Caroline Sewell knows culture’s at the heart of a great people strategy

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Caroline fell in love with HR through creating and maintaining empowering systems and practices.

Caroline Sewell, head of people and culture at Tractor Media Holdings, is a woman full of passion for the people and culture aspect of HR. “I grew into HR because I like empowering people, and I thrive on structure and stability. I also enjoy supporting colleagues to be their best selves,” she says.

It is through this passion that she has made it her mission to create a positive and healthy company culture at Tractor.

Established almost two decades ago, Tractor is a South African leading independent media owner that specialises in national out of home (OOH) advertising.

Caroline says the age-old conflict of interests between the personal needs of individuals versus the needs of companies was brought into sharp focus by “the great resignation” trend post-Covid.

“A positive culture results in more engaged, motivated employees, a high standard of work and good productivity, satisfied clients, and low staff turnover. This, in turn, results in lower business costs and the potential for higher profitability.

“Many people were adversely affected by the impact that Covid had on the economy and resigned in an effort to seek a new role that might offer more financial security. The pandemic also caused many people to re-evaluate their priorities and make fundamental changes to their lives, such as striving for a better work-life balance or spending more time with loved ones. Almost polar opposites, but with the same result.”

She notes that the company has several pillars around which they build their culture, which includes staff development, team buildings as well as well defined KPIs and regular/monthly check-ins (between manager and direct report/team member), empowering all to be excellent.

“A different but successful pillar is having an active community outreach for the teams, as a culture of giving back helps to foster a sense of caring and being cared for.”

More than just an exec

Describing herself as someone who lived “all over” South Africa in her youth, she however considers herself to be Capetonian.

“I studied towards a BSocSci at University of Cape Town in the 1980s (majoring in industrial sociology and political studies (Africa) and have a BA (majoring in psychology) from Unisa in 2010. I consider this beautiful city my home. With regards to career, I’ve worked in sales, accounts and admin, NGOs, for-profit companies and education.”

She cites that even though promotions leading to her joining exco and becoming a director are satisfying, a highlight to her career is playing a role in the continued growth of Tractor.

“Receiving feedback from all role players regarding their happiness with the culture that I have helped create gives me great joy.”

Her career lows, she says, are definitely those times when she’s had to deal with conflict, “I don’t like conflict, but sometimes it’s unavoidable, given my role. But it’s been great to have the opportunity to learn how to help myself and others through a difficult situation.”
When faced with these challenges, she always reverts to her life mantra: ‘Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.’ She says it is this that allows her to follow her heart, listen to her gut, and be passionate.

“Outside of just being a HR executive, I would really like to be remembered as someone who was true to themselves.”

 

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