Vice President Human Resources

Vice President Human Resources

Northwestern University

Evanston, IL   |   August 5, 2021

Northwestern University seeks a collaborative and proven leader to serve as Vice President for Human Resources (VPHR) and Chief Human Resources Officer. Reporting directly to the Executive Vice President (EVP), the VPHR has responsibility for the management and operation of Northwestern University’s Office of Human Resources and for providing overall strategic leadership for human resources at Northwestern. With a highly collaborative leadership team and an engaged and knowledgeable staff, the incoming VPHR will drive the implementation of HR strategies and initiatives that align with Northwestern’s mission, and will position the institution as an employer of choice by instituting best practices from within the field of human resources and organizational development.

About Northwestern

Founded in 1851, Northwestern University is a globally recognized private research university committed to excellent teaching, innovative research, and the personal and intellectual growth of its students in a diverse academic community. The University has three primary campuses in Evanston, Chicago, and Doha, Qatar. Northwestern also has academic and administrative sites in Washington, DC, San Francisco, Miami, and New York City.

The University fulfills its research, teaching, and service mission across twelve schools which enroll 19,500 full-time equivalent students in bachelor’s, master’s, PhD and professional education programs. Northwestern is recognized both nationally and globally for the research and scholarly work of its faculty and the quality of its educational programs at all levels. In September 2020, Northwestern was ranked 9th (tied) among national universities by U.S. News & World Report and the University has consistently been ranked among the best worldwide. Furthermore, Northwestern is one of only five universities that is ranked in the top 20 in all five of the graduate schools ranked by US News and World Report Best Graduate School rankings: Business (4th), Education (8th), Law (12th), Medicine (15th), and Engineering (19th).

The undergraduate schools are comprised of the Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences; McCormick School of Engineering; Education and Social Policy; Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Media Communication; Bienen School of Music and Communication, and an undergraduate campus in Doha, Qatar. The Graduate School supports graduate and PhD education across all schools. Professional education is provided by the Kellogg School of Management, the Pritzker School of Law, and the Feinberg School of Medicine. The University also has a School of Professional Studies.

The University has an operating budget of approximately $2.7 billion, including nearly $900 million in sponsored research, and an endowment of approximately $14 billion. Northwestern employs approximately 3,800 faculty and approximately 8,200 full and part-time administrative staff. Three hundred staff members participate in three unions, principally maintenance and tradespeople. There is also a union representing University police officers.

The University is a founding member of the Big Ten Athletic Conference and participates in Division I NCAA sports.

The Location

The Evanston campus, just 12 miles north of downtown Chicago, sits among charming residential neighborhoods, parks, beaches, and bike trails. The Chicago campus, located between the Magnificent Mile and Lake Michigan, is within walking distance of many of the city’s main attractions.

Evanston is a quintessential college town with a vibrant group of restaurants, cafés, shops, and entertainment a few blocks from the campus. Evanston is a diverse community with excellent K-12 schools as well as numerous private school options. Getting to and around Evanston is easy with a multitude of public and private transportation options, including to and from the City of Chicago.

With Lake Michigan to the east, Evanston residents are active both indoors and out, fully utilizing the phenomenal system of parks and recreation areas, including some on Northwestern’s Evanston campus. With Chicago next door, one can easily take advantage of the music, theatre, museums, sports, and entertainment of a world-class city. With Northwestern’s participation in the Big Ten athletic conference, and its proximity to Chicago’s many professional teams, the area is rich in opportunities to participate in athletic endeavors at many levels.

The Context

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Northwestern was navigating a period of cost-containment and budget stabilization following a robust capital expansion of nearly $2 billion. That expansion put pressure on the University’s operating margin, and careful actions were taken to restore a balanced operating performance, including some staff reductions. Like most of its peers, the pandemic created further financial uncertainties for Northwestern, and difficult decisions were made beginning in the summer of 2020 in order to contain the financial impact. These decisions included a pause in retirement contributions, a hiring freeze, and some staff furloughs and layoffs, and voluntary retirement or separation offerings. These actions played a role in the University’s positive FY 2020 operating results but had an impact on faculty and staff across the institution.

Emerging from the pandemic, Northwestern’s financial picture is very strong. The University expects to meet its approved budget of an operating surplus in FY 2021 and is beginning to embark on a period of reinvestment in its faculty and staff, core infrastructure, and strategic initiatives. The We Will fundraising campaign is expected to close this summer, meeting its $5.5 billion target, and the endowment remained a source of financial strength now and for generations to come. Northwestern has developed a three-year financial plan that will help guide this period of measured growth, and investment in its employees is one of the core objectives of this upcoming period.

Also important for the VPHR is an upcoming Presidential transition. On March 4, 2021, President Morton Schapiro announced that he will conclude his presidency on August 31, 2022. Northwestern’s Board of Trustees has formed a Presidential Search Committee and expects to name President Schapiro’s successor by the end of 2021. The VPHR will be an essential partner to the Executive Vice President in supporting this institutional transition. A critical responsibility will be to work closely with a new President to support their onboarding to Northwestern and to work with the EVP to implement the new President’s vision for human resources at the university.

To learn more about Northwestern University, visit this website.

University Leadership

Morton O. Schapiro, President

Morton O. Schapiro was elected President of Northwestern University on December 16, 2008. He took office on September 1, 2009. He is a Professor of Economics in Northwestern’s Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and holds appointments in Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and the School of Education and Social Policy. He will step down as President on August 31, 2022 and a presidential search is currently underway.

Kathleen Hagerty, Provost

Kathleen Hagerty assumed the role of provost on September 1, 2020 after serving as associate provost for faculty during the 2019-20 academic year and previously as interim dean of the Kellogg School of Management. She joined Kellogg more than 30 years ago and holds the First Chicago Professorship in Finance.

Craig Johnson, Executive Vice President

Craig Johnson was appointed Senior Vice President for Business and Finance for Northwestern University in September 2018 and was recently promoted to Executive Vice President as of July 2021. Mr. Johnson has served more than 21 years at Northwestern within the central budget office, the Feinberg School of Medicine, and now central administration. In his role as Executive Vice President, he collaborates with Provost Hagerty to direct the University’s business and financial operations, managing an annual operating budget of $2.7 billion and sponsored research activity of approximately $800 million.

The Opportunity

The Vice President for Human Resources is responsible for comprehensive and strategic leadership in all aspects of the human resources function for the university. The incoming VPHR will join a senior leadership team as a collaborative partner providing solutions and guidance as the organization continues to enhance service orientation, progress technological innovation, and optimize levels of service across a diverse and decentralized constituency.

The VPHR will foster an environment within human resources of strategic thinking and planning, consulting with users and integrating human resources throughout the university to support and build on the highest qualities of the faculty and staff. Working with the Executive VP, the VPHR will assess all human resource functions and systems to maximize the efficiency of resource allocation.

This is an exciting position for a talented human resource professional who wishes to make a significant contribution to strengthening the quality of services and processes through which the university recruits and retains the best faculty, administrators, and staff. The VPHR will be a credible and influential leader, mentor, and developer of strong cross-functional teams; will demonstrate a commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive environment; and will maintain a record of success in managing large scale organizational change.

Northwestern continues to stand in solidarity with all who have served as advocates and change-agents in the fight for fair and equitable treatment for marginalized communities on campus and across the world. Strengthened attention to transparency, engagement and collaboration around the University’s commitments to social justice are evident through a series of campus wide actions to build a more inclusive and equitable community. A major initiative spearheaded by the Office of Human Resources is the diverse candidate slate policy, launched in June of 2021 with the express goal of advancing diversity and equity through staff hiring practices. The VPHR will be expected to provide leadership and expertise in identifying and implementing human resources practices that advance the University’s commitment to broader social justice initiatives.

In 2017 Northwestern undertook a staff engagement survey which identified both areas of strength according to Northwestern employees (reputation, rewards and recognition, benefits) and identified areas of opportunity (career development, technology and diversity and inclusion), and is preparing for a follow-up survey to measure progress and identify challenges and opportunities. With campus partners including the Northwestern University Staff Advisory Council (NUSAC); and working groups of business officers and human resource professionals across campus, the VPHR works collaboratively to address staff engagement and satisfaction across a highly complex, matrixed organization.

While Human Resources is centralized at Northwestern, several of the larger academic and administrative units within the university have independent administrative functions, some of which include a human resources component. Further developing and optimizing the levels of service experienced across campus will be a priority for the incoming VPHR. The VPHR will develop strategy to build capacity among managers and supervisors and provide opportunities for talented staff to develop their skills and enjoy promotional opportunities across campus.

Though the primary locus of faculty hiring remains with the Provost and Deans, the VPHR will work collaboratively on faculty onboarding and support through a comprehensive understanding of the unique needs of the different faculty/researcher roles at Northwestern.

The VPHR will lead an organization of 85 individuals, with 6 current direct reports covering the areas of Benefits, HR Operations, Payroll & Tax, Talent Acquisition, HR Business Partners, Employee/Labor Relations, Compensation, Learning and Organizational Development. The unit has a current operating budget of $8.8 million. The unit has oversight over benefit program design and administration, with a budget of $300 million.

Read more about Northwestern Human Resources here.

Initial priorities for the individual in this role are:  

  • Assess all human resource functions and systems, determining whether resource expenditures and utilization are adequate and appropriate. Balance the priorities and be open to thoughtfully redesigning functions and processes.
  • Assess and create, as necessary, improved data analytics around work force metrics that can assist in the design and implementation of more effective compensation and benefits for faculty and staff, as well as more effective service delivery.
  • Conduct a comprehensive review of the University’s benefit programs, including options for creative health insurance partnerships with Northwestern Medicine, the affiliated partner of Northwestern University.
  • Develop an affordable, phased approach to renew and upgrade the University’s information technology platform for its human resources functions. The current system platforms (Peoplesoft 9.2) are reaching end of life, and an HCM upgrade is upcoming. Determination of priorities, renewal approach and implementation plan in conjunction with the University’s technology organization will be a critical part of this process.
  • Strengthen a competent Office of Human Resources and build and cultivate an HR leadership team with a focus on operational and stakeholder satisfaction while demonstrating the highest standards of ethics and integrity.
  • Evaluate the coordination of human resource services for faculty and all other academic rank personnel with the University’s Office of the Provost, other administrative offices, and school representatives to assure the most appropriate organization of service delivery to assist in the recruitment and retention of faculty and all other academic rank personnel.
  • Participate in the evaluation of relocation options for current HR functions which are currently in disparate locations on the Evanston and Chicago campuses.
Candidate Profile

The successful candidate will have extensive human resources leadership experience at an executive level with a track record of aligning organizational structure to optimal service objectives of the organization while leading a team to deliver on these goals. Prior experience as the lead human resources executive in a large and complex organization is strongly preferred. The next VPHR will lead by example in demonstrating trust, open communication, compassion, enthusiasm, and encouragement.

The Human Resources VP will have a servant-leader focus in a university community, which is highly distributed in terms of stakeholders, and will have a demonstrated teamwork orientation in a shared governance model. Higher education experience is preferred, but not essential.  Rather, demonstrated experience in comparable complex, service intensive environments is essential.

In addition, the incoming VPHR will possess many of the following abilities, attributes, and experiences:

  • Ability to think creatively and strategically, to build consensus and collaborate with others, and to articulate and implement human resources programs that reflect organizational goals;
  • Strong analytical and critical thinking skills, and the ability to organize, analyze, summarize, and effectively tailor and present initiatives to a diverse group of constituents;
  • Demonstrated track record leading, implementing, and communicating large-scale change management initiatives in complex organizations;
  • Experience with enterprise-wide administrative systems implementations and analyzing business processes;
  • Experience leading system-wide and expansive talent recruitment and retention initiatives. Success in building a “best in class” talent management and development process which actively invests in high-potential talent identified through performance management and succession planning process;
  • A record of attracting, mentoring and retaining diverse high-quality talent and building empowered teams from ambitious, individual contributors;
  • Unparalleled personal integrity, ethics, and conduct, with a compliance-focused mindset.

A bachelor’s degree is required, and a master’s or other advanced degree is preferred. Also required is a significant tenure of progressively responsible human resources management and leadership experience, with time spent at the senior management or executive level, in an academic or similarly complex organization. Final candidates will be required to successfully complete a background check.


Amy Sugin, Beth Schaefer, Marisa Chock, and Holly Bogo of Koya Partners have been exclusively retained for this search. To express your interest in this role please submit your materials here. All inquiries and discussions will be considered strictly confidential.


Northwestern University is an equal opportunity employer and strongly encourages applications from people of color, persons with disabilities, women, and LGBTQ+ applicants.

About Koya Partners

Koya Partners, a part of the Diversified Search Group, is a leading executive search and strategic advising firm dedicated to connecting exceptionally talented people with mission-driven clients. Our founding philosophy—The Right Person in the Right Place Can Change the World—guides our work as we partner with nonprofits & NGOs, institutions of higher education, responsible businesses, and social enterprises in local communities and around the world.

For more information about Koya Partners, visit