2020 HR’s Rising Stars: Fearless learner at Noven

Every day, Johan Maestri boosts her value to her employer and its 300-member workforce by constantly upgrading her knowledge and skills in a wide variety of HR functions.

As benefits manager at Noven Pharmaceuticals, which offer products in the areas of women’s health and mental health, she is a self-taught expert on 401(k) plans and building employee participation in them. Recently, she also was involved in designing long-term incentive plans and compensation initiatives, such as total reward programs, and previously helped the company sail through back-to-back audits from the IRS and DOL–no violations, no fines, no penalties.

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Maestri was hired by Noven in 2007 as a corporate receptionist and administrative assistant. Since then, she has received four promotions and is now responsible for all aspects of the benefits function, which includes plan strategy, design, cost containment and compliance for health, welfare, retirement plans and wellness programs.

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“I had to teach myself about 401(k) plans,” Maestri says, adding that she also wrote the RFPs for selecting a new 401(k) vendor and auditor. “I had to do a lot of research and basically educate myself on how to write an RFP. Then, I set up demos and interviews with our benefits committee, which helps manage the administration of our plan and its investments. It was all brand new to me.”

In 2017, Hurricane Irma destroyed parts of Southern Florida. Maestri realized that many employees were struggling and using the company’s short-term loans as a bank account. That was a big eye opener, she says, adding that the situation prompted her to focus more of her attention on financial wellness.

She led the change to the company’s logo–typically, an apple with a green stem–by converting the stem into a dollar sign, invited more financial vendors to its health fairs, brought its 401(k) record keeper on-site several days each year to meet with employees and offered lunch and learns, presentations and webinars for workers on 401(k) plans and how to save, budget and invest.

“Our 401(k) health report gives stats on how people are doing,” Maestri says. “All the metrics show that people are saving more, taking out less loans and that their account balances are growing. These are the metrics I use to see if programs and initiatives are paying off.”

However, she did spot some warning signs early on. Maestri explains that different people throughout the organization were managing the 401(k) plan manually. That led to administrative mistakes that put its plan at risk of losing its tax-qualification status with the IRS. So, she voluntarily took ownership of the retirement plan and reached out to external ERISSA counsel for advice on how to correct the mistakes.

The one-year process included submitting a voluntary correction plan to the IRS. Despite the IRS’ “thumbs up,” she says, the plan was still audited by the DOL, which took roughly six months, and then the IRS–another three months. Both audits came out clean, she says.

Still, the company’s plant workers didn’t trust the concept of a 401(k), preferring to put their money in savings accounts or bonds rather than deal with volatile swings of the stock market. After offering individual sessions with its 401(k) vendors, contributions among this segment of its workforce have risen by approximately 10%.

“A lot of education was geared toward this manufacturing group,” she says, adding that the plan is squeaky clean and complaint. “It worked. And I’m ready for another audit.”

Over the past five years, Maestri says, she gained valuable knowledge about HR, both inside and outside of Noven. Under her guidance, the company also conducted an in-house audit on employee dependents. Ten dependents voluntarily dropped out of Noven’s medical plan, producing a company savings of $100,000.

But now she faces a crisis that not many HR professionals had experienced until recently: a global pandemic.

Maestri says she’s “digesting” how the company’s benefits will be impacted by new federal legislation, including the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which requires certain employers to provide paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave related to COVID-19, and the CARES Act , which provides economic assistance for American workers and small businesses. Meanwhile, she also serves on the company’s pandemic team and is working with in-house communications and external vendors to incorporate those laws into the company and then communicate any benefit changes to the workforce.

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“I do see myself managing total rewards–soon,” Maestri says.

Until then, her deep dives into other HR functions will continue.

“I’m very much about continuous learning and am always willing to learn something new and work in a different area I haven’t worked in before,” says Maestri, adding that it’s important for HR to connect competitive and comprehensive health plans with financial education and a robust EAP. “That’s my goal and what I work on every day. That’s when you’ll have engaged and happy [employees] focusing on their job and not stressing out about their life.”

Learn more about our other rising stars:

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Carol Patton
Carol Patton is a contributing editor for HRE who also writes HR articles and columns for business and education magazines. She can be reached at [email protected].