Chris Benson, BS’05, is facing an impressive human resources task: building an international employee benefits strategy for more than 500,000 Walmart employees worldwide. The company recognized a need for greater investment in international employee benefits and sought out Chris’ expertise as they focus on their Rewards Reimagined strategy.
“It’s so exciting overseeing the international benefits center of expertise (COE) growth at Walmart, a fortune one company,” Chris said. “Walmart is currently a decentralized organization, and they have not invested a lot in the international benefits space. So, my first couple of years will be focused on promoting the value that international benefits COE can deliver to the organizations while building relationships with decision makers in the market to shape how can we provide a globally consistent experience.”
Chris is responsible for strategy, design, administration, and compliance of Walmart global benefit and wellness programs for markets outside of the United States. Over his nearly twenty years of experience, he has worked for dynamic, top companies in pharmaceutical manufacturing, insurance, higher education, and multinational consumer goods. He describes himself as a “passionate, engaging global human resource leader who provides answers that matter,” and attributes his success to his influential Kelley professors and the power of networking and mentoring.
“My network, including Elizabeth Malatestinic [teaching professor in human resources] and other Kelley professors, stressed the importance of going above and beyond in order to become that sought-after thought leader,” Chris said. “Real intelligence is knowing when and what questions to ask. When leaders notice that drive and see that you’re open, flexible, and willing to learn, they’re excited to give you that opportunity. They want to see a willingness to take things on and come into their organization with ideas on how to improve.”
“When leaders notice that drive and see that you’re open, flexible, and willing to learn, they’re excited to give you that opportunity. They want to see a willingness to take things on and come into their organization with ideas on how to improve.”
Chris’ commitment to learning and his passion for creating relationships started early, when he left college for a few semesters to work for one the largest employers in Indiana, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. He found training for the HR role to be engaging and wanted to learn more. It motivated him to re-enroll in classes, apply to the Kelley School of Business, and change his major to HR management. He realized all aspects of the profession challenged him and allowed for continued growth and strategic thinking. During professor Malatestinic’s class, it all clicked.
“I discovered I have a passion for HR, particularly the strategic aspects of the profession. What really resonated with me was the emphasis on HR as a strategic player helping solve business problems, not simply processing forms to hiring and firing. It’s about how we best deploy our resources to benefit the business process, which is an understanding I credit to the team at Kelley for helping me to learn. It helps me anticipate the future from an analytical perspective.”
In class, Chris was encouraged to build his digital presence while making connections through professional development opportunities. As he was expanding his network, he attended a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conference in Indiana, and heard a compelling speech by Johnny Taylor Jr., the former acting chair of the organization who now serves as president and CEO. Chris sent the speaker a thank-you email, and to his surprise, Johnny responded with an invitation to join him at an upcoming meeting as his special guest.
“Johnny invited me to a private session where he was speaking with CEOs and CFOs. He began to talk about the importance of mentoring, and says, ‘My mentee is here with us today,’” Chris said. “I’m looking around the room like everyone else because we just met. But then he called my name! When the session wrapped, I left with so many business cards from these top leaders with requests to stay connected.”
Chris stayed in contact with Johnny, who helped Chris realize his potential to grow more in a smaller company with more opportunities to design end-to-end benefits, administration, and strategy for plant design. Chris left for Chicago to join SmithBucklin, an administrative management company. While in Chicago, he met another influential leader who became a mentor, George Samuel, HR director of Howard University. This led to a role for Chris as the supervisor for benefits and pension administration at Howard. This leadership experience, along with Chris’s desire to be on the forefront of his profession, helped shape how Chris would approach his career path.
“With each opportunity, think about what skills you need, not only for your current employer, but what you need to take you to the next level; how will you be viewed in the market,” Chris said. “Combine skills you master in your job or hear at conferences, to craft your own development plan. Once you communicate your plan to your network, you’ll hear where you should take the next step.”
Chris credits leaders along the way with helping him gain a seat at the table, such as a former supervisor at Bristol-Myers Squibb who kept him in the room during important decisions so he could learn from the best. He encourages students considering the HR profession to pursue this industry if they enjoy working with people and solving business problems. For anyone wanting to expand their leadership skills, he stresses the need for patience and strategic planning.
“Take plenty of notes to any meeting you attend and be flexible in your career. Think beyond the promotion and consider the experiences you want to have. If you get the right experiences, the promotions will come at the right time in your career for your skills to match,” Chris said.