My brilliant career – Rita Agati

by 03 Apr 2007

What is your current role?

Head of strategy and culture, CGU Insurance

What qualifications do you hold?

I have a BA from MonashUniversity majoring in economics and politics. I also completed a postgraduate degree in business majoring in industrial relations and human resources at RMITUniversity, and a graduate management qualification (ex MBA program) at the Australian Graduate School of Management, UNSW.

Why did you get into HR?

After completing a graduate program at National Australia Bank, I was appointed to a resourcing role in retail banking. I enjoyed this role and then undertook a postgraduate degree in business to further develop my skills in HR management and industrial relations. One of the most rewarding components of this role was the ability to help develop careers and build great leaders.

How did you get into HR?

I joined National Australia Bank’s graduate program, a 52-week program which gave me the chance to work across different businesses and learn about the type of career opportunities available to me. At the end of the program, I was recruited into a HR role in an institutional bank and my HR career evolved from there.

Where do you see yourself in five years time?

I see myself working in a global position – either in a HR role or running a profit and loss business unit.

What has been your biggest career high so far?

I am fortunate to have quite a few –but there are three major highs.

Firstly, moving from banking to BHP Billiton and working in a dynamic environment with inspiring global leaders. Secondly, being appointed as GM, HR personal financial services at ANZ, and achieving cultural change whilst balancing a young family.

Finally, having the opportunity to move into a leadership role at CGU, where I am responsible for developing the strategic direction of the business over the next five years and identifying growth opportunities, as well as driving the culture to achieve these aspirations. The underlying driver of all these opportunities was having been fortunate enough to work for inspiring leaders such as Elizabeth Proust (ANZ), Tom Brown (BHP Billiton) and the CGU CEO, Mario Pirone.

What do you think it takes to succeed in HR?

It’s a combination of factors. Being able to confidently step up to leadership, understanding the business, the ability to identify the strategic trends and develop a culture that is going to drive this performance are important. Building a compelling strategy and successfully influencing and driving these changes is challenging, but when combined they positively impact performance.

How do you manage relationships with senior executives?

I base my relationships around open and honest communication, and living the organisational values. This means building rapport, trust and setting expectations on how we will partner. Partnering with people takes time and effort, but it allows you to add value, and influences and delivers clear business results and a far more cohesive management team.

Who is your biggest professional inspiration?

All the people I have worked with who have allowed me to grow and believed in me. There have been two leaders in particular who have done that for me.

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

Understand why you want to get into HR and think about your view of HR, instead of just listening to others. Remember that you will achieve greatest success in HR when you understand business – so take the opportunity to move in and out of business roles when appropriate to further your career.

Describe yourself in three words?

Authentic, honest and a change-agent.

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