Making change look easy
Suzanne Hemman York ’99 excels at Converse
Change is hard.
Organizational change is really hard.
Organizational change on a global scale is, well…
“It’s like giving a heart transplant to a patient who is running in a marathon,” said professional change agent, Suzanne (Suzy) Hemman York ’99.
The Gettysburg College alumna currently oversees global internal communications for Converse, and as a former Director of Organization Change Management, built her career through helping colleagues get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
“Change is scary, especially when you have mastered the current way of working and don’t know if you will be able to learn what’s new,” said York, who works at Converse’s world headquarters in Boston. “My job was to manage the people side of large scale change for our company—make sure our employees understood why we were making a change and then ensuring that they could adapt accordingly.”
When you think about what change means for Converse, which has offices in the U.S., China, Brazil, the Netherlands, and around the globe, it’s clear that there’s really no such thing as a quick fix…
Different countries. Different languages. Different cultures.
“I used my psychology degree on a daily basis, no doubt,” York reflected. “It’s frightening for employees to feel vulnerable, but my major at Gettysburg certainly taught me how to speak and relate to people of every level in our organization during these moments of change.”
York credits her success to the guidance she received from her psychology faculty, most notably Prof. Kathleen Cain and President Janet Morgan Riggs ’77.
As Riggs shared in a recent Miami Herald op-ed, earning a psychology degree doesn’t pigeonhole grads like York into pursuing work solely as psychologists—on the contrary, it arms them with the skills necessary to excel in change management or any other career field.
And York supplements these talents with a go-getter attitude that’s been cultivated since her very first visit to Gettysburg College.
“When I was looking at Gettysburg, the Admissions Office told me that there was no dance team, but they said I could start one,” York said. “I didn’t really consider it at the time, but later as a student I came to realize how important dance was to me, so I went in front of Student Senate with a friend and they let us start [the Dance Ensemble]. I mean talk about leadership opportunities.”
It was this same pioneering spirit that also led her to study abroad in France during her time at Gettysburg.
“Study abroad gave me exposure to different cultures at such a young age,” said York, who lived with a host family in Avignon. “I never would have received the immersion experience I did without living with my host family—you experience meal time, you celebrate traditions, you see their values. It’s not the same as just reading about it in a book.
“Plus, in a day and age when all we hear about are the many differences between us, it was great to see some of those similarities.”
Today, globetrotting is part of the job for York. It’s not uncommon for her to step out of the plane and do business in London, Shanghai, or Amsterdam.
“It is an honor to be viewed as someone whom the company would invest in to represent our brand,” said York, reiterating the many ways Converse works to ensure their employees understand differing cultural norms. “It’s important to always be mindful of those around you. Even though I’m there to educate and train them, I always want to listen and learn; it’s a great way to build relationships.”
After working in an international environment for much of her professional life, York believes strongly that for today’s students, a liberal arts education must also be a global education.
“As the world gets smaller and smaller, it has become even more important to gain experiences interacting with other cultures,” she said. “For employers looking for top talent coming out of school, graduating with a global perspective is going to set you up for success in the business world.”
Looking back, it’s been rewarding for York to contribute to a global brand and witness how her Gettysburg experiences have translated into a fulfilling career and impactful life.
“I often peek down, waiting for the train, and see how many people beside me are wearing our brand,” she joked. “It’s very inspiring, and I’m very proud to work at Converse.
“From the business perspective, if I could give any advice to Gettysburg students it would be to find a company culture that matches your values, say yes to as many experiences as you can, and just go for it—I really think this makes all the difference.”
Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.
Contact: Mike Baker, associate director of communications, 717.337.6521
Posted: Tue, 16 Feb 2016
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