Bringing fresh ideas to HR

Mara Swan.

As executive vice president, global strategy and talent, for ManpowerGroup, Mara Swan ’81 is a leading voice in the employment industry.

She has spoken on Capitol Hill about the need for greater public-private collaboration to create jobs and at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland about how leaders can unleash the potential of their people. Her knowledge is derived from decades of experience in the human resources field.

Swan began at the bottom of the ladder in her first position as a personnel assistant in Miller Brewing Co.’s new college graduate program. Over the course of 11 years, Swan worked her way up to human resources manager for operations, directing the HR functions for field and corporate operations.

She left Miller in 1994 to become director of human resources at Molson Coors Brewing Co. Again, she climbed the corporate ladder, eventually being named vice president of global human resources, then senior vice president and chief people officer.

In 2005, she joined Manpower Inc., perhaps the best-known staffing business in the world, with 400,000 clients per year and offices in 82 countries. The company covers a wide range of human resource needs, such as recruitment, assessment, training, development, career management, outsourcing and workforce consulting.

Swan led the company’s successful global rebranding project in 2011 that not only refreshed its name to ManpowerGroup, but also, and more importantly, spotlighted the organization’s global leadership in providing innovative workforce solutions in what it deems the “Human Age,” where talent is the most valuable form of capital.

Her career trajectory reflects the changes she has witnessed in the human resources field. “HR has changed from a function that administers the core human resource practices (compensation, benefits, performance review, talent planning and so on) to one that needs to drive the innovation, creativity and productivity of the workforce to deliver the business strategy,” she says.

“Once my CEO recognized I was capable of doing this, he broadened my responsibilities,” Swan says. “My leadership position now includes marketing, strategy, communications, innovation and corporate social responsibility functions so I can integrate the work from these areas to drive results.”

In pursuing these goals, Swan keeps a critical lesson in mind from her School of Management days, namely, using fact-based analysis to support decisions. “As students, we were always encouraged to analyze information and derive conclusions,” she says. “It amazes me that so many decisions are made based totally on emotion. This lesson has helped me to make good decisions, which are the foundation of success in business.”

Swan’s success has not gone unnoticed. She was named a Woman of Influence by the Milwaukee Business Journal in 2008 and a “Woman Worth Watching” by Profiles in Diversity Journal in 2010, the same year she was inducted into the Wisconsin Business Hall of Fame.

Outside of work, Swan enjoys reading, cooking and entertaining at her family’s lake house. “I am passionate about spending time with my husband, two adult children, as well as weight training and painting,” she says. “And snowmobiling—when there is snow!”

Written by Cathy Wilde