I had a chance to meet with Stephanie Nash, the Chief People Officer at RedMart. There’s something special in RedMart’s DNA. When my friend, Valerie, interviewed with them last year, her job description was tailored to her strengths, twice. To me, that’s a culture that cultivates the individual’s unique strengths. I wanted to meet with it’s architect.
For easy reading, my questions are in Italics, and Stephanie’s answers are in regular.
How would you describe yourself?
My name is Stephanie. I’m originally from the United States, but spent the majority of my career living and working outside the U.S.
I love diversity in culture – the people, food and sights. I’m an explorer and have followed career opportunities to places like Santiago, Melbourne, and now, Singapore.
What attracted you to HR (Human Resources)?
After university, I took on a development program with a retail company. In about twelve months, I found myself thinking whether or not this is what I wanted to do for my career. I started to explore, using the way we did back then. I read the book, “What Color Is Your Parachute?” (by Richard Bolles), and that led me to HR.
I moved to a HR Coordinator role with a mining and resources company. I supported expatriate management for mineral exploration. I moved people from places like Toronto to places like Ouagadougu, Burkina Faso and Acra, Ghana. After all, you don’t find copper in New York City.
I bought myself a world map and pinned it up on the wall. The role instilled a lot of curiousity and passion for different places in the world. I really enjoyed what I was doing.
Since then, I’ve followed the growth of the company, moving to where the growth was. It led me to areas like Business Process Re-engineering, building a new business, and now designing a HR organisation from scratch.
What is it like to be a leader in HR?
It’s tremendous fun.
Currently in RedMart, I’m building a HR organisation that is an underpinning part of the DNA at our Company.
We’re establishing clear measures of success for the organization and teams. For the first time, we’re finalising our goal setting to the individual level.
What is the hardest part?
There’s nothing worse than telling people they’re losing their jobs. I had my first experience letting people go very early on in my career. I went from opening fifteen offices over twelve markets to closing all but three.
Whether I like it or not, that experience has played a meaningful role in my career.
In 2008, I moved to Singapore from Seattle to take on the HR role looking after Asia Pacific. When my family and I got on the airplane, life was good. Thirty hours later, when we got off, Microsoft had a headcount freeze and cost cutting initiatives kicked in. The global financial crisis became real. Instead of coming to Singapore to focus on growth, I came in focusing on cost control.
I led a redundancy scenario across fourteen markets in Asia. It was the first layoff for Microsoft, and in some markets, the first ever – it has never been done before. I drew upon my previous experiences to lead through that process, as best as we could, trying to ensure respect for our people and recognizing the cultural differences.
That’s a tough position, one that neither employee or HR wants to be a part of. What’s the best thing that can be done?
It’s extremely difficult for the person who is let go. Leaders have to take it seriously, in making the decisions, communicating, and treating people fairly. Be an active participant, become familiar with the tools and support to do the right thing.
One of the main obstacles is resources. Even with constraints, there are still ways to treat people fairly. We can do things like build in-house outplacement and transition support.
How has your experience in HR contribute to your own career?
Follow the growth of the company and your own aspirations, even if it means moving to a new country. Growth happens in different ways and different places, it doesn’t happen by staying still.
Be a player in your own career. I’ve been fortunate and able to take my career into my own hands, starting with the move to HR shortly after twelve months of my first job.
What does it mean to be a player?
I may not know the answer, I may not own anything by myself, but I can own the situation or the set of circumstances by making a choice and acting on it. We all have a voice, we can choose to exercise that voice, as softly or loudly, or as much or as little as we want. That’s a choice.
For example, when I was with Allergan (in Singapore), we faced threats and the potential for a hostile takeover loomed large. I was exposed as an expat in a leadership role. If the takeover happens, I would be the first to go. My family and I were here on my employment pass, the kids are settled here. I could be told to leave anytime with only thirty days to figure out what to do with my family and my life.
My husband and I had to figure out, where do we want to be? We made a choice then to stay here, I applied for a personal employment pass, and focussed my job search in Singapore. That’s what I mean by being a player in your own career.
How else do you manage your own career?
It’s important for me to know, feel and believe I’m adding value and creating impact. In some situations, I’ve been able to add value (that others were not able to) because of what I’ve done, where I’ve been, and the experiences I’ve had.
I also look at what I can learn. Each difficult scenario has offered tremendous learnings. Although many scenarios are around similar topics, they’re never the same and never monotonous because the context differs and of course, the people differ.
I have also had great mentors along the way. They were my managers from previous roles, such as: Andy Slentz while at BHP Billiton; Jerry Dark and Skip Schipper while at Microsoft. I felt they were equally, if not more, invested in my career than myself. I realize now that I think that they saw potential in me, and they wanted to put me in situations that would stretch me and put me in the limelight.
I still approach them for advice today; meeting up when we are in the same city. Different mentors bring different experiences that I would draw upon at different times. It could be for something I’m experiencing now, or would one day.
What would you advise to people who are going to work abroad and move often?
For me, having a partner who shares that spirit and desire to explore is critical. When I made my first move outside the U.S., to Santiago, it was a coincidence that my then boyfriend, now my husband, just applied for his first passport and was already thinking about traveling the globe. So we went together and that was the beginning of our adventure.
It’s important that we’re all healthy, happy and safe. So we talk regularly about this as a family and what it means for each of us. That provides a level of confidence when going into new situations.
Big thanks to Stephanie for sharing her story!
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About Roger Grant, CEO of PERSONNA
Roger helps organisations turn ideas into real business impact. The change comes from the inside out.
He has more than 20 years of experience leading large diverse teams to create innovative customer-centric technology services, including the launch of Nokia’s first enterprise mobile device support service.
Photo credit: Stephanie Nash