Business alumna Karen Feller Baldwin pauses with emotion when she speaks of her experience as a WMU summer orientation leader. The relationships she forged with incoming students as they passed through the program continued during the school year and had a profound impact on the human resources professional she is today.
“I was very quiet and shy, so I decided to challenge myself and do something out of my comfort zone. I applied for, and was fortunate to be selected as, an orientation leader. It was an amazing journey for me, and I discovered, if I followed my heart, I could really help the students I was meeting,” she says, reflecting on her junior year in 1987. “Most of who I am, personally and as an HR professional, comes from that experience.
“You build strong relationships with the people you are working with. A new, young group of students and their families are coming in every four days, and you are trying to connect and understand what they want, putting them on a path that will lead them to the rest of their lives.”
A figure skater since she was 5 years old, Baldwin says she was originally drawn to WMU because the college had an ice rink. While her interests at the University grew on her path to earning a Bachelor of Business Administration in finance, she still enjoys competing with an area adult figure skating team.
She, along with several family members, attended WMU. Her daughter, Carly Baldwin, graduated in December with a degree in early childhood education and Spanish.
Baldwin, vice president and director of human resources at Greenleaf Trust, a wealth management firm in Kalamazoo, was recently named one of Crain’s Notable Women in Human Resources. She is instrumental in making a difference and evolving the company’s recruiting, employee engagement, diversity and inclusion, and retention strategies.
Her efforts have helped the company grow by more than double digits every year for 10 years to more than 130 employees today. Besides actively seeking diverse talent and creating a culture of inclusion, she’s organized cutting-edge training for team members and new channels for employee feedback that resulted in increasing maternity and paternity leave to 12 paid weeks.
Baldwin also proactively encourages discussion of talent diversity challenges in the financial industry, arranging for training for the Greenleaf Trust leadership team, as well as for the entire company, including topics of micro-aggression, bias and harassment.
“In order to be really great at what we do, we need to be able to give to our entire community,” she says.
“The challenge is changing the landscape of the financial industry and making it attractive to those who have never considered our industry, so we’re inclusive in our hiring and those being served.”
Her advice to students and graduates echoes her own journey at WMU and mantra in her professional life.
“Do not be afraid to start off doing something that might not be the exact role you want to do in the long run. Challenge yourself and your talents. Learn and grow from each experience. There are a lot of people who find their personal niche by trying something new,” she says.