Is HR suffering from a disconnect with reality? Akankasha Dewan speaks with Lukas Rasca, Asia Pacific COO of ESET, on his perspectives of HR as a business function.

1. How did you get to where you are today?

I think two key things got me to a COO role today. One was my gut feeling, which told me that the thing which I really wanted to do was general management. I always knew I didn’t want to be a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer, but be able to manage and handle people, and that guided me.

The second was when I started my career and ended up growing in different directions within it. I started as a salesman, then made a shift to be a recruiter for one year, then as a consultant and analyst for four years. I felt I needed to go get more knowledge, and handle a bigger scope of things. One day, I wanted to be able to oversee things from a general perspective.

2. How would you define your leadership style?

I listen to people, I respect people. I don’t have a military style of leadership. It is always harder to spend time with people, and coach and mentor and explain, but it doesn’t fail for me.

3. What do you enjoy most about your work?

I like change. That’s one of the reasons I took this job, because we’re going through a lot of changes in the company in general, and more specifically, in Asia Pacific. I couldn’t be in a role which was the same for so many years. I can appreciate stability – in fact, too much change and too many dynamics can kill you – but this is what suits me better, coming up with new things and changing things.

4. What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make as a boss?

That would be something experienced by most managers: Firing people. Specifically, when such orders come from the headquarters, where they just give you a quota and tell you to fire X% of your staff. Then you have to decide who that is. As I said earlier, I talk to everybody, I know their situation, and that it makes it harder.

I spend more time with them in such situations, consoling them, and offering them help and good references. They need to understand the world is not perfect, and it’s not personal.

5. How do you engage and motivate staff when they are the ones struggling with work?

Again, if you know who works for you, and what problems they have, it is easier to motivate them because you understand their frustrations and you can give advice that is meaningful and not empty.

And sometimes they need to understand that I’m not the global owner, and there are certain things that I can and can’t do. This is something not a lot of people can understand. You can choose to remain angry at the end of the day, or you can choose an alternate path.

6. What is your overall view of human resources as a necessary business function?

In general, I think it is one of the most crucial elements of a company. This is my seventh employment, so I’ve seen quite a few scenarios. I’ve seen situations where HR was a member of the board of directors, or the C-level staff, and had an equal voice along with everybody else. I’ve also seen organisations where HR was not seated on that level, and not treated with the respect it should have.

But in my opinion, HR should be seated along with the C-level members from functions such as finance, marketing and legal. In ESET we believe in people and we value people, and I personally also believe a company is not about machines or furniture, but about people. It sounds like a cliché because a lot of people say this, but not a lot of companies practise it.

7. Could many HR leaders make it to the CEO level?

That really depends on the individual in question. From what I’ve seen, some individuals I have worked with yes, others no. But I also think it is all connected. If you don’t give that individual that kind of visibility and that kind of responsibility, then I’d probably say they won’t make it because they don’t have that kind of experience. Personally, I’ve only seen very few examples where someone from HR has made it to the CEO level.

8. Why do you think that is the case?

Generally speaking, it’s because they’re not considered to be on the same level as the chief financial officer (CFO) for instance, in many companies.

9. How can the HR function become more strategic?

I remember one company I worked in, I came across a presentation from someone who was just starting the HR division, talking about how they’re going to become true business partners with the rest of the organisation, working closely with the business and supporting its functions – but that never happened. At the end of the day, it was all about the administration. In the end, the HR division was actually interfering with the business, rather than supporting it like they said they would.

HR should understand and spend more time with people. Normally, HR is always somewhere else. Sales and marketing might be one place, while HR will be on a completely different floor, not talking to anyone. It can often be disconnected from reality.

10. What’s the best thing about HR in your organisation?

Since one of this company’s mottos is caring about people, the HR function gets a bit more respect and a bit more room. The global CEO expects HR to choose the best talent, to nurture them and retain them. Nobody likes to see anyone leaving the company, and the attrition rate is very low.