Being a great employer is about walking the talk, says CHRO Julia Modise

The Bridgestone chief people officer believes in leaders who put people first.

When 2021 CHRO Awards nominee Julia Modise joined Bridgestone as its chief people office in 2020, she had a clear vision of the five pillars that would form part of the organisation’s people strategy.

These were culture and transformation, employee value proposition, our way to serve (including broad-based black economic empowerment and community development) as well as building capability and operational excellence in the people function.

Despite the unexpected challenges and uncertainty that Covid-19 has brought to the workplace since Julia joined, she has stayed focused and made immense strides in building these pillars.

Today, Bridgestone boasts a more diversified employee profile and even more diverse leadership team at 50 percent female and 50 percent black and it has also achieved a Level 3 BBBEE status, an industry first.

Julia says, “We drove a culture of performance and accountability. We shifted the organisation culture to be people centric while ensuring customer centricity in the people team.”

Some of the people centric achievements included introducing high-touch leadership through coffee sessions with the CEO and regional engagement forums, launching diversity, inclusion and belonging forums such as women's and LGBTQI+ forums.

“We focused heavily on the health, safety, and the holistic wellbeing of our people,” she says.

Social or "our way to serve" as it is called under the people strategy pillar ranked high on the list of priorities.

Julia adds, “We afforded workplace experience to over 200 graduates, improving their future employability, thereby contributing to the socio-economic challenges in South Africa.”

With the Quarterly Labour Force Survey indicating that almost one in every two young people in the labour force do not have jobs, this workplace experience will go a long way to boosting graduates chances of securing employment.

Put to the test
The company also invested heavily in bolstering its employee skills base, with a cohort of 55 leaders undergoing a leadership development programme in 2021.

“We also transitioned the business to a cost-to-company compensation model and digitised the people function by introducing Employee Self Service and a new payroll technology,” she says.

In testament to Julia’s leadership skills, she also eagerly accepted the opportunity to put the people strategy to the test through external evaluation.

“At the backdrop of this strategy, the CEO challenged us to put our strategy to the test by submitting ourselves for Top Employer certification. I accepted the challenged, rallied the team and we focused on simply executing our people strategy and the rest is history,” she says.

This ‘’history” refers to Bridgestone recently being announced as a Top Employer, with its people practices being benchmarked against world class standards.

Julia says, “This accreditation is the culmination of all our efforts to make Bridgestone South Africa a great place to work. I am exceptionally proud of this achievement and all credit goes to the people team, and our leaders who put people first.”

This is not the first time that the HR veteran of 23 years has been actively involved in a company achieving such certification.

“I have previously achieved it when I worked at another tyre manufacturer as well a couple of years ago. Personally, it confirms that all the focus, drive and passion for people is not just speak, but can be tested and confirmed independently,” she says.

Interestingly, Julia has also learnt a bit more about herself during the certification process. “I learnt that I am always open to a challenge and that I can rally my team. I also am quite comfortable to put my work out there for independent evaluation,” she adds.

This self-awareness combined with a robust people strategy has certainly made an indelible impression on company culture.

Julia concludes, “We have cultivated a strong, dynamic and lively culture at Bridgestone, one that emphasises people first, collaboration, creativity, and communication as a means of driving innovation.”