My brilliant career – Petrina Coventry

by 20 Feb 2007

What is your current role?

Vice-president human resources for GE Commercial Finance Asia Pacific. This role covers 13 countries and a number of key GE businesses and segments including real estate, capital markets, trade finance, corporate financial services, leasing, fleet and healthcare financial services.

What qualifications do you hold?

Degree in education from the Universityof Technology, Sydney. Postgraduate qualifications in human resource management from the Sydney Institute of Technology and business ethics from the University of New South Wales.

Why did you get into HR?

I worked part-time as a ‘personnel’ clerk during my university years. I enjoyed the diversity of issues that cropped up in that area. At the time of my graduation, human resources was ‘evolving’into more of a science. The function seemed to be gaining a lot more attention and I was curious about what that could mean for my career.

How did you get into HR?

I joined a graduate management trainee program when I left university to gain some business experience. I was put on a fast-track training program and worked with a national team to establish concept businesses from scratch. It was a great experience and because of my previous ‘personnel’ exposure, I chose to stream into HR. I was dealing with large-scale recruitment, difficult union negotiations, training and organisational planning at an early age, at a stage in my career known as ‘baptism by fire’. It was ‘raw’ at times but the best grounding anyone could have gained.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I keep my options open. My decisions about “what next?” are still driven by what is the most interesting role where I can continue to learn or add value. I hope I will continue to remain flexible about options for the rest of my career. In the past, flexibility has allowed me to enjoy some great opportunities and experiences.

What has been your biggest career high so far?

Working on challenging growth and reorganisation strategies in emerging markets. Spending a large percentage of my career outside of Australia, I have been lucky to experience different organisations’ evolutions and cultures. I get a high out of seeing businesses and people succeed in new markets.

What do you think it takes to succeed in HR?

Personal and technical credibility. To me that means the intelligence and commercial sense to understand business and industry dynamics, and the ability to articulate that in terms of people strategies.

Also, confidence and strong integrity. The function of HR helps to manage people’s careers, which directly influences their own and their family’s lives. You must have a great degree of integrity and confidence to do that with honour, and ethically.

How do you manage relationships with senior executives?

Honesty and transparency are important to maintain all relationships, especially at a senior level. Talk to the facts and maintain a sense of humour. Humility goes a long way. Have awareness and empathy for their role and the demands on them – they are employees who want to remain successful.

Who is your biggest professional inspiration?

Anyone I have worked with in the past. I typically find the best in people. I try to see how I can emulate others’admirable qualities in my own way. If I see ineffective behaviour, I tend to take that as guidance as well by trying not to operate like that.

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

Try to understand what the function is and do your research. Reach out to someone who has experience. If possible, take on operational work early in your career. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty as it is a great way to understand the basics of how the function operates. Your grounding in the basics will never fail you as you rise higher in organisations.

Describe yourself in three words

Direct, honest, high energy.


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