Autoboys CHRO Kyle Chetty has been working 16 hours a day for as long as he can remember

The 2020 Young CHRO of The Year tells the story of what one can achieve if they’re willing to work hard.

Autoboys CHRO and 2020 Young CHRO of The Year Kyle Chetty has had a remarkable work ethic from a young age. As a 12-year-old boy, he started working at his father’s logistics company, which owned trucks that delivered stock to retail outlets.

“My brother and I would have to wake up at three in the morning to go offload stock at Pick 'n Pay and come back and reload the truck for the next delivery. If we weren't doing that we were fixing the trucks or washing them. I never had school holidays,” says Kyle.

“Being in an adult's working environment as a young person, you are forced to mature very quickly. You understand dynamics in the world of work from a very young age.”

At the age of 16, Kyle found a part-time job at Foschini. He would pack his work uniform in his school bag and take public transport from home to school and then to work, only arriving at home around 8 pm, which was when he would start doing his homework.

“My father was very strict and he wanted us to know the importance of hard work. From a young age, a strong work ethic was instilled in me from my family, and that has stayed with me to this day,” says Kyle.

Always keep a pen

There are many lessons that his father taught him that stayed with him. Some of which are still bearing fruits. Some lessons were more practical than others. Some were weird. To this day, Kyle is never without a pen because his father always said to keep a pen with him because “you never know when you’ll need one.”

“Not too long ago, I was with my wife at the traffic department and she needed to fill out a form to renew her license and she was like, 'oh no, we don't have a pen.' And then I pulled one out of my back pocket. She was so surprised and asked why on earth I had a pen in my back pocket. It was only then, 15 years later, that the penny dropped, and I realised why my dad gave me that advice.”

Like so many HR professionals, Kyle stumbled across the career. He couldn’t go to university at a younger age due to financial constraints. What he did have, however, was a work ethic like no other.

After high school, he worked a few odd jobs in retail and ended up working at Six Flags, a theme park where he joined as a retail store assistant and left as a supervisor. After noticing his professionalism, he was promoted to supervisor and later asked by one of the directors to fill in for a gap in a junior HR role.

“I always believed that, even if you don't know how to do something, you should always say yes to the opportunity and then learn to do it afterwards,” says Kyle, who later took on an additional role to project manage the concerts hosted at the theme park.

“As the supervisor, I was doing scheduling for the employees and a lot of administrative work. But then they needed someone to help project-manage the concerts they held there and I put my hand up for that as well. I would start work at seven in the morning and finish at midnight and then start again in the morning. I never saw anything wrong with that because I was taught that if you want to be successful you have to work hard for it.”

Building a plane is easier

It was at JD Group that the HR bug bit. Kyle joined the company as a call centre agent and, again, he was thrust into leadership roles first as a team leader and later an HR manager.

“I was fascinated by HR because I felt like it was so complex but so interesting. I would always ask questions regarding why we do things a certain way and I guess the management team saw that curiosity and took a chance on me” says Kyle, adding that he used to keep a quote on his wall which read: "Building an aeroplane is easier than working in HR."

“I found that to be quite funny because of course building a plane is an extremely complex endeavour, but what that quote illuminates is the complexity in dealing with people. At any given moment you are contending with thousands of different beliefs, upbringings and personalities. Unlike building a plane, you can't use the same approach every time in order to get it right.”

Kyle was working in HR for five years before completing a related qualification. And he may never have studied had it not been for one of his mentors, Sheldon Govender, who told him that his experience would only ever take him so far and that he would need to back it up with qualifications. Before that, he never really thought about studying further because I had been growing in my career based on learning on the job and working hard.

That's when he enrolled to complete a B Com and Honours in HR. He later also became a Gallup Strengths Coach. In this way, Kyle worked backwards, gaining the theory for everything he was already put into practice and that gave him a big boost because he was then able to attach terms and theories to the work he was doing and fill in the gaps along the way.

Kyle says it's important that HR leaders are still able to add value to the business and lead people. After winning the 2020 Young CHRO of The Year Award, Kyle was vindicated in his approach, saying all his hard work has borne fruit.