I am a fixer, says Antoinette Roberts, group HR executive at Blue Label Telecoms
Antoinette believes that understanding different aspects of the business are key to HR’s success.
It was the experiences gained from being in the tech space, finance, sales, sales development, and process before venturing out as an entrepreneur that led Antoinette Roberts to her current role of group HR and transformation executive at Blue Label Telecoms.
As a self-confessed “fixer”, she has built her career on understanding and enhancing capability. This was first gaining an understanding of the bigger picture, then what process needs to be in place to achieve this and how systems can enable the process, then what skills are needed to create a holistic success and help people reach their potential and make life easier.
“I started in finance and at the time women in the workplace were treated differently. I didn’t have a view of building a career, neither were afforded a mentor to help guide my thought patterns. Finance was the logical job as I studied accounting the plan was to have a job, I didn’t think of a career at that stage,” she explains.
Antoinette completed a B.Com in accounting in 1988 and, after spending two years in the finance space, realised that it was not something she really enjoyed. This is when she moved into the tech arena focusing on database administration, which was still in its infancy at the time, understanding systems and how they work. She was part of a team that set up the first data warehouse in the FMCG industry, in the role of sales development manager at Clover SA.
Almost a decade in the tech space gave Antoinette unique insight into company and business culture.
“One thing that stuck with me is that the people I met in the tech space had a culture of their own, outside the business culture,” she says.
A complete career shift followed, with a move into the sales industry at Clover SA.
“I realised that I needed to have a career and wanted to build that so I moved to a much lower level and in effect started at the bottom again,” she explains.
Here, again, Antoinette was particularly attuned to the different cultures evident in the sales environment.
“The people in sales are different and their needs were different. Although salespeople are interacting with people(customers) all day, it’s lonely within the business itself and they don’t really experience the business culture of being actively involved with the employees daily. You’re on your own for most of the time and meet your team maybe once a week,” she notes.
At the time sales processes were still very manual and there was a lot of admin that kept salespeople busy, not allowing them to focus on the companies asset, its customer. Antoinette realised that there should be a fix for this and started investigating how to fix the situation, by getting involved in systems and figuring out how to bring mobility into this environment.
“I moved into a sales development role and there I started to look into connecting the remote sales force to the company culture and driving inclusivity. I took a holistic approach to build capabilities in the commercial environment, this included training programs that build the right space with a strong link to culture and building a sense of belonging, as well as processes and systems capability. It was during this period that I realised you have to build leadership in any transformation, leadership shapes the culture, it is all about behaviours. If you don’t involve leaders, you’ve lost the game,” she explains.
After eight years in sales development and capability building and now also with an MBL and PhD under her belt, Antoinette started her own business.
“I loved the strategy and organisation structure part of the MBL studies and with the doctorate I became very interested in what motivates people, how we think, and how that shapes our behaviour. With the business that I founded, my focus was on understanding businesses, their strategic intent, and how to address the gap between where they found themselves and where they wanted to be,” she explains.
Finding a niche
It was during these four years of running her own company that Antoinette initially started working with Blue Label Telecoms.
“I started off consulting in helping to develop the new sales strategy and continued with helping to implement the strategy that included opening a new call centre, in collaboration with Lighthouse Strategy Consulting. This evolved into a contract to restructure the business model and structure for one of the business units to enable them as a fit for future division. I was able to bring my experience and studies on how to restructure roles and use skills already in the organisation to the table,” she says.
An organic process then unfolded, with Antoinette stepping into the Group HR Executive role, 18 months ago.
Antoinette credits her success to being able to live in many different departments in a business, understanding the impact of one operation on another, and having a passion for building capability and people.
“My purpose today is to take the lessons I’ve learned and impact other people to enable them to achieve their full potential. My experience and understanding of business is the winning formula for me in HR. We have many different subsidiaries with different strategies and I understand where these businesses are going. HR is no longer your partner in hiring and firing. It is your solution creator and trusted advisor. A holistic view on what structure best enables the business model to be successful, the capabilities that build a fit for future organisaiton, and how the pipeline is filled by embarking on people planning in an inclusive approach.” she says.
“When I ran my business, I loved it, I had found my niche and I could help people fix things. Being at Blue Label and accepting the role wasn’t a difficult choice. It is a very entrepreneurial company and I have everything that I want,” she concludes.