Thinking harder, thinking deeper
At the University of Florida where she studied statistics with 500 other students and chemistry with 200, Beth Florin M.S. ’85 was underwhelmed.
“I was not excited about my education.”
Enter Cornell ILR -- in the form of an ILR master of science degree blending math, statistics, human resource management and research methodology.
“It awakened a thirst for learning that I had never experienced before,” said Florin, receiving the Alpern Award on April 9 for professional achievement and service to ILR.
Kevin F. Hallock, ILR’s Kenneth F. Kahn Dean and Joseph R. Rich Professor, said, "We are so proud to be recognizing with the Jerome Alpern Award the very special role model that Beth Florin is across her professional circles, to the ILR and Cornell communities, and for her family and friends."
Florin said she was “immediately engaged" - when she started at ILR - "I’m sitting with 20 peers and the professor has assigned 10 articles to read and says, ‘So, what do you think?’”
She remembers being taken aback. “What? I’m supposed to talk?”
By her second semester, Florin knew compensation was her field. “It was clear to me. This is what I want to do. It crystallized.”
Through professors such as George Milkovich and John Boudreau, she learned there is a science around salary and other compensation elements that support management culture and leadership strategy.
Compensation expertise can take a company’s HR function to a higher level, said Florin, a managing director for Pearl Meyer and Partners. “Compensation is a critical part of the field and ILR should continue to be a leader.”
Previously considered a low-value compliance function, HR is evolving into a strategic business component, Florin said.
To influence decision-making at the top, Florin advises colleagues and aspiring compensation specialists to “listen to your own firm’s investor and customer presentations; pay attention to what your own company is trying to communicate.”
“Look at the business. Why does it do what it does? When you meet people in marketing and finance, talk to them … understand your own company and the markets it competes in.”
“Read industry reports and proxy statements and published research. Where are we headed? Are the right people in place? How can we use compensation to support the business strategy and the human resources strategy?”
At ILR, she met Joe Rich ’80, M.S. ’86, her future husband.
“We were not born to go into compensation. We happened upon it and it changed both of our lives dramatically,” Florin said.
They built their careers around compensation and founded Executive Alliance, a technology industry compensation consultancy, which was acquired by Clark Consulting in 2001. Florin remembers thinking, “How lucky are we?”
Parents of twins, both treasured their ILR experience and acknowledged its critical role in guiding their career success. When Milkovitch retired, they wondered, Florin said, “Who will be the new compensation leader at Cornell?”
“That sparked getting involved” with ILR as alums, Florin said. “We felt good about giving back.”
Rich served on the ILR Alumni Association’s board of directors and the ILR Advisory Council, and Florin currently serves on those boards. “I want to contribute to ILR’s excellence. I’m saying ‘thank you,” Florin said.
Rich died in 2007. In his honor, Florin established the Joseph R. Rich Professorship, which recognizes an ILR faculty member contributing to compensation studies in the field of labor economics or human resource management.
Florin has also endowed the Joseph Rich Memorial Fund for Compensation Studies at ILR’s Institute for Compensation Studies.
An alumni survey organized by Florin to increase alumni-to-alumni sharing on best practices in fields to which ILR expertise contributes elicited 1,500 responses and sparked creation of the ILR Online webcast series.
Annually, the series draws thousands of alums and practitioners to webcasts on issues researched at ILR.
“It’s moved alumni networks to bring knowledge sharing to the digital age and to be more active,” said Florin, who lives in Colorado.
In a ballroom at The Pierre at the edge of Central Park in April, Florin’s work for the school and in the HR field will be celebrated at ILR’s Groat and Alpern Celebration.
The road there began with an intellectual awakening in Ives Hall 20-some years ago that got Florin “thinking harder, thinking deeper … and I’ve applied that to everything I’ve done since.”