Valerie Hulse thought that the size and complexity of KBR would provide challenges and continual career growth opportunities for her when she joined the company sixteen years ago. Today, as vice president of global compensation, benefits, and HRIS, she says, “KBR truly delivered on this.”
Hulse started at KBR in corporate accounting and then moved into accounting for the business, where she got exposure to KBR’s government services project work. She then moved into benefits accounting, which she discovered was her passion, and it gave her the opportunity to work closely with HR and the legal department. Three years later, she transferred into HR leading the executive compensation team, and her responsibilities progressively expanded to her current role in 2014.
“Compensation and benefits work touches every employee at the company. At the very core, it’s a fundamental reason that employees go to work every day, providing the means to provide for themselves and their families,” says Hulse, whose role covers approximately thirty-eight thousand employees across forty countries. “It’s important that we put the thought, analysis, and work into ensuring that these programs are competitive and operating effectively for our employees and for KBR.”
The highlight of Hulse’s job is working with her team and people across the globe to understand what is important to employees from a total rewards perspective. This is particularly important when KBR acquires other companies, which it recently did with Wyle Laboratories, Honeywell Technology Solutions, and Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies (SGT), representing more than twelve thousand new KBR employees in all.
“At the very core, [compensation and benefits are] a fundamental reason that employees go to work every day, providing the means to provide for themselves and their families.”
“From a compensation, benefits, and systems perspective, there were many different programs that we had to consider to design the right method, plan, and timeline to harmonize the four separate companies,” which will often have different benefits carriers, 401(k) matches, and other program differences, Hulse explains. “There was much work that had to be done to pull it all together to determine what the right package of compensation and benefits would be for these three different companies coming into KBR.”
To retain the employees who are joining your organization as part of an acquisition, Hulse says it’s important to look holistically at the package that will be presented to them, and not to make assumptions about what will matter to the employees.
“You could come in with your own bias of what you think is important, because you’re living in your culture,” she says. “Having perspective from the employees of the [acquired] company is important in order to help you make decisions on what the right total rewards packages may look like ultimately.”
Doing this, Hulse says, will help make the employees’ transition a positive one. “You want them to recognize that as they come into KBR, they’re valued, and that what they currently have from a compensation and benefits perspective has been considered, and it’s been thoughtful.”
Equally important is how the resulting programs get communicated to employees, and Hulse works closely with the HR business partners and business unit leaders to deliver those messages effectively and in a way that promotes a unified culture.
“They’re the ones that have that direct communication with the employees,” she says. “It’s going to have a more meaningful impact to the employee when it’s coming from their business leader rather than coming from a corporate department.”
“You want them to recognize that as they come into KBR, they’re valued, and that what they currently have from a compensation and benefits perspective has been considered, and it’s been thoughtful.”
Having an effective HR information system is vital to administering these programs across such a large organization, and Hulse led the project team that chose and implemented Workday across KBR globally in the span of less than two years.
“It’s been a positive change in the tools that we provide to our leaders, managers, employees, and HR to work more effectively,” she says. “I’m proud of the work that was accomplished by my team, HR, and the many functional departments that continue to work so well together as we optimize the system.”
Hulse, who maintains her CPA credential, says her background in accounting continues to serve her, even since her role has taken on more of an HR focus. “You really have to evaluate the financial consequences of decisions that are being taken,” she says. “Because I have been in the project accounting and corporate accounting groups, I understand some of the challenges they have and how the impact of decisions made from an administrative standpoint will impact them.”
Involvement in activities outside of her role has been an important aspect of Hulse’s career at KBR. She serves on the Board of Directors and Executive Committee for the Houston Business Coalition on Health, and is an advisor to Aspire, KBR’s women’s employee resource group.
“Networking with colleagues that experience similar challenges in their organizations enables us to collaborate and leverage collective influence to provide effective solutions for our organizations,” she explains.
Mentors and mentoring are also important to Hulse, and she has made a personal commitment to sponsoring three women who work at KBR—mentoring them and helping to ensure that their capabilities are recognized by leadership.
“I see someone that’s either a sponsor or a mentor as someone that you can talk through those things that are really going to help you continue to advance in your career,” she says. “I know that I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for those individuals in my life.”
As retirement and health & welfare administration advisors, Curcio Webb helps organizations achieve the specific outcomes they seek, whether it is performing financial due diligence, governance and risk mitigation, or enhancing employee engagement. Clients choose Curcio Webb for its independence, objectivity, vast experience and subject matter expertise.