'I always strive to help people reach their full potential'

Canon's HR director Sara Marshall has always been passionate about people and social connections

'I always strive to help people reach their full potential'

Sara Marshall, director - human resources, communications and facilities, Canon, has always been passionate about people and social connections.

In the 1980s, a turning point came when the Auckland native had a bicycle accident during her time at university, which almost resulted in her losing the use of her arms. This experience gave her a new appreciation for the opportunities surrounding her. 

“I thought ‘I am never taking anything for granted again’. I decided to really apply my abilities, and do what I was most interested in: I changed my major to psychology.”

1990 – Gets hands-on

Her first HR position, in an education and training support agency, provides Sara with a hands-on education in terms of balancing the interests and needs of culturally diverse stakeholders when she works with an agency representing Maori and Pacific Islanders.

“It taught me to think on a variety of levels; it was a tremendous grounding in putting theories into practice. My supervisor pushed me to go outside my comfort zone, and I welcomed the challenge. It made me reach my full potential.”

1994 – Broadens horizons

A move to Australia brings with it a series of cultural changes for Sara, not only in geography but in the methodology and attitude required at the consultancy she helped found.

“It was a fantastic foundation in understanding different sectors. I had to be quite fluid in how I managed things, and part of that is to do with putting yourself in the shoes of another individual: thinking in terms of what do they need, how do I approach it.”

2006 – Joins Mercer

An approach from Mercer for an ANZ position appeals to Sara’s desire to test her abilities.

One instance of helping a person realize their potential that makes Sara particularly proud dates from this time: “A HR person who started off lacking in confidence, had never been overseas, was ultimately seconded to a HR manager role in China and she nailed it. It makes you realise how you can help people reach their full potential.”

2008 – Devises a global role from scratch

A global HR role that calls for the set-up of global HR structures from scratch for a company providing pathway courses for international students into universities worldwide presented an especial challenge, given Sara knew it would be sold within a few years.

“The selling process was worth hundreds of millions of dollars. I had to devise the people plan from scratch and the HR infrastructure to support the sale along a limited timeframe.”

2012 – Takes on a change challenge

Sara joins Reckitt Benckiser, a business experiencing tremendous change, and takes on the challenge of shaping it. Again at its core, Sara’s interest is in seeing people reach their full potential.

“I looked at the structure, at change initiative, succession planning, and the caliber of people developed and promoted. I saw people go from strength to strength with good support.”

2017 – Joins Canon

Sara joins Canon in part because of the company’s track record of diversity initiatives.

“I was attracted to Cannon by the great opportunities; I’m passionate about talent development and giving people opportunities. I always strive to help people reach their full potential, and diversity and inclusion is very much linked with that.

People coming from different experiences – how do you leverage that so we all come together and get the best of all worlds?”


Free newsletter

Our daily newsletter is FREE and keeps you up-to-date with the world of HR. Please complete the form below and click on subscribe for daily newsletters from HRD New Zealand.

Recent articles & video

Conducting reference checks: What you need to know

How can employers support staff in a time of tragedy?

The benefits and pitfalls of a 'four-day work week'

Are employees on maternity leave entitled to accrue leave?

Most Read Articles

Inside Krispy Kreme's recruitment strategy

Are employees on maternity leave entitled to accrue leave?

Is your workplace culture toxic?