From hot sand to hot soup, a transition well-earned
IN THE FRONT LINES: Sarah Soares has taken on a number of major challenges in a short time at Blount Fine Foods, tasks that her service in the U.S. Army helped prepare her for.
PBN PHOTO/KATE WHITNEY LUCEY
By Alli-Michelle Conti
It was not an exact fit, and the transition took post-graduate education and a few job changes, but Sarah Soares has made the move from serving as an officer in the U.S. Army to her current position, as human resources manager at Blount Fine Foods. Leading, training and guiding people was the theme that she followed, one which has led her to be named a Woman To Watch in professional services in Providence Business News’ 2013 Business Women Awards program.
After college graduation in 2000, Soares was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army and deployed to Egypt, where she was battalion adjutant (human resources manager), supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. Setting up office in a barren sandlot, she ensured that soldiers were paid properly and that they got the moral support they needed.
“In that position [battalion adjunct] I was exposed to the highest levels of the organization and implemented and enforced policies and practices that impacted the entire organization, yet I was still connected and exposed to front line employees on a daily basis,” she said.
After four years of active duty, she returned home and took a position with ROTC, recruiting students for the U.S. Army while she pursued a certificate at Bryant University and, later, a graduate degree at University of Rhode Island. She also subsequently held various managerial and HR positions at three corporations.
As a new mother, grad student and full-time worker, Soares said, “I found it hard to comprehend how I would be able to do all of that after I had my daughter and wondered how dual-income families and single parents were able to balance both work and family and sometimes higher education. My daughter was my inspiration to write my [master’s] thesis, ‘The Business Case for Family Leave and Benefits.’ ”
The thesis was chosen by URI for posting on the labor research center website as one of the best of the graduating class.
When she first came to Blount, the gourmet-soup manufacturer had no openings. But Ronnie King, Blount’s senior HR director, said that Soares’ “unique combination of leadership, business and human resources experience, as well as military service, made her someone I had to meet. Our conversation convinced me that Sarah would be a valuable asset to the HR team.”
King added, “Since joining the Blount team, Sarah has managed a major hiring initiative and met many professional challenges in a short period of time.”
Soares has kept Blount’s recruitment costs down by using social media. However, Soares said, it takes “time and effort to gain the following you need in order to reach candidates.”
As she has since her teen years, Soares continues to volunteer, especially to serve unemployed, young veterans. “Knowledge sharing is extremely important to me, especially with unemployed and young veterans getting ready to leave the service,” Soares said, “When I got off active duty I felt very lost in my job search. Luckily I found a great recruiter that helped guide me in the right direction.”
Soares continues to remain ahead of trends in her industry. “I have been in the labor market for only 13 years and feel I have only touched the tip of the iceberg.” •