“There is this old saying, ‘Be kinder than you need to because you never know what people are carrying with them.’ And I think that is very true. You never know what burdens people are carrying with them, and so I try to follow the philosophy of being as kind as possible,” Tina Bigalke, Vice President of HR Global Operations, Global Procurement & R&D at PepsiCo, said about advice she gives gives to students today.
Bigalke is a 1990 West Virginia University graduate of the international studies program and a 1994 graduate of the College of Business and Economics (B&E) Master of Science in Industrial Relations (MSIR) program.
She works and lives near Dallas, Texas, and remains a loyal Mountaineer, maintaining a strong relationship with WVU and B&E through the MSIR program’s practicum series and occasionally on-campus student interviews. Her lasting legacy on campus, though, was the establishment of a scholarship in honor of her parents. Tina developed the John T. and Irene K. Grossi Memorial Scholarship in 2014.
“Both of my parents were first generation from the U.S. My grandparents had come from other countries to make a better life for their families, and my parents continually emphasized education and the importance of education,” she said. “My dad was a high school teacher and principal. My mother was a homemaker, but was very involved with our education. It was such a strong value in our household, and I felt like the best honor I could give them was to establish a scholarship in their names to allow others to pursue their education.”
Although highly successful in the human resources field, the Weirton, West Virginia, native did not begin her career in that capacity. Her passion for international studies led her to Spain to teach English after graduation.
“I always tell people that is when I really grew up because I went to Spain on my own after I graduated. I had to do everything from scratch. I didn’t know anybody. I didn’t know where to stay or what to do, and I did it all on my own. It was an amazing experience, and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything,” Bigalke said.
After two years of teaching, Bigalke said she knew she had to return to the U.S. or she would stay in Spain forever, so she followed her roots back home and got back to the classroom as a graduate student at B&E.
“Going back to the business school and the ILR (industrial labor relations, now MSIR) program was almost a foregone conclusion based on where I grew up in Weirton, where we had the steel mills and a strong union environment there,” she said. “Once I started exploring all the options within B&E, it was so natural for me to want to explore the whole management-union dynamic further. It was a logical choice for me.”
After graduation, she began her career in labor relations with PPG Industries and eventually continuing her career with MagneTek and now PepsiCo.
“It’s been a series of progressive roles starting with baseline employee relations and getting to know the employees in a manufacturing plant or in a workplace depending on where I was,” Bigalke said. “It was a lot of interactions with the union, grievance handling, arbitrations, etc. And then over my career, I have progressed into broader experiences where I manage the people that do that.”
Initially as human resource manager at PPG Industries to her current position at PepsiCo, her duties have changed quite drastically from the “early years of negotiating contracts and interacting with the unions.”
“Currently, in the role at Pepsi, I support three global groups – research and development, global operations and global procurement. The majority of my role is spent doing strategic HR planning, talent development and management, organizational design and development for those three functions,” she said.
With her global role, Bigalke hones the principles and philosophies she learned as an international studies major. She said her time teaching abroad helps her culturally and to deal with the diversity in a more effective manner.
“I would say that in my heart of hearts I’m a teacher, and that’s what I love most — teaching and learning. Teaching students and watching their English skills progress was wonderful, and in HR, it’s a similar career,” she said. “You’re developing organizations; you’re developing people to be better; you’re giving people assignments that help them grow and stretch.”
She attributes a lot of her success to B&E and how the MSIR program, faculty and career services center all prepared her for the real world.
“What I love most about the [MSIR] program is that it is in the College of Business and Economics. You not only have classes in industrial labor relations, but you also have business classes,” she said. “Having that background is so helpful when you go into the workplace because it really helps you understand how the HR function interacts with other functions in the organization.”
Ellis Roper, a first-year MSIR graduate student, is the initial recipient of the scholarship, and said he is very grateful to Bigalke for her generosity and passion for helping students earn an education.
“This scholarship helped me tremendously,” Roper said. “I was able to buy some more textbooks more easily, which was a great lift off my shoulders. It was an extreme blessing that truly came at the right time.”
In addition to the scholarship, Bigalke upholds the spirit of giving throughout her community and the country. She is a member of the National Charity League, a service organization for mothers and daughters, with her two teenage daughters, and she is also on the board of directors for Court Appointed Special Advocates, a national organization that trains advocates to help kids that are in foster care.