New VP for Human Resources Focused on Client Services

Linda Cataldo, who had directed HR for the health sciences campuses, now has university-wide responsibility

Linda Cataldo

Linda Cataldo began her career in fashion and retail, and got her foot in the human resources door while working for the designer shoe company Joan & David as a manager. She found herself engaged in recruitment and employee development—and discovered that helping people achieve their potential was the part of her job from which she derived the most satisfaction. Becoming a human relations professional was the next logical step.

Shoe-biz puns aside, Cataldo’s career has been devoted to supporting organizations—both commercial enterprises and nonprofits—as they grow or evolve, and, more specifically, to supporting the people within those organizations. On July 1, she became Tufts’ vice president for human resources, with responsibility for the more than 4,000 faculty and staff on the Medford/Somerville, Boston and Grafton campuses.

Cataldo is a familiar face to many at the university. She was director of human resources for Tufts’ health sciences campuses from 2002 to 2005. More recently, through her firm LEC Human Resource and Organization Development Consulting, she assisted the university with its Excellence at Work survey, a project designed to improve the employee experience at Tufts, and advised on several division planning committees that grew out of that project.

Her résumé includes stints as director of human resources at the WGBH Educational Foundation (her then preschool-age son would introduce her as “the boss of Arthur”) and as human resources director at Joan & David. She also worked at a public relations agency that specialized in cause-related marketing. She has degrees from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in San Francisco, St. Mary’s College of California and the University of San Francisco, including an M.A. in human resources and organizational development.

“I love bringing people on board and giving them opportunities to grow and develop,” she says. “My greatest pride, certainly in my early days, was recognizing someone of high potential and grooming them to give them high-potential opportunities. I realized that’s an important part of who I am, being able to give back and to nurture people.”

She sat down recently with Tufts Now to talk about her new role at the university.

Tufts Now: You moved from retail management to human resources, and from the business world to nonprofits and academia. Why did you make those moves?

There was a point in my career [in retail] when I was coming to work, and it was busy and stressful, and I began to question the value of my contribution to society. I was doing good work and helping people solve problems day-to-day, but ultimately, what the company was doing stopped feeling as important to me. At the PR agency, one of the things that was very attractive to me was that the business centered around cause-related marketing. They had a lot of work helping companies leverage their brand by aligning with good causes. That felt like it was getting closer to doing work that was aligned with my own personal values.

But the bottom line was that we were still promoting products and companies that I was not always aligned with from a values perspective, and I struggled with that. When I started looking again, I was much more focused on the types of organizations I wanted to work for. I wanted to feel proud of the work I was doing and to make a contribution to society.

What was the transition like from the commercial side when you came to Tufts the first time?

When I came to Tufts in 2002, it was very different from my experiences outside academia, even though I had done consulting work for nonprofits. And it was my first time working at an organization this size, where the human resources department was more specialized in terms of functions. I really learned a lot working on the health sciences campuses about the professional schools and what it took to support them from a human resources perspective.

This time, Tufts must seem like a pretty familiar place.

Yes. When I was at the health sciences campuses, I worked closely with the leadership in Medford. A lot of the programs still running today within HR were started when I was here. I was one of the original instructors and instructional designers for Foundations of Leadership, a professional development program for managers throughout the university.

When I was consulting, one of my first projects was the Tufts Excellence at Work initiative in 2009. It was a great way to reconnect with people I really cared about. It may have been the first time in university history that a huge effort was undertaken to understand what is most important to the employees here, and to explore how we can make Tufts an employer of choice and one of the best places to work in higher ed.

It was a tremendous undertaking, and the outcome was pretty impressive, with the formation of Action Planning Committees (APCs) comprising staff members from all levels of the organization. A lot of what HR looks like today, and what it will evolve into over time, comes from that survey. The ongoing TEAM (Tufts Effectiveness in Administrative Management) project aligns with what came out of the Excellence at Work survey and the APCs.

Speaking of TEAM, the university is involving its employees in two big initiatives at the moment: TEAM and the university’s strategic plan, known as Tufts: The Next Ten Years, or T10. What is HR’s role in all this? How do those two relate?

TEAM ties into the strategic plan. It’s about creating greater efficiencies and cost savings, achieving administrative excellence to support the university’s mission and strategic plan. TEAM and T10 go hand-in-hand. HR’s role is an interesting one, in that we have both vertical and horizontal responsibilities. The vertical piece is that HR is one of the areas that Deloitte [the consultant hired to undertake TEAM] analyzed and recommended changes to. We are in the process, with an HR working group, of looking at processes within HR to determine how we can operate more efficiently and how our work can align with the strategy of the university.

And we’re also playing a critical role horizontally, across all of the different areas that TEAM is looking at. There are nine or 10 areas across the university that will be touched by TEAM where HR will be involved. We’re to put in a more robust communications strategy, particularly about TEAM, helping to make people feel more comfortable with what it’s all about and how it is likely to affect people.

So far, I have spent a lot of time getting out and talking to people about the reasons behind TEAM and what we hope to achieve. I talk about the near-term impact, such as the activity analysis that some people were asked to do, and what some of the changes are that we’re looking at for the future.

What else is in store? What are your goals for HR?

There is a lot I would like to accomplish. But right now, a lot relates to what comes out of TEAM. A best-practices HR organization that provides support to staff and also an appropriate level of support to faculty is one of the pieces that’s interesting to me. The support to faculty can be different from the way HR has operated before—there have been pockets of support, and certainly payroll and benefits have been administered through HR. But how can HR provide value to faculty members in the recruitment process, for example? That’s one of the initiatives that aligns with T10, which specifically talks about having more robust support for the faculty side.

Overall within HR, my goal is to understand where there are gaps in client satisfaction. Are we delivering the services that people want? How do we do that and continue to align with overall strategy? What Human Resources ultimately looks like will depend on the outcome of the TEAM working groups.

Helene Ragovin can be reached at

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