Interview with Debra Corey, senior director, compensation and benefits, EMEA at Quintiles

Debra Corey, senior director, compensation and benefits, EMEA at Quintiles, has a flexible approach to perks

It is rare to find a compensation and benefits professional who can say their sporting achievements led to them entering the world of reward. In Debra Corey’s case, it was taking part in competitive gymnastics that led to her first foray into the benefits world while still at university. She needed to take a reduced class load during the competition season, so she spread her degree in communications and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh over five years instead of four. During her final year, Corey took a job in the university’s benefits department. This, in turn, led to her first professional reward role. “There was no logic to it whatsoever,” she says. “When I graduated, there were no jobs in the department in benefits, so I joined in compensation.”

After five years as a compensation analyst at the university, Corey moved on to a series of compensation roles at US-based organisations, such as First Fidelity Bank, ADP, Alexander and Alexander Consulting, and Office Depot.

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It was in her next post at Gap that Corey’s career took a different direction. She not only shifted from pure compensation to include benefits, but also made a major life-changing move – from the US to the UK. “”I put my career into two halves,”” she says. “The first half was as a compensation professional in the US. Then, about 12 years ago when I worked for Gap, I applied for the job of director of European compensation and benefits. That started the next phase of my career. Now I really like the blend of compensation and benefits.” Corey was spurred on to get the European job by her manager, who didn’t think she could do it.

Since moving to the UK, she has held a number of senior reward roles at high-profile organisations. After Gap, she worked for retailer AS Watson (which owns brands such as Superdrug and the Perfume Shop), engineering firm Honeywell and supermarket chain Morrisons.

Corey has just been appointed senior director, compensation and benefits, EMEA, at pharmaceutical firm Quintiles. When seeking a new job, she looks for an organisation where she can make her mark. “I like joining an organisation where there is still something to be done and I am able to have an impact.”

The breadth of experience Corey has gained in her career has given her some valuable lessons. Topping the list is: adapt initiatives to suit an organisation, even if it means altering original plans. “Don’t look at things in black and white,” she says. “Mix colours together.”

While serving as interim European rewards head at AS Watson, for example, she devised a number of large-scale projects she wanted to implement across the business. But because this was the first time AS Watson had tasked someone with establishing a reward strategy across the business for 70,000 European staff, Corey felt her initial plans would have been unsuccessful. The firm was just not ready for the changes she envisioned for perks such as pensions and cars. Instead, to aid the first steps towards bringing all parts of the business together, she introduced a voluntary benefits scheme.

Some of her greatest achievements have involved overcoming obstacles to implement big international projects. “Working for a US-based organisation and trying to get things done internationally can be a challenge,” she says.

At Gap, for example, she successfully implemented total reward statements outside the US despite experiencing initial resistance to the project. “It is just convincing people to take the time and that projects are worthwhile,” she says.

  • Debra Corey will speak on ‘Managing benefits in an environment of increased globalisation’ at the Employee Benefits Summit in June.


    Curriculum Vitae

    May 2009 senior director, compensation and benefits, EMEA, Quintiles

    †2008-2009 interim head of rewards, Morrisons

    2006-2008 compensation and benefits director, EMEA, Honeywell

    2005-2006 interim European rewards head, AS Watson

    2001-2005 director international compensation and benefits, Gap

    1998-2001 senior manager, European compensation and benefits, Gap

    1996-1998 manager, corporate compensation, Gap (US office)

    1994-1996 senior compensation analyst, Office Depot (US office)


  • What is your favourite aspect of benefits? One of my favourites is benefits communication, whether it is getting up and holding workshops or designing communication materials. I really thrive on that aspect.
  • Who has inspired you throughout your career? One person was a boss I had at Gap on the business side, Steve Finlan. He challenged me in ways I had not been challenged before. He is one of those very special people.
  • How would other people describe you? People who have worked for me have said that I am a very caring and nurturing person. I am not afraid to roll up my sleeves and sit by a person to help them. I am committed to forming business relationships.
  • What is your career goal? It is interesting, as I have got young children right now, so my career goals are likely to be very different to those I will have in five-to-10 years’ time when they are a bit older. I would also like to figure out the whole work-life balance piece. If anyone has figured it out, please let me know.