My brilliant career – Sue Smith

by 10 Jun 2008

What is your current role?

I am the Chief Human Resources Officer for the Foster’s Group.

What qualifications do you hold?

I have a Bachelor of Arts from Melbourne University and a Post Graduate Diploma in Human Resources from Deakin University.

Why did you get into HR?

I started as a “generalist” graduate trainee with Ampol Petroleum and was then progressing into Marketing, but realised I was more interested in the “people dynamics”– how to achieve goals and results through people and the organisation.

How did you get into HR?

After about five years in graduate and marketing roles, I was offered the chance to do a maternity leave stint managing an IT team. This was not on the basis of having an IT background (nor strong technology skills!) but because there was a need to work with what was regarded as a highly dysfunctional team that required strong leadership and “people skills”. After that I put myself out there with a couple of recruiters ... and luck played a part. My first HR boss was looking for someone who could bring a more commercial perspective to the HR function.

Where do you seeyourself in five years?

Where I am now. I have just been appointed to the global role and I believe we are on a journey. Our people are innovative, passionate and energetic and we need to keep this people focus at the forefront of all we do.

Hopefully I will also be well grounded as a person, ensuring that other aspects of my life are right up there with how I define my success and how I spend my time.

What has been your biggest career high so far?

It is yet to come with Foster’s. Foster’s is a fantastic Australian organisation with great brands that you quickly and easily become passionate about, within a great “lifestyle” industry. However, a key milestone to date was working in the UK for four years running the HR function for Colonial Financial Services... I loved my time in the UK and realised I am a bit of an anglophile.

What do you think it takes to succeed in HR?

Integrity and courage; sound judgement; being direct yet sensitive; an ability to build strong, open and trusting relationships; people insight; and a passion for developing individuals and teams to drive results.

How do you manage relationships with senior executives?

You need an understanding of the key business drivers and strategic challenges of the business. Senior executives will also look for you to be a confidante and source of counsel for them as individuals, as well as providing insight for their teams and the organisation ... and doing all this with integrity and keeping it “real”.

Who is your biggestprofessional inspiration?

I’ve picked up lots of tips along the way from a lot of people ... the good the bad and the ugly have all played a part in how I keep learning.

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

Learn about the HR basics – how you can improve service delivery, improve HR processes. Your actions and delivery will be the ticket to success. But also seek out one or two role models or champions who you know have a positive and dynamic effect on the function and organisation and take advice ... observe and learn from them. And don’t lose sight of the fact that it is a journey not a destination – so have fun along the way, too!

Describe yourself in three words

Actually, I had 12 executives do this for me quite recently in a development forum ... the words they used most were honest, direct, positive.