High flying HR

by 02 Apr 2012

Human Capital: What initially drew you to an HR role?

Janine Stewart: It wasn’t something that I had planned and I was fortunate enough to have a very wise leader who strongly supported my career. She proposed that I transition into HR from a general manager customer service role at Qantas to gain increased exposure and greater breadth of skill. I had been heading customer service and had lots of experience in managing change. When you’re running customer service there’s two big priorities: one is consistent service delivery to customers; and the other is the skills and performance of the people in the roles. I was approached for a role in HR and I accepted it because it gave me an opportunity to leverage my skills and experience as well as giving me a new focus; an opportunity to stretch myself. That was the best strategic career move I ever made because it provided me transferrable skills across industry sectors.

HC: What is your current role and how did it come about?

JS: My current role is group executive people and culture at Perpetual.

Having spent so much of my career in the aviation industry, I was looking for an industry change and expansion to broaden my experience. After discussions with peers and contacts about which industry to move into, I was offered a job in financial services at Perpetual as the general manager of people and culture in Perpetual’s Private Wealth business and also overseeing employee relations. After 12 months at Perpetual the CEO approached me to take over the group executive role, after the former group executive moved into a business role.

HC: How would you recommend other HR professionals learn more about the wider business world?

JS: It’s important for HR professionals to have a broad understanding of the business world to allow them to understand how they can add strategic value to the businesses they are working in.

When I initially transitioned into financial services, I went about understanding the market through meeting with knowledge keepers and asking lots of questions. This has aided me in being able to contribute at all levels of the business because I understand the operating environment, the regulatory environment and competitive pressures.

This enables a deeper understanding of your own business and the role you can play in developing strategy and contributing to business planning from both a thought leadership and a pragmatic perspective.

Look out for professional development opportunities that allow you to broaden your skills. I’d recommend joining or establishing industry contacts and networking groups and be proactive in taking up external study. Completing my MBA was one of my most challenging development experiences but also one of the most rewarding.

HC: What do you consider to be your biggest career achievement to date?

JS: My most satisfying career achievement was being part of the strategy team at Qantas when we introduced a global cultural transformation program for the cabin crew around customer experience. We were able to redefine the Qantas customer’s in-flight experiences through redesigning the recruitment strategy and people strategy and customer service standards.

I’m also proud of the Diversity program that we have created at Perpetual. In the last few years we’ve established a diversity strategy and embedded programs that are making a difference to the culture. I’m particularly proud of the gender diversity initiatives that we have implemented including setting a target of 38% representation of women in senior leadership by 2015 and being nominated as a finalist in the 2010 EOWA Business Achievement Awards.

Lastly, at all the organisations I have worked; Ansett, Qantas and Perpetual – building a strong team of HR professionals to support the business has been incredibly rewarding.

HC: What do you think it takes to succeed in HR?

JS: The role of HR is now quite complex. In the current challenging economic environment, the nature of business is changing and so an HR practitioner needs to be able to help with improving performance and productivity, analyse and understand cost structures, execute change efficiently and create a culture that will drive performance.

At the same time, organisations are under tremendous pressures to identify growth opportunities to develop and execute successful strategies. HR needs to be able to really understand the business drivers, be clear about the capabilities required from its leaders to succeed; select, grow and retain talented leaders.

Another important aspect of organisation success in today’s world and one in which HR plays a role is the reputation of the organisation in making sure that culture and behaviours lead to a strong and relevant employer brand. And overall, to succeed across all of these domains, an HR practitioner needs to have the personal confidence and ability to gain a seat at the executive table and influence discussion. This means having outstanding communication and relationship building skills in addition to the professional expertise and business acumen.

HC: What advice would you give to graduates considering a career in HR?

JS: Learn about business as well as specialising in HR. In your studies make sure you develop a broad understanding of all the key functions of an organisation. Do finance and accounting, learn about marketing, sales, customer service and operations. This will give you a good foundation for when you start your first job and enable you to add value.

HC: Describe yourself in a few key words?

JS: I’m highly driven, proactive and an influencer of people. I like to think I have an understanding of my own strengths as well as my weaknesses. I’m also very values based and see success as enabling and supporting my team and the people around me. Humility is an essential ingredient and provides perspective in every situation.

HC: Do you have any role models professionally or personally?

JS: The mentors who I have been lucky enough to have along the way have been some of the most defining role models for me. Some of these have been for greater industry knowledge, some for HR expertise and some for more general business mentoring but all have been formative in my development both personally and professionally. I highly recommend seeking out mentors who can give you this sort of expanded awareness and understanding. I have also learned more during times of adversity and in tough situations than when it’s situation normal! That’s when you learn about your values, beliefs and capacities.

HC: What’s the biggest HR challenge Perpetual faces and how do you plan to overcome that?

JS: Perpetual has a great values based culture and amazing talent and our challenge is how to continue to develop the culture and capability to meet the future business needs. We also need to make sure we continue to attract, develop and retain the best talent in the market because as a talent business, this is a key driver of Perpetual’s future success.

We also need to make sure that we meet the needs and expectations of the future workforce including demographic trends and technology use.

HC: Where do you see the future of HR as a profession heading?

JS: I see HR continuing to build their role in strategically partnering with the business and helping to drive performance more directly. I see HR professionals as being consulted for strategic advice when, for example, working closely with Finance on managing costs or with Marketing on managing brand and external stakeholders. A good HR professional of the future has broad value to offer.


See Janine Stewart talk about how to lead strategies and gain top management support for your HR initiatives at HR Summit Sydney, 28-29 March