Jade's first HR job was at Belgotex where she now sits on the executive committee.
Belgotex executive HR director Jade Peter grew up wanting to be a social worker. When she was in high school, she was part of a community service club as an extracurricular activity that involved working closely with a group of social workers in the community in Umzinto, a medium-sized Indian township, located in the South Coast of Durban, KwaZulu-Natal. Doing something that made a positive impact on society gave her a sense of purpose and it was then that she was inspired to pursue a career in social work.
She studied social work at what is now the University of KwaZulu-Natal and it was all going according to plan until her second year when they were thrust into the practical side of the work she planned making a career out of.
"We were placed at children’s homes to experience the work we would do first hand, honestly, it was such an emotionally challenging experience that I started to question my ability to be effective in that line of work. As a 20 year old, being exposed to the pain that children were experiencing through abuse, abject poverty and abandonment was simply heartbreaking," says Jade, adding that it was nothing like what she had ever imagined nor anything she had been exposed to in the community work she did previously.
“I suppose they didn’t show us that side of community service because we were too young.”
Jade was conflicted when she took the decision to change her career because she still had a passion to work with people and to have a direct impact on people’s lives but, through her career in HR, she has found exactly that.
The Belgotex Foundation - which is responsible for driving the company’s development agenda by investing in micro and small businesses and collaborating on projects anchored in economic inclusion and social wellbeing - is an integral part of the business. The foundation partners with enterprising individuals who have a significant impact in their communities in order to create a multiplier effect from the investment. It also gets involved in early childhood development, disability inclusion, and food security programmes, among others.
“The foundation is fast becoming an integral part of Belgotex instead of being a separate entity. The general manager now sits on the board and everything we do in our communities and our supply chain is managed by the foundation so it is very inclusive,” says Jade, who also used to coordinate community upliftment projects prior to the Belgotex Foundation being set up.
“Being part of a company that exists to drive real change in the community is a big part of the reason for me being here,” she says.
Baptism of fire
Jade’s first-ever HR role was actually at Belgotex, many moons ago. It was a junior position but, back then, HR was still an extremely administrative function, not only at the family-owned floor design and manufacturing company, in many organisations. Jade did not find it challenging enough and moved on after only nine months.
But if her first role was too much of a walk in the park, the next was a baptism of fire. Her next role was as an HR manager at Netcare and she admittedly was not ready for it. Despite only having nine months of HR experience, someone took a chance on her and it was the steepest learning curve of her career.
“That’s where I learned everything I know about HR. And I really owe it to the CEO that appointed me then because, honestly, accepting an HR manager role as a newly qualified 22-year-old was a tad bit too ambitious. I relished the challenge and I could not have asked for a better place to learn the HR craft.”
After spending five years at Netcare, Jade needed different exposure and that’s exactly what she got when she landed an opportunity with Deloitte as the Regional HR Manager for Deloitte KZN overseeing Umhlanga, Pietermaritzburg, and Richards Bay.
Again, going from a health environment in which she was looking after mostly Nurses to a professional services environment with 300-plus chartered accountants, the pressure was pretty high.
That said, Jade loved the experience, describing Deloitte as a “Utopia for any HR person.” At Deloitte, HR existed in a purposeful culture and values driven environment. Transformation was a strategic imperative for the business and not just a tick-box exercise.
Says Jade: “A department known as Destination Transformation looked after Employmentn Equity for the business….Any female, person of colour, or disabled person was given additional support through department in terms of having meaningful conversations about their careers at Deloitte and there was total sincerity around eliminating barriers to their progress within the company. The values were so entrenched at Deloitte that even the meeting rooms were named according to the company values. So you had people booking meetings in the ‘Respect’ boardroom or the ‘Collaboration’ meeting room. I joined Deloitte in 2004 and I felt that they were really ahead of its time. I also had an office with a view of the sea, which was an added benefit.”
Back where it all started
Jade was at Deloitte for close to three-and-a-half years before she started her own practice where she provided HR consulting services to small and medium sized companies. It was a time when she had the flexibility to be around her then small children which was what she needed at the time. But the life of a consultant can be quite lonely especially for someone like her, who gets their energy from being around people.
After five years in her own practice, she thereafter joined a steel trading company BSI Steel as their Group HR Manager, serving in this role for five years before joining Belgotex in January 2015.
“BSi Steel was an exceptional company to work for, working within an entrepreneurial sales trading environment added positively to my working experience. On coming full circle to Belgotex again after 17 years the HR Manager that had hired me in that very first role was retiring, and I was quite impressed by the new direction of the company. I have an amazing HR team. We look after talent, learning and development, payroll, industrial relations, HR information systems and organisational development for the business,” says Jade.
Belgotex is one of South Africa’s largest producers of carpet and artificial grass, and its CEO Edward Colle, is a millennial. This shaped the direction of the company and is something that Jade describes as ‘a breath of fresh air’.
She describes his leadership style as authentic, and purpose driven and, when asked whether that could just be his character and nothing to do with millennials, she says: ‘Yes, of course, a lot of it has to do with who Edward is as a person. My opinion on the leadership style of Millennials comes from the research conducted for my Masters and my thesis topic, around cohort generational theory. Above everything, millennials put purpose over profit. They would pass up on financial gain to make a difference in the world. That is how millennials lead. It’s about changing the world and using the organisation as a conduit for doing so. And that’s Ed.”