Wilmington native heads Sixers’ owner’s workforce
CAMDEN, N.J. – Elizabeth Schepp-Berman is used to taking on new challenges in her career of human relations posts at C-suites across a variety of industries, but even she was surprised by how much 2020 has tested corporate America.
Schepp-Berman took over in January as chief human relations officer of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment (HBSE), the parent company to the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, G-League’s Delaware Blue Coats and NHL’s New Jersey Devils as well as the Prudential Center, home to the Devils.
A Brandywine High School grad, Schepp-Berman’s first job was at the Hotel du Pont in Wilmington, an experience that shaped her desire to earn a degree in hospitality administration. Upon graduation, however, her work at a New York City restaurant group quickly took her on a different career path.
“Oddly, I became the person on the restaurant team that handled all the employee relations,” she said of the unionized staff. “I think from a young age, I just valued getting to know people for people and really working side-by-side with each other.”
She eventually worked her way to the restaurant group’s corporate office to manage its recruitment, and at the encouragement of her then-boss, Schepp-Berman made the move to Macy’s as a human resources manager.
“If you’re not a little bit nervous every time you start a new job, you’re probably not challenging yourself enough,” she said.
It was the start of a nearly 20-year HR career that has included time at established brands like Nike, Estee Lauder, Old Navy and Cole Haan as well as the upstart music streaming company Vevo, managing workforces ranging from a few hundred employees to more than 30,000 worldwide.
“My career is all tied to consumer product and experience-facing business,” she said. “The restaurant that I managed was on Rockefeller Center and especially at Christmastime people came from all around the world to see the Rockefeller ice skating rink, the Christmas tree, and have a meal with their family. That’s an experience that they were looking for.”
As a Wilmington native, Schepp-Berman said that she grew up a Sixers fan and when she received a cold call request to apply for the HBSE opening she saw it as another opportunity she couldn’t turn down. After accepting the job, Schepp-Berman only got to acclimate to her latest role for about eight weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic forced her to transition her work to home.
“We never stopped communicating and taking care of our staff,” Schepp-Berman said of the roughly 2,000 employees HBSE employs when its sports are in-season.
The company kept paying hourly employees, including those who would staff the Prudential Center, despite the NHL prohibiting fans from attending games at the conclusion of the 2019-20 season.
Schepp-Berman has also played a key role in HBSE’s commitment to fostering diversity within its workforce this year. Although attention of racial equity has been heightened amid the summer’s unrest in cities nationwide, Schepp-Berman said that inclusion was a topic raised before she was hired.
“It was an actual focus of my interview process,” she said, noting that executives asked how she would help ensure HBSE was representative of the diversity of the communities it serves. “Inclusion means everyone is provided an equal opportunity to produce at a business while being their true self. You’re recognized and valued for the different perspectives that you bring every day.”
In September, HBSE appointed David Gould as its chief diversity and impact officer, joining a number of companies that have created such roles in their ranks this year to help manage diversity efforts. Aside from the internal company responsibilities, Gould will also oversee HBSE’s $10 million commitment over the next five years to drive action and invest in the cities where its teams live, work, play and perform.
“As a sports team, we have an ability to influence broadly, from our communities to our governments,” Schepp-Berman said. “We’re really in a place where I would say that we have the ability to use our voice and really ignite dialogue, internally and externally, to enact change.”
By Jacob Owens