What is your current role?
HR general manager for Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV).
What qualifications do you hold?
My qualifications are a bit unusual for what I do now. I have degrees in arts (MacquarieUniversity, majoring in behavioural sciences) and theology (University of Sydney) and I qualified as a UnitingChurch minister.
Why did you get into HR?
After being deeply involved in people issues early in my career as a minister and then moving into broader general management responsibilities in mid-career with CSIRO and the Australian Government’s international development program, I realised again that what I really enjoy are the people issues. I therefore decided to refocus on HR.
How did you get into HR?
During 12 years with CSIRO and then six years in international development, I held a number of positions that included general corporate service responsibilities. HR was a small part of my brief for a good many years. I then had a decent think about where I felt able to best make a satisfying contribution, and decided on people issues. An opportunity came up three years ago as general manager HR at RACV that matched this really well.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
Either still with RACV or a senior management role in the not-for-profit area.
What has been your biggest career high so far?
I loved supporting international development work that helped reduce poverty and generate better income sustainably in partnership with developing countries. I especially enjoyed working with countries like North Korea and China and others in Asia and the Pacific region. Negotiating a program with North Korea to help improve rice and wheat yields in very difficult circumstances has been the most exciting and satisfying single experience.
What do you think it takes to succeed in HR?
I think establishing trusting relationships, without spin or subterfuge, is vital. Giving high priority to the well-being of people at all levels is critical. High ethical standards and preparedness to query activity that doesn’t meet such standards are important. HR can’t be done well without a firm customer orientation. HR practitioners also need to respect and appreciate the non-HR imperatives that line managers are faced with – especially commercial or financial imperatives – and retain some objectivity rather than barrow-pushing. And finally, humility is essential; in my experience, HR fails most spectacularly when practised with a big head.
How do you manage relationships with senior executives?
I think relationships with other senior executives need to be founded on the principle of partnership. Collaborating for the good of the whole entity, as opposed to territoriality or giving overly high priority to making oneself or one’s department look good, is important. Establishing and developing relationships through honesty, transparency and plenty of listening helps too.
Who is your biggest professional inspiration?
A young person who works in a relatively junior position in HR and goes out of their way to support their customers with excellent advice, a can-do attitude, much patience and great professionalism.
What advice would you give to graduates considering a career in HR?
Don’t be afraid to move in and out of HR to gain a broader perspective. Ultimately, you will be able to make a more enlightened contribution to your business as a result of such moves.
Describe yourself in three words
Fair, inclusive, values-driven.
Michael Brown: career history
2005-current: General manager, HR, RACV
1999-2005: Deputy CEO and head of corporate services, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research
1987-1999: CSIRO (various positions including manager, budget 1991-1994 and manager, HR and Finance 1994-1999)
1985-1986: Chaplain at WesleyCollege within the University of Sydney
1984: Parish minister, Armidale NSW
1981-1984: Ordained as UnitingChurch minister in 1984
1977-1979: Bachelor of Arts (majoring in behavioural sciences)