When Marcia Martinez-Helfman made the transition to human resources director from practicing lawyer, everything fell into place professionally. Her background — a hodgepodge of professional training and work experiences — came in handy.”
It made sense. It was what I was meant to do,” said Martinez-Helfman, director of human resources for C&D Technologies in Blue Bell.
Although she was surprised by the opportunity to move into human resources, Martinez-Helfman found a way to incorporate her law background quite nicely. After all, as a lawyer, her main client was always the HR department, since she handled all aspects of employment issues.
Now, she draws upon her past professional experiences and blends the knowledge she gained from earning degrees in law and social work. By understanding the roles of employees and employers from a law perspective, she has obtained valuable insight that she believes adds a new dimension to her job.Martinez-Helfman sees the human resources field as continually evolving.
“I’m enjoying human resources more and more because companies are starting to recognize (that) their HR leadership can — and should — be a strategic business partner. It used to be that HR was just an administrative, paper-processing entity. In this day and age, for the most part, companies are very different, and they truly realize that employees are their best asset. And that’s an exciting thing for me.”
For employers, Martinez-Helfman emphasizes the importance of employee retention.”A company is nothing without the people. Employees really make the difference — whether you are the best in the business or not. Corporations need to make sure the HR organization attracts the best and helps to make employees be the best. After they are hired, it is essential to offer training, encourage development, provide communication and provide hope for the future. HR can really contribute to the business’ success.”
Karen Teitelbaum, director of Gap International Inc., views Martinez-Helfman as someone who’s dedicated to her career and has the ability to create innovative programs. Teitelbaum also is director of the Executive Challenge, a course in which Martinez-Helfman recently participated. “What strikes me the most about Marcia is her commitment to making a difference with people — no matter who the people are, and no matter what the organization is. She’s a remarkable person who is very open and authentic. To Marcia, being a human resources director is more than just a job; it’s her passion,” Teitelbaum said.
As director of C&D Technologies’ HR activities, Martinez-Helfman almost has her hands full. The company, which manufactures power storage and conversion products for sale to the telecom sector, is about 100 years old and 5,000 employees strong.But she still manages to find time for other passions. She serves on the boards of several organizations and has made contributions toa lengthy roster of associations, including the Society for Human Resource Management, Greater Valley Forge Human Resources Association and the University of Pennsylvania Association of Latino Alumni.Earlier in her career, Martinez-Helfman held positions with Fannie Mae in human resources and as a legal counsel. She also provided in-house legal counsel for Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America.One former employer where Martinez-Helfman says she found a true sense of balance between home, work and extracurricular life was Cozen O’Connor, a law firm that she joined early in her career.
She explained: “They were extremely supportive of my volunteer activities, as I was active on several boards at that time. They encouraged their employees to use the firm’s resources, and I’ve always appreciated that. They understood that it is important not only to be profitable, but a good corporate citizen as well.
“Martinez-Helfman enjoys using her talents in a human resources capacity. If, however, she was given the opportunity to make another radical career switch, she says she would probably be a chef or an art historian.When embarking on any career or searching for a new employer, Martinez-Helfman encourages people to “look for a progressive organization that is doing extraordinary things. It’s important not to settle,” she said.