Witad Awards 2021: Support professional of the year (vendor)—Rachel Wilkes Swenson, HPR

HPR

For many, 2020 is a year they’re happy to see in their rearview mirror. For Rachel Wilkes Swenson, 2020 was arguably the greatest year of her life. On May 30, as the pandemic was in full force globally, Swenson was in a hospital giving birth to her first child, a boy named Cole. “I’ll always look back at 2020 as a really incredible and amazing year, despite the challenges,” she says. “I got the greatest gift in the world, so I will always look back on 2020 in a great light.”

While a blessing, the pregnancy coupled with a lockdown created unique challenges for her. Swenson is the director of finance and corporate operations for HPR, a provider of infrastructure technology to some of the biggest banks, including UBS, Credit Suisse, and Wells Fargo. As such, while most people were forced to work remotely, the vendor still had employees coming into the office. So in March, as Covid-related disruptions began to take hold, she had to help develop HPR’s pandemic response plan, policy, and procedures.

“Covid presented many challenges, even from a procurement process standpoint—everything from toilet paper to computer equipment had really, really long lead times,” she says. “So we had to be proactive in reaching out to our vendors and understanding what the implications of these delays would be and appropriately communicate that to clients.”

Knowing that she would soon be giving birth and then taking a 12-week maternity leave, she worked with Brian Germani, vice president of risk and compliance, to make sure HPR could respond to client needs not just at the start of the pandemic, but so that there wouldn’t be any interruptions while she was away. By all indications, the plan worked, as HPR did not have to lay off or furlough any employees—in fact, they hired 18 new full-time employees (roughly 25% of total headcount) since June 2020—and they didn’t cancel their planned summer internship program.

Swenson, who was named the best support professional at a vendor in this year’s Women in Technology and Data Awards, wears many different hats in her role. As such, she was also responsible for onboarding those new employees and overseeing that internship program. She manages many aspects of HPR’s operational relationships with clients, including establishing and maintaining procurement processes, as well as ensuring the lines of communication remain open and efficient. She also oversees and manages relationships with external partners and vendors such as legal, accounting, and tax.

She had to learn how to do all of these jobs during a lockdown, all while coming to grips with motherhood. By August, Swenson was back to working at the office. And she’s happy to be back, though she acknowledges it’s not always easy.

“I won’t downplay the emotional difficulties of coming back to work; it’s really a struggle, so I understand the thought process of women who have chosen to stay home,” she says. “Before Cole, work was my baby—constantly thinking about it and doing what I can during off-hours. Now, I have to leave around 5 pm and put my mom hat on until he goes to bed, and then if I need to, log back on. It can feel like you’re not able to immediately give everything the attention it deserves right away. But Tony [Amicangioli, HPR’s CEO] and the entire management team have been incredibly supportive of me during the last year—I can’t tell you how much that means to me.”

And, of course, after a long day, she gets to go home and see Cole. “Being a mom is my favorite job to date,” she says.

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