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In an effort to gauge how the region's major employers are dealing with continued economic uncertainty, the North Bay Business Journal reached out to major companies with a series of employment-related questions, in addition to identifying the top human resources professional at each organization.

The results, from tech to health care, to hospitality to manufacturing, show that many of the major players are faring better, some even thriving, but challenges nonetheless remain.

The results are informal and not scientific, but nevertheless offer a glimpse into how such companies are dealing with rising health care costs, finding talent and what their hiring plans are. (Not all companies responded to the questions, but for those that did, their answers are contained within the entry of their top HR representative).

Major staffing companies were included in the Leaders in HR Spotlight because of the breadth of their services related to the employment field, but were not surveyed.

Professionals, taken from Business Journal lists of top employers and staffing firms in the region, are listed alphabetically by last name.Jan BeckerAutodesk111McInnis Pkwy., San Rafael 94903, autodesk.com, 415-507-5000

Jan Becker is the senior vice president of human resources for Autodesk, which is the fourth largest employer in Marin County with over 900 employees. In her current role, Ms. Becker is responsible for worldwide human resources, corporate real estate facilities and community relations at the software development company. Previously she was the senior director of human resources for the company’s design solutions division and manager of the “HR Future” team. She joined Autodesk in 1992. She’s held management positions with Sun Microsystems, Activision, Digital Equipment Corp. and Hewlett-Packard. She holds a bachelor of science in business administration from San Jose State University.

From an employer’s perspective, what would you say is the single-most challenging aspect of HR these days?

Attracting and retaining key contributors.

How have you fared on employee benefits? Have you faced significant premium increases? If so, how has the company coped with that?

We have experienced the same pressures on benefits costs that other companies our size experience. We have a very active “Wellness” program that we use to help keep our workforce healthy (and therefore to help control benefits costs); for example, we have just implemented a program to help keep our workforce exercising and active (“Global Corporate Challenge”) – and over 60 percent of our worldwide 7500+ employee workforce have signed up to participate. The program encourages employees to walk at least 10,000 steps per day.

What are your plans in terms of hiring this year? How many positions do you have open and how many do you expect to fill?

We expect to have a couple hundred new hires in the area this year.

How difficult is it to find qualified talent in your industry?

Somewhat difficult. We are always looking for the very best, which is never easy; fortunately we have a great reputation as an employer (e.g., on Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work list.)Rudy CollinsKaiser Permanente401 Bicentennial Way, Santa Rosa 95403, kp.org, 707-571-4000; 99 Montecillo Rd., San Rafael 94903, 415-444-2000

Rudy Collins serves as the human resources leader for the Kaiser Permanente Marin-Sonoma Area and directs a staff of 22. His primary responsibilities are to serve as consultant to leadership to ensure alignment between business and people strategies, ensure the delivery of all HR services to the area’s two medical centers and take actions to promote an effective partnership between labor and management. His duties include overseeing the areas of employee and labor relations, recruitment, HR compliance, disability management, learning and development and leadership development. He also serves as a member of the Marin County Workforce Investment Board, representing Kaiser Permanente. Mr. Collins has been with Kaiser Permanente for the past seven years and previously held HR management positions with eBay, Charles Schwab, and Levi Strauss. Currently residing in Corte Madera, he received his BA degree in psychology and philosophy from Boston University and his MBA from Golden Gate University.

From an employer’s perspective, what would you say is the single-most challenging aspect of HR these days?

From my view, the greatest and most welcome challenge is working with leaders and staff to develop the organization's ability to be agile, effective and ready to meet the challenges facing our business. 

How have you fared on employee benefits? Have you faced significant premium increases? If so, how has the company coped with that?

We have been able to maintain a very competitive level of employee benefits.

What are your plans in terms of hiring this year? How many positions do you have open and how many do you expect to fill?

We do not see any significant increase in staffing levels this year, however as a large organization we have a healthy level of turnover which enables us to be continually in the market for qualified candidates to fill positions.

How difficult is it to find qualified talent in your industry?

A little difficult. 

Shireen Donaldson Agilent Technologies1400 Fountaingrove Parkway, Santa Rosa 95403, agilent.com, 877-424-4536

Shireen Donaldson is the vice president of human resources for Agilent’s Electronic Measurement Group, a position she was promoted into in 2009. Ms. Donaldson joined Hewlett-Packard in 1997 as a human resources consultant and in 1999 was named HR manager for Agilent’s Advanced Networks Division, based in Australia, after HP and Agilent became separate companies. She moved to Sonoma County in 2003 to be the HR manager for the Signal Analysis Division in Santa Rosa, and in 2005 was named the company’s Wireless Business Unit HR manager, where she worked until assuming her current responsibilities. Before working for HP., she worked as a senior HR consultant for Victoria Legal Aid and served as a senior consultant in the organizational development unit of the Victorian WorkCover Authority, both in Australia. Ms. Donaldson received her bachelor of science in applied science from the Phillip Institute of Technology and an MBA from Monash University.

From an employer’s perspective, what would you say is the single most challenging aspect of HR these days?

In Agilent’s global business, a key opportunity for HR is to focus on a few strategies that help position the company to grow in new markets across geographies, often dealing with changing demographics. Agilent is the world’s premier measurement company, and our customers challenge us every day to provide complex, world-changing solutions. Agilent HR works with our leaders to address global market complexities without making our organizational structure more complex.

To develop and refine these strategies, we listen to what our customers say about their business needs, and to what our employees say about how they stay motivated. Working with effective leaders and excellent colleagues, being rewarded for results, and sharing in the company’s success are among the most important factors in employee satisfaction at Agilent.

How have you fared on employee benefits. Have you faced significant premium increases? If so, how has the company coped with that?

Our goal is to attract and retain the best people, and Agilent’s package of pay, equity and benefits align with technology “labor competitors” around the world. Our goal is for the total rewards package to equal that of these companies.

What are your plans in terms of hiring this year? How many positions do you have open and how many do you expect to fill?

One of Agilent’s most important strategic decisions is how and where to invest for growth. This is especially true in today’s dynamic economic environment. Globally Agilent will continue to hire and invest in critical positions. Across the company, we currently have approximately 400 external positions open, which includes college graduates and interns.

How difficult is it to find qualified talent in your industry?

We’ve found that most qualified candidates usually want to work at Agilent. When we make a job offer, our acceptance rate averages more than 90 percent. Even in emerging markets where competition for top talent is tough -- places such as China, India and Brazil -- we do well.Robert Eisen Queen of the Valley Medical Center1000 Trancas St., Napa, 94588, thequeen.org, 707-252-4411

Robert Eisen is responsible for the management of the HR department, which currently has a staff of 10 full-time and two part-time employees, at Napa County’s largest employer with over 1,500 employees. He oversees matters related to employment, benefits, compensation, employee relations, legal compliance, education, workers compensation, development and training, and morale/recognition programs. He is also responsible for human resource practices, policies and processes.

He has more than 22 years of experience in human resources and employee relations. Most recently he worked for the Hospital Corporation of America as vice president, human resources at HCA’s Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center and Sunrise Children’s Hospital, in Las Vegas,. Prior to his 10-plus years at HCA, he served as director of human resources for Quest Diagnostics (formerly Associated Pathologists Laboratories), also in Las Vegas.

He earned his bachelor of science degree from Arizona State University. He is a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources and a certified trainer for Zenger-Miller products and DDI products, which are leadership training and competency tools.

From an employer’s perspective, what would you say is the single-most challenging aspect of HR these days?

Change. Every organization faces change and in current times the need and pace of change is ever increasing. An organization’s ability to survive, let alone be successful, is contingent upon the workforce being able to understand, embrace and adapt to change. As HR leaders, we must drive this through honest communication, respect and providing development opportunities that enable our workforce to be successful.

How have you fared on employee benefits? Have you faced significant premium increases? If so, how has the company coped with that?

Our employee benefits have been highly competitive and we work to maintain a solid complement that provides for the needs of our workforce. As with all companies, the rising cost of benefits continue to create challenges in maintaining the offerings we provide. We work very hard to balance financial limitations and the level of benefits we offer.

What are your plans in terms of hiring this year? How many positions do you have open and how many do you expect to fill?

While we do not expect significant growth in the number of positions at Queen of the Valley Medical Center, we will always need to fill vacancies created as a result of retirement, new opportunities, etc. We expect these vacancies to be primarily in our clinical and technical positions.

How difficult is it to find qualified talent in your industry?

Somewhat difficult. Much of our difficulty comes with being located in a more rural area.

Mark Fowler St. Helena Hospital10 Woodland Rd., St. Helena 94574, sthelenahospital.org, 707-963-3611

Mark Fowler is executive director of human resources for the St. Helena Hospital Napa Valley and Vallejo Behavioral Health campuses. His staff provides comprehensive HR services to more than 1,300 employees in Napa and Solano counties, one of the largest health care providers in the region. He chairs the hospital's Labor Force Cabinet and Leadership Development Task Force. Mr. Fowler also serves as the St. Helena Chamber of Commerce Board Chair.

Ongoing projects include creating an exceptional employee and patient experience. He is a mastered prepared HR professional and has been in his position since July of 2003. He lives with his family in Napa.

From an employer’s perspective, what would you say is the single-most challenging aspect of HR these days?

Managing the cost of labor and benefits while at the same time attracting and retaining top talent. 

How have you fared on employee benefits? Have you faced significant premium increases? If so, how has the company coped with that?

We have increased the employee share of benefit costs. To off set this we're offering HRA's, Wellness incentives and In-lieu of benefit options. 

What are your plans in terms of hiring this year? How many positions do you have open and how many do you expect to fill?

We plan to stay flat this year as we adjust to the demands of health care reform.

How difficult is it to find qualified talent in your industry?

Only a little difficult ... there are still many good candidates out there.Theresa GianfortuneMarin General Hospital 250 Bon Air Rd., Greenbrae 94904, maringeneral.org, 415-925-7000

Formerly vice president of human resources for Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Theresa Gianfortune serves as Marin General Hospital's chief human resources officer. She has over 20 years of human resources experience, in hospitals from New England to Southern California. In addition to her extensive health care experience, she was the 2006 recipient of the National Human Resources Association (NHRA) of Southern California Compassion Excellence Award. Ms. Gianfortune received her bachelor's degree in organizational management from Daniel Webster College. 

From an employer’s perspective, what would you say is the single-most challenging aspect of HR these days?

Undoubtedly, the biggest challenge is creating balance between meeting the personal and professional needs of employees and meeting the needs of the organizations they serve. Aligning the two -- creating and maintaining work force engagement while recognizing that staff’s needs and values, which may vary according to age, gender and specialty -- requires that both the organization and employees evolve in response to internal and external pressures. Our hospital can’t stand still -- the health care industry is simply too dynamic to allow that.

Yet it is human nature to be resistant to change. Employees -- even those who joined us because they wanted to be a part of an exciting future -- can find it hard to keep up. Sometimes the organization can outgrow the employee or vice versa. How do you keep your workforce individually and collectively engaged, helping them to grow, change and still be an effective contributor? That’s the biggest challenge.

How have you fared on employee benefits? Have you faced significant premium increases? If so, how has the company coped with that?

We are proud to be one of the few employers who offer free health care insurance (no premium) for our employees and their dependents. To ensure our ability to continue to do this and to maintain employees’ choices within the plan, we recently restructured our co-pays. Those who stay within the Home Network -- a network comprised of many local physicians specifically for Marin General Hospital employees and their dependents -- won’t feel any impact; employees who choose providers outside the network will pay slightly higher co-pays.

What are your plans in terms of hiring this year? How many positions do you have open and how many do you expect to fill?

Currently, full time and part time positions are available, with the majority of openings being nursing roles. Fortunately, our turnover rate at the hospital is low and because we are a desirable employer, filling openings has not been difficult. The most challenging positions to fill tend to be specialty focused -- specifically for the operating room, emergency department, and intensive care unit.

Cindy GillespieAmy’s KitchenP.O. Box 449, Petaluma 94953, amyskitchen.com, 707-578-7278 

Cindy Gillespie is the director of human resources for Amy’s Kitchen, Inc., where she is responsible for overseeing the HR functions at three plant locations including Santa Rosa, Medford, Ore., and Corby, England. Her responsibilities also include leading the Corporate Giving Team at Amy’s and managing the office facilities. Prior to Amy’s, Ms. Gillespie spent 14 years as the vice president of human resources for New Zealand Milk Products, Inc. an international marketing company located in Santa Rosa. She holds a bachelor of science degree in industrial relations form California State University, Hayward (now East Bay.)

From an employer’s perspective, what would you say is the single-most challenging aspect of HR these days? 

Finding and retaining good employees that fit our culture. Second, providing affordable health benefits for our employees.

How have you fared on employee benefits? Have you faced significant premium increases and if so, how has the company coped with that?

We have adopted a unique strategy to eliminate the “middle person” and provide our employees direct access to primary care through on-site health centers. This strategy has been shown to reduce future increases in benefit costs and provide a more comprehensive wellness management approach to healthcare. 

What are your plans in terms of hiring this year? How many positions do you have open and how many do you expect to fill?

Amy’s grew more last year than we project next year. Currently we have about 10 openings. 

How difficult is it to find qualified talent in your industry?

Extremely difficult.

Christine GodfreyDominican University of California50 Acacia Ave., San Rafael 94901, dominican.edu, 415-457-4440

Christine Godfrey was hired by Dominican in 2009 as director of human resources. She and her team of HR professionals support the full range of human resource programs for faculty and staff in the areas of recruitment and talent management; classification and compensation; benefits and insurance; performance management and employee relations; training and development; safety and wellness; Title IX compliance; HRIS and record keeping.

She has over twenty years of experience in human resource management and nonprofit strategic planning, with specific expertise in organizational development, total compensation, and performance management. In addition to her certification as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), she earned her Executive Certificate in Sustainable Enterprise from Dominican’s Green MBA program and holds a masters degree in Business Administration from University of San Francisco and a bachelor of arts degree from Dickinson College.

From an employer’s perspective, what would you say is the single-most challenging aspect of HR these days?

Keeping pace with the evolving role of human resources. Effective HR departments need to provide a high level of customer support, partnership, and stay current and knowledgeable in a very broad field of employment law, personnel planning, benefits, insurance, compensation, workplace investigations, resolving complex issues, and managing risk.

How have you fared on employee benefits? Have you faced significant premium increases? If so, how has the company coped with that?

Compared to the overall market and our peer institutions, we are doing well. Dominican’s health and dental insurance premiums have increased in the double digits for the past few years. At the same time, the university has committed to provide a higher level contribution toward the cost of family health coverage. We spend a significant portion of our budget on a range of benefits including generous paid time off, medical coverage, health savings accounts, retirement contributions and tuition remission. The HR department provides a range of educational workshops, communications and even one-on-one counseling with employees regarding benefit options, and we are able to save money by helping employees choose the “right” benefits for their needs.

What are your plans in terms of hiring this year? How many positions do you have open and how many do you expect to fill?

Following record low turnover rates of 5 percent to 7 percent from 2008 to 2011, we are experiencing a slight increase in hiring for replacement and new positions this year. Our turnover rates for 2011-'12 are projected to be closer to 10 percent, which is still low, but closer to the national average. We have been largely unaffected by recent fluctuations in the economy, and our overall staff and faculty head count has increased slightly. Our employee numbers match our student enrollment which has been stable, and increasing each year over the past five years.

How difficult is it to find qualified talent in your industry?

A little difficult. We are fortunate to find exceptional talent for our faculty and staff openings. We have had a few specialized positions in academic departments that are difficult to fill because the talent pool is very small and our compensation package is less competitive than larger schools and for profits companies.

Evert Hendrix Sutter Medical Center of Santa Rosa3325 Chanate Rd., Santa Rosa 95404, suttersantarosa.org, 707-576-4000

Evert Hendrix is the human resources executive for Sutter Medical Center of Santa Rosa. In his current role, Mr. Hendrix provides leadership to a full spectrum of human capital functions and initiatives for a workforce of 950 medical professionals.

Previous to joining Sutter Health, Mr. Hendrix served as the principle HR leader for Rural/Metro Corp., a for-profit publicly traded ambulatory company with annual earnings of $600 million. He has also held human resources leadership positions with The Home Depot and United Parcel Service. Mr. Hendrix earned a bachelor of arts in business from Evangel University.Jane HynesW.A. Hynes & Company1304 Southpoint Blvd., Ste. 200, Petaluma 94954, hynesandcompany.com, 707-766-1777

Jane Hynes is the president, CEO and co-founder of W.A. Hynes & Company, which she started with her husband in 1976. Initially a specialty staffing firm in IT and consulting -- started when the staffing industry “was in its infancy” -- the company now offers services in accounting, bookkeeping, clerical, construction, engineering, health care, hospitality, insurance, legal, light industrial, marketing and wine making. Her career began in nursing, and her husband started in chemistry.Amy KeyserFireman's Fund Insurance Co.777 San Marin Dr., Novato 94945, firemansfund.com, 415-899-6500

Amy Keyser is vice president of human resources at Fireman’s Fund Insurance. She’s held her current position since January 2011 and is responsible for company human resource strategies aimed at creating a high-performance culture, attracting and retaining talent and improving developmental tools for employees. Ms. Keyser joined Fireman’s Fund in 2006 as vice president of employment law, ethics and corporate investigations.

Prior to joining Fireman’s Fund in 2006, Ms. Keyser worked at several premier labor and employment law firms. She holds a juris doctorate and bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia.

How have you fared on employee benefits. Have you faced significant premium increases? If so, how has the company coped with that?

Fireman's Fund did not scale back benefits during the recession or the current slow expansion. However, the company sponsored medical plan has seen substantial premium increases absorbed primarily by the company but also shared with employees due to increased employee utilization of the plan.

To address this trend Fireman's Fund launched a health incentive initiative for 2012 and will be substantially expanding it for 2013. Employees will receive medical premium cost reductions for completing activities such as an annual health assessment and maintaining good health indicators. Our goal is to improve employee health which will in turn lower health insurance costs for employees and Fireman's Fund.

What are your plans in terms of hiring this year? How many positions do you have open and how many do you expect to fill?

Year to date, we have filled 133 positions nationwide. Half of the positions have been filled by our own employees moving into new roles -- an indication that our focus on employee development is effectively working. We have 70 positions open currently and open approximately 35 new positions each month. We expect to fill approximately 350 positions in total for 2012.

How difficult is it to find qualified talent in your industry?

Somewhat difficult. We deliver expertise to our customers and our roles often require specialized and expert technical knowledge. Finding specific expertise in the markets we serve can be difficult.

Sharon LewisHealth Net (parent company of MHN)2350 Kerner Blvd., San Rafael 94901, mhn.com, 800-327-2133

Sharon Lewis is vice president of organization effectiveness, supporting the western region health plan, medical and network management, marketing, product development and MHN. Ms. Lewis is responsible for leading the human resources and organization development programs and activities for these units. She has been in her current role since joining Health Net in 2001.

Over the years, she has led the human resources and organization development activities for the former health plan division, government programs, the life company and corporate staff groups, including finance and legal.

Ms. Lewis began her 20+ year career in telecommunications at SNET (now AT&T), where she had positions in the technical field, prior to changing her career to organization development. Before Health Net, Ms. Lewis was manager of organization development at PeopleSoft. As the second employee hired in the new department, she was responsible for launching new systemic and individual programs to increase both individual and team performance. Ms. Lewis holds a bachelor of science in biology from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. and an MBA from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, N.Y.

From an employer’s perspective, what would you say is the single-most challenging aspect of HR these days?

The single most challenging aspect of our work is finding talent and developing strong leaders for both today and the future. Strong leaders need to have a portfolio of leadership styles that helps employees be engaged and productive. Also, our organization is highly matrixed, which requires leaders to be more collaborative and lead with an enterprise mindset.

How have you fared on employee benefits (if you offer them)? Have you faced significant premium increases? If so, how has the company coped with that?

We offer our own employees the same Health Net products and services we offer to our members and customers. The majority of our associates enroll in one of our HMO tailored network products, which is also very popular with our member base. The company shares the benefits cost through an 80/20 model, with the company contributing 80 percent and employees contributing 20 percent.

What are your plans in terms of hiring this year? How many positions do you have open and how many do you expect to fill?

MHN, a Health Net subsidiary, is always on the go, and our hiring plans constantly evolve as the result of a several factors. We are always looking for the best and brightest individuals who can help us continue delivering effective behavioral health benefits and employee assistance program services to our approximately 5 million customers nationwide.

How difficult is it to find qualified talent in your industry? 

All of the above -- A, B, C and D. That’s because finding qualified talent in our industry runs the gamut from not difficult at all to extremely difficult. In the health care industry, the nature of the actuarial and underwriting work is very specific and finding a qualified and diverse applicant base can take time.

In addition, the complexity of our industry and the high level of regulation often require a level of experience that few people possess. We have found that our employees really enjoy working together, and we have a large number of applicants coming directly from referrals by associates.Coleen LindgrenPersonnel Perspective575 W. College Ave., Ste. 101, Santa Rosa 95401, personnelperspective.com, 707-576-7653

Coleen Lindgren is the Recruiting Manager at The Personnel Perspective, a full service human resources firm with expertise in HR consulting, training, and recruiting. She has extensive experience both as a recruiter and an HR generalist. Her recruiting approach combines her experience of over six years with her skills as a human resources generalist for 25 years.

She earned her bachelor of arts degree in public relations and communications from Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania. With a focus on human resources, she has continued her education at Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University, where she completed the Human Resources Management Certificate Program. Debra Miller St. Joseph Health

1165 Montgomery Dr., Santa Rosa 95405, stjosephhealth.org, 707-525-5300

Debra Miller has been vice president of human resources for St. Joseph Health since 2007. In 1997, she was hired by the health care provider, which is among the largest nonprofit employers in the county. Its more than 2,000 employees work at locations including Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, the region’s only Level II trauma center, Petaluma Valley Hospital and numerous mobile clinics, urgent care centers, hospice care locations, which includes home care, and more.

Ms. Miller moved to the North Bay in 1994, when she came to work for the now-dissolved HMO Health Plan of the Redwoods. Ms. Miller sits on the board of directors for the Sonoma-Mendocino county chapter of the American Red Cross, is a Retirement Plan Committee member for St. Joseph Health and is a former board member of the Community Child Care Council. She obtained her undergraduate degree from California State University, Northridge and a master’s in human resources and organizational management from the University of San Francisco.

Craig NelsonNelson Staffing19080 Lomitas Ave., Sonoma, 95476, nelsonhr.com, 707-935-6113

Craig Nelson joined Nelson in 2001 as general counsel with responsibility for legal, administration, safety and risk, and human resources. Eventually, the three professional staffing units -- Nelson Technology, Nelson & Associates and Nelson Staffing -- were added to his list of responsibilities. In 2006, Mr. Nelson relinquished his corporate duties to take charge of both Nelsonjobs.com and the recruiting and retention team while continuing to lead the staffing units.

He became chief executive officer of the company in January 2012. He is on the board of the Marin Economic Forum and the executive board of the North Bay Leadership Council. Prior to joining Nelson, he spent seven years with the criminal division of the California Department of Justice and before that, three years as a litigator with the law offices of Bowles and Verna. He has a masters of law from the University of San Diego, his Juris Doctor from Hastings College of Law, and degrees in business administration and economics from California State University, Chico.Tom O'BrienTrinchero Family Estates277 St. Helena Hwy. S., St. Helena 94574, tfewines.com, 800-967-4663

Tom O'Brien is managing director of HR at Trinchero Family Estates, Napa County's third largest employer with nearly 600 employees. He has expertise in talent management, organizational change and development, labor relations and compensation including executive compensation.

In his current role, Mr. O'Brien is the top HR executive reporting to the president and COO, responsible for all aspects of Trinchero's HR functions, leading a team of 10 HR professionals. Previously, he was managing partner at O'Brien Partners, was senior vice president, global HR at Constellation Brands and senior vice president at Constellation Wines. He has a bachelor of science in business management from the University of Illinois at Chicago.David OhmanManpower490 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa 95401, us.manpower.com, 707-576-7855

David Ohman is the branch manager for Manpower’s North Bay branch, where he is responsible for territory that includes all of Sonoma and Mendocino counties and parts of Napa and Lake counties. Originally from Southern California, Mr. Ohman worked in the international transport industry for more than 20 years, then in 2007 joined the global staffing company, which has more than 4,500 locations and has served the North Bay since 1975.

He obtained a bachelor’s degree in economics from UCLA. He is a graduate of Leadership Santa Rosa and a member of the LSR Alumni Association.Nicole SmarttStar Staffing3820 Cypress Dr., Ste. 2, Petaluma 94954, starhr.com, 707-762-4447

As vice president and co-owner, Nicole Smartt oversees the day to day operations of the firm throughout the Bay Area. She has more than nine years of experience in the staffing industry, having served in virtually every aspect of the industry -- she started her career "working a desk" and learning what it takes to make the ideal match between employee and employer.

Ms. Smartt is the co-founder for the Petaluma Young Professionals Network and also sits on the California Staffing Professionals Board. She is a past active board member for the Professional Association of Sonoma County Human Resource (PASCO HR) Board.

In addition, she was recently appointed to the Young Professionals Entrepreneur Council, a community of the world's top, young entrepreneurs. In 2010, she was the recipient of the Business Journal Forty under 40 award recognizing top leaders under the age of 40 in the community.

Stephanie VinskiRobert Half International100 B. St, Ste. 220, Santa Rosa 95401, roberthalf.com, 707-578-3355

Stephanie Vinski is a regional vice president for Robert Half International. In this role, she oversees operations for the company’s professional staffing services divisions in Novato, Santa Rosa and San Francisco. She joined Robert Half as an Accountemps Staffing Manager in San Francisco in 2001.

During her tenure with the company, she has been recognized with multiple awards in sales and leadership, in both her roles as branch manager and regional vice president. Ms. Vinski has over 15 years in professional staffing with a deep understanding of the finance and accounting industry.Barbara WallaceMeadowood Napa Valley900 Meadowood Ln., St. Helena 94574, meadowood.com, 800-458-8080

Barbara Wallace has been with Meadowood Napa Valley, which has some 300 employees, since December of 2005, when she started as the director of human resources. Prior to Meadowood, she spent 30 years in the North Bay hospitality and wine industry and has specialized as both an HR generalist and on organizational development/ training professional. She graduated from Colorado State University with BS in food science and nutrition with a concentration in restaurant management.

From an employer’s perspective, what would you say is the single-most challenging aspect of HR these days?

Managing health reform and the uncertainty of the constitutionality of those changes as we wait for the Supreme Court decision.

What are your plans in terms of hiring this year? How many positions do you have open and how many do you expect to fill?

We hire approximately 280 to 300 employees each year, of which 225 are on-call banquet servers, summer pool service and other seasonal positions. We have completed most of our recruitment for the season, however, we post our recruitment update each week.

How difficult is it to find qualified talent in your industry?

We are very fortunate to have many of our current staff members refer candidates to Meadowood as well as many staff members return for our seasonal positions. Most our hourly positions are not difficult to recruit as a result. If I were to identify a few challenging positions they would be skilled mechanics night auditors.Mark Wood BioMarin Pharmaceutical101 Digital Dr., Novato 94945, biomarinpharm.com, 415-506-6700

Mark Wood is vice president of human resources of BioMarin Pharmaceutical, which has approximately 800 employees. He joined the pharmaceutical company in 2004 and oversees all HR functions as well as public relations and corporate communications. Before joining BioMarin, he was a sole proprietor of an HR consulting practice from 2002 to 2004 and previously worked as vice president of human resources and consulting for AG Consulting.

He also previously was manager of compensation and quantitative analysis at Genentech and held numerous HR positions with Wells Fargo Bank. Mr. Wood obtained a master’s degree in industrial relations from Cornell University and a bachelor’s degree in psychology and management from State University of New York, Buffalo. He currently serves as chairman of the North Bay Leadership Council.