Laura Martinez’s father never had the chance to get a college education, but he still succeeded through honesty, loyalty, and hard work. He started in the warehouse of a tire company and made it all the way to operations management before a change in leadership forced him out of the company. Martinez says her father “never met a stranger.” He treated everyone as a friend. That’s something that she’s carried into her career. Like her father, Martinez started at the bottom, accepting a job as a receptionist at JAMS, the largest private alternative dispute resolution provider in the world. More than a quarter century ago, the young company relied on an accounting manager to perform personnel functions. Now, Martinez leads an efficient human resources (HR) team she has built based on her first-hand knowledge of what employees and managers at the company need. Though there is a growing trend for people to scale the corporate ladder by changing companies every few years, a long history with JAMS has allowed Martinez and the company to flourish together.
Martinez had planned to take some time off. She had earned her bachelor’s degree in organization studies with an emphasis on HR management from Pitzer College and wanted a break. But as her student loans came due, the young graduate met with an employment agency that sent her to JAMS. The recruiter promised Martinez that JAMS, which had just 45 employees at the time, was an up-and-coming company. She accepted a job as receptionist and started work. After just six months, she accepted a promotion to become an administrative assistant.
The aspiring HR pro appreciated the chance to make a real difference. “We were a small company, and I felt like my input was really valued,” she says, adding that the chance to drive change remains just as true today, despite the company’s growth to 200 nationwide associates (whom the company calls “JAMmers”). The chief financial officer at the time asked Martinez what she would change, and when she mentioned wanting paid jury leave as a benefit, he took her seriously. The benefit made its way into the employee handbook just a week later.
In the early ‘90s, JAMS started to push for more significant expansion. JAMS leaders recognized Martinez’s educational background and professional skills and picked her for a newly created training position. “I stepped in to help with training the workforce, conducting programs that ranged from computer training to client service training and also to find ways to manage our human capital to raise the caliber of people who were coming in to JAMS,” she says. There was no real HR function at the time, and Martinez naturally took over the responsibility to oversee HR tasks. “I became an HR generalist and ultimately the HR manager,” she says. The company was growing, and they needed an HR department to attract talent and grow successfully.
From there, Martinez began developing a recruitment process along with HR policies and procedures. Then, in 1998, she was promoted to company director and put on the senior team by a CEO who provided the support for Martinez to develop a full HR team. She was able to add a national training and development manager, two regional training and development specialists, and a national recruiting manager. The HR team grew to six full-time professionals.
Since JAMS had no previous HR team, Martinez relied on networking meetings and industry groups to provide the input she needed to help take JAMS to the next level. Martinez started communicating with JAMS leaders in a new way, adding stats, real dollars, and ROI to get the resources and buy-in needed to expand the HR function.
With her team up and running, Martinez was able to focus on improving the HR department and creating her leadership brand. That brand, she says, goes back to lessons learned from her father. “He taught me that people are incredibly capable. He believed in others and supported them. He was loyal and built trust. I operate in a similar way because I saw how sincerity was key to his success,” she explains. Martinez strives to treat managers as respected professionals while also acting as a true advocate for JAMS employees.
That approach resonated with JAMS’ CEO who recognized Martinez’s hard work with a promotion to vice president in 2003. Since then, she’s been working to automate functions from payroll to performance evaluation. “We’re leveraging technology to make people’s jobs easier and make the entire company more efficient,” she says. Martinez collaborated with her national recruiting manager to develop a career center and an applicant tracking system. Most recently, the training and development team has developed JAMS Virtual Classroom, a series of learning modules that take new hires through orientation lessons and will ultimately provide seasoned JAMmers advanced learning opportunities. Now, Martinez and her team are working on an internal culture program to spotlight high-quality performance.
Today, Martinez still operates with the six-person team she built many years ago. “To know that six people out of 200 across the company are on the HR team makes me feel great about the significant role HR plays at JAMS,” she says. Last year, she embarked on a trip she jokingly refers to as “Laurapalooza”—a 19-city tour of all JAMS offices. The trip helped Martinez interact with company employees and take note of what’s working and what needs improvement.
Martinez has been a loyal JAMmer for 25 years because she’s always had the opportunity to grow professionally, and that’s the same experience she hopes to create for every new hire. “This company has always been about people, and that’s still true today,” she says. “We may be more structured and institutionalized now but have retained the accessibility that meant so much me as a new employee back in 1989.”