My brilliant career – Sonia La Penna

by 25 Jul 2007

What is your current role?

Group human resources manager, reporting to the managing director, Peter Birtles. I have a team of approximately 28 HR practitioners who provide a range of HR services to approximately 4,000 team members across the Super Cheap Auto Group.

What qualifications do you hold?

Bachelor of Arts (Psychology) and postgraduate studies in HR.

Why did you get into HR?

While studying for my degree at MacquarieUniversity in Sydney I was inspired by a guest lecturer who specialised in industrial psychology. It was at these lectures that I was introduced to the dynamic world of human resources and I really connected with the idea of ‘getting the best out of people’.

How did you get into HR?

My first job was working at Franklins Supermarkets (NSW) in the recruitment department. It was fantastic to work for such a large and fast-paced company because it gave me the opportunity to work in the different specialist areas of HR. This experience provided me with a choice to move into either a generalist or specialist HR role.

Where do you see yourself in five years time?

That’s a great question. I’ve never really planned that far ahead with my career moves, however my sense is that I may be working overseas again in a different industry – perhaps in Europe.

What has been your biggest career high so far?

My career highs have been many in that I’m constantly challenging myself to take on bigger job roles in HR. One of my favourite quotes is “You can only discover new oceans when you have the courage to lose sight of the shore”. Interestingly, this quote was on my wall for two years when an unexpected opportunity came up to work for Royal Caribbean Cruise lines in the United States.

What do you think it takes to succeed in HR?

Passion! Focus on doing your job to the best of your ability. Always seek to improve your knowledge and skills in HR. Listen and learn from the experiences of others, including professionals across different disciplines. Be business savvy, learn about the industry you choose to work in – it’s amazing how much credibility you build.

How do you manage relationships with senior executives?

It’s important to get to know each executive and vice versa that they get to know you. This takes time, so it’s extremely important to demonstrate a genuine understanding of the individual as well as their business by providing practical advice and support. Ultimately it’s in the delivery of HR initiatives that builds trust and confidence with senior executives.

Who is your biggest professional inspiration?

Honestly, I’ve been fortunate to have had many people over the years that have inspired me on a professional as well as a personal level (I believe the two work hand in hand). One person I’ll always be grateful to is Tom Hearne, my state HR manager at Franklins, he saw my potential long before I recognised it.

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

Be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get right into the ‘grass root’ frontline operations of HR – the good, the great and the ugly. Having a formal qualification may get your foot in the door but it doesn’t guarantee you skipping a couple of rungs up the ladder. It’s the knowledge, experience and achievements you demonstrate over time that builds your professional reputation. Focus on your job today and do it to the best of your ability – success will follow.

Describe yourself in three words

Creative, passionate and relentless.

Career history

Dec 2005-Present: Super Cheap Auto Group, group HR manager

Jul 2004-Nov 2005: Brazin Ltd, Sydney Australia, HR director

Jan 2002-June 2004: Royal Caribbean International, USA, HR manager (June 2003-June 2004)

Jan 1999-Dec 2001: Sunglass Hut International, HR manager, Australasian Region

Jan 1996-Dec 1998: Franklins Ltd, Chullora/Ingleburn, NSW human resource coach/facilitator (1997-Dec 1998)