Bette Francis ’95, ’99 | Business Administration
Bette Francis has more in common with Thomas Edison than she probably realizes.
Like Edison, Francis gained expertise and knowledge on her own without any formal collegiate training or education. While she is not an engineer or inventor, Francis has become an innovative leader in the human resources (HR) field.
"For HR to be successful, you really have to understand the customer and what they are looking for," said Francis. "Then, you can discover the type of employee the organization needs to be successful."
One of the key milestones that helped Francis acquire her expertise came in 1983, when she joined PENTAX Precision Instrument Corporation a few years after it was established in North America. She learned the business and the corporation's Japanese culture from the ground up.
"While the labor force was in the U.S., the management was in Japan. I needed to understand the Japanese culture in order to present my ideas in an appropriate way," recalled Francis, who stayed with the company for 14 years. "Subtle differences were critical."
This involved learning Japanese so she was not reliant on a translator for her many trips to Asia, Europe and throughout the United States, and becoming more familiar with Japanese culture.
Francis ultimately designed the company's first human resources program. Assisting her in this endeavor was her membership in the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), where she networked with HR professionals and learned how certain strategies performed at various companies.
"One of the things crucial for me was learning the business of the company first, so the HR solutions I positioned to management could determine the impact to the business," she said.
Since then, Francis has remained an active member of SHRM, holding leadership positions in the society's North Jersey-Rockland Chapter, on several committees and serving as executive director of Garden State Council. In 2013, she was elected chair of the SHRM Board of Directors and completed her two-year term in 2015.
In her opening remarks at the SHRM Leadership Conference in November 2013, Francis told the more than 600 attendees to be persistent and innovative, and advised them to never be afraid of work – themes commonly seen in Edison's writings and popular quotes.
It is a long way from Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, N.J., where Francis first considered becoming a hospital administrator. After graduating high school, getting married and becoming a mother, she started volunteering and working in hospitals, where she discovered a passion for human resources and the relationship between businesses and their employees.
"Regardless of the profession, if people are not aligned with the organization they work for, the business is at risk. There needs to be a way for people to feel good about the organization and for the organization to achieve its goals," said Francis. "This is critical because if the organization is not successful, people can lose their jobs."
During her tenure with PENTAX, she enrolled at Thomas Edison State College.
"I was working with people with advanced degrees and I was feeling personal pressure to earn a degree. At the time, I did not feel like not having the degree was holding me back, but I wanted it for myself," said Francis. "It felt like something that was unfinished."
Francis, who completed her Associate in Science in Management degree in 1995 and her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree in 1999, learned about Thomas Edison State College through a contact at SHRM, who was involved with developing the College's first graduate program in human resources.
"I was traveling a great deal with my job at the time and was also a single parent, so an online program was the only way I could accomplish it," recalled Francis. "Thomas Edison State College gave me an opportunity to be successful and achieve a goal."
Following PENTAX, she took positions of increasing responsibility at a healthcare startup known as Clarity Health Corporation and Strategic Products and Services, a business partner of AVAYA, the global business communications company.
Today, she is vice president and director of Human Resources at Wilmington Trust Wealth Advisory Services, a position she has held since 2007.
"Wealth management is an industry that fascinates me," noted Francis. "It's a very personal business and it's all about relationships. The organization has a relationship with the employee and the employee has a relationship with the client. We are all deeply involved."
Reflecting on her role as chair of the SHRM board and its goals, Francis said the society and the board have a responsibility to guide the future of the profession.
"We need to help prepare our members to meet the needs of the HR profession, from the time they are students until they ready for retirement," she said. "This involves thinking broadly about where businesses are going and what the needs of businesses are today and what they might be tomorrow."
Francis serves on the Advisory Council of the School of Business and Management at Thomas Edison State College and has held adjunct faculty positions at Bergen Community College and New York University's Marketing and Management Institute and has been a guest lecturer at the Howe School of Management Technology at Stevens Institute of Technology and the Fordham University School of Business.