My brilliant career – Alla Keogh

by 18 Mar 2008

What is your current role?

My current role is director, people and performance at Deloitte. Based in Melbourne, I am responsible for HR across our regional offices; that is Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra and Perth– I travel a lot. This represents approximately one-third of Deloitte’s total workforce – more than 1,500 people. I have a geographically dispersed team of about 12 generalist practitioners, and also work closely with our central HR functions on internal communications.

What qualifications do you hold?

I hold a Bachelor of Arts majoring in sociology and English from Monash University, a Graduate Diploma of Commerce (HR/IR) and a Master of Commerce (Organisational Change) from the University of Melbourne. I’m also an AHRI certified professional.

Why did you get into HR?

My mother worked as a HR director in the finance industry for many years, and I always thought her job seemed very full-on and interesting. I did work experience at a stockbroking firm in high school, and although I did nothing other than filing for the entire week, I thought HR would be something I’d like to learn more about. When I finished school, I was interested in PR and journalism, so I enrolled in an arts degree, thinking the broader my early tertiary education the better. I always knew I’d continue my study with something specific to my chosen career once I made up my mind. I finally chose HR because it balanced my interest in people, communication and business.

How did you get into HR?

In my second year of my arts degree, I registered to do some temporary admin work with a CBD-based temp agency. I ended up working on the reception desk of a global funds management company for two weeks. At the end of the two weeks, I walked into the MD’s office and told him I’d enjoyed working there, and if there was any chance of a part-time job once I was back at university I’d jump at it. He said he’d think about it. He didn’t think long – I ended up working there for more than two years in a variety of admin roles while I finished my undergraduate studies, during which time they hired a HR director and I was asked to assist her in the initial setup of the HR function. Once I completed my degree, I was lucky enough to be selected for a graduate generalist HR role with a large professional services firm, and enrolled in an HR/IR graduate diploma.

Where do you see yourself in five years time?

I can see myself moving to an executive role in a smaller firm, most likely in the services or finance industries. Within the next five years I can see myself moving overseas for a short- to medium-term stint to build my international experience or moving into a line/operational role for one to two years to enhance my commercial exposure and test my business knowledge.

What do you think it takes to succeed in HR?

Resilience, business insight, strong relationship building and strategic influencing skills. You can’t be in this job because you “love working with people”anymore. The role is about creating value for the business while maintaining employee engagement. It’s about building capability of your leaders and managers and holding them accountable for their own people. Credibility and a focus on execution are absolutely key – without them you are lost.

How do you manage relationships with senior executives?

Working in a partnership model is quite different from working in a corporate structure. Our partners are senior executives, owners and shareholders all rolled into one. They can be demanding and quite hierarchical. They are, by the very nature of partnership, collaborative and consultative – which can be a good thing, but can also mean that it takes much longer for decisions to be made. I tend to invest a lot of time in maintaining relationships, which can be difficult over distance, but well worth the effort.

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

Be prepared to start anywhere, doing anything that will get you closer to achieving your goal. Don’t be afraid to ask people for mentoring and sponsorship – they will be flattered rather than inconvenienced. It doesn’t “look bad on your CV” to move around every couple of years until you find an organisation that fits your own values. Start as broad as you can – you can always specialise later. If you can’t find an “HR” job straight after university, go and work for a company you admire, and get involved in “people” stuff and employee initiatives as much as you can.

Describe yourself in three words

Optimistic, strategic and focused.