HR Excellence Awards 2014

Executive of the Year (Small Organization): Katie McGrath

From the August 2014 issue of Columbus CEO

Katie McGrath
Senior vice president and director of human resources
Fahlgren Mortine

After Katie McGrath had grown Fahlgren Mortine’s human-resources department from a single person to a team that helped make the agency’s employees feel appreciated and valued, she was named the finalist for the 2012 Columbus CEO HR Executive of the Year award.

After she helped the company celebrate its 50th anniversary, McGrath became the only person to repeat as an award finalist in 2013.

In 2014, McGrath has been named Executive of the Year for a small company thanks to her continuing efforts to make Fahlgren Mortine among the best places to work in the public relations industry.

“She is the perfect HR director,” says Neil Mortine, the agency’s president and CEO. “She is an integral member of the executive (team), is strategic and fluent in all areas of HR implementation, and understands our brand and our people. Our whole organization is built around being a best place to work, and Katie epitomizes that.”

McGrath had little interest in human resources when she started her education degree at Otterbein University. She originally wanted to be a teacher. An early job landed her in a staffing and recruiting position, and she realized she may have found her calling.

“Having an impact on someone’s life was one of the things I liked about teaching,” she says. “When I started to work in HR, I realized I could have the same impact. I could help them find a job, or find a benefits plan that meets someone’s need.”

She went on to work for another temporary placement firm before pursuing her graduate degree in human resources from the Ohio State University. She was working at Limited Brands and Bath and Body Works when a friend doing contract work for Fahlgren Mortine recommended McGrath for the newly created position of human-resources director.

It was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up. “I was hesitant to work for a small company, but it was a good time to make that leap,” she says. “What attracted me to Fahlgren was the ability to see how we could make a difference. At Limited Brands we did some great programs, but when you roll out to 1,600 stores, it’s hard to see the impact.”

In the past six years, McGrath’s impact has certainly been visible at Fahlgren Mortine, which employs more than 150 associates in five states and nine offices.

In 2013, she created the agency’s first formal professional-development program, Fahlgren Mortine University, to help employees hone their skills and ensure consistency in operating procedures. She then added the Thumbs UPPY program, a peer-to-peer card program for on-the-spot recognition of an act done above and beyond normal job responsibilities.

McGrath also helped implement four of Fahlgren’s most significant employee perks:

A paid week off between Christmas and the New Year

A 401(k) match increase

Profit sharing

Development of a sabbatical program

McGrath helps Fahlgren Mortine reach beyond its own walls, as well, as she coordinates the firm’s signature philanthropic efforts: a Pelotonia Team and Operation Feed Week, a food drive and hunger-awareness program.

She describes Falghren as a “crazy, deadline-driven business,” but one that manages to focus on a strong work-life balance—a culture due, in no small part, to her efforts according to those with whom she works closest.

“An agency is a creative, deadline business,” says Mortine. “That is hard. She understands the balance, and she is always at the lead of recommending new programs. She is the perfect HR executive for an agency like ours. She just understands what we are trying to accomplish.”