March 15, 2021
Women in Power: Susan, Director of Human Resources
This March, we’re honoring Women’s History Month by celebrating female firsts and spotlighting our female leaders.
For this post, we’re sharing Susan’s story. Susan has served on our Human Resources team since 2011, serving as Director of Human Resources since 2015. In this story, Susan shares her experience with leading a team, why compassion and empathy are essential traits for leaders, and the many ways her mother is her biggest personal influence.
Q: Can you talk about your journey and how you got to this level of leadership?
I joined ACE as a Regional Human Resource Manager in California back in 2011. At that time, we had two regions in California and the region I covered was from East Los Angeles in Southern California up through the Bay area in Northern California, with about 150 stores. I worked closely with the Regional Vice President (RVP) and District Managers (DMs) to learn the business as I had not worked in the Financial Services industry previously.
During that time, I was fortunate to earn the Human Resources Manager (HRM) of the Year award twice and was asked to help in a couple of our regions that were struggling and without an HRM for support. I traveled to Colorado and then Texas a couple of times to assist, while still maintaining the work in my own region. As sometimes happens, we realigned regions in April 2015, and the decision was made to realign the two California regions and consolidate them into one. That left me without a role as the office was going to be moved to an area that was too far for me to travel to. However, I had worked closely with Janet, our SVP of Store Operations, and our Legal Department on some employee issues previously, along with the special projects noted above. So, when the Director of Human Resources position here in Texas became available, I was contacted to see if I would be interested in assuming that role. It was a promotion from Manager to Director but required me to move from California to Texas. After discussing with my family, I happily accepted this amazing opportunity. I’ve been in the Director role for almost 6 years now and truly enjoy the work I do.
Q: Looking back at your journey so far, what story or a moment has impacted you?
Prior to my time here, I worked for a large restaurant in Pasadena, CA for over 11 years. In November 2009, the decision was made to close the restaurant. I was tasked with telling over 100 people, many of whom had worked for the restaurant since it opened, that we were closing and that they would be losing their job. We had a group meeting first, and then I sat with each employee privately to walk them through the change and answer questions. They were told ahead of time so they could start looking for another job. However, all but a handful of employees said they would stay until the last day as they didn’t want to let me down and they knew we needed them to keep the doors open until that final day. When they left, instead of being angry that they were losing their job, they were thanking me for all I had done to help them. I told each of them, “there is life after this.” Today, I’m happy to say I am friends with many of them on social media and have great pride knowing several have gone on to wonderful occupations, including a lawyer, a nurse, and a restaurant owner.
Q: To you, what does it mean to be a leader?
To me a leader is someone who has the ability to communicate clearly and effectively with their team and understand what is needed to move the organization forward. I believe a good leader needs to be able to inspire others to follow them and, in turn, bring others up around them. I think if you are a successful leader, your team will naturally become high achievers because they want to be successful, they want the team to be successful, and ultimately, they want the company to be successful.
Q: What does it mean to you to be a female leader?
I think most females tend to be good listeners by nature. I also think we tend to be less competitive and more collaborative. I believe to be a successful leader you need to be able to listen to different points of view and share your opinion as well. Some might think you need to be aggressive, but I believe you can be compassionate and empathetic while still being assertive and direct. These are a few of the traits I think I possess and what I believe helps make me a successful female leader.
Q: What advice would you give a young woman with aspirations to get where you are?
I would tell a young woman with aspirations for a leadership role in Human Resources that she should work hard, have integrity, and listen carefully when employees are speaking to you. [You want to] connect with them in a way that they are not afraid to talk to you, but rather feel comfortable speaking with you and seek you out. I would say never give up on your dreams because with determination, dedication, and resilience you can achieve anything you set your mind to. Human Resources is constantly changing based on new policies and regulations that are always going into effect. You need to have an appetite and curiosity for continuous learning, or you will be left behind and not be seen as a subject matter expert.
Q: Who is a woman in your life who has influenced you?
I would have to say my mother! I am the youngest of 8 children that spanned over 21 years, and my mother and I had a very close relationship. My mom was born in 1922 so she was old enough to remember growing up during the Great Depression. She grew up in Nebraska but moved away as a young lady as she knew there were more opportunities outside of her little community. She worked in the shipyards during WWII and always had stories to share about the work she did there. My mom was a hard worker, and I think I learned my work ethic from both her and my dad. When I was a young woman trying to determine what I wanted to do when I grew up, she would always encourage me to just do my best and I would find my path. My mom worked as an administrative assistant for Ozzie & Harriet Nelson (if you don’t know who they are look them up and watch their shows on Nick at Nite!) and later for Rick Nelson as his personal secretary.
At one point, I came home and told my mom I had received a promotion, and she was so excited for me. When I told her how much I was making, she cried tears of joy. It was then that she told me the most she ever made during her working career was $5.00 per hour! My mom was the biggest cheerleader I have ever had!
Q: This year, we’re excited to see our country’s first female Vice President in office. Can you share an impactful first for you in your work life?
I recall the first time I stepped into the boardroom for a meeting as a presenter and not just an observer. I had traveled to the corporate office a few times while I was an HRM in California, but once I was promoted to Director and assumed that role, I recall quite vividly the first meeting I attended where I was a presenter. I was so impressed with the leadership around the table and felt a bit intimidated. I remember thinking what had I done that I was fortunate enough to work with such great group of people and be in this role.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
I’m proud to work for ACE Cash Express (now named Populus Financial Group, Inc.). I believe we offer great products and services to our consumers, and I appreciate that I get to be part of the team. I truly love the work I do, the leadership that we have, and the individuals I am blessed with leading on a daily basis. I’ve never taken for granted the opportunities I’ve been given and I’m grateful every day!