Organization: International Foundation for Electoral
Systems (IFES), Arlington, Va.
Power Partners: William Sweeney, president and CEO,
and Laurette Bennhold-Samaan, vice president of HR
Number of Employees: 189
What It Does: Support citizens’ rights to participate in
free and fair elections around the world
HR plays a critical role in every function at the
International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES)—
from the executive team to the staff to the board, according to William Sweeney. The department has been
instrumental in cultivating a diverse workforce with more
than 20 nationalities and over 40 languages spoken.
“However, we are a mission-driven organization, not an
What the CEO Looks for in HR
HR-driven one,” Sweeney says. “The HR function is not
about rules or administration. … It must take a comprehen-
sive, 360-degree perspective.”
He found someone who has that perspective in
Laurette Bennhold-Samaan, who has been at IFES for
about a year.
“I have learned through experience the importance of HR
Bennhold-Samaan was up to the task. “A key quality that
being a strategic partner, a strong, key player in the orga-
nization,” Sweeney says. “I look for my VP of HR to be a
leader, an innovator, [and to] have the energy to do the
job and an independence that can allow for fairness.”
Sweeney also wanted someone who would tell him
the truth, even when doing so might feel uncomfortable.
I value in our relationship is honesty. It is the only way to
have a trusting relationship. We have developed a mutual
respect for each other and for our roles in the organization.”
What HR Values in the Top Leader
Openness is also paramount to Bennhold-Samaan.
“We have open communication—he always has time
By Lisa Frye, a freelance writer based in Arlington, Va.
for me and listens,” she says. “We strive for clarity on
goals and direction, which are then articulated and
agreed upon. We have a strong level of trust and
respect for one another.”
She knows Sweeney values her role in the organi-
zation. “I appreciate that he understands and respects
the strategic nature of HR,” Bennhold-Samaan says, and
how talent acquisition, retention and development are
all connected to the mission—and ultimately to the suc-
cess of the organization.