Luxottica has always been at the forefront of people and culture initiatives. As head of HR for the past 18 months, and with time spent in industries as diverse as IT and finance, Sharyn Schultz reflects on the challenges, achievements and insights she has discovered throughout the course of her brilliant career.
Human Capital: What drew you to an HR role initially?
Sharyn Schultz: I started my career in IT. When I first left school I worked in the IT department of a fairly large organisation in Melbourne. One of the things I found frustrating was sitting down at a desk, staring at a computer all day. One of the role models I had was the manager in charge of IT at that stage, who saw something in me that suggested I would be better off looking at IT training. So they gave me an opportunity to work on a fairly large project, implementing a new IT system into the sales business. At that time I had also taken on the responsibility of managing a fairly large team, which was also in the IT function. So my natural style was more inclined towards working with people in order to help them become better at what they do. That’s where I got introduced to the broader people piece, and that’s where my passion lies.
HC: What is your current role and how did it come about?
SS: I joined Luxottica as vice president human resources & communications in October 2010. The role is Asia-Pacific focused.
I was with ING DIRECT prior to that, and one of my strengths in my work history was building a culture and leadership team that drives performance and identifying what needs to be done in terms of people strategy to do that. So there was a strong synergy with what I was doing at ING and what Luxottica was doing as part of its next phase of growth and development. It was taking what had been a fabulous piece of work that Rhonda [predecessor Rhonda Brighton-Hall] had done in terms of putting the core processes in place, and then looking at how we could build on that to lift it to the next level. Luxottica is quite a decentralised business, and with responsibility for Asia as well, we don’t have a model whereby if we do it this way in Australia everyone else must do it the same way; instead we say, if we’re doing it like this here, does it make sense to do it the same or quite differently somewhere else?
HC: Does anything stand out for you in terms of differences between the two sectors, finance and FMCG?
SS: It has been an interesting move, kind of an unusual shift in many ways. There are two things I would note. Pace is one – I always thought ING DIRECT worked at a quick pace in terms of how quickly we got things done. My experience of retail – and I can only talk of my experience here at Luxottica – is that it’s faster again. Also the decision making is different – it’s the nature of dealing with daily, weekly and monthly results [in FMCG]. Sometimes that can be good and sometimes that can cause consequences that hadn’t been planned for. Often it’s a quick response tied to what’s happening in the broader economic environment, so it’s about getting the right balance.
HC: How would you recommend other HR professionals learn more about the wider business world?
SS: If I reflect back on what I’ve done there are probably a few things. One is definitely about networking. There is also a piece about trying to work across different industries. There’s also a piece about being curious – try to learn as much as you can, ask questions,\ and understand that it’s about relationships as well. I’ve learned a lot about business when I’ve had good mentors where I can go to them and ask silly questions – and they’ve been happy to have that conversation.
HC: What advice would you offer to a young grad just starting out on a career in HR?
SS: I think as a young grad you need to be mindful that there’s a balance between being people-focused and performance-focused. Sometimes people go into HR because they’re great with people and therefore believe all their decisions need to be based on doing the right thing for people. I think there always needs to be a balance between the right people decisions and what the right business outcomes need to be. Also, one of my learnings in HR is there’s a whole heap of gray. I don’t think a lot of people understand how gray HR can be until you get in and realise that sometimes there’s no right or wrong way of doing it. You just have to make a decision and go with what you think is best and adjust as you go through.
There’s also something there about being pragmatic. HR professionals can get pretty excited about a lot of sophisticated fancy things we can build, but we’ve got to be pragmatic and make sure whatever we’re doing links back to the culture and the business strategy.
HC: What do you consider to be your biggest career achievement to date?
SS: Something our CEO Chris Beer and I are quite proud of is the charitable foundation at Luxottica called OneSight. This foundation provides people in disadvantaged communities across Australia with access to free eye tests and, if needed, free glasses. OneSight is fairly well embedded across the business and we have lots of people in the business who take part. However, we wanted to take it to the next level and make it sustainable. What we’ve just launched is our first sustainable clinic. It’s been a long process to work with the different health bodies at local and federal government, but we’ve just launched a program in Mt Isa so that over time we can build capability within the community. We’ll provide the equipment and training, and eventually they’ll be able to do it themselves. It’s a long term commitment, but we’re really proud of it.