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Suite Talk: Royal Canin’s APAC President on HR being the co-pilot for the business

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Strong HR leaders are critical to helping the business attract, develop, deploy and retain the best talent effectively, says Sylvia Burbery, Regional President – Asia Pacific, Royal Canin.

Q How would you describe your journey with Mars Inc and Royal Canin? What has been your most memorable moment with the organisation?

I joined Mars 25 years ago. Mars is a large, principled family business and I have had an incredible career with it spanning continents and functions. I joined Royal Canin, a division of Mars, just over two years ago in my current role.

My most memorable moment was at a global leadership conference in Amsterdam where we were celebrating our 50-year anniversary and working on our strategy for the next 50 years. Everything we do is about making a better world for pets, bringing tangible health benefits through nutrition to every cat and dog. It was an incredibly inspiring experience.

Q How would you define your leadership style?

I recognise in myself a strong desire to drive success through others, creating a thriving environment that enables people to exceed their own expectations. I’ve had the opportunity to work with an extremely diverse group of people and I strongly value inclusion, diversity and the contribution each individual can bring to an organisation. I have a strong belief that anything is possible when you put your mind to it.

I have come to understand that at my core I am about authenticity – being my true, whole self and enabling others to find and be their true whole selves to reach their full potential. It’s been my experience this, more than anything else, builds enduring success in organisations.

I have learned a lot about myself over the years and have had to really reflect on whether my leadership style and impact have matched my intent. I can remember getting some very tough feedback during a 360° exercise that showed I wasn’t really living up to what I believed and espoused and was in fact having quite a detrimental impact on the organisation.

Some very good coaching and continuous feedback from my team helped me to be a much more open, supportive and engaging leader. I continue to seek feedback on a regular basis, and to work to be my best self every day.

I have a strong belief that anything is possible when you put your mind to it.

Q What do you think organisations can do to empower more women leaders like yourself?

When I look back, I am extremely grateful for the opportunities I have been given. I believe the most important thing that organisations can do is to give women options, career opportunities, flexible work options, and development opportunities.

We are all individuals and I do not think one size fits all in growing women leaders, but by understanding individual needs and being flexible, I believe businesses can best help women (and men for that matter) reach their full potential both at work and at home.

Q What is your view of human resources as a business function? How closely do you work with your HR head and on what kind of issues?

I spent nearly eight years of my career working in human resources. I think it is a critical business function and the HR leaders in our organisation work as co-pilots and business partners to their business leaders along with their finance counterparts. I work with my HR head on issues across all spectrums of the business, but with a heavy emphasis on talent development, succession planning, organisation development, associate engagement and wellbeing, and inclusion and diversity.

Q How can the HR function contribute better to organisational goals?

Great HR leaders bring a balance between representing the needs of the organisation with the needs of the employees (in Mars we use the term associates). When done really well, this balance provides a really important perspective to driving successful long-lasting business outcomes.

The best HR leaders I have worked with all have really broad experience and interest in what makes the business work and they couple this with a level of empathy and understanding of people that helps to maximise their performance. With great talent being in high demand, strong HR leaders are critical to helping the business attract, develop, deploy and retain the best talent effectively.

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