colleague before landing on the ground. I was thrilled to hear that the ILR International department is in the process of linking up ILR alumni world wide… we have a tremendous network to tap into, to enable each of our learning, experiences & successes. 

What Cornell readied me for… great base of knowledge, ability to take on new assignments in new places, the courage & confidence to get out there, explore, create and achieve… Through my experiences, I realize it’s not just the coursework that is critical to building skill & capability… it’s the people you meet along the way that show you the ropes, and open your eyes to completely new ways of doing things. I wish that I had taken the time during my years at Cornell to build long lasting international networks that would become a learning network within my career. The mission that ILR International Programs has provides a chance for me to reconnect and help others connect with magical cultural mentors along the way. By bridging new students and alumni, the combined knowledge, experience and learning is unlimited. I would like to contribute to the school's efforts as I travel throughout the world in 2007-2008, learning from fellow ILR alumni about HR and business in their countries, and share the learning’s with others. 

- Laurel Marshall, BS '91

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