Derivco HR director Tracey Rowe’s voyage to discovering a global perspective

Tracey’s career has given her and her family the opportunity to discover the world.

From the Natal Midlands to overseeing HR operations in the Middle East, Derivco HR Director Tracey Rowe’s career has given her and her family the opportunity to discover the world. In 2019, she returned to South Africa after spending four years in Dubai with her family, who are just as adventurous as she is.

“I started riding horses at the age of two and, by the age of 15, I was a member of South Africa’s Pony Club Junior Equestrian team,” says Tracey. Her passion and competitive spirit extend to her two sons, who race go-karts.

While in Dubai, her eldest son asked to start go-karting and it turned out that he was a natural. When the family returned to SA, he started racing at the KwaZulu-Natal Race Club (iDube) and became the Provincial Junior Max Champion last year. His younger brother took up go-karting this year and seems to have the same knack for it, coming third in his first national event in September and winning the regional championship.

“What I admire most is not only their courage but the fact that they are learning a life skill. It is nerve-racking to watch your child racing over 100km per hour in a go-kart. I think it is admirable for children who are so passionate to be following their dreams at such a young age.”

This is the exact sentiment Tracey Rowe’s father had in mind for his daughter when he encouraged her to travel internationally to discover her own dreams.

First stop, self-discovery

After she completed a BA in Law and History at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Tracey’s parents were adamant about two things – her mother wanted her to go to secretarial college to learn to touch type, and her dad wanted her to see the world in pursuit of gaining independence and broadening her perspective. So, after a year of secretarial college, she went to the United Kingdom.

While temping as a secretary at SG Warburg & Co (now known as the Union Bank of Switzerland, UBS), she found herself in HR when someone vacated a role, and she acted in a support role while the company looked for someone new in the interim.

“I knew absolutely nothing about HR. I didn’t even know what the acronym stood for. But for £2.50 an hour, you will take whatever you can get,” she says with a giggle, adding that it was then that she discovered her passion for people and HR.

After two years in the UK, she returned to South Africa where she completed her postgraduate studies in HR and a master’s degree in Leadership, Performance and Change Management.

Hurdles along the way

What intrigues Tracey most about HR is the “complexity of humans and going into a work environment where you are dealing with people who are going to show up and behave in different ways”. Working in a foreign environment helped shape her perspective and gave her the opportunity to gain insight into what the global sphere of HR entails.

“Dubai was extremely challenging – I was travelling to countries such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Pakistan and Egypt, each with their own cultural complexities. I had to grow up a lot and learn quickly,” says Tracey.

“In Dubai, the majority of the people are expats, so you are dealing with many different nationalities, cultures, upbringings and perspectives. I learnt to treat every person as an individual and with respect and to live in the moment in what was a very fast-paced environment.”

Tracey says understanding the dynamics in the room was key to thriving in that environment. She developed this skill by continually asking questions with the intention of understanding and figuring out how to better determine why people behave in a certain way.

Navigating challenges

HR is about getting the best out of people and there are times when the needs of the business and interests of the people may be in conflict. Tracey navigates this terrain by reminding herself that “HR is not a people function. We are a business function. It is not about one person having a voice, but rather having an organisational voice and working as part of not only your own team but all teams across the business.”

At Derivco, the HR team has fully immersed itself into the business, creating avenues to promote performance through people. One such initiative is the concept of Derivco being a “boundaryless organisation”, where Derivkins are able to work across different teams, different projects and different initiatives where their skills and experience are most needed.

“All Derivkins, across the organisation are encouraged to give input into our Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) in order to build our strategy with common goals, rather than just being told what to do. It has been a long process, but hugely successful because our people are empowered to drive their divisional and/or cross-divisional key results in line with Derivco,” says Tracey.

By nature, Tracey is a sociable person who enjoys interacting and connecting with people. She describes herself as “an extrovert and someone who enjoys the company of others”. She loves HR for many reasons, but most importantly because it is never the same on any given day, and constantly challenges her.

“I hired an amazing young lady for the graduate programme when I was at Deutsche Bank many years ago, and today, 20 years later, she is an MD. Those kinds of stories, and there are many of them, are what I find so rewarding.”