As the oldest of 10 children growing up in North Cambridge, Susan Mannett learned early how to take care of people—skills she has put to good use for just shy of 25 years as director of human resources for MIT's School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS). Now Mannett is retiring, and many who work with her say they can't imagine the School without her.
Deborah Fitzgerald, Kenan Sahin Dean of the School, sums up what many feel: "Sue has set a tone for the School that emphasizes warmth, openness, acceptance, and endless encouragement. She also has an encyclopedic memory of everything that has happened in the Dean's Office over these many years. For so many reasons Sue is utterly irreplaceable."
Expertise — and legendary humor
Mannett's position involves managing all of the salary increases for faculty and staff, administering the School's affirmative action plan, and handling all the promotion and tenure cases. "I mediate and negotiate with everybody," Mannett says. "I'm the central spot everyone comes to when they have a problem of any kind."
Fortunately, taking care of people is something Mannett has been doing all her life. Reminiscing about her youthful family life, she says, "By the time I was 5 years old I had five siblings to help take care of, and by the time I was 18, there were 10 of us. That's a lot of different personalities that you have to learn to deal with."
Associate Provost Philip Khoury, who worked with Mannett when he served as Dean of SHASS, from 1991 to 2006, says, "She has a kind of magical way of making everyone who sits in front of her with a grievance or a problem feel that they can tell her, in confidence, what this is about."
She is also famous for handling her job with a good dose of humor. Doug Pfeiffer, Assistant Provost for Administration, who worked with Mannett for roughly 20 years as SHASS's Assistant Dean for Finance and Administration, says, "If I think of the 10 times in my life when I laughed the hardest, perhaps half of those times were with Sue," Pfeiffer says. "She has a knack for putting some of the more serious issues in perspective."
Of course, human resource work often means dealing with problems—including helping people recognize that it's time to move on. What makes Mannett stand out is the way she has handled such issues with compassion, humor, and empathy.
"She is just unparalleled at being able to relate to people at a personal level," Pfeiffer says. "She used humor in tactful ways to add to her effectiveness. It's a great way to conduct negotiations or have conversations with people who might be tense."
Mannett admits she will miss MIT. "I will miss being part of the action. There's nothing like belonging to MIT to feel like you're part of a mission that helps the world. It's such a wonderful place with so many smart, wonderful people."
MIT will miss her right back.
"There's no one who's like Sue," Khoury says. "It has been just glorious working with her."