This interview originally appeared on the Center for Human Resources blog. Click here to see more.

Wendy Ratke Alumni Spotlight

Where are you working currently?

I am currently the Chief HR Officer at TruGreen, the nation’s leading lawn care provider. TruGreen is an exciting place to be right now. We recently completed a merger with our biggest competitor; we are growing rapidly; and we are redefining our category, expanding into new areas of outdoor living including mosquito defense and irrigation. The company has a strong culture and a clear vision for the future, which is based in our core value of treating others as you would want to be treated.

What’s your favorite part about working in the HR field?

Working in HR has given me the opportunity to experience a variety of industries, multiple companies and geographies.  I have worked in manufacturing plants and corporate offices, with union and non-union workforces, and have been able to lead teams all over the world  from Texas to Minnesota to Shanghai, China and many places in between.

I have been fortunate to work with great leaders who have mentored and developed me to be ready for the Chief Human Resources Officer role.  I started my career in at a manufacturing plant in a relatively transactional HR role and over time grew into roles that were much more strategic. I strongly believe that HR should be seen as a driver for business performance and actively seek roles where HR is viewed as a strategic partner to business operations.

A big benefit and part of my role is being the confidante, coach and trusted advisor not only to the CEO but also to the entire leadership team. The absolute best part of my job is getting the right people in the right jobs. This leads to the success of not only the individuals but also to the organization.

What was your favorite part of the MA-HRIR program? Did you think the program prepared you well for the ‘real world’?

I chose the U of MN many years ago because of a conversation I had with Professor John Fossum. Professor Fossum helped me understand that the U of MN program was more practical vs theoretical, and he was right.  I left the program and had an excellent foundation for all the disciplines in HR.  Over time, as I grew in roles, I negotiated labor contracts outside the US, developed global talent management strategies and learning programs, and became proficient in both broad-based and executive compensation.  The U of MN definitely opened doors for me in my career, and I was well prepared to face the challenges!

What’s a hobby or something fun you like to do when you’re not working?

While living in Asia, my husband and I started doing triathlons.  I have done two half Iron Man Tri’s and many other shorter distances.  Triathlons feed my competitive nature!

Do you have any advice for current students?

As interesting, fun and strategic as HR can be, all your skills do not mean much if you do not understand the business in which you are working.  You need to learn how your business makes money – understand the financials and spend time in the place where the money is made, and with the people who make it.  There is the mystique of the working at “corporate” – you will get that experience but you gain credibility in those roles only after you spend time in the field.  The field is different for every industry but whatever your ‘outside of corporate’ version is – go there!