My Brilliant Career – Julia Farrant

by 13 May 2008

What is your current role?

I am the vice president HR for Unilever Australasia. Unilever is a global player in the FMCG space with a cupboard full of well-known brands in food, household and personal care. We have approximately 2000 employees and operate factories in Tatura (Victoria), North Rocks (Sydney), Minto (Sydney) and Petone (New Zealand).

In 2007 we outsourced transactional HR to Accenture, as a part of a global initiative to allow HR practitioners to truly become business partners. I joined Unilever in November 2007 with a mandate to bed down this change.

What qualifications do you hold?

I studied business law at Bournemouth University and then went on to complete a post graduate diploma HR/IR and Professional HR qualifications (Institute of Personnel Management) at Manchester University.

Why did you get into HR?

I liked and enjoyed it and found I was actually quite good at it. HR is a discipline which generally delivers a positive impact on individuals and, subsequently, businesses. It has evolved, even during my short career, and now is seen, quite rightly, as being integral to business success.

How did you get into HR?

As a part of my post grad I needed to do a dissertation and met up with this amazing female HR manager who was doing some leading edge stuff in HR. When we finished with my questions, she asked if I had a job. And I accepted my first real HR position.

Where do you see yourself in five years time?

Unilever is a wonderful company with many exciting global career paths – the world is my oyster! Realistically I have a big job to do here in Australasia, but would consider a larger regional or global HR role.

What has been your biggest career high so far?

I have worked in both the UK and Australia, across a number of industry sectors. Each role has provided challenge as well as defining moments.

I think that taking a cross-functional move into sales while I was at Masterfoods certainly gave me a credibility that is sometimes hard to gain in more traditional and conservative organisations..

What do you think it takes to succeed in HR?

You really need to stay relevant. And you need to understand the business as well as your customers it is only by doing so that you can truly partner. Transactional HR is a minimum expectation, most businesses are competing in a global market, where customers and consumers are IT savvy. Consumers want to be aligned and believe in the brands they use.

To say it’s a minefield is an understatement. Factor in the skills shortages and the war on talent and you begin to see the importance of HR.

How do you manage relationships with senior executives?

Whether you’re dealing with senior managers or entry level employees, my approach is the same – be honest, credible and authentic. Generally I take the time to understand their business, their needs and ultimately what they are trying to achieve.

Who is your biggest professional inspiration?

I think that more recently I have joined organisations because of certain individuals. My previous MD, Ian Haliday, embodied visionary attributes and my departing Unilever Chairman, Peter Slator, has a brilliant mind and a down-to-earth personality. I strive to emulate their success and behaviours.

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

HR has well and truly earned a seat at the table, so your career is going to be a great ride! Never forget to link HR to business performance and develop your EQ.