Skip to main content


Human trafficking foe Baderschneider to receive Alpern Award

Jean Baderschneider speaks to ExxonMobil managers

Jean Baderschneider, Ph.D. '78, then vice president for global procurement for ExxonMobil, addresses company managers at a corporate event.

Waiting to board a British Airways flight from Angola to London in 2008, Jean Baderschneider, Ph.D. '78, caught the gaze of a nervous young girl traveling with an older man who held her tightly in the crook of his arm.

By the time they all boarded the plane, "I realized something was terribly wrong," says Baderschneider, who recognized a case of human trafficking.

The former ExxonMobil vice president, who is being honored in April by the ILR School with its Alpern Award, began a journey that started with talking to the pilot and other airline officials, the U.S. State Department, the United Nations and private investigators in the United States and the United Kingdom.

No one had the power to intervene.

Baderschneider finally found a nongovernmental organization, Polaris Project, to help track the girl, who disappeared from sight when the plane landed.

"We never found her," says Baderschneider, who nevertheless discovered her next career. Freshly retired from ExxonMobil, she is now devoting her skills to develop a global response network incorporating market analysis, understanding and intervention to stop sex and labor trafficking.

Jean Baderschneider with ExxonMobil in Nigeria

Baderschneider, center right, in Nigeria for ExxonMobil during an evaluation of storage and operations.

Baderschneider chairs the National Leadership Council of the Polaris Project. It combats modern-day slavery through legislation, policies and victim services, and responded to nearly 17,000 trafficking calls in 2012 through its toll-free hotline. She is also a board member of End Human Trafficking Now, which helps businesses and corporations ensure their supply chains are free of slavery.

"In this third era of my life, I'm trading on everything I learned at the ILR School," she says. "ILR provided a great set of conceptual and analytical skills grounded in both quantitative and qualitative ways to assess issues." ILR's doctoral program, she says, "provided a unique concentration of committed and interesting people" and a rich environment of diverse thinking and approaches.

The ILR experience was empowering, Baderschneider says: "When I left, my mindset was 'always have an impact.'"

Baderschneider first arrived at Cornell from the University of Michigan behind the wheel of a U-Haul truck. She parked next to Sage Hall, where she found a bulletin board filled with apartments for rent and people looking for roommates. She found both, but slept in the truck her first night in Ithaca.

"My life has been filled with some best-laid plans and serendipity" and memorable ILR professors such as Ron Ehrenberg, Sam Bacharach and the late John Windmuller, Baderschneider says.

Now a member of the ILR Advisory Council and the President's Council of Cornell Women, she had been on her way to a job interview after graduating from ILR when snow stranded her in Chicago.

Serendipity struck again.

John Baitsell, a Mobil executive who had given a talk at ILR, recognized Baderschneider in the crowded airport. They sat on the floor and chatted for hours. By the time the snow stopped, Baitsell convinced Baderschneider that she should work for Mobil.

She rose quickly through the ranks. Baderschneider was the first female refinery manager. She worked in marketing, refining, exploration and production, then ran a major corporate reorganization and recommended establishing a global procurement, logistics and supply chain operation. At the end of the project, the chairman said, "Now, go run it."

Baderschneider was in charge of hundreds of billions of dollars of purchases across the globe. As she fights human trafficking, Baderschneider says she will continue to get up in the morning, go for a run, and then use her energy and skills to have an impact: "I will never retire."

Back to top