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International HR Day 2024: A throwback to the beginning of these HR leaders' careers

International HR Day 2024: A throwback to the beginning of these HR leaders' careers

Dear HR friends:

Do you still remember your first day in HR? Was being an HR a natural career choice for you at a very early stage? Or did the opportunity catch you by chance, and you have since developed your passion for your job?

With International HR Day on 20 May 2024, let's refresh ourselves on the journey that has taken us to where and who we are today.

In this special feature, HRO walks HR leaders across Asia down the memory lane to understand their original motivation and aspiration to be in HR, and how it has changed along their career journey.

We hope this will reinforce your resolutions as an HR professional and recharge you to take on whatever lies ahead.

The HRO team is here to wish every HR professional a Happy International HR Day!

– Feature by Priya Sunil, Sarah Gideon, Arina Sofiah & Tracy Chan.

Warm wishes,
The HRO team

Gill Rees, Global Head of HR, Transformation, Technology & Operations, Standard Chartered

I have always had a passion for improving the lives of others. Being in HR has given me the opportunity, and privilege, to positively impact individuals, businesses, and communities through the power of purpose, people, technology and business agility. I am continually motivated by transforming business performance through client-focused, data-driven and people-first solutions including new ways of working, employee reskilling and upskilling, and high-performance workplace culture.

My current role at Standard Chartered sees me driving impactful initiatives, such as our AI-powered talent marketplace, to help colleagues build future-ready skills in areas like sustainable finance, data & analytics, and cybersecurity. We also help ensure the skills of our engineering workforce are continually upgraded and recalibrated to match ever-changing market demands. All this with the purpose of helping our people develop sustainable and resilient careers that can remain more relevant to evolving business needs, both within the Bank and across other industries.

Jenny Pong, Director, People Leader, East Asia, Arup

More than two decades ago, my father retired from the company where he had dedicated over 30 years of his life. I still remember the day he came home with a somber expression, having discovered that his retirement payment was disappointingly insufficient. It was during this time that I received my first job opportunity, a blessing from God, as a consultant specialising in the introduction of the new Mandatory Provident Fund in Hong Kong. This experience ignited a deep sense of purpose and passion within me, leading me to embark on a career in HR from its earliest stages.

Since then, my unwavering focus has been on assisting companies in enhancing their business outcomes through the differentiation of employee experiences. I firmly believe that by introducing digitalisation to reduce human errors, we can streamline operations and optimise efficiency. Moreover, I am dedicated to ensuring that HR functions add substantial value to the overall business, thereby enhancing the purpose and impact of HR professionals themselves. Guided by this principle, I have successfully implemented organisational changes that enable businesses to continuously flourish and adapt to evolving demands.

However, my commitment extends beyond mere profitability. I firmly believe in striking a delicate balance between business profits and the wellbeing of employees. By fostering a harmonious work environment that prioritises employee welfare, we can create sustainable success and foster a culture of fulfillment and engagement.

In essence, my early experiences have shaped my career trajectory, instilling in me an unwavering dedication to helping companies thrive by improving employee experiences. By leveraging digitalisation, optimising HR practices, and maintaining a delicate equilibrium between financial gains and employee wellbeing, I strive to make a meaningful and lasting impact in the field of HR.

Franco Fok, Talent Lead, Human Resources, Sainsbury’s Argos Asia

I came from an organisational psychology background. HR is a career choice that enables help me to put theory into practice.

My original motivation is to adding more people-oriented approach into HR with my distinct psychology background. As I progressed in my career, I started to redefine HR into a talent focused, value-adding function that encompasses several areas that I am passionate about: talent development, selection, performance management, driving employer's value proposition, and organisation transformation from culture and people point of view.

William Chan, Associate Director, Human Resources – North Asia, Plaza Premium Group

HR wasn't my intended path initially. My perspective shifted during an internship at a hotel's HR department, where I was part of a lively team. It's far from the administrative drudge I had imagined.

Today, in the hospitality industry, I continually see how HR is pivotal in shaping workplace culture. Whether it's through resolving conflicts, fostering career development, or driving engagement initiatives, the role offers a rewarding chance to positively influence colleagues' professional lives. The dynamic range of tasks – from recruitment to employee relations – ensures there's never a dull moment, keeping the career continually engaging and enjoyable for someone who thrives on people connection.

Joanna Lee, Director of Human Resources, APAC, Continental Conair

At first, I was interested in exploring a PR or marketing representative’s role: learn how to interact with different cultural people and extend my social network. I was also interested in exploring the social worker’s main roles and responsibilities as I could support the disadvantaged groups and bring value to them.

Finally, I choose to be a human resources practitioner as I really put “people at heart”. Not only sharpening my management skills but also being able to support others for career building; resolve conflicts in the workplace; and, offer a psychologically safe environment for my colleagues.

Shaun Ee, Cluster Head of People, The HEINEKEN Company (Singapore and Myanmar)

Whilst still in school, I pursued two internships in HR driven by a sense of curiosity. Little did I expect that the exciting experience of participating in hiring interviews to influence someone else's fate across the table would lead me to where I am!

Today, I love my role as an HR professional because of the positive impact I can make on the business, as well as the lives and livelihoods of the people around me. It's a career that allows me to unlock the full potential of people and organisations. It's a calling that I've answered, much more than just a job I have to do.

Yashmi Pujara, Chief Human Resources Officer, Cactus Communications

I started my career in sales and marketing. After a while, I got a chance to work in recruitment and then expanded to cover all areas of HR. At first, HR fascinated me because it allowed me to impact the career paths of people, at a large scale.

But over my 20+ years journey, I have learned how HR can help people achieve their best potential, find purpose in what they do and create a culture that fosters learning and growth through their work. This remains my motivation to give my best to what I do.

Ilja Rijnen, Senior Director – Global Learning & Change, Suntory Global Spirits

With a background in psychology, I've always been fascinated by what drives people's motivation and performance. While HR wasn't my initial career path, transitioning from learning & development felt like a natural extension of this passion. A senior leader helped me see HR's potential to strategically unlock human potential.

Over 19 years, my aspirations have evolved from avoiding a "boring" job to embracing the quest to align individual fulfillment with organisational success. I find deep meaning in understanding each person's unique motivators and leveraging talent development initiatives to help both employees and the company thrive. HR empowers me to optimise human possibilities.

Navuth Yang, Director, Country Human Resources, DKSH (Myanmar), DKSH Services

With a dream of becoming a medical doctor, and alleviating people's suffering from illness initially fuelled my career aspirations, HR wasn't on my radar at very early career stage. However, the past 20+ years as an HR professional have been surprisingly fulfilling. I find immense satisfaction in contributing to the wellbeing of both the organisation and the employees.

While my initial passion for HR stemmed from a desire to support employee wellbeing and career development, my experience has revealed a deeper calling to play critical role a strategic partner in driving organisational culture, people capabilities, and ultimately, business growth.

Farid Basir, Chief People Officer, MBSB Bank Berhad

My journey into HR was initially sparked by a deep fascination with how people drive organisational success and serve as the ultimate competitive advantage.

Over the years, this passion has evolved as I've delved deeper into the intricate dynamics of human capital management. I've found immense fulfillment in shaping workplace cultures, nurturing employee development, and spearheading strategic HR initiatives aligned with overarching business goals. My diverse experiences across various industries and countries have underscored the critical role of HR in fostering inclusivity and navigating cultural complexities.

As my career progressed, my focus in HR has transitioned from mere people management to a broader outlook centered on human development – recognising individuals not just as resources but as the very essence of sustainable growth and prosperity.

Chanaporn Chantaprateep, HR Director, L’Oreal Thailand and MYLACA

My journey into HR wasn't planned. I studied Public Relations and interned in that field. But during my internship, I had the chance to help the HR department with their graduate recruitment. That's when I discovered my interest in HR. Inspired by my internship experience, I pursued a Master's degree in HR and returned to the same company as a Management Trainee.

My passion for HR grew when I had the opportunity to interview and select young graduates, giving them their first career experiences. I realised the impact HR could have on their future paths.

Over 20 years in the field, I've also witnessed various HR trends and the evolving skills required. However, one thing has remained constant: the importance of leadership. Today, my greatest passion lies in recruiting for leadership, training for leadership, and fostering the growth of individuals in their leadership roles, believing that they are the foundation of a successful organisation.

Developing people and their leadership skills has become the most fulfilling aspect of my HR career.

Vasumathi P, Head – Performance Management and Employee Recogntions, TCS, Tata Consultancy Services

From an early age, I was captivated by the varied personalities and underlying emotions that drive people behaviours. This fascination, combined with a deep-seated interest in connecting with people, naturally led me to pursue a career in HR. Along the way, I had wonderful mentors who guided me and helped me excel in my career journey. Overall, HR seemed the perfect fit for someone who preferred people over periodic tables.

My passion for HR has only grown stronger over the years. The ever-changing ecosystem, the dynamic nature of HR, and the power to influence positive changes and drive innovation have fuelled this passion. My career journey broadened my perspective, shifting my focus from HR operations to transformative HR practices by leveraging technological advancements and enhancing employee experience.

Today, I see HR as a pivotal function that not only supports organisational goals but also champions corporate sustainability and community engagement. By fostering inclusive cultures, supporting employee wellbeing, and driving social responsibility initiatives, HR can create a positive impact both within the organisation and in the wider community.

Tina Sharma, Head HR & Admin, Hong Leong Bank

During my MBA days, I had the chance to do an internship in HR at a Luxury hotel and that's where my interest in HR started to develop. I was fascinated by the dynamics of human interactions and the impact of a positive environment on individual wellbeing. This experience and the desire to make a meaningful impact on people and organisations motivated me to pursue a career in HR.

As I progressed in my career, HR evolved from administrative function to a truly strategic business partner. My work allows me to shape policies and initiatives that promote diversity, equity and inclusion, creating a strong impact on the organisation and the lives of the people working in it.

Choosing a career in HR has been the most fulfilling decision of my life. It has allowed me to blend my passion for helping others with my interest in creating fair and progressive workplaces. I am always reminded of the positive impact I can have on individuals and the organisation and reaffirm that HR is where I belong.

All photos/ Provided

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