The Cowen Partners Origin Series profiles executives from across the globe who are changing the face of business. Read along to hear their stories.
Elizabeth Norberg says she’s always been a “working student.” And the longtime HR leader means it: For years, even as she held senior executive roles in the healthcare and hospitality worlds, Norberg was working on a long-delayed undergraduate degree.
“It was never an ‘if.’ It was a ‘when,’” Norberg said. “I just chipped away at it.”
After growing up the daughter of an immigrant family in Colorado, Norberg started studying at a community college while working full-time. But by the time she finished college, she had gone from doing HR at a Denver law firm to building an impressive 30-year corporate career in the hotel, healthcare, and retail industries.
Work took first priority, which meant that much of her career, Norberg rose through the corporate ranks despite not having a four-year college degree. But that didn’t stop her from achieving executive roles at large companies, including stints as SVP of HR at Dolce Hotels and Resorts, now part of Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, and chief of HR operations at Northwell Health, the largest healthcare provider in New York.
Other HR leaders know that skills-based hiring is becoming a more popular recruiting strategy, opening up opportunities for the two-thirds of Americans over 25 who don’t have a four-year degree. But it’s still rare for corporate executives at top companies to build a career like Norberg’s without a B.A.
Not having a bachelor’s degree for most of her career only posed a problem in two job interview processes, she said, and usually often was seen as “more of a positive” in her personal traits and leadership skills.
“I’ve never had that feeling of people making me less than. (But) I was self-conscious about it, for sure,” Norberg said. “I was propelled by feeling a little inadequate, so I’m a voracious reader. I’m a huge self-study person.”
Norberg ultimately earned her undergraduate business degree from Colorado State University Global, an online program, in 2016. Since then, she’s held CHRO roles at RLH Corporation, Loews Hotel and Co., and Foot Locker, a company she left in March 2023 as part of a broader leadership transition.
Since earning her degree, Norberg said she continues to study on a weekly basis, a habit she’s now using to tackle her National Association of Corporate Directors certification.
“I have become this voracious learner and reader and I still dedicate my time to making sure my work is refreshed,” Norberg said. “I think it comes from that fact of so many years of being a student, and so many years of feeling like I’ve got to make sure I fill the knowledge gaps.”
To earlier-career HR leaders who aspire to a career like Norberg’s, she recommends seeking out as much learning as possible. That comes in many forms, including by building a strong network and seeking out tough work assignments.
And, Norberg said, aspiring executives should see themselves as scholars.
“You’ve got to be a student of the business, a student of the topic, a student of the initiative,” Norberg said.
The Origin Series by Cowen Partners fosters the union of emerging leaders with purpose-driven executives and peers who share similar aspirations. By leveraging our comprehensive tools, expertise, and network, we enable you to shape your leadership trajectory towards generating a substantial influence on your organization and the community.
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