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Don't Skim the Surface, Pick a Passion

Senior Vice President, Global Rewards & HRIS, Marriott Vacations Worldwide Corp.

Cathy Peffen is responsible for developing and executing total rewards strategy, including executive compensation, at Marriott Vacations Worldwide Corp. Her job is to ensure that these programs align with the long-term business strategy and that the human resources infrastructure can support the strategic growth goals of the company. Her role also encompasses all aspects of the human capital management technology and delivery, including contracting and vendor management. Peffen holds a degree in biology from the University of Notre Dame and an MBA in HR and organizational development from Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management.

What is the No. 1 career assist you received?
GE Capital was building its insurance division and I joined the company shortly after it was acquired. I was told there wasn’t a compensation problem. I soon discovered there indeed were risks. I tackled the issue at hand, and, in the process, I gained the recognition of leadership. I was then chosen to work on the due diligence and integration teams for the next seven acquisitions (this was in the early 1990s). Those short four years with GE Capital, early in my career, taught me a tremendous amount about business, finance and how HR is an integral part of the business strategy.

What is key career advice you would give to others?
Seize every opportunity. You never know when it will turn into a life-changing experience. In my first job as an employment specialist for an HMO, the VP of HR came to me and said, “you just graduated, can you take a look at our sales comp plan, as it’s just math.” Who would have thought that one exercise, on the side, would become my specialty? And today, I chair the WorldatWork Sales Comp Expert Council. Similarly, in my third job, the VP of HR told me that I had “skimmed the surface in all areas of HR and had no depth.” It was true. I had done employment, benefits, compensation, training, associate relations — literally the full gamut. He suggested that I pursue compensation as a specialty, and he took a risk on me. Well, I performed compensation and was then given union relations and then HRIS. Today, I lead two of those three for Marriott Vacations Worldwide. All because that mentor, who remains in that role today, had the foresight to suggest I pick a passion.

What is something HR can’t live without?
Business acumen. Every HR professional needs to understand how their business makes money, its operating model and its go-to-market strategy. Just under-standing the HR foundation won’t get you far. I find that, most of the time, I can assist business leaders designing programs because I understand what their objective is and why it will drive the intended result. You have to experience the business by going on a sales ride, taking sales or operations training and the like.

What are two out-of-the-ordinary skills every rewards professional needs?
[First,] an open mind. Individuals want to be recognized and rewarded in very specific ways that are unique to them. As some in our profession have become more compliance-oriented (and yes, regulations influence that role), break the paradigms to balance the business needs with employee needs. And secondly, courage. Don’t be afraid to push the status quo.


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