Some intriguing revelations have to come to light concerning developments in human resources management, according to a Wharton study.

The study considered trends in the human resources management of Fortune 100 firms – in 1999 and again in 2009 – and it provides insights for the future.

All the answers led to one conclusion: HR is being accorded higher regard as a profession.

The study is entitled, “Who gets the top job? Changes in the attributes of human resource heads and implications for the future.”

It was researched by Dr. Peter Cappelli, a Wharton management professor, and Yang Yang, a Wharton post-doctoral fellow. The study was funded by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Typical HR Managers

As for who gets the top job, 27 percent of the HR managers were women before the decade began. Now, 42 percent of HR managers are women.

The average HR manager is 53 years old. That’s up from 50.

“Why is not completely clear,” said Dr. Cappelli. “It could be a sign that the area has been stagnant as opposed to others.”

Conventional wisdom is that HR managers are required to have a broad business background. That was especially true in 1999 during a period of high employment.

During the Great Recession with dwindling union membership rolls and high unemployment, HR executives tended to have more of a traditional HR background.

But Dr. Cappelli indicates it’s expected “top leaders” have general-business acumen to understand the big picture facing their companies.

The data shows they’re hired as HR managers 39 percent of the time from other firms. That’s down from 41 percent in 1999.

However, it also indicates the managers were hired at lower levels and promoted in a short period of time to the top HR spots later.

Preferred Experience

Many had experience working in these companies: Citibank, Dell, Hallmark, Morgan Stanley, Pepsi and Verizon.

“When a new person takes over that top role, the change in his or her attributes is quite likely to say something about the change in the priorities the CEO has for human resources going forward. Looking at how the backgrounds of these top executives have been changing should tell us something very important about trends in how corporate leadership sees the HR function,” according to the researchers.

While HR managers in the Fortune 100 tend to have bachelor’s and master’s degrees, fewer have doctorates.

Nearly 50 percent had international experience – especially in top 60 – a 300 percent increase over 1999 levels.

Twenty percent in 2009 had communications and corporate affairs experience.


Accountability has taken on more importance.

“The adage, ‘You can’t manage what you don’t measure,’ reflects this move to get more serious about control systems, especially where the costs are high,” said Dr. Cappelli.

“While HR lacks the glamour within the business community of fields like strategy, its actions have a profound effect on the lives of employees,” the authors wrote. “Human resources is a crucial point of intersection between the broader society and business,” wrote the researchers.

The study showed just four of the HR managers lasted from 1999 to 2009.

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“True motivation comes from achievement, personal development, job satisfaction, and recognition.”

-Frederick Herzberg


Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.