CHRO Sungeetha Sewpersad shares how she realised her career goals


The newly appointed chief people officer at Rand Merchant Bank says the appointment is a realisation of a long-term goal.

Unlike most HR executives who stumbled into the HR profession, Sungeetha Sewpersad has been very deliberate about her career path.

Sungeetha, who recently took up the position of chief people officer at Rand Merchant Bank, says she always knew that whatever career she chose, it will involve people.

Prior to joining RMB, she was the human capital executive at Old Mutual Insure. Part of her extensive experience includes being the HR executive at Barclays Africa, later Absa, and a senior HR business partner at IBM.

Sungeetha holds an LLB from Unisa as well as a Bachelor of Social Science, from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She also has a digital business strategy qualification from MIT Sloane and an executive leadership qualification from the London Business School.

“Given my diverse academic background, I could use my knowledge and skills while working across various people’s dimensions in corporate,” she says. She adds that her qualifications, along with family support, have stood her in good stead, as they provided the foundation for the 20 years she has had in the industry.

“Having a solid foundation enables me to thrive, especially in a world where we are raising nuclear families and unfortunately lack and miss the support of extended family and grandparents. I am a mom to three amazing kids, T-Rex, a Stegosaurus and a little unicorn ballerina. I am wife to a great guy, whom I met 25 years ago and have never looked back since.”

After she graduated, she applied for the first HR graduate programme at Absa. That, she says, was the first and only job she had applied for, and this is as result of her actively carving out her path.

“I have been very deliberate about my career from the age of 25, when I started in corporate. I knew exactly where I needed to be and the milestones I set out for myself were very clear. My goals have always been set. I just tweaked my plan along the way.”

New challenges

Sungeetha says joining RMB is the realisation of a long-term goal. “Being the chief people officer of a brand that is renowned for having talent at its core and considers it a key differentiator in the market, is an accomplishment. The RMB brand is synonymous with excellence, a collaborative spirit and innovative thinkers. This is what sets us apart and this is what I wanted to be associated with.

“Embarking on a new journey, with a new leadership team is exciting, and I am looking forward to playing a part in creating an environment and culture in which RMB’s people can grow, thrive and have meaningful impact in a mutually beneficial way.”

Her short-term goals include focusing on doing the human capital basics brilliantly. “We are charting a course where we have to create clear people journeys and experiences, while ensuring that our people are armed with the skills and tools that are needed in the new world of work,” she says.

Her long term goals include building out RMB’s digital capability, enhanced by high tech and people-centric services, with exceptional people at the core. “We have to pivot our culture,” she notes. “Emphasis has to be placed on reshaping culture, where our leaders align and connect colleagues in a more meaningful manner. To enable our leaders to do so, we need to equip them with new skills that relate to empathy, authenticity and adaptiveness. Our culture is what sets us apart and employees have an active role to play in co-creating the environment in which they wish to work.”

Her advice to her fellow colleagues and upcoming CHROs? Equip yourself to be change resilient! “If I had a dime for every time I heard ‘change is constant’… Yet every time I hear it, it never seems to make change easier.

“One of the ways we can build change resilience is to steward our minds and emotions. Change is leaving the comfort of the known and moving into the unknown, and this often comes with anxiety and fear. Adopting a growth mindset means a willingness to let go of the past, persist through adversity, gather support and chart new territories.”

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