This HR leader is on a ‘mission’ to give employees a voice

For the last three years, Marcel White has served as head of HR for Humana’s senior primary care organization. He says Humana’s strong mission to improve people’s lives helped him gain valuable experience and better understand the needs and challenges of clinicians.

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Last summer, he left that work to assume the role of chief people officer at Capital Rx, a New York-based pharmacy benefits manager. Why did he make the move from an established healthcare company to a start-up? Again, it came down to mission. In particular, he says, he was inspired by the leadership of A.J. Loiacono, the CEO of Capital Rx.

“The commitment this organization has to helping provide opportunities for access to affordable medications was really inspiring,” says White, who earned an MBA at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “I could take what I learned [at Humana]—its best practices—and build them here to help the company hire, grow and retain talent and succeed in its mission.”

Since joining Capital Rx, White has been particularly focused on building an effective talent and succession pipeline. HRE recently spoke with him about his new challenges and learning opportunities.

HRE: You recently created an HR roadmap for Capital Rx. Where is the company headed?

White: We’re going to do talent development, build customized training programs and continue to enhance leadership and development capabilities for our managers and associates. The people strategy plan is building an ingrained, homegrown development program for our associates.

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HRE: What new skills are you developing in this role?

White: I want to learn and grow within the PBM space. I came out of hospice and senior living. I learn every day about the uniqueness of working with CMS [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] or some government agencies. It requires ongoing learning and continuing to ask good questions so I’m better equipped to provide better solutions.

HRE: Given the current employment climate, what are some next steps for HR?

White: I don’t know that a lot of companies understand how to gather, interpret and communicate data … Because [of the] rapid speed of information [sharing], don’t lose sight of picking up the phone and having live conversations that build rapport or meeting other people in person. There’s some risk of not making people connections because everything is virtual. You have to build relationships to be able to execute.

At the end of the day, engagement is one of the biggest factors. We’re about to launch an engagement survey. We want to make sure we’re hearing the voices of our internal customers. You can’t do that unless you’re spending some time with your teams and associates in live meetings. It gives you opportunities to meet face to face and build rapport. Those kinds of things get lost in the shuffle when everyone’s virtual.

HRE: As a fast-growing start-up, do you support a hybrid work environment?

White: We’re looking at the way to create a hybrid [workforce] and who are the right people to return [to in-office work] so we can continue to give folks flexibility, partnerships and engagement. We have associates saying they want to come back to an office. How do we accommodate a diverse workforce? That’s the focus for this new calendar year.

HRE: Have you made any changes to employee benefits?

White: One of the things we really focused on was not only our competitiveness in compensation [but also] cost, out-of-pocket. We changed to a different [health plan services] company, and premiums and copays for our associates went down; premiums dropped $100 per month for a few plans.

Our company is really thoughtful and flexible with other offerings like contributions for commuters or gym memberships. We pick up some of the costs. We looked at where the gaps were compared to others in the industry. Where could we enhance it? We did internal surveys about preferences and needs. Our executive committee is very big on listening to what our associates are saying. At some companies, employees don’t have a voice. They have a voice here.

Read more Insights from a CHRO here.

HRE: As a new company leader, how do you want to be perceived by employees?

White: I’m hoping it’s not about me, but the [HR] team. I grew up in operations, so I always remember the days that felt like HR didn’t listen. I’m hoping people will recognize we are best in class for our total rewards, engagement, DE&I, recruiting, that we have a great edge, that we develop from within and are going to help you grow. Right now, we have a very positive relationship. It works well but we can do better. That’s the hallmark for me. We can do a great job but got to get better at what we do.

HRE: Every leader has a signature style. What’s yours?

White: I’m a very collaborative leader. I grew up in operations prior to getting into HR and think of myself as a business executive with an expertise in HR. I ensure that we connect the things we do to the business strategy that help support and grow the business … with guardrails, guidelines, policies and procedures to ensure that our strategic plan on the business side mirrors our HR side to achieve our goals.

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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]