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HR HERO:  Jenny Surma, Chicago Cubs

Completing 60-Day Activation of HR Software amid Complex Business Changes

On Opening Day 2007 of Major League Baseball, the Tribune Company of Chicago put one of its high-profile businesses, the Chicago Cubs, up for sale. The sale was completed almost 2.5 years later in a complex transaction. The protracted sales process included a parent company’s bankruptcy, a “perfunctory” team bankruptcy, an economic crisis across the U.S., and an extremely difficult financing environment.

HR Director Jenifer Surma led the Cubs’ human resources department through this marathon process.

While there are unique challenges in each divestiture of a business, the public nature and high visibility of the Cubs presented exceptional challenges. The sports organization dealt with rumors within its own walls as well as frequent, sometimes daily, media coverage.

“Usually we want to give employees enough information, but in our case we also needed to manage the barrage of external information. We also wanted to make sure our staff was getting accurate and timely information — all so we could stay ahead of the exaggerations and speculations that were around us.”

This was accomplished by putting out internal memos and emails from the Cubs’ CEO — a strategy designed to keep a step ahead of the media on important milestones and to remind staff not to believe everything that is published. HR wanted employees to be the first to know the important details and to not to be misguided by the media and bloggers.

During the process, all staff meetings were more frequent and the doors of management were open to employee concerns and uncertainties. To the extent information was known, it was shared with staff. Plus, all employee requests received a personal response from the HR department.

There were several suitors for the Cubs, and the organization could not contact the potential owners until exclusivity was established. In spite of this, the HR team knew the organization had to establish independent payroll, HRIS, and benefit programs. The HR team did its due diligence and selected UltiPro as the best solution because of its capabilities for multi-state taxation, experience with other sports clubs, and broad range of HCM functionality, including performance management and recruitment.

Because the Cubs were moving away from a large enterprise system, Surma planned for a six-month transitional period. However, she and her team ended up with 60 days at year end to activate UltiPro, roll out a new benefits package, and complete the company’s first open enrollment.

The HR and finance teams worked together nights and weekends to pull off an error-free payroll on January 1, 2010 and to enroll eligible staff in the company’s new benefits program.

Today, employees are settling into a great family ownership and enjoying enhanced benefits, and the finance and HR teams are happy with the choice of UltiPro as the HCM solution that is meeting the range of HR/payroll complexities for the Chicago Cubs.