Professional Excellence in Human Resources Management Award: 2017 Finalists

The Award for Professional Excellence in Human Resources Management recognizes creative approaches and consistently high performance that benefits the nominee’s company or organization and the business and professional community. The person selected is the “best” in the human resources profession. The annual award is a joint venture of the SC Chamber of Commerce and the South Carolina State Council/Society for Human Resource Management.

Nominees must be actively employed and have at least 10 years of experience in the human resources management profession; be individuals with outstanding records of contributions to the human resources profession; and may not be retired for an entire year as of January 1, 2017. This award is presented annually at a luncheon during the SC Chamber’s Human Resources Conference. This year, the 27th Annual HR Conference will be held May 10-12 in Hilton Head. For more information or to attend the conference, click here. The 2017 luncheon is sponsored by Ogletree Deakins and the 2017 award is sponsored by Fisher Phillips.

The 2017 finalists for the Professional Excellence in Human Resources Management Award are:

Robyn Knox, SHRM-SCP, SPHR, Vice President, Human Resources, Southern Weaving








Robyn Knox is the Vice President of Human Resources at Southern Weaving in Greenville, South Carolina. Since November of 2007, Knox has led Southern Weaving’s human resource efforts, including developing recruitment and retention initiatives, defining benefit and compensation strategy, implementing an award-winning wellness program, and partnering in the strategic planning process.

Knox is a Clemson University graduate, having earned a Bachelors degree in Management and a Masters degree in Human Resource Development. Knox has been certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources since 2002, and she was one of the first to be certified through the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) as a Senior Certified Professional. Knox serves as a member of the Greenville County Workforce Development Board and is Secretary of the Greenville Regional Education Center Advisory Board. She serves as the Workforce Readiness Director for the South Carolina SHRM State Council and is an active Board Member and Immediate Past-President of the Greenville Society for Human Resource Management. Knox was recognized by Greenville SHRM as 2016 HR Professional of the Year.

Career Highlights
Established a comprehensive health and wellness program, including biometric screenings, an on-site wellness clinic, tobacco cessation programs, weight management initiatives, an annual health and education fair, fitness center partnerships, and financial education, resulting in Southern Weaving’s being recognized with the LiveWell Healthy Workplace Award for four consecutive years and the American Heart Association Fit Friendly Worksite Award for three consecutive years. Southern Weaving was also one of only seven companies presented with the Blue Cross Blue Shield LiveLifeBlue Award in 2015, and was named the overall State winner in 2017.

Forged relationships and partnerships between Southern Weaving and local, regional, and state agencies, educational institutions, and other organizations in an effort to develop a workforce for the future. This includes representing Southern Weaving as a member of the Greenville County Workforce Development Board and the Greenville Regional Education Center Advisory Board. As a result of these efforts and others, Southern Weaving is a past recipient of the Palmetto Workforce Partnership Award and the Silver Crescent Award for Manufacturing Excellence.

Serves as a member of the Greenville Chapter of SHRM for over 15 years, and is currently in her third term as a Board Member. In 2016, served as Chapter President, and is currently serving as Past-President and Chair of the HR Conference Committee. She is also serving on the SC SHRM State Council as the Workforce Readiness Director., Robyn

Represented SHRM, South Carolina, and her Chapter during Capitol Hill visits in Washington, D.C., as a SHRM volunteer leader and Advocacy Team (A-Team) member and represented the HR profession and business community at numerous panel discussions, workshops, and other events in the Upstate focused on strategies for expanding the talent pipeline.

Contributed to a 2016 SHRM published Case Study on collaboration efforts in Greenville County and served as aa featured Guest Speaker at Furman University’s 2017 Women’s Leadership Institute.

Michelle Piekutowski, HCS, Associate Vice President, Chief Human Resources Officer, Clemson University












Michelle Piekutowski is the Associate Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer for Clemson University.  She has served in this role since 2008 and has been at Clemson University since 1998.  Piekutowski is a native of South Carolina and currently lives in Clemson with her husband, Jim, and her four children.  Piekutowski received a Bachelors degree in Business Education from Western Carolina University and a Masters degree in Human Resource Development from Clemson University.

Piekutowski is very involved in human resources-related professional organizations at both local and state levels.  She is a member of CUPA HR, SHRM, Human Capital Institute, World at Work, American Payroll Association, The Conference Board, HR Acuity, SC Higher Education Efficiency Council, SC Council on HR Directors in Higher Education, Higher Education Recruitment Consortium, HR Executive, Education Advisory Board, and NACUBO.

Piekutowski has had the honor to serve in various professional leadership roles including serving on a national Human Resources Council with The Conference Board.  She also serves with a team to assist children in need, is a divisional leader for the United Way Campaign, and is a neighborhood representative for the American Heart Association.

Career Highlights
Aligned all initiatives and goals within the human resources function with the university’s strategic plan, including: 

  1. People:   Implemented a complete reorganization.  This included individuals in the “core HR office” as well as the “decentralized HR offices”.  This change began by assessing each individual’s strengths and weaknesses and identifying the most suitable position for that individual. The reorganization also aligned all of the individuals and positions with HR duties to report up through the Chief HR Officer, ensuring accountability to the HR policies and processes.
  2. Processes:  Conducted a complete review of all processes utilizing lean principles. All HR policies were reviewed, rewritten to ensure compliance with state and federal laws and regulations, and linked to applicable processes. Faculty and staff now have a reliable resource to ensure clarity and compliance.
  3. Tools:  Conducted a complete and comprehensive analysis of all technology and other types of tools and systems used to complete HR tasks. Current technology was improved upon; new technology was and continues to be implemented to improve processes (i.e., hiring process, onboarding, etc.). These tools follow the improved-upon processes mentioned above and ensure compliance with policies mentioned above. Some tools have been developed internally to meet the specific higher education needs, including specific hiring tools faculty hiring which have accepted and praised by the academic community.
  4. Hiring: Improved the hiring process for faculty and staff.  Examples include: reducing the number of days to recruit by 75%; implementing user-tools that are designed for higher education needs; incorporating analytics to monitor the quality of hiring, including a focus on attracting and hiring diverse candidates; and providing training for search committees, supervisors, and academic leadership.
  5. Compensation: Established and implemented a compensation philosophy, strategy, and guidelines.   A five-year compensation plan was developed and met within one year.  Faculty salaries were significantly below market in 2012 and were brought, on average, to 100% of the appropriate market.  Faculty and staff salaries still remain competitive in 2017.

Kay Straky, JD, Director, Human Resources, Ogletree Deakins












Kay Straky joined Ogletree Deakins in December of 2014, after relocating to Greenville, SC, from the west coast. In her current role, she manages and provides strategic oversight for firm-wide human resources programs and policies, including compensation, benefits, payroll, performance management, employee engagement, and employee relations. Kay works closely with senior management to ensure HR strategies are aligned with and support overall firm goals and values and to ensure compliance with all applicable federal, state and local laws. She also provides leadership to a team of HR professionals, defining team goals, objectives and priorities.

Straky began her career as a litigation and employment attorney with a large general practice firm based in Los Angeles. She joined Universal Studios in 1995 as its Employment Counsel, and then went on to serve as Senior Vice President, Human Resources for NBC Universal.

In 2011, Straky joined start-ups Relativity Media and CORE Media Group as the companies’ Executive Vice President of Human Resources. During this time, Kay developed and implemented strategic HR programs, policies and processes to support the companies’ strategic vision and growth targets. These included all HR and organizational issues in the areas of compensation, benefits, employee engagement, culture development, internal and external communications, facilities, performance management, policy development and management, recruiting, training and development, and employee and labor relations.

Straky graduated from the University of Southern California with a Bachelors degree in Business Administration. She obtained her Juris Doctorate degree from Loyola University in Los Angeles.

Career Highlights
At Ogletree: Developed and implemented a new staff employee recognition program centered on the firm’s four core values. The goals of the program, OD Values in Action, are two-fold: 1) ensure staff is aware of and understands the firm’s values which form the foundation of its culture and have contributed to the firm’s success over the past 40 years; and 2) recognize in a meaningful way actions by staff that exemplify and support the firm’s values. 

At Relativity Media: Joined Relativity as its first designated HR function employee. Over the first year, successfully hired two HR team members, implemented an HRIS system and applicant tracking platform, created a ‘Careers’ portal for applicants on the company’s website, developed and implemented a formal bonus program for managers and senior managers, conducted monthly employee meetings to better understand engagement opportunities, and rolled out a new Employee Handbook and Respectful Workplace training for all employees, including senior management. These efforts allowed the company to focus on its most important asset, its talent.  As a result, after 15 months, talent turnover was down 50% and the cost per hire was down 75%.

At NBC Universal: Developed and implemented a mentorship program for one of NBCU’s larger divisions. Mentors were paired with mentees from other departments who were looking for career and leadership advice over a structured 15-month program. The program’s success was measured by participant surveys and a 75% growth in participation over a 3-year period.

At Universal Studios: Supported, along with the HR team, several community outreach programs. From proceeds raised each fall at Universal’s charity golf tournament, grants were made through the Discover a Star Foundation to provide assistance to select non-profit organizations whose initiatives benefit children’s health issues and service for the homeless.  Each spring, the HR team partnered with other operational departments and more than 100 employees to put on a ‘Christmas in Spring’ event.  At this annual event, hundreds of disadvantaged families were welcomed on a Saturday afternoon in May for games, entertainment and food.  The event also featured gifts from Santa for the children.

Teresa Vaughn, SHRM-SCP, SPHR, Vice President, Human Resources, Johnson & Johnson (Insurance)












Teresa Vaughn moved to Charleston 5 years ago and has since served as Vice President of Human Resources for Johnson & Johnson MGA. Based in Mt. Pleasant, Johnson & Johnson employs over 300 people with 10 offices in 8 states.  Vaughn also serves on the Executive Board of the SC State Council of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) as Treasurer and has held a SHRM chapter board position most years since joining in 1991. 

Prior to moving to Charleston in 2012, Teresa served as Director of Human Resources for the opening of LEGOLAND Florida, Director of Human Resources for SeaWorld Orlando and HR Manager at Walt Disney World.

Vaughn holds a Masters of Human Resources degree from Rollins College in Winter Park, FL, and a Bachelors degree in Business from Central Washington University as well as the SHRM-SCP and SPHR certifications.  In her spare time, Vaughn volunteers in her community and was named Trident United Way’s Behind the Scenes Hero for 2017 – Charleston Region.

Career Highlights
Considers her career highlights to be mentoring her previous team members into HR leadership positions. Multiple former employees have described her as the best boss they have ever had.

Hired 750 people in one day at a SeaWorld job fair

Hired 100 people a week for 10 weeks to open LEGOLAND, FL