In January 2015, Ken Breitman became Director of Human Resources at Zumtobel Lighting Incorporated located in Highland, New York. Zumtobel is a constituent of the Zumtobel Group, headquartered in Austria, and is the internationally leading provider of integral lighting solutions for professional interior lighting. With over 30 years’ experience, this corporate Strategic Human Resource executive is always exploring innovations bring value to Zumtobel.
Ken attended Lehman College in the Bronx and graduated with his BA in Economics with a minor in Labor Relations. Ken’s journey to his role at Zumtobel was slightly unexpected, but fascinating. Ken began his work journey as a driver for United Parcel Service in 1986. Noting that UPS promotes from within their company, Ken was promoted to a managerial position after two years as a driver. One day, Ken reminisces, that he was told to go to one of the offices and await his promoted position. Without receiving any further information Ken finds out that he will be moving to the Personnel Department. Ken laughs “I really had no intention of working in personnel, but 30 plus years later here I am. I truly found my calling.”
After multiple years working in the personnel department for UPS, and managing multiple counties including the Bronx, Queens, Putnam, and Westchester, Ken was told to take a SHRM certification course that UPS required if you wanted to have a career in Human Resources. Ken passed “solely based on work-experience I barely had time to study.”
A few years later Ken got a seemingly random call from a recruiter. He was not looking for a new position and was very happy where he was. He remembers that, a few years prior, he was responsible for 127-person call center where he gave his resume to “shut up a nagging recruiter.” Now, 4 years later, that would present a new opportunity. This opportunity is to build a Human Resource Department from the ground up for a family-owned manufacturing company, Spraylat Corporation. As shocking as his decision to leave UPS was to their Global V.P. of HR a member of the Board of Directors, after 13 years was, Ken could not pass up the chance to “run my own show.” He does not disappoint. Spraylat became so successful that they company was bought out in December 2012 by PPG Industries. Ken takes such pride in that he had a hand in the company’s success that a major company like PPG was interested in buying the corporation.
Ken stayed on with PPG for a 6-month transition. After taking some time away from the workforce to vacation, to Ken’s great fortune he receives another call from a headhunter, this time about an opportunity at Zumtobel Lighting conveniently located near his home. Ken accepted the Director of Human Resources role. He describes his responsibilities at Zumtobel as a “giant umbrella” as he oversees various aspects in the company. Basically, anything that falls under Human Resources such as labor relations, benefits, safety trainings, building security, and sales compensation programs. Ken oversees anything that pertains to employees and the company fleet vehicles. He also oversees HR in the U.S. for Tridonic Incorporated, which Zumtobel is the parent company and is headquartered in Europe.
Although Ken’s workload seems to be overwhelming for one individual, Ken is very happy where he is. He says that there is a difference between that fact of working “with” someone rather than working “for” someone, and he finds Zumtobel to be of great satisfaction where he works alongside his peers.
Ken’s greatest enjoyment pertaining to his job is watching and assisting people in developing their career. “Watching that one person can really grow in their career, that gives me enjoyment,” Ken responds. He has helped people who began as factory workers elevate their ranking to customer service, service technicians, and even supervisors. Ken recounts a time when at UPS he hired someone as a Christmas helper, and they later became a sales manager. He shares, “I currently have a frontline worker that is progressing to becoming a sales associate, that is special.”
It is common knowledge that the Human Resources field tends to be female dominated, but that has never deterred Ken from being a part of the industry. He has succeeded in breaking through the stigma by leveraging his skills as an HR Generalist and his compliance to the industry. Ken believes that experience is what should take precedent in who takes the Human Resources chair in a company, no matter the person’s gender, but that “it is important to know who is going to hire you,” he states. For example, manufacturing tends to be a male dominated field so his chances of getting an interview in this industry are a little better than others.
Ken frequently attends SHRM conferences, dating back to 1999. Commonly in these conferences they discuss anti-discrimination that Ken fully supports. Ken adds that over the last 20 years, the SHRM conferences are shifting from thousands of women and a handful of men to a higher percentage of men attendees. He mentions that he has observed the male to female ratio was 50/50 while helping to development Senior Executive Network’s, or SEN, manufacturing Human Resources platform in 2008.
Ken credits the Council of Industry in their support of Zumtobel and opening the opportunity to meet his industry peers. He attends the Council’s Human Resources and Environmental, Health, and Safety meetings as he finds them “very informational.” These conferences clarify, confirm, and give more credence to information he may already know, but also contain very interesting speakers. Ken said it’s important to “not reinventing the wheel, but to discover what spokes are necessary for your company’s needs. Human Resource Departments are everywhere, there is no competition,” Ken applauds the opportunity to discuss approaches other companies use to better Zumtobel’s employee support. “It is great to be able to bounce ideas off one another and proofread employee handbooks,” Ken states.
Ken has witnessed the workforce’s continuous evolution over his three decades in the field. He encourages high school and college students to conduct mock interviews, where they dress appropriately and can practice how to carry themselves in a business setting. “You do not want a manager asking, ‘Is there someone else better out there’ but rather find a way to rise to the top of the list while undergoing the interview process,” he states. Ken adds advice for managers who may be asking this question by his using his 3R approach – Retrain, Re-Aim, Retain. “Simply believing in your employees and supporting them can have an abundance of ripple effects, such as long-term loyalty, appreciation, and dedication to their position.” He said.
A big challenge facing Zumtobel now is recruiting the right talent. Ken volunteered to participate in SUNY Ulster BOCES’s PTECH school and work with perspective graduates. He witnessed and credits the school’s mission in providing future workforce employees the information and experience to meet industry’s needs.
As far as the future for the workforce goes, Ken believes and supports online learning. Platforms such as Zoom, or Microsoft Teams allow the opportunity for learning to be endless. He is excited to see the direction virtual learning leads and what innovative practices are generated.
Ken Breitman has never turned down an opportunity to assist and support someone. He always offers his knowledge and expertise to anyone in need of information. To contact Ken, he can be reached at 845-691-6262 ext.7638 or firstname.lastname@example.org.