My brilliant career – Liz Ryan

by 15 Apr 2008

What is your current role?

My current role is director of human resources for Maddocks. I oversee a team of nine HR executives across two offices and have responsibility not only for recruitment and internal policies, but also for our quality assurance program which provides me with an opportunity to stay close to the business operating systems.

It is a role that I thoroughly enjoy as I work with a great team of HR professionals, not to mention a down-to-earth and friendly group of lawyers.

Maddocks is a commercial law firm that specialises in corporate commercial law, including tax, superannuation, intellectual property and information technology, banking and finance, mergers and acquisitions, private equities, property, workplace services, construction and major projects, planning and environment, government and administrative law, commercial and tax disputes.

What qualifications do you hold?

My undergraduate and postgraduate studies have been in business with a focus in HR and marketing. I also completed my MBA in 1999.

When did you get in to HR?

I had my first official HR title in 1990. Prior to that, personnel was one aspect of other management duties.

I have been fortunate that at least three times during my employment with Maddocks I have had the opportunity to be involved in marketing. A few years ago my title was “manager, human resources and client service”. In this role I had responsibility for undertaking some client feedback interviews. This was a great experience as often HR professionals do not get the opportunity to meet with the external clients/customers firsthand. This provided some valuable information that I was able to use to enhance our learning and development programs.

How did you get in to HR?

I decided on HR because in professional service firms, what we are really selling is people – their skills and expertise. As the HR function has the most significant input into this part of the business, I saw it as a great opportunity to influence business outcomes.

Where do you think you will be in five years time?

I think in five years’ time I would like to have more work-life balance and utilise the skills that I have developed over a long period of time to assist some non-profit organisations.

What has been your biggest high so far?

I have been with my current employer for a number of years and it has been enormously rewarding to watch professionals commencing as graduates and progressing their careers to partnership. I have also been fortunate enough to initiate many internal policies that support women’s career progression and was delighted that this year Maddocks achieved EOWA Employer of Choice for Women status for the fourth consecutive year.

How do you manage relationships with senior executives?

In law firms there are many intellectually gifted people. Senior people are very focused on their clients and their business outcomes. I try to ensure that I have their trust, listen to them and deliver what they need to allow them to best service their clients/customers and also develop their people.

Who is your biggest professional inspiration?

It is fair to say that many people that I have worked with in my time at Maddocks have been a great source of inspiration in both a formal and informal sense. I have worked with three great managing partners/CEOs, John Chisholm, Guy O’Connor and David Laidlaw.

What do you think it takes to succeed in HR?

To be successful in HR you really need to have a great understanding of the business you are working in and on. You cannot think of HR policies and processes in isolation from the rest of the business. It is really important to understand the key drivers of the business, what the future might look like and align the HR strategy appropriately. HR traditionally has internal clients. It is important to maintain a strong external focus so that you can really understand what it is your organisation’s clients/customers need and also understand what you are competing against with competitors.

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

I would suggest that graduates consider why they really want a career in HR. Often people say they would like to get in to HR because “they like people and want to help them”. They don’t seem to have an appreciation of some of the tougher aspects that HR practitioners have to deal with. While having an altruistic approach is great, they need to understand that good HR management is about adding value to a business.