Sheila Hess, second from left, joins representatives from the Mayor’s Office and City Hall at the Love Park groundbreaking ceremony (Courtesy Sheila Hess)
Even in shaking hands with Sheila Hess, she vibrates with positive energy. Framed by the Philadelphia skyline in the near distance, she’s off talking about the city with an infectious and genuine enthusiasm that only makes sense for Mayor Jim Kenney’s newly appointed City Representative.
“Philadelphia just energizes me,” said Hess, 46.
Hess earned her undergraduate degree from Temple University’s Fox School of Business in 1991, with a concentration in Human Resource Administration (now Human Resource Management).
Her enthusiasm and genuine love for helping others pushed her resume to the top of the pile at Independence Blue Cross, where she would spend the next 24 years of her career working in human resources and making her mark upon the organization and Philadelphia. She met Kenney more than 20 years ago at a volunteer fundraiser. Inspired by his goals for the city, she volunteered for his recent mayoral campaign. Impressed with her panache and grasp on the city’s pulse, Kenney wanted her to represent the city.
“Once he offered me the job, I didn’t hear anything else he said. It was such a dream come true,” Hess said.
In addition to being an ambassador and a leader of the city’s official welcome wagon, as City Representative, Hess participates in meet-and-greets with anyone – from international dignitaries to the millions of visitors the city attracts. Hess also steps in as the face of the city when the mayor cannot attend events, bestowing city proclamations, citations, and ceremonial gifts in recognition of community organizations. She also is a steward of special events, including Police Athletic League (PAL) Day at City Hall, the Police and Fire Memorial Service, and the Mayor’s Centenarians’ Celebration.
Hess is already looking forward to placing Philadelphia in the national and international spotlight, building upon its Lonely Planet designation in February as a top U.S. destination, its new title of World Heritage City, and its selection to host the Democratic National Convention this August.
“A good leader has a good ear, and though we can’t change everything, we can make it work on some level,” Hess said. “It’s all about seamless communication and working together.”
Hess originally hails from California, but her family relocated to her mother’s native South Philadelphia neighborhood so Hess could receive treatment for spina bifida, a spinal cord birth defect, at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. When asked of her disability, Hess considers it a gift – one that allowed her to become a Philadelphian.
“I’m Philadelphia’s biggest fan,” Hess said. “I root for all of our sports teams, win or lose, and I always will.”
Hess’ passion for Philadelphia kept her close to home when she chose Temple. Raised in the city’s Catholic school system, she was drawn to Temple’s reputation and its innovative and diverse campus life. Having been a mathlete in high school, she pursued her skill with numbers and enrolled in the Fox School as a Finance major. However, her path would deviate as she realized her talents didn’t align with her heart’s desire. After one human resource course, she knew what she was meant to pursue.
Sheila Hess, third from left, Mayor Jim Kenney and members of the Office of the City Representative recognize Hess at her welcome party. (Courtesy Sheila Hess)
“I could just see HR in my personality. I love being the face of an organization. That’s just inside me,” Hess said.
Hess works with several non-profits, including Back on My Feet and Variety – The Children’s Charity — a charity assisting children and youth with physical and developmental disabilities. In her limited free time, Hess and her husband, Mike, enjoy gardening. Always a fan of bringing out the best in something, Hess likes to buy wilted plants and nurse them back to life.
“It’s just fun to watch things grow,” Hess said.
Much like Philadelphia’s reputation, as its new City Represenative.