My brilliant career – Robert Orth

Director of Human Resources for Australia and New Zealand – this includes responsibility for over 10,000 technical and sales professionals working across two countries, all the functional areas of HR and the HR management team supporting the business lines

What is your current role?

I’m the Director of Human Resources for Australia and New Zealand, with responsibility for over 10,000 technical and sales professionals working across two countries, all the functional areas of HR and the HR management team supporting the business lines. I’ve been in this role for four years, following three years as Director of Talent for IBM across Asia Pacific.

What qualifications do you hold?

A Bachelor of Science and Diploma of Education, from the University of Sydney. I majored in maths, so in another life I was supposed to be a mathematician.

Why did you get into HR?

I think HR was attractive to me because it was a fit with my values, strengths, my nature and the things I am passionate about. I believed that a strong business background was helpful to anyone in an HR role and I felt I could make a difference. I made a conscious decision to change careers nine years ago. I believed at that time that HR would be a true 21st century profession – and that HR would become more central, and key to business success. I think that largely this has come to pass.

How did you get into HR?

My first job out of university was as an Air Force officer, and after this I joined IBM and commenced a new career in sales and marketing. I progressed through various senior business management and leadership roles and along the way had the opportunity to experience various staff assignments. Along the way one assignment was an HR role in executive compensation and incentives, which gave me a clear exposure to HR as a profession.

Once I decided I wanted to make the move, I then made that desire known, sought input and views on how well my capabilities and experience aligned to HR roles, and then pursued the opportunity.

I took the first chance to move across into HR and from there it was a matter of throwing myself into an accelerated experience of a number of HR functional areas to grow my depth of knowledge.

What has been your biggest career high so far?

The fundamental changes we have made over the past few years in IBM A/NZ, to our workplace practices – particularly in the area of flexibility. It’s been a hard, concerted effort over a number of years, and key to dealing with the new realities of today’s business. All the rules have changed, and flexible work practices are core to attracting and retaining talent, to managing diversity, and to catering to Generation Y, to mature workers, working parents and other carers. I’m really pleased and proud with how we far have progressed and our leadership in this area in Australia and New Zealand.

Where do you see yourself in five years time?

I really like to initiate and see the results of change – not only in HR but in the business. On this basis I see myself moving into a regional role or global role, where I have the opportunity to take the business to a new place.

What does it take to succeed in HR?

Increasingly HR needs to be tightly integrated into the business and today’s business challenges. To succeed, you need to understand your business well and the people in it. You also need to display excellent judgement, practice separation, be pragmatic and have passion.

How do you manage relationships with senior executives?

All of us in the executive team enjoy a close working relationship, and there’s a real sense that together we’re charging forward. I see my role as a consultative one – that I’m there to assist the business meet goals, deliver value, and bring to the table the professional viewpoint of HR.

Who is your biggest professional inspiration?

Undoubtedly it was a senior IBM executive I worked with who had the ability to, in a day, move from meeting to meeting, from issue to issue, from detail at five feet to a 20,000 foot view and yet still be completely committed to thinking about the matter at hand, contributing value and ideas or direction and have people excited and motivated about their work. This is how I strive to conduct myself as a leader.

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

HR is an outstanding, very rewarding profession. What’s more, it’s increasingly significant to business and to the world at large. I’d encourage people to make a career in HR, but also warn them to be prepared – it can be tougher than they think.

Describe yourself in three words

Enthusiastic, committed, and passionate. Sorry but there is a fourth – forever the optimist.

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