When Julyne Derisse Simmons ’94 first began thinking about college, corporate leadership was not part of her plan. “I was interested in linguistics, and I knew how to speak French,” she says. “I thought I might have a career as a translator, perhaps at the U.N.”
With that path in mind, a high school guidance counselor suggested Montclair. “I knew of Montclair’s history and reputation as a teacher’s college, and I really liked the campus,” Simmons says.
Simmons chose French as her major, minored in psychology, and was a part of the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) program. She also took advantage of Montclair’s study abroad opportunities, opting to live and study in Paris. And although it is hard to top memories of being a student in Paris, Simmons also recalls her graduation from Montclair with fondness. “I was part of the first class to graduate from Montclair State University,” she says. “It was a very exciting time to be on campus.”
Simmons was well prepared for her first job out of college, managing a customer service team for a marketing firm working for France’s government tourist office in New York. “My team included a number of French natives, so it was helpful that I had lived in Paris and was knowledgeable of France’s overseas territories to recommend both affordable and luxury travel experiences for discerning travelers,” she says.
The experience sparked an interest in evaluating and developing talent – and got her thinking about HR in a more expansive way. Simmons began to see human resources as an essential component of business strategy.
Simmons’ language skills and experiences living and studying in Europe continue to serve her well, positioning her as an expert in guiding transformational initiatives across multiple countries. “Study abroad gave me an appreciation of other cultures and work councils,” she says.
Over the course of her career, Simmons has served as HR Business Partner and Talent Management Manager for Merck, Senior Human Resources Business Partner for Verizon, Director of Human Resources for British Airways, Director of Human Resources for Shiseido, and Head of Human Resources for Orexo. She continued her education as well, earning an Executive MBA in Management and Human Resources from New York Institute of Technology.
Simmons has become a go-to advisor to c-suite leaders for business transformation, workforce strategy, organization design, change management, talent management, recruiting, diversity, equity and inclusion programs and more. In addition, Simmons has established new HR departments in startups and expansion environments, overseen IPO due diligence and acquisition integration, and led union negotiations.
“I work with business leaders to develop strategies that enable them to recruit and develop the right talent for their needs,” she explains. “It is a valuable business proposition to have an HR leader who sees where the company is going, and who can create hiring, retention, and development plans that support the company’s goal to deliver value for its customers and shareholders.”
As Vice President, Chief Human Resources Officer at Transform Materials, a renewable energy semiconductor manufacturer, Simmons was hired to transition the company from a startup to a customer-centric culture and to develop HR policies, procedures and strategic plans in line with the company’s growth strategy. She has done so at a time of enormous shifts in workforce culture and structure. Fortunately, her education and her embrace of Montclair’s Carpe Diem philosophy have prepared her for whatever the future might hold.
Simmons is happy to see that Montclair has continued to grow and strengthen since her commencement in 1994. “I like the fact that Montclair is elevating the voice of diversity,” she says, noting, in particular, the University’s recent series of Black heritage events that recognized ‘Black Firsts: Pioneers of Greatness.’
Crediting her parents – especially her late mother Annelie Derisse – for instilling in their children the value of building community through giving, Simmons has supported a number of domestic and international charitable organizations in her lifetime. As a volunteer for Dress for Success Palm Beaches, Simmons is helping to empower others to reach for their career goals. She hopes to do the same for today’s Montclair students. Following a recent alumni gathering in Florida, Simmons generously supported the EOF Book Fund.
“I am a purpose driven person, and therefore I like to donate my time and resources to causes that I believe benefit humankind in some way,” Simmons says. “So, sowing a seed into a student’s future via the EOF Book Fund gives me joy that I might somehow impact their purpose in life in a meaningful way. However, my ultimate hope is that this student later on in life, when they have the means to do so, will remember how the Fund helped them achieve their education and pay it forward to somebody else.”