Phaedra Stewart, MBA ’96, is vice president of Human Resources at LifeBridge Health, a healthcare organization with about 10,000 employees, working in multiple Greater Baltimore locations. Over the years, she has embarked an several entrepreneurial endevors including establishing and thening sell a daycare center and more recently, starting a new business called Seriously…Positive, LLC. The mission of which is to bring forth uplifting “seriously positive” messages to the community using apparel and accessories to spread the joy. And when she has “some down” time she plays drums in an amateur women’s rock band. Stewart recently sat down with The Merrick Exchange and shared some thoughts about her career, as well as some valuable advice for our students.
Merrick Exchange: Why did you pursue a career in human resources?
Stewart: Shortly after completing my undergraduate degree, I was hired as a classification analyst with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. I was required to audit jobs to determine the appropriate classifications and compensation levels. I would travel throughout the state to meet with employees and their supervisors to gain a thorough understanding of the duties and responsibilities associated with various positions, and after the discussions, I would spend time writing reports with my recommendations. The position offered the perfect combination of people interaction and independent work.
While in the position, I learned about the wide array of areas that fall under human resources, and developed an appreciation for the impact that human resources has on the bottom line of an organization.
Merrick Exchange: Where did you get your start? What led you to your current position?
Stewart: The first position that I held within Maryland state government allowed me to sharpen my analytical and critical thinking skills. Over the years, I have held positions with progressive levels of responsibility. Some at high levels within organizations where I have worked have noticed my talents and abilities, and as a result, have given me opportunities. I was hired at LifeBridge Health in February 2015 in a director role, and within about three months of joining the organization, the former president of Sinai Hospital suggested that I move into my current role on an interim basis., I was offered the permanent position within about five months.
Merrick Exchange: What were your expectations in pursuing a career in human resources?
Stewart: Human resources is inclusive of many different areas, and depending on your individual interests, personality type, knowledge, skills and abilities, there are multiple opportunities. From recruiting the right people, to ensuring that employees are engaged and appropriately compensated, to training and developing the workforce, to helping build leadership skills, to maintaining information systems used for daily transactions and analytics, to contract negotiations, to workplace safety, and more. I understood that a career in human resources would allow me to have a career path within practically any industry that offered flexibility as well as mobility, and an opportunity to impact the bottom line of the organization by focusing on the most important asset of the organization - the employee.
Merrick Exchange: Please describe your current position at LifeBridge Health.
Stewart: As vice president of Human Resources, I am responsible for the daily HR operations at Sinai Hospital. In addition, I oversee employee and labor relations, workforce development and occupational health for the entire enterprise. I have the greatest team members, and we partner with each other to ensure that we are balancing the needs of the employees with the needs of the organization.
Merrick Exchange: What are some challenges that you, your organization are currently facing in the industry?
Stewart: Similar to other healthcare organizations, recruiting and retaining qualified nurses is a major focus. Also, we want to ensure that we develop and maintain a highly engaged workforce. Changes in legislation related to healthcare also is a major concern.
Merrick Exchange: What advice would you give to students who might want to pursue a career in human resources?
Stewart: Human resources is a great career choice, but there are many options within the field. Explore the different options and think through your personal interests. Starting in a position that allows you to gain experience in multiple areas within the field may be beneficial if you are not sure about a specialized area that interests you. Also, there are companies that offer corporate development programs, and participants have an opportunity to rotate through various divisions within the company while performing multiple HR functions. In addition, these types of programs offer a fast track to management-level positions. Do your homework, make informed decisions, and remain open to options that you may not have previously considered.
Merrick Exchange: What’s the one job-hunting secret that you wish all students knew?
Stewart: I believe most people know this, but sometimes, a reminder is needed. You have one chance to make a first impression, and you need to present yourself in the absolute best light at the beginning. Your appearance and level of enthusiasm are important. Take advantage of networking opportunities that are offered though the school, and do some research on the participants and their companies prior to the event. Seek out the participants who can provide you with advice and potential leads. Luck is when preparedness meets opportunity.
Merrick Exchange: Why did you choose to attend UB?
Stewart: I chose the University of Baltimore because of the reputation of the school and the MBA program. When I attended, the campus was geared towards “older” working students. There was a concerted effort to schedule classes during times that were convenient for those who worked full-time. I also believed I could learn more by having my classmates share their practical experiences, and I could relate the practical experiences to the theory that was taught in the classroom.
Merrick Exchange: How do you stay involved with what is happening at UB?
Stewart: I hosted the first “Dinner with 12 Strangers” event, participate in networking sessions with business students, attend alumni events, function as a mentor to a current student, and I provide financial support to the university. I also participate in activities sponsored by the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation as often as possible.
Merrick Exchange: How has attending UB helped you in your career?
Stewart: Being at UB really helped to jump start my career. The MBA program really prepared me academically. I sharpened my research skills, and I learned how to function as a member of a group in completing projects. Upon graduating, I was accepted into a corporate development program with a manufacturing company. A classmate from UB referred me for the program. As I have moved through various positions and organizations, I have encountered many fellow UB grads, and they know the quality of the education that I received.
Merrick Exchange: What personal goal have you set for yourself this year?
Stewart: One goal is to read at least one book per month for professional/personal development. I am off to a good start. Another goal was to complete the Towson University’s Women’s Leadership Program, and I just graduated from that. I also want to grow my personal business significantly by the end of the calendar year.