From classroom to boardroom:  Meet Tamara Parker, CEO of Mercer South Africa

Never one to shy away from making bold changes, Tamara welcomes new adventures.

Mercer South Africa CEO Tamara Parker is a free spirit. She welcomes winds of change with a smile and relishes the unfamiliar. Long story short, she studied social sciences, majoring in psychology, became a high-school history teacher, after which she joined a software development company, then got her MBA, became an HR consultant, stumbled upon, enjoyed and excelled in organisational design, became a global human capital strategy executive and now she’s running the world’s largest HR consultancy’s South Africa business. Even though her work has taken her across the globe, she still enjoys taking extended vacations to explore parts of the world she hasn't been to. In 2014, she took five months' unpaid leave to explore South America. Alone. She loves travelling alone immersing herself fully into new cultures. 

“I visited every country on the continent except for Paraguay, Uruguay, Suriname, Guyana and French Guiana. I always travel with the aim of understanding the fabric of the countries that I visit. Travelling solo gives me the opportunity to reach out to new people and experience different cultures. It’s empowering!” says Tamara.

Ascending to Accenture

After spending ten years as a high school history teacher, Tamara decided it was time for a career change. She left Johannesburg and went home to Cape Town to kick-start her career in the corporate world. She joined a software company called Intec Telecom Systems, which was a totally new challenge and quite an adventure. 

“I was completely challenged and exposed to a new and different world. There was a definite gap between what I had studied, my experience as a history teacher, and where I wanted to be. After a while I decided to pursue my MBA studies full-time at the UCT Graduate School of Business,” she says.

Consulting was where she felt she could make a difference into the world of business. Her first consulting role was with a company called Resolve Workplace Solutions from which she was headhunted by Accenture.

Says Tamara: “That is how I ended up in HR consulting. I was at Accenture for nine years during which I focused on operating models, HR transformation and organisational design. That allowed me to get a strong grasp of the connection between the way businesses operate and the various kinds of organisational structures that enable them to reach specific strategic objectives. I worked on projects that took me across the world; from UK, where I worked at BP, to Indonesia where I worked at a big Caterpillar dealership.”

Becoming the chief executive

Tamara loves ‘Org Design’ because it gave her a detailed understanding of how businesses work. She had to optimise business performance by creating the right structure from the make-up of the C-suite all the way down to the lowest-level employee group.

“I have done that across all functions from HR and finance to marketing and supply chain, so I’ve had to delve quite deep into understanding competencies, skills profiles and personality traits required of people at all levels of business.”

When she left Accenture, she got a role as a human capital strategy executive at Consolidated Infrastructure Group (GIC) where her role was to ensure that the HR strategies for each of the seven businesses were aligned with the group's global strategy. 

Says Tamara: “I think being so heavily involved in strategy was what prepared me for a role like this. HR is effective when it is a strategic player in decision-making and I was fortunate to have had a deep dive into HR via my Org Design and HR transformation work, while my time at CIG had a strong strategic focus. The work I did in consulting meant I got to spend a lot of time with C-suite professionals who were my clients. It was great preparation for my current role and an opportunity to entrench the HR function as a strategic partner at the C-suite level and help business leaders build brighter futures for their organisations and employees. “

Growing Mercer’s footprint

Speaking on what her plans were, Tamara says her immediate focus is to continue to grow Mercer’s footprint focusing on the strong path that the company has achieved so far since the South Africa business was opened six years ago. Integration and alignment with the global business will continue to be key in order for Mercer clients in Africa to benefit from the global reach and local market insights across the business and have access to well-versed and experienced subject matter experts.  

Says Tamara: “We are definitely going to continue to be focused on elevating the brand across Africa as the number one HR consulting firm in the world. I am confident that in the next few years we will carry on with the success story of Mercer in the region.”