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From pharma to fusion: Gangemi takes on post as HR Director

Murphy-LaMarche steps down after 31 years

For Paulette Gangemi, PPPL’s new director for human resources, PPPL is a perfect fit.

She has worked more than a decade as a human resources expert for the pharmaceutical industry, where she developed in-depth experience in scientific enterprises   employing a diverse workforce and interacting on a regular basis with federal agencies. And she has happily worked for organizations committed to solving important problems. 

When she first saw the job description for the position as director of human resources at PPPL, it seemed to mirror her background exactly. “I laughed and said, ‘I had no idea a job like this existed!’” she said. “They said, ‘We had no idea someone like you existed!’”

Throughout her career, Gangemi has been drawn to companies that make products aimed at changing people’s lives, whether it was a drug that combats cancer or a medical device that heals wounds. The more she learned about PPPL’s mission to do research aimed at developing magnetic fusion as an alternative energy source, the more certain she became that she wanted to support that goal. “ This is global, this is the future,” she said. “Our goal is to develop an unlimited amount of energy for the world.  This touches everyone.”

Gangemi (pronounced Gan-jem-ee with the accent on the second syllable) arrived at PPPL on Oct. 28.  

Susan Murphy-LaMarche steps down after 31 years

Gangemi succeeds Susan Murphy-LaMarche, who is retiring as the Director of Human Resources after working at PPPL for nearly 31 years. Along with assisting Gangemi with the transition, Murphy-LaMarche is working on special projects for Princeton University Human Resources through February.  

Murphy-LaMarche said she has enjoyed the many years at PPPL between 1983 and her retirement date in 2014. She jokes that there was a lot of history in the dash between her beginning and ending dates. “I’ve had a great dash,” she said. “I try not to think about the fact that there are so many people that are my friends and part of my life that I may well not see again or work with again.”

She came to PPPL the year after the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor (TFTR) started operating and now she and many of the people she started work with are retiring.  “We came here and worked on a wonderful project called TFTR and now people are going on to the next wonderful part of their lives,” she said.

Ensuring a smooth transition

Murphy-LaMarche said she is looking forward to retiring in February. “It’s kind of fun to think about what might be next,” she said. At the same time, she is focusing on helping to ensure Gangemi as she begins the job. “I really want to look back and feel I left everything in the best possible shape so Paulette and the staff can be as successful as they can be. That’s what’s really important to me.” 

Adam Cohen, PPPL’s Director for Operations, said the Lab will be sad to see Murphy-LaMarche leave. “I can’t thank Sue enough for all her efforts for the Lab,” he said. “She has been wonderful.  She’s a great font of knowledge. She has creativity and understanding of everything from the pulse of the Lab at a personal level to the interactions with Princeton and the DOE. And that’s very hard to replace.”

In Gangemi, Cohen said, the Laboratory has found another gem with unique talents and capabilities. “It’s very exciting to have Paulette and her experience and new ideas coming to the Lab,” Cohen said. “It’s wonderful to have someone with that experience who understands HR in an organization comparable to what we have here.”

Overseeing HR for PPPL’s staff

As the director of Human Resources, Gangemi will oversee a staff of seven people, a departmental budget, and many programs that touch all facets of the Lab. These include the hiring and recruiting of staff as well as administering compensation and benefits for the Lab’s approximately 440 employees. She will oversee the development of environment, safety and technical training and ensure the Lab complies with U.S. Department of Energy and Princeton University policies. She will also manage the Lab’s Occupational Medical Office and the Furth Plasma Physics Library.

Murphy-LaMarche said Gangemi brings “incredible skills and depth of knowledge” to the position. “I know she’ll be very successful,” she said. “She brings wonderful experience to the Plasma Physics Lab and she cares so much about people. I like that so much about her.  She understands one of the key duties of human resources: You have to want to help people be successful in the workplace.”

Gangemi couldn’t agree more. “I want people to know that I’m here to help solve problems,” she said. “I’m here for everyone.”

Learning about companies’ technologies

At each company she has worked for, Gangemi has made an effort to learn about the technology that created the company’s products, whether it was learning about generic drugs for the pharmaceutical company Actavis Pharmaceuticals or learning about biologically-based cancer treatments for ImClone Systems, which has a manufacturing plant in Branchburg, N.J. Gangemi said she was particularly proud of her work as associate director for human resources for ImClone. “That place was magic and I worked with some of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with,” she said.

In her most recent job, Gangemi was the HR member of the site leadership team for the Japanese pharmaceutical company, Daiichi Sankyo, for the start-up of a manufacturing plant in Bethlehem, Pa. She wrote every job description, policy and handbook and hired all 70 of the company’s new employees. She also was responsible for ensuring the plant complied with federal safety guidelines during U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspections. “They did a beautiful job on the plant, we hired some really talented people and I got to touch everything,” she said.

Now Gangemi says she is eager to learn about the cutting-edge research at PPPL. “In order to be a good HR practitioner, I feel like it’s very important to understand the business that you’re in,” she said.

Gangemi and her twin sister, Colette, grew up in Colts Neck and Brielle, N.J., not far from PPPL. She attended the Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vt., where she was on the ski race team and worked as a seasonal police officer in Spring Lake during the summer.

Turning a battleship into a museum

After college, she went to work for Assemblyman Joseph Azzolina on a campaign to convert the dry-docked Battleship New Jersey into a floating museum. The quest succeeded and the battleship was restored and moved to Camden, N.J. as the Battleship New Jersey Museum and Memorial.

Gangemi moved on to a job working for Salomon Smith Barney (now Smith Barney/Citigroup) in New York where she met her mentor, Lorrie A. Warner, the Managing Director and Head of Healthcare Strategic Advisory Services. Warner encouraged Gangemi to further her education and taught her a great deal about both finance and mergers and acquisitions. She “had a profound impact on my career,” Gangemi said.

She commuted from New Jersey to the World Trade Center each day but happened to be out of town when two planes crashed into the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2011.  The attacks prompted her to take a new position in New Jersey and to begin her first job in human resources, working for CheckFree Investment Services in Jersey City. 

Traveling up and down the East Coast

Gangemi’s next job was the regional HR manager for much of the Northeast with Kinetic Concepts Inc. (KCI), a large medical device manufacturer based in San Antonio, Texas, that produces the Vacuum-Assisted Closure or VAC, a device that uses negative pressure to heal a wound.

Her job required her to travel to meet with employees in offices located in an area stretching from North Carolina to Maine. “I was constantly on the road,” she said. Meanwhile, she attended graduate school at night for five years to earn a master’s degree in labor and employment relations from the Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations.

Even when away from the Lab, Gangemi is committed to aiding others. A former volunteer fire fighter, Gangemi enjoys volunteering with the Shawnee Mountain Ski Patrol.  She also spends her free time helping to restore her mother’s house in Belmar, N.J. The home was heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

And there’s another reason for Gangemi to enjoy her new post. PPPL is much closer to her home in New Hope, Pa., than her previous job.

“I’m looking forward to getting out there and seeing the experiments – I’d like to see what people do,” she said. “I just ask that people are patient with me as I learn. It really is a new business.” 

U.S. Department of Energy
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory managed by Princeton University.

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