In the year since Susan Kelliher took over the job as Senior Vice President of Human Resources at the Chemours Company, she’s become one of the most visible people inside the “people function” of a corporate offices on Market.
We have three questions:
Q. Take us back to when you were first offered the job – what did you know about Wilmington?
“You can see from my background, I've lived all over. My husband is in the United States Marine Corps, so between his career and my career, we've traversed a lot of places. But I had no opinion about Delaware other than, when I lived in Washington D.C. in my early 20s, it was where we went to the beach, right? Bethany. Rehoboth. All those places. I'd never been in Wilmington. It was a blank slate.”
“I came here, and I had met the Chemours leadership team, thought they were terrific, and had to ask myself the question, can I live in Wilmington? We really think of ourselves as city people. We were disappointed with Baton Rouge as a place, and we were there for five years. We wanted a place where we felt that it was a community that would welcome us. We felt like total outsiders in Baton Rouge.”
“After I met with the corporate team here for the first time, I asked if I could stay over a Friday and Saturday night, just so I could explore. It was cold and rainy. I looked at a map, I got online, found a Crossfit box – not the one on Orange, but the one down by the river – got my bearings. And people were really nice to me. In any store I went into, people were genuinely warm, genuinely nice. When I ran, everyone that I passed said hello. There was a level of ‘genuine-ness’ here that I thought, yeah, we can do this. I also saw a lot of work that needed to be done, and I thought this was a place where I could be a part of that. That was the opinion I drew on the first cold, wet weekend that I was here.
Q. You wrote an op-ed for The News Journal, headlined: “No, Wilmington isn’t ‘stressed out.’ It’s a great place to live.” What compelled you to write?
“The first time that I met with the original HR team here, I knew that we'd probably have to make some changes, and one of the things that made me feel that way is that they had nothing nice to say about the city. It's dangerous. Don't go outside. You definitely can't go anywhere at night. From the sound of it, honestly, you would have thought that you were in the narrows in Gotham City.”
“I felt compelled to write that piece because I'm continually surprised by the opinion that local people take of this city, which is not rooted in any experience I've had. I am in this city, I am in the park, I am on Market, I walk up and down Orange and West, Tatnall and Shipley, I go from this building to the river, I do it in the evening. Nobody should be foolish, but you wouldn't be foolish in Central Park after dark either.”
“We're about to go down to one car. I'm very proud of this. I walk to work. I walk in all weather, and if I have to get here fast, I bike. And we love that about this place. I've become kind of crabby when I have to go outside of my sphere.”
Q. Do you think HR professionals play an important role in setting a tone for the city?
“Absolutely we do. We do not market Chemours as being in greater Philadelphia. We market Chemours as in Wilmington, Delaware and very proudly so.”
“I have moved several people here. One of them, she's going to live on Riddle. One of my most senior individuals is renting an apartment on Market and would like to buy something downtown if she could. It’s actually unacceptable and gob-smacking to me that you might have an HR executive that is leading the function for a company in Wilmington, Delaware that would ever say something negative about Delaware.”
“When I bring families here, I tell them to check out schools in Wilmington, and not just the private ones. We have immersion program elementary schools. We have great charters. So I'm a believer that the way that public school thrive is that the community invests in them and we send our children to them.”
“There’s new people coming in, and they have a different lens, like me. The Friday before, my husband was away, I went to Merchant Bar and had something to eat, and I while I was meandering about, I came across three different galleries with people in them, laughing and talking. The other thing – I am not sure Wilmington appreciates this– is that there was a lovely diversity of people in those spaces. Having seen the opposite, I can tell you that this is a more connected community than in many places.”