If you look at the résumé of Emma Stern, most of the names are going to jump out at you. Mastercard, 21st Century Fox, Citi, and Xerox have all played host to Stern’s benefits and HR rise. Now, as director of global benefits at Fanatics, Stern is intent on helping what was originally an online sports retailer be the go-to destination for all things sports.
“I’ve been part of companies that are the ‘who’s who’ of the Fortune 500, and I really think Fanatics is on par sitting atop the sports world,” Stern explains. “We’re all excited to be here, and in HR, our job is to support that excitement, while adding value to our business.”
Excited employees also need to be healthy employees. Stern says given the current uncertain state of the economy, she wants her people to have access to the right resources and education to ensure they are getting the most out of their benefits. This means continuously reviewing what benefits are delivered and how.
“For example, the pandemic has been an incredible struggle for people and companies. And we’ve seen a lot of businesses choose very traditional employee assistance partners, but we’re in a new age, where people are willing to be more vocal about their mental health needs, and I believe we need to meet them where they are,” Stern says.
Whether it’s better access to traditional therapy or more text-based therapy, mindfulness apps, etc., Stern says the benefits team constantly sources out new and innovative ways to help keep their employees healthy. In an effort to support an inclusive organization, the benefits team uses all resources available, including data analytics, consultant support, and, importantly, the expertise from in-country HR. One issue that comes up a lot? Fertility benefits.
“We are working really hard to deliver what our people need by bringing in as many stakeholders to the conversation as early as possible,” Stern says. “A fertility policy that makes sense stateside might not be culturally appropriate in every part of the world, so we will tailor a version for each region or country. Again, it comes down to working with trusted partners and leveraging those relationships to understand what we can successfully accomplish.”
The global director says she is always pushing to find new ways to make sure that employees both in and out of the US are valued and rewarded. Historically, that truly global focus has been a challenging one, and Stern hopes to bring renewed vigor to those efforts.
A key to her success is Stern’s candid approach to problem solving. Fanatics has grown so much in so short a time that Stern says transparency proves critical to ensure her team supports the business. Priorities may change on a dime, and Stern says it’s imperative to communicate with stakeholders and take the time to make sure everyone is still on the same page. Everyone should feel like they have a voice in the discussion.
Stern says those on an HR career journey need to be aware that their education is only going to get them so far. HR and benefits programs were only offered by a handful of schools up until relatively recently.
“I suggest people graduating school who are unsure of what to do consider the benefits field,” she says. “Benefits are important to employees and usually the second highest expense for employers (after compensation). Benefits is a niche world that combines things like employee relations, tax, law, and perks. Anyone struggling to get into benefits can get incredible experience with third-party administrators (TPA) and large consulting firms. TPAs are usually looking to hire around open enrollment, and they will give you a crash course on Benefits 101.”
Stern’s very practical advice comes from her “free consultants” (both her parents worked in benefits). Whether it was her head of benefits at Citi, her boss at Fox, or a whole host of other positive leaders in her life, Stern has a long list of mentors, who helped shape her career in amazing ways. It’s why she’s so intent on doing the same for others.
“Mentorship stands out for me as so important, because it helped me excel at the work I do today,” Stern says. “They provided opportunity and encouragement to try new things in benefits and insight into how to be a strong business partner. I don’t think you can overvalue that.”
Stern has been involved with the Fresh Air Fund for seven years, where she has the opportunity to advise low-income students in New York City. It’s where she’s helped many participants learn how to write a resume, conduct themselves in an interview, or think about a career path. Volunteering is truly a privilege—one she hopes to pass along to the students she encounters.
The Face of the Collection
Between her day job at Fanatics and volunteering efforts, Emma Stern admits there isn’t much free time in her life. She does make time for one very particular hobby, though: watch collecting. Her most treasured piece is not the most expensive, but certainly the most sentimental.
“I have my grandfather’s Omega watch from more than sixty-five years ago,” Stern says. “That’s the one I’ll never get rid of.”
Curcio Webb, LLC works with organizations to reduce the risks, costs, and complexities of sourcing and managing employee benefit plans and providers. Curcio Webb deliberately built our organization to employ benefits administration, health and welfare, retirement/actuarial, and investment experts.