What is your current role?
General manager, HR strategy for the Roads and Traffic Authority, New South Wales. We are a Statutory Authority serving the community in planning, developing, constructing, maintaining and managing critical road infrastructure, as well as providing road user/customer services including traffic management, licensing, regulation and education. Road Safety is a major responsibility for the RTA and is integral to all our operations. We deliver our objectives with a workforce of around 6,900 full time employees plus contractors, our alliances and partnerships with industry and communities. RTA annual revenues are over $3.6 Billion and assets under management are over $70 Billion. We have over 190 offices across New South Wales.
What qualifications do you hold?
MBA from the Brisbane Graduate School of Business at the Queensland University of Technology, and a Bachelor of Commerce degree majoring in organisational behaviour and industrial relations from Griffith University in Queensland. Also, an advanced open water scuba divers licence I never seem to have time to use.
Why did you get into HR?
One day it hit me – that all success is ultimately about how well you manage people, and in particular how well you are able to lead so that an organisation can deliver on its aims. Sounds like a sales pitch when I read that line back – but that’s it. It is what it is I guess. I felt (and still do) that a better understanding of HR practice and strategy would help me to drive more out of the organisations I was involved with, my customers, suppliers and staff, and deliver robust competitive advantage for both the individuals within as well as the organisation itself.
How did you get into HR?
I was sales and general manager for a specialised engineered timber organisation when I started studying HR part-time at GriffithUniversity for the reasons I mentioned above – I felt it would help in my sales and general management role. A few years later a colleague at Griffith mentioned Queensland Rail were looking for a commercially savvy person with HR qualifications to help them transform their large organisation from government agency to commercial operator in the integrated logistics industry. Was a great challenge, so off I went.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
I see wine, a boat, my family and the most intense conversation with friends about global talent prioritisation. Perhaps from a career perspective I will still be leading and driving organisational performance improvement – in some shape or fashion.
What has been your biggest career high so far?
I get so much joy from a range of things. From seeing organisations take off on the back of strategies you have developed and implemented, to watching your most talented people in full-flight knowing you have contributed in some way to their success and their future. Perhaps a standout career high was watching an organisation I had consulted with in India ramp their rapid and successful global expansion on the back of the plan I had helped develop and implement.
What do you think it takes to succeed in HR?
To start with, the right attitude, energy and enthusiasm. Ultimately at a senior level, understanding how to develop and align business strategy and people strategy. An ability to implement a management system to ensure and track that the strategy is executed effectively. By management system I do not mean technology, but more about management practices and processes that define priorities, focus resources, and forces regular management team collaboration and discussion around those priorities.
From a capability perspective, the skills you need for outstanding performance at the highest level are a good understanding and management of the business cycle (business and budget planning and reporting), consulting skills, business process improvement skills, change management skills, communications and relationship management skills, sales skills, marketing skills, financial management skills, strategic planning skills, negotiation skills, team and people management capability and specialist HR knowledge in areas like talent and career management, etc. Does this list sound long? I guess it is. It takes hard work and a lot of energy and passion – like everything we want to be successful in.
If your definition of success is extreme performance at the highest level then my view is that no less than a trusted business advisor will do –and for that all of the above applies.
How do you manage relationships with senior executives?
In relation to a problem or opportunity, my golden rule is “It is what it is”. Sit on the same side of the table, agree on the priorities, the strategy and approach – and then execute with military-like precision. Keeping stakeholders informed appropriately is key.
Think about shareholder confidence. If your investors share your view that a problem or opportunity needs addressing, and if they agree with your approach, and if they have confidence in the management team (this means you), and if you keep them well-informed and are able to demonstrate a capacity to adjust your strategy if circumstance or the environment demands it then you will be successful in my view.
Share ‘colour and feel’ insight so you can then draw on the experience of your key stakeholders by seeking their input into strategy design – ask the difficult questions with ease. Ultimately they will then share some of the ownership with you on the outcomes. Keep them informed! Keep them informed! Keep them informed! But in doing so remember always, it is what it is. Tell it like it is.
Who is your biggest professional inspiration?
I draw inspiration from so many sources, and some of them a little abstract. There is not really any one person who stands alone for me as the single biggest source of inspiration. I look at what I can learn (both what to do and what not to do), from everyone I meet and can read about.
I have worked with executives from all over the world, and one of the greatest standouts that I will never forget is Vince O’Rourke, then CEO at Queensland Rail when I first joined. His vision for something so different, his ability to paint/frame the vision into something tangible, his courage to stand alone if needed, never give up and to fight to implement that vision, his passion, his ability to empower people to achieve, and to break the most complex of issues down into a simple statement is truly something to behold. I learnt a lot from Vince that I carry with me today. At points in time environmental factors are always different. And while often many experiences are not transferable from one situation to another, it is what we learn in the detail of each experience that I believe to be most important.
What advice would you give to graduates considering a career in HR?
The best HR professionals are able to turn organisational vision into reality by understanding what is needed strategically, and executing effectively. The best HR professionals operate as the most wonderful business advisors and consultants, they are business professionals with HR expertise. They are innovative and think outside the square.
At a more granular level when first starting out, most people do not realise just how broad and diverse HR actually is.
There are so many aspects to it and so many levels within it. What aspect of HR most interests you? Do you want to specialise? Do you want to be a generalist? Do you want to develop as a strategic adviser and change agent? Take your time to understand the different aspects. Whether your interest is in the management side, assessment, development, planning, sourcing talent, metrics and analysis, process improvement, change management, systems or administration, take some time to get across all aspects.
And then – add business skills and gain experience in things like financial management, planning, communications and marketing for example as quick as you can. Business skills are critical. And lastly, seek out mentors.
Describe yourself in three words
“Imagination is more important than knowledge”–Albert Einstein. Now while that may appear to be more than three words, given that good HR is all about partnerships I thought I would offer three for you and three for me.