Besa Muthuri, a spiritually gifted HR leader

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Human Resources is not the only calling Besa Muthuri followed, she is also a pastor.

Besa Muthuri, a strategic human capital management executive at the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), says she strives to recruit the best and the brightest talent. At the same time, she ensures employees flourish in the ARC’s reputable research culture.

Besa has an impressive academic background. However, many do not know that apart from the list of qualifications she holds, she is an ordained pastor – an achievement she holds dear.

“I grew up as a Christian and then joined a small church. The pastor said I was called and that he needed to ordain me. I thought to myself, no, not me,” she chuckles. Besa had heard about the calling before, but she decided to shrug it off, thinking she did not have what it takes to become a pastor.

“I was ordained in June 2022. God is still working on me and through me because I used to be emotional when I saw people struggling, but I now handle things differently, though it still affects me and breaks my heart.”

Besa holds an undergraduate degree in public administration, an MBA in corporate social responsibility, a Master of Science, and a Master of Arts in industrial relations from the University of Nottingham and Queen’s University, respectively. “I have a passion for helping people and, at some point, also wanted to go into the economic development sector.”

She started her career at Investec Bank, and then moved on to work at Eskom, where she had already found great strategies. Still, the people tasked with implementing them were not entirely motivated to do so.

Besa then started conducting motivational and communication sessions within the organisation. Simultaneously, she worked on reviewing policies by looking at what the organisation needed to improve upon or discard to reach its targets.

Her then executive director noticed that Besa was passionate about people and suggested she should be in Human Resources. “That’s how my career started in HR, and here it is, thriving. I have a passion for people, and it comes naturally.”

Besa does not subscribe to leaving a company when something is wrong. She believes a leader should fix what needs to be fixed and leave a legacy. “A company should be a place where everyone wants to work,” she says.

Besa believes in putting people first and emphasises the fact that a company will not achieve anything if people are not motivated. She is proud that her company has recently been certified as a Top Employer. “This is a notable achievement, and valuable in my career. Moving an organisation from where the ARC was to being a Top Employer is not a small feat. The institute is no longer another public entity you hear about, but it’s a top certified public entity, and I’m proud to be associated with it,” she says.

The company is a premier science institution that conducts research, develops partnerships and human capital, and fosters innovation for a sustainable agriculture sector. “Our vision is to be excellent in research and innovation for sustainable agricultural systems and economic development,” she explains.

Among her achievements, Besa is proud to have built an HR department from scratch and set up information and centres of excellence at one of the companies she has worked with. She was also instrumental in devising procedures and policies for the organisation. “I also worked for the World Food Programme as a consultant on human capital management,” she adds.

“At the ARC, I led the effort to shift from annualised performance evaluations to a continual performance monitoring approach to optimise professional talent and provide career growth and opportunity. We are now getting to a point where the employees are starting to appreciate the ARC as the employer of choice.”

Besa also shares that she is in the process of opening an academy for women. “We are trying to say, when women move up the ladder, they should carry their fellow women and not hold them down,” she says. The latest paper she authored looked at the ‘Impact of Effectiveness on the Glass Cliff’. She is optimistic that her experience and continuous willingness to learn will assist her efforts in building an academy for the benefit of every woman in the ARC.

Besa hopes that one day when she leaves the company, she will be remembered for her role in turning things around and how she changed the human capital management function, culture, and impact of best people practices across the ARC to support its business goals and strategies, as well as the needs and aspirations of its 2000 employees. “At the same, I am redefining excellence in people strategies at the ARC,” she concludes.

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