CHRO Anastasia Sodalay reflects on her 20-years in HR

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An accidental landing in HR has now become a passion for Premier FMCG HR lead Anastasia Sodalay.

Venturing into HR was never a conscious career choice for Anastasia Sodalay, but while completing her BSc at University of KwaZulu-Natal, she found herself working in retail and was introduced to the world of HR.

Anastasia says that while working in retail, she found herself to be a natural leader and was fond of identifying people’s potential and inspiring them to think differently and do more. She continued working part-time throughout her studies, to earn pocket money, and over time was offered greater responsibility at work.

She had a job offer waiting for her as soon as she had completed her degree. “I worked in retail for a couple of years, to gain experience and pay off my study loans, and it was during this period that I was offered an opportunity in Johannesburg, still within the retail sector.”

It was not long following her relocation to Johannesburg that she was asked to consult within a recruitment company. Within that fast-paced, highly competitive and highly customer-centric environment, she was able to harness her strengths and further develop her stakeholder management skills coupled with having the opportunity to create networks and build key relationships.

It was during this period that she was offered a position at the Edcon Group, where she would spend 14 years in different positions, the final one being executive for HR and transformation for the discount division.

“In my last role I was responsible for over 1,000 stores across Southern Africa, including Namibia, Zambia, Ghana, Mozambique, Lesotho and Botswana, with a total employee complement of approximately 8,000, and responsible for managing a team of approximately 35 HR staff members.”

The strategic people agenda during the few years preceding her exit from Edcon, explains Anastasia, focused on increasing employee engagement during a period of uncertainty and volatility within the business environment.

“Some of my proudest achievements were the many firsts we introduced into the people strategy which included, a digitally-first strategy to remain on the pulse of measuring employee satisfaction and creating opportunities to communicate and celebrate our successes, an incredible opportunity to launch a retail learning academy with an enhanced focused on leadership, and mentorship of high-performing females.

“Focus on our talent strategy, learning and development, and communication were key levers within our people agenda.”

New chapter

In 2018 she joined the Mondi Group. “Going into the manufacturing industry was a bit scary, but I tend to find myself getting bored easily, so I knew a completely different type of challenge was exactly what was needed,” she says.

Her role was to work with a global team to assist with the implementation of their global HR transformation plan into their South African business. “While this wasn’t a long-term project, I took the opportunity to expand my knowledge and experience around global systems implementation, aligning to a HR operating model and processes, and international integration,” she says.

After a two-year period of travel, she was offered an opportunity in Cape Town as the HR director of Homechoice International, with operations in South Africa and Mauritius. “It was always my dream to live in one of the most beautiful cities in the country, and so I semi-grated to Cape Town.”

Less than six months into the new job the world was fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.

Navigating the pandemic

“Globally, Covid presented a set of challenges in workplaces that had never been experienced before, and operating within the digital retailing and financial services space, allowed us the opportunity to pivot into the work-from-home space supported by technology.

“From an HR perspective, we dealt with a lot of unique challenges, which resulted in HR implementing many new policies and processes as a response to Covid-19,” she said.

She moved to her current role as managing executive for HR at Premier FMCG in April 2022. She notes that the fast-moving consumer goods industry came with its own challenges.

“Because the business is made up of many frontline workers and is a demand-led business, what I am specifically looking at this point is how we engage and build competence of all our people, and most especially our frontline workers, who are typically on the production floor with no technology access.

“The hours/shifts for our frontline workers are also a challenge due to the 24-hour operation and shift work, with a large complement of staff in production starting their shift in the early hours of the morning. So, the challenges lie there on how we train, when we train and how we work within an environment that is all about driving operational efficiencies.”

As with any other industry, burnout and mental wellness also remains an opportunity that she alludes to. “We are focusing on maintaining our high performing culture, and ensuring we build a sense of belonging within our organisation, with a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.

“Being in HR was never the career plan at the start of my working life, but the past 20 years in the industry has been an extremely rewarding journey, filled with many challenges and accomplishments, with the greatest reward being the opportunity to work with great teams and people along the way,” she concluded.

 

 

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