Staying power: HR at Procter & Gamble

by 30 May 2012

In a relatively high turnover field it’s unusual to find a HR professional who has remained with the same company since graduation. Now with over 20 years working in multiple roles at Procter & Gamble behind her, Amanda Irwin talks to HC about her brilliant career

HC: What drew you to an HR role initially?

AI: Over the first 12 years of my time with P&G I held a number of different roles, but had always been one of our internal trainers. This encouraged my passion for building the capability of others so when the opportunity to take up an HR role was presented to me it seemed like a natural progression.

HC: What is your current role and how did it come about?

AI: My current role is HR leader for Procter & Gamble for Australia and New Zealand. I joined P&G straight out of Uni in 1991 in the IT department. I spent the first year as a computer programmer and project manager, then moved into a business analyst role supporting our key customer teams. From there I held a number of different sales roles, external and internal, before being offered an opportunity in HR in 2003.

In 2005 I transferred to P&G’s Asia Head Office in Singapore. During this time I worked as the regional HR leader across a number of different categories including Retail Hair Care, Skin Care and Professional Hair Care.

 In 2010 I returned to Australia to take on the role of HR leader for Australia and New Zealand.

As a company focused on having a diverse and inclusive workforce, this exposure to different business disciplines, business problems and geographies is typical of the way P&G develops its people. As one of the last large ‘promote from within’ companies, this experience and capability building is an important way to ensure that our future leaders have the broad range of skills required to run the business.

 HC: How would you recommend other HR professionals learn more about the wider business world?

AI: There are a number of ways that have been helpful for me. Firstly, learn about the business that you currently work in. Understand the business challenges and the processes used to solve these challenges. Sit in on key business decision making forums to see how the work really gets done in the organisation. Shadow some of your top talent and see what the tough commercial issues are for them.

If you get the opportunity, take up a broadening assignment in a commercial function. This may mean a demotion for a short period of time, but there is nothing like a job in the business to understand the business!

HC: What do you consider to be your biggest career achievement to date?

AI: There have been many times when I’ve felt that the work HR has led at P&G has had a significant impact on our employees, and on the business. I was part of two significant integrations while in Asia so being able to successfully integrate two business cultures, along with relocating large numbers of employees into a new country, while growing the business probably stands out the most for me.

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

AI: Have a clear understanding of your own values, and how you hope to make a difference. There are multiple roles that HR can play in a company, and each company has its own set of values. Since HR is often the ‘keeper’ of a company’s culture and values you need to be confident that those values match with yours. Understanding the role that HR plays in a company will help you get a sense for whether that is a role that plays to your strengths and passions. Finding a company with a strong alignment to your values and with expectations which match the things you are passionate about will set you up for rewarding work and a great career.

For me, P&G is the perfect company in this regard. P&G has strong company values and a global commitment to improving the lives of consumers not just through our products but also through giving back to the communities that we operate in. P&G has 100 ‘Live, Learn and Thrive’ programs operating in 60 countries that have improved life for more than 315 million people. Every second of every day two children benefit. Locally, we’ve just announced a new corporate partnership with Save the Children where we are aiming to improve the lives of 4,500 through a Story Swag program and many more through a cause related marketing program on our Vicks brand. Knowing that my work contributes to improving lives makes it all the more rewarding.

HC: Describe yourself in a few key words?

AI: I’m pragmatic, curious and always looking to get to the heart of the issue. I will stand up for what I believe is right, even when it is tough or unpopular. I have a principle based style so will always look for the principles to consider in a situation and let those guide us in our final decision.

HC: Do you have any role models professionally or personally?

AI: In my time as an HR business partner, four of my six business leaders have been women. It’s been a privilege to partner with them and I have learnt different things from each of them. I’ve learnt which styles work well in different business situations, how to navigate the complexities of big issues and how to make my family a priority, even when it seems that work will consume every spare minute!

I have three children, aged 14, 12 and 10 and while P&G has great programs in place to support working parents, it can be tough knowing how to make the right calls in different situations. My role models have demonstrated how to have a very successful career, while still being the kind of parent that you hope to be by understanding the things you are willing to be flexible on, and which you are not.

HC: Where do you see the future of HR as a profession heading?

AI: The future of HR is exciting! As the world changes at an ever increasing pace, businesses and organisations need to continue to evolve to make sure they are successful. HR has a leadership role to play in ensuring that organisations are designed to win in the market, that the right people are in place and that those people have the capability they need. HR managers with a strong connection to both the business and their people will be in a unique position to impact results and will be in high demand.