Robert L. Sovine was recently named vice president of human resources at Marathon Oil. A 1979 graduate of the Master of Science in Human Resources (MSIR) program, Sovine is now responsible for managing the company’s human resource policies, programs and practices worldwide. Marathon has nearly 29,000 employees.
Sovine, who attended Hurricane High School in Putnam County, W.Va., and received an undergraduate degree from WVU in political science, said that during his 30 years with Marathon he has always looked for opportunities to learn the business from all angles. “I moved 10 times within Marathon and never turned down an assignment,” he said. “I was always eager to learn the business. I wanted to understand as much about the company’s overall operations as possible and apply this knowledge to our application of human resource practices.”
He said Marathon recruited him “off the campus” in 1980 for a post as a human resources representative in Findlay, Ohio. He held a number of positions of increasing responsibility in the Findlay office and at the company’s refineries in Robinson, Ill.; Texas City, Texas; and Catlettsburg, Ky. He transferred to Houston in 2001 as manager of human resources, compensation and organizational development, and held that position until being appointed manager of human resources for Marathon’s Upstream organization in 2003.
Sovine, who lives on Galveston Bay, Texas, is an adjunct professor of human resources in the MBA program at Houston Baptist University and a volunteer mediator for the Harris County (Texas) Dispute Resolution Center. He is a member of the Society for Human Resources Management.
He recalls some of the “real world” training he got in the MSIR program, including the mock labor/management negotiations that are still part of the curriculum today. “I remember that Professor Randy Elkin and Bill Hutchison provided a lot of real-world examples and simulations,” Sovine recalled. “And I was able to apply this almost immediately to my job. These were very beneficial.”
The human resources field has changed, he said, with a move from “tactical, administrative” efforts toward what he calls “strategic work.”
“Today human resources is much more part of the management team, looking at issues such as leadership development, succession planning and change management,” he said. “Today’s students should learn the fundamentals of HR while taking as many business classes as they can along the way. This will provide a solid basis for linking human resources strategy to a company’s business strategy.”
Because of the MSIR program’s emphasis on real-world readiness and communication skills such as writing and presentations, Sovine said Marathon likes to recruit from WVU. “Today, we have a number of folks in very responsible positions from WVU’s MSIR program.”