Joe Mucha is a firm believer in giving back. Over the course of his distinguished career in human resources, he has not only mentored and supported countless other HR professionals along their career paths, but he’s embodied the ideal of paying it forward by creating not one, but two, endowed fellowships in support of the MA-HRIR program at the University of Minnesota.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in history at St. John’s University, Joe served as a Captain with the U.S. Army and gained valuable experience as a unit commander. He returned to school and earned his MA-IR degree at the University of Minnesota and then began his corporate career at Pfizer. He joined General Mills in 1978, where he held a succession of increasingly responsible positions, and retired as vice president of HR in 2006. We asked Joe to share more about his professional journey and what led to his generous establishment of the Thomas Mahoney and Joseph R. Mucha Fellowships.
How did your academic background impact your career?
I was blessed to have the right background at a time that companies were beginning to search for candidates who were business oriented and had academic and an experiential background in human resources. The MA-IR program/faculty was oriented to provide graduates with a systematic approach to human resources at a time when all public companies and public organizations were working toward integrating minorities and women into their workforce in a manner that would use their full talent potential to contribute to the company’s success.
I believe I was able to gain organizational credibility and get a seat at the management table along with my colleagues in marketing, finance, sales, manufacturing/distribution and R&D because my line management (outcome-based) orientation gained by the experience as a military unit commander, my systematic and integrative approach to add value to the company by proposing innovative solutions to human resource challenges, opportunities and issues as they were being addressed and finally, my background from my St. John’s liberal arts education which oriented me to think about HR solutions to business problems by taking the approach that the solutions had to benefit the total “community” (HR solutions had to fit the criteria of achieving business outcomes that benefited the company, my operational unit and most importantly, the employees of the enterprise). Lastly, I believed that my role as an HR practitioner in an organization was to be a positive “change agent.” I believe that to achieve a competitive advantage with the human resource assets of an organization, an HR executive must anticipate the challenges of the future in addition to solving the challenges or issues that are present today. Faculty and coach mentors helped my understanding that the rate of change in business/world is accelerating and the best executives in the future will continually “re-invent” themselves and their function to maintain a competitive edge for themselves, their employees and their organization.
What motivated you to give back to your alma maters and to the HR profession?
My graduate and undergraduate degrees provided me with career opportunities that would have not been available to me otherwise. My hardworking parents were not able to financially support my undergraduate studies at St. John’s, but the Benedictine monks offered financial aid and a work-study support for my degree there. The GI Bill and part-time employment paid for my graduate education as well as economic support for my wife and two daughters at the time. I was very appreciative of this critical financial support and committed at the time I graduated from these institutions that I would try to pay them back for their investment in me, if I were financially able to do so. I started contributing immediately, starting with small amounts annually, and increased my support as my career advanced along with my compensation. [In addition to the support Joe has provided the University of Minnesota, he sits on the Board of Trustees of St. John’s University and is a member of their Founders Society.]
What can you tell us about the Thomas Mahoney and Joseph R. Mucha Fellowships?
[Fellow MA-IR alumnus] Steve Kumagai and I started the Thomas Mahoney Fellowship in 2006 to support full-time graduate students in recognition of Professor Thomas Mahoney, who had a big impact in our lives as an instructor and mentor. The reputation of the MA-HRIR program is dependent on the quality of the faculty in the program and the successful careers of the graduates that they inspire. I hope that this fund continues to grow.
The Joseph R. Mucha Fellowship is being established to support full-time graduate students who have the high academic qualifications, but do not have sufficient financial resources to pursue a graduate degree in HRIR. I have requested a preference for military veterans, but the committee that evaluates and authorizes fellowship grants has final jurisdiction. The motivation for this fellowship is very personal….I could not have attended either St. John’s or the University of Minnesota without financial support from others. Without the education degrees that I was awarded, I would not have had the career opportunities that became available to me. While I can’t pay back those directly responsible for helping me, I can model their behavior and help other promising HRIR candidates with the opportunity to advance their careers.
What advice do you have for other alumni considering donating?
We, as alumni, benefited from the financial support others provided us while having the privilege to be accepted by this world-renowned program. Because of this program and the outstanding faculty, both past and present, many of us have had very successful careers in HR. Financial resources that the University formally had for financial support for qualified MA-HRIR students are less available than in the past and the cost of this education is significantly more expensive than when we attended classes there. Today’s students and their families do not have the same financial resources that we enjoyed, so it is now our turn to step up to support these students and this program. The University and the MA-HRIR program invested in us when we were there and we benefited from this investment by career advancement and successes in the HR field…it’s now our turn to invest in future MA-HRIR students and graduates who will carry on the tradition of HR excellence that this program inspires and provides the HR leaders of tomorrow.