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November 6, 2000

Dollars & sense

By Eric Rangus

The decorations in Theresa Mee’s office in the Human Resources building are rather sparse.

There’s the ubiquitous “Arts at Emory” calendar just above her desk and . . . nothing else. That is, except for a couple of picture hangers nailed into the walls with nothing to hold up, which makes them look quite lonely.

It’s not that Mee is opposed to vibrant interior decor; her mind has just been occupied with other matters. Like moving in.

Mee is Emory’s director of compensation, a position she took over Sept. 18.

“I really haven’t dealt with the office decoration thing yet,” she laughed.

In spite of what her title may imply, Mee does not sign the checks. Her job description, as leader of the five-person compensation department (“We’re lean and mean,” she said), has a bit of a wider, more nuts-and-bolts business scope.

“My job is to make sure the compensation programs we have support our need for high-quality people and our need to move the organization forward,” Mee said, using a touch of MBA-speak.” She quickly got more specific. “We ensure that people are paid competitively and appropriately and do whatever we can to make compensation an attractive part of the package.”

But that isn’t always easy. Mee, who spent 11 years in corporate compensation consulting, said businesses have certain structural advantages over educational institutions.

“We don’t have some of the tools the corporate world uses for compensation—like stock options, for instance. So it can be a little more challenging to pay people,” she said.

Working at a university, however, is not without its advantages.

“We have real benefit programs that corporations wouldn’t have, like courtesy scholarships,” she said. “I’m obviously just getting to know things, but I think we work pretty hard to make Emory a good place to work, and we have a lot of long-term employees who have found their home here.”

After graduating from Rice University with a bachelor’s in mathematical sciences, Mee, who got married prior to her senior year of college, started a family and stayed home to raise her two young sons. When they were comfortably in elementary school, she returned to the classroom herself and sought an MBA at the University of Florida, which she attained in 1989.

“It was a wonderful time. I absolutely loved it,” Mee said of her time in graduate school. “I had enough time to deal with my kids; I even worked. It wasn’t really stressful at all.”
After Mee graduated, her family (husband Brian and now-college-age sons Danny and Colin) moved to Atlanta, and Mee found a job with the first of three consulting firms she’d work for prior to coming to Emory.

As a corporate compensation consultant, Mee would jet around the Southeast meeting with clients and trying to convince them that she (and her firm) had the right solutions to their problems.

“You have to sell yourself. You have to sell your services, and you’re always trying to develop a relationship,” Mee said.

Public relations—and, at Emory, employee relations—is a big part of the job. Another is market research. Mee makes sure to keep her eyes open by studying not only the atmospheres and compensation packages of other universities, but other corporations as well.

“Often it’s dependent on the type of job,” she said. “If you have a job that’s found in corporations as well as universities, you might look at a mix. If you found a job that is only found at a university, like the bursar or the admissions people, obviously you’ll need to look at other universities.”

And choosing those other universities is an art in itself. Looking at Georgia Tech, for instance, might be a logical step, because of its proximity to Emory, but the comparison isn’t always accurate. The two universities, other than their geography, don’t really have all that much in common. One is public, the other private, and the curriculums don’t overlap much.

Instead, Mee said, the compensation department attempts to match universities to Emory in terms of their size and their types of programs—having an affiliated teaching hospital, for instance. Vanderbilt, Duke and Johns Hopkins are examples.

“A lot of companies are trying to be more flexible and creative in how they deal with employees,” Mee said, speaking not only of Fortune 500 firms but also of nonprofit educational institutions, such as the one where she is currently employed.

“If you think about what I get working at a place,” she said hypothetically. “Yeah, I get a salary, but I also get the opportunity to do a job that’s interesting to me. In some cases I might get to develop, I might get training or I might get opportunities to do things I’ve never done before. In the past few years, cash isn’t enough to keep and attract top employees.”

Still, Emory feels the tightness of Atlanta’s job market. Mee said the University has roughly 700 job openings on campus and at the two hospitals, and she is currently working with other business officers to get up to speed on their needs.

“I’ve been really impressed with the people I’ve met at HR so far,” she said. “I’m looking forward to getting to know them better.”


Back to Emory Report Nov. 6, 2000