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Women Bisnow
September 22, 2008


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By Karin Tanabe for Bisnow on Business

One of the most powerful lobbying groups in the country, AARP just celebrated turning the big 5-0, finally meeting its own age of eligibility. The group advocates for 38 million members, with those numbers rising fast as baby boomers come of age. And who is advocating for the advocates? Ellie Hollander, AARP’s Chief People Officer.


Righting wrongs since the beginning, the Chevy Chase-native was the first girl to play tennis at Bethesda-Chevy Chase high school. With no team to join in pre-Title IX days, Hollander went out for the boys’ team and qualified, which led her to play at Duke. Since those days, she’s been focused on improving the quality of life for others. Starting her career at the Electrical Power Research Institute, Hollander made a big career shift when she came to AARP in 2000 at the beckoning of Dawn Sweeney, then CEO of AARP Services Inc. “Dawn led the milk mustache campaign, and she left dairy to go to the electric industry. She was one of the first people I spoke to about leaving an industry where you’ve spent most of your career,” says Hollander.


The letters the CPO holds stand for world-class and were given to her by her team. World-class is what Hollander hopes to make AARP for its 2400 employees, 64% in Washington. “When Bill Novelli became CEO in 2000, he asked, ‘why don’t we have a people strategy?’ I was on the business side but understood the role people play. There is a tremendous value in an engaged workforce. We had a popcorn strategy, not an ultimate strategy. We were behind the times.” With the mentality that the driver of organizational performance is employee satisfaction and engagement, Hollander did away with the ratings system; introduced three weeks paid parental leave; rolled out an employee crisis fund, phased retirement for older workers, a corporate athlete program, and a renewal program where an employee can take one month off of paid leave to do something they have always dreamed of doing; and introduced tuition assistance and money for Weight Watchers, Spanish classes and other classes aimed at the betterment of employees. And in her spare time, Hollander has lunch with new employees every two weeks.  But Hollander is not done yet. “I want on-site health care,” she says. “The best thing you can do is to keep the people you have, not hire new talent.”

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