Prenatt’s a people person

Her HR team keeps WUSTL staffed with the best

Ann B. Prenatt’s father was principal of her middle school and high school, which led to some interesting situations. Kids would tease her, and even teachers occasionally made comments.

“My eighth-grade teacher wasn’t happy with me one day, threatening ‘Do you want to go see your father?'” She laughs. “I said, ‘Sure.'”

Ann B. Prenatt (left), vice chancellor for human resources, meets with assistant Lisa Caress in Brookings Hall. “Ann is responsible for one of Washington University’s most critical assets — our human resources,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton said. “Ann is a wise and trusted counselor to me and others, and she is a positive and effective force in advancing the mission of Washington University.”

Having parents who worked as teachers — her mother taught kindergarten and also English and French in high school, and her father taught math before becoming principal — gave Prenatt, Washington University’s vice chancellor for human resources, a deep-rooted respect for education and those who provide and support it.

“I consider it a privilege to work at Washington University — to be a part of an organization that engages in breakthrough research and scholarship and provides exemplary patient care and hope for individuals and families,” Prenatt says, “It’s hard to describe what it means to be a part of an organization that matters in so many ways to the future.”

For the University to continue its tradition of excellence, it is vital that WUSTL attract and retain talented, self-motivated and conscientious faculty and staff. That’s where Prenatt and the human resources department come in.

Prenatt leads a talented team that often works “behind the scenes” to respond to and support the needs of the University and its employees. Prenatt strives to ensure that all WUSTL faculty and staff work in an environment that enhances their ability to achieve professional goals, are educated about the myriad benefits of working at WUSTL and have access to resources prepared to assist them in dealing with difficult issues.

“Ann is responsible for one of Washington University’s most critical assets — our human resources,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton said. “As the leader in human resources, she develops and oversees policies and procedures of importance to all faculty and staff. An effective problem-solver, Ann handles sensitive and delicate personnel matters with great care and fairness.”

In addition to her responsibilities in human resources, Prenatt also serves as a member of WUSTL’s University Council, an advisory board to the Chancellor composed of chief administrative officers and deans.

“Ann is a wise and trusted counselor to me and others, and she is a positive and effective force in advancing the mission of Washington University,” Wrighton said.

Small-town girl

Prenatt grew up the youngest of three children in Tupper Lake, N.Y., an idyllic tourist town in an outdoorsman’s paradise — the Adirondack Mountains.

“It was Mayberry, really,” Prenatt says. “We learned how to swim and water ski in a crystal-clear lake. In the summer, I played golf and worked in the pro shop.

Ann B. Prenatt (right) with her husband, Bill.

“But as much fun as summer was, we couldn’t wait for the first snowfall around Thanksgiving; my friends and I skied all winter long,” she says. “I was part of the ski patrol and was trained to provide first aid for people injured on the mountain.”

From a young age, Prenatt was especially close to her father, who had been deployed abroad in the Navy while Prenatt’s brother, Joe, and sister, Rosemary, were small. When Prenatt graduated from Tupper Lake High School, her father presented her with her diploma — just as he had done with her older brother and sister.

In 1973, Prenatt earned a bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant management from the Rochester Institute of Technology and was hired by Saga Corp., a contract food service management company, to manage several Saga facilities in White Plains, N.Y., and assist Saga with its college recruitment program.

A few years later, Saga expanded its personnel division, and Prenatt was hired in a full-time human resources role as a regional personnel director in charge of recruitment, career training and placement. The new job meant much moving and travel. Prenatt’s stops included Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago and Menlo Park, Calif.

In 1978, while mediating an HR situation in Chicago, Prenatt met her husband, Bill, then a regional vice president for Saga. She and Bill hit it off immediately. After two years of a long-distance relationship, they married in 1980.

A home at WUSTL

Prenatt left Saga in 1982 and quickly climbed the HR ladder, managing human resources at six different companies across the country. That meant more moving — from California to South Carolina to Boston and, finally, to St. Louis in 1989.

“Bill and I were really excited about being able to file income taxes in just one state — that’s when we knew we needed to end the relocation cycle,” Prenatt says.

In 1995, Prenatt was hired by WUSTL as director of employee relations.

“Washington University is an incredible organization, and that was an exciting time to join the University because of the upcoming transition from Chancellor Danforth to Chancellor Wrighton,” Prenatt says. “To be a part of that change and to learn yet another industry was very appealing.”

Higher education is an “industry” Prenatt has never left. In 2000, Prenatt was named executive director of human resources, and, in 2003, Wrighton appointed her vice chancellor for human resources and to the University Council.

One of Prenatt’s traits that James E. McLeod, vice chancellor for students and dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, most appreciates is Prenatt’s ability to find creative ways to address problems.

“Ann is a wonderful collaborator,” says McLeod, also a University Council member. “She’ll think out loud with you to find a good solution. She’s understanding and patient but can also be firm when she needs to be.

“Given the enormous responsibility Ann has, she makes herself amazingly accessible,” McLeod says. “She works relentlessly to make Washington University a great place to work.”

Ann B. Prenatt

Family: Husband, Bill; stepdaughter, Kim; and son-in-law, Matt. She also has two grandchildren — Brady, 8, and Claire, 3 — and a 15-year-old cockapoo, Baby.

Education: B.S., hotel and restaurant management, 1973, Rochester Institute of Technology. She also was certified as a senior professional in human resources in 1995.

Lives in: Chesterfield, Mo.

Favorite free-time activities: golfing, reading and working out at the gym

Book she is currently reading: “The Front,” by Patricia Cornwell. “I’m a big fan of murder mysteries,” she says.

Prenatt also helps WUSTL make St. Louis a great place to live by guiding the University’s annual United Way Campaign. The campaign, organized by Prenatt, encourages WUSTL community members to donate to the United Way of Greater St. Louis, an organization that supports nearly 200 health and human service organizations in the St. Louis area.

“Our campaign volunteers reach out to everyone on campus in a personal way,” Prenatt says, “but we don’t want to strong-arm or pressure anyone to give. It’s strictly voluntary. With that in mind, the generosity of the University community each year truly is gratifying.”

The 2008 campaign kicked off Sept. 2 with a goal of $600,000. WUSTL exceeded its goals in 10 of the past 11 campaigns, and Prenatt hopes the community’s tradition of giving extends into 2008 and beyond.

Committee of one

The United Way Campaign isn’t the only way Prenatt keeps WUSTL involved in the communities around campus. Prenatt — along with Alan Kuebler, assistant vice chancellor for resource management — is a member of the board of the University City Childrens Center (UCCC), a nonprofit organization that provides care and education to young children from varying ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

The University has partnered with the UCCC to help provide child care to WUSTL faculty, students and staff, and Prenatt serves as the UCCC’s human resources consultant.

“I pretty much am the HR committee, so there’s never a problem scheduling meetings,” Prenatt says, laughing.

Despite its small size, her committee of one still manages to have a significant impact.

“Ann has helped the center navigate through some delicate personnel matters and has been instrumental in developing the center’s HR policies. In offering her unique and professional perspective on issues that the board faces, she is thoughtful, thorough and sensitive,” Kuebler says.

“That Ann contributes to the UCCC to the degree she does while conducting her duties as a University officer is noteworthy,” he says.

To Prenatt, her support of the education of such a wide array of students — from toddlers to doctoral candidates — is key to making her work worthwhile. Prenatt’s father passed away in 1991, but Prenatt knows how proud he would be of her role with the University.

“Education meant so much to him,” Prenatt says. “I’d like to think he’s looking down, smiling.” She pauses a few seconds, and, finally, smiles right back.