New human resources chief brings a focus on service

Marc Wachtfogel, Ph.D., has had diverse roles in public and private sectors, in human resources, management consulting and global marketing. He emphasizes the critical components of effective human resources management, such as transparency, communication, inclusivity and a team mindset. But he also believes he’d make a “great host at an Italian restaurant.”

Marc Wachtfogel, Ph.D.

“I want people to feel at home,” he says, a philosophy he incorporates in his work.

Dr. Wachtfogel will become DMU’s chief human resources officer on Aug. 17. He succeeds Becky Lade, who joined DMU in 1986 and led its human resources operations since becoming director of human resources in 1994. She was named chief human resources officer in 2014. Under her leadership, the University transformed operations of the HR office, updated technology capabilities, introduced valuable staff recognition award programs, added professional development programming and assisted numerous individual employees. She retired on July 31.

Most recently, Dr. Wachtfogel was director/chief human resources officer at Minot State University in Minot, ND, and its two-year affiliate, Dakota College at Bottineau. He calls his profession “an honor” and an opportunity to “impact lives in a very positive way.”

“In human resources, you’re really there to serve,” he says. “I want to contribute to the very strong sense of community at DMU and foster positive relationships that respect individualism, so that people can be themselves while feeling part of something bigger.”

That concept of servant leadership aligns with the philosophy of DMU President and CEO Angela Walker Franklin, Ph.D. In her 2014 memoir, An Unconventional Journey…An Unlikely Choice, which chronicles her journey to the University presidency and lessons learned in leadership, she described it as the application of the Golden Rule to leadership – “treating people with respect” and “with a desire to be of service as opposed to being served.”

“I read her book twice. It really resonated with me,” Dr. Wachtfogel says. “It told me something about the University’s leadership and culture, which is what shapes the experience at an organization.”

He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations. His first professional position was as a staffing and development specialist with the Japanese conglomerate Mitsui USA, where he was responsible for staffing, training and organizational development programs for 14 offices. Working with more than a third of the company’s employees who rotated in and out from Japan taught him an important lesson: Initially, HR provided acculturation training three to four weeks following an employee’s arrival, essentially missing a key transitional period to a new country and culture.

“We were missing an important opportunity to be of service at the time of need and were inadvertently sending an unintended message about who we are. Providing that human touch point at the beginning of the relationship and providing the tools and resources for cross-cultural success changed everything,” he says. “Initial employee experiences have a lasting impact. When they arrived for training, I knew each of them very well, and our partnership extended well beyond the training program. Sometimes, it’s the little things that have the biggest impact.”

 Dr. Wachtfogel also recognized the importance of hiring for both skills and cultural fit. That was the topic of his dissertation for his Ph.D. in business education from New York University, “Organizational Socialization, Person-Environment Fit and Commitment among Recent College Graduates in the Workplace.” It underpins his “keen interest” in optimizing the employee experience and preparing people for workplace success. 

“Each new employee we hire is going to influence our culture and community, and we want to ensure their values and skills are in alignment with our core mission and goals,” he says.

“How do we introduce people into our community? It involves an exceptional employee experience and letting people know they were hired because we believe they have the potential to contribute and succeed as we evolve. Coaching and employee development support goal achievement.”

He enjoys working in human resources as one of the facilitators of change in a highly dynamic world. He’s excited to collaborate in that role at DMU, an institution in the fast-changing environment of health care that also plans to move to a new campus in West Des Moines.

“This is a most exciting time at Des Moines University. From technology like machine learning, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, wearables and virtual health care, to new market participants like Apple, Amazon and Google, we have a great opportunity to conduct new and innovative research while reaching underserved communities early on in the health life cycle,” he says. “DMU’s roots in osteopathic medicine reflect a holistic approach to the individual. I believe in this approach to health care, and my role is to align people and strategy to explore new frontiers.”

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