My brilliant career – Michael Sommerton

by 10 Nov 2007

What is your current role?

Director, human resources, Inchcape Australia Ltd. We are part of a FTSE 250 company and a leading player in the automotive services sector with around 1,200 people in Australia and 12,500 worldwide.

We proudly import and distribute Subaru in Australia and New Zealand, retail VW, Hyundai, Mitsubishi, Kia as well as Subaru on behalf of our brand partners in Inchcape Automotive Retail. We also provide premium logistics services through AutoNexus.

What qualifications do you hold?

Bachelor of Business (Industrial Relations) and postgraduate qualifications in business administration.

Why did you get into HR?

I was initially more interested in IR than HR and my early roles involved negotiations of EBAs, AWAs, dispute resolutions, union negotiations and general employee relations matters. I really enjoyed my early HR roles which were very operational in nature. My HR roles have naturally evolved into more strategic in nature, but I still maintain a keen interest in workplace relations and all things IR.

How did you get into HR?

Workers compensation and rehabilitation was my first foray into HR. I worked in this field while studying for my degree via correspondence. This led to a HR coordinator role at a private hospital which was part of a group of healthcare facilities.

It was a great experience to work in private healthcare and I left to try other industries after having worked my way up to director of HR for the whole group. I enjoy fast paced and energetic work environments which is why I’ve spent most of my HR career in the retail sector.

What has been your biggest career high so far?

Being part of the change journey with Inchcape Australia is definitely shaping up as the best experience of my career. Inchcape is a great company with fantastic people representing leading automotive brands. We are on a journey to take us from a purely sales and transaction driven culture to one where we deliver the ‘Inchcape Advantage’ by creating the ultimate customer experience –our customers can expect a superior level of service beyond anything offered by our competitors.

What do you think it takes to succeed in HR?

A clear understanding of how your business makes its money, a strong voice at the table to help create the business strategy and aligning the people plans to achieve the culture and productivity needed to realise the business strategy so that the value you are contributing to the business is real and measurable.

How do you manage relationships with senior executives?

Effective relationships with senior executives are critical but it is a two-way street. Personal credibility and trust are vital to establishing a good relationship as is a CEO who is supportive of the people agenda and has an inherent understanding of the value he or she can extract from an effective HR function.

Who is your biggest professional inspiration?

Different people inspire me for different reasons. It doesn’t have to be someone famous. Just the other day I was inspired by the energy and passion of one of our people who drives a courtesy bus for our customers at one of our retail centres in Brisbane. Every customer leaves her bus with a smile as she makes them feel very welcome with her enthusiasm which is infectious!

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

Do not separate yourself from the business and operate in a HR silo. Work within it to learn not just about the business but most importantly how HR can make a difference to those that really count – the customers. Straight and honest advice and strength of character are important. Also, pick the right company to work for, which has an inherent understanding of what HR is there to do. This can be tested by whether the head of HR is a direct report to the CEO.

Describe yourself in three words

Pragmatic, commercial, happy.