The psychology of HR

PERSONNEL PSYCHOLOGY After studying psychology for years, Lisette Masur realized that she could apply her studies to the HR field. She enrolled in a master’s program in human-resource management and personnel psychology at NYU. “And, as they say, the rest is history,” she says.

Lisette Masur knew she wanted to work with people—in one form or another. She details how this trait has helped her build a successful career in human resources and helps lead employees worldwide with Takasago Americas.

Moved by the 1976 TV miniseries Sybil, which portrayed the story of a woman with multiple personalities, Lisette Masur aspired to become a clinical psychologist. “I wanted to be Joanne Woodward,” she recalls, referring to the actress who played the psychologist in the miniseries. “I was going to take on the world.”

With her mind set on her career choice, Masur began taking psychology classes in high school. “I’ve always liked helping people, and the mind fascinated me,” she says. She graduated from college and applied for the clinical psychology master’s program at New York University (NYU), but a short time later, she concluded psychology wasn’t for her.

Global Guide

Lisette Masur’s tips for successfully  leading a global HR department

Understand and appreciate cultural differences.

Become familiar with the various laws and regulations within the different countries.

Hire people with not only the specific skill sets needed to perform the job, but also with a cultural competency to succeed in global assignments.

At the time, Masur was working at the New York Philharmonic as a human resource benefits specialist. Fortunately, NYU had a program in human resource management and personnel psychology. “I switched over; it was in the psych field and directly applicable to my job,” she says. “And, as they say, the rest is history. I’ve never looked back and have no regrets.”

Masur has spent the last 20 years building on her experience and understanding the strategy behind human resources. “Over time, when I looked at the function of human resources, I realized it isn’t just a supportive or administrative role; it’s definitely strategic,” she notes. “What makes an organization successful are the people that work for it.”

Fifteen years as a management consultant made Masur an expert problem solver. In 2010, she was yearning to come back to the corporate world when she saw an ad looking for a vice president of human resources at Takasago International Corporation, an international leader in the flavor and fragrance industry. “The organization had a number of candidates, and I happened to be the only one that lacked significant experience within the industry,” Masur says. “They were at a stage where they wanted some change; they thought the best way to get it was to bring someone that would look at the company with a different set of eyes. Lucky for me.”

Her role transitioned to vice president of human resources for Takasago Americas, a title that comes with being responsible for more than 600 employees in United States, Brazil, and Mexico. It was her first global role, but she quickly adjusted. “It wasn’t a hard transition,” she says, noting that she believes this was due to her background and heritage. “My family is comprised of several different cultures, so I’ve always been keenly aware of cultural differences. Growing up as I did made the transition easier than anticipated, and I used it to my advantage.”

Her parents emigrated from Puerto Rico, but she was born a New Yorker. Masur is bilingual, which eliminates some of the communication barriers with her employees. “Diversity is everywhere. We have such a varied group of individuals that work here, whether it is in the manufacturing facility, creative center, or in the offices; I think people are surprised I speak another language,” she says. “If I speak to them in their native language you can almost immediately see in their body language that they become more relaxed.” She adds that speaking the employees’ native language helps her build trust and get to the root of a problem quicker.

While Masur is located in the New Jersey office, she communicates with the human resource managers in Mexico and Brazil on a regular basis. Technology and the convenience of video conferencing make contact with the management teams in those locations seamless and effective, she says.

She also travels to the facilities a few times a year. “It is important for the employees at each affiliate to see that the management team in the United States is aligned with all management teams and all are working together,” she says. “There is a lot of collaboration and cooperation in terms of objectives, strategy, and policies. When there are key hiring decisions, we conduct interviews over video conference to ensure alignment.”

When new policies and procedures are established in the United States, Masur considers if something similar could be implemented in the other locations. She adds, “Another way to create consistency is through our communication—making sure we are saying the same thing even though it is in a different language, that our strategies and goals and what we intend to be as an organization are consistent.”

As for the future, Masur hopes to do more in terms of global human resources with Takasago. She adds, “More of our clients are multinational accounts operating within a global arena; as an organization, we’ll need to act accordingly in order to meet their needs and compete successfully.”