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Business Officer Magazine
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Back Story

Profiles of individuals in roles that support the work of the chief business officer—and who represent the majority of the Business Officer reading audience

By Margo Vanover Porter

Sunanda K. Holmes
Global Compliance Officer
Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore, Maryland
8 years in higher education

Holmes Comes Full Circle

When she's not traveling for her job to destinations like Afghanistan and Malaysia, Sunanda K. Holmes sets personal training goals. "I have run five marathons and completed two 100-mile bike rides called century rides," she says. "I have to set goals or I won't exercise, so I train for events." In her free time, she also teaches at Johns Hopkins University's Carey Business School.

A member of the Maryland and District of Columbia bars, Holmes joined Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore as a consultant on international activities in January 2007. In September 2007, she was hired as the global compliance officer, but left for the West Bank as a Fulbright Scholar to teach at two universities for six months. 

JHU operates campuses and field offices in about 60 countries. What are your criteria for opening them?

It depends on the program needs and the legal and regulatory requirements of a particular country. Generally, if our activity will continue for more than a year, to set up a bank account in JHU's name, lease space, and hire people to work there—either as employees or independent contractors—we may be required to open a foreign field office. 

What's different about hiring people overseas?

In the United States, we have at-will employment. However, in foreign countries, employment contracts are generally required for a specific period. In some countries when a project ends and we have to reduce staff or let everyone go, we may have to get permission from the labor commission in that country. Employees in those countries have significantly more protection and rights than what we are used to.

Can you give examples?

In some countries, if an employee dies while working, an employer has to give the employee's family five years' worth of salary. Many foreign countries also have 13th-and 14th-month bonuses. In Zambia, a mother can take one day off, with pay, each month without giving a particular reason.

You just returned from Uganda. How do you decide which field offices to visit?

We do an annual assessment of countries where we work based on the amount of money we spend, and the number of employees and subrecipients we have. We also look at factors such as the corruption index for that country, unemployment rate, and how the country is rated in the global marketplace. We come up with a risk profile and discuss which countries to visit in a particular year. This year, I also went to Nigeria, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and Zambia.

I bet you have some unusual stories.

When I was in one country, someone told me there is a receipt street where you can get any kind of receipt you want. In another country, we wanted a bid on stationery. The salesperson said, 'You will need three bids. Let me give them all to you right now.' But, I've been fortunate to interact with many hardworking people in Afghanistan who have to live far away from their families because of the war, but who show up to work every day.

Does your travel interfere with your personal life?

I worry mostly about my four-year old. I'm a mother of three kids—4, 19, and 21—so needless to say international travel can put some stress on my life. But I'm very lucky to have a great support system. 

Ever regret your career choice?

No, I don't, because I like the fact that my job allows me to use both my legal and financial experience. I came to the United States from India when I was 12. The village I grew up in is quite similar to the places I visit now in the sense of the sheer poverty, the lack of education and basic health care. When I look into the eyes of some of those children, I realize they are no different than I am, except that my father had an opportunity to immigrate to the United States. I'm in the right job at the right time. I've come full circle.  

MARGO VANOVER PORTER, Locust Grove, Virginia, covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.