It was only after 18 years into her career that Tanya took her first HR role.
In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, many people have had to make some difficult changes and decisions that affect different parts of their lives. And that has been no different for Tanya Ramlagan, the Head of HR and Training at Jaguar Land Rover South Africa. In 2016, Tanya was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, which causes the immune system to produce antibodies that attack normal body tissues, making her highly susceptible to Covid-19 complications. And now, with lockdown being relaxed at level 2 and her children back at school, she is particularly vulnerable. Nevertheless despite the challenges, the pandemic has given her more time to engage with her family and teach them to be independent and responsible.
“As parents we have been very intentional about educating them regarding the virus and the need to be even more careful than everyone at school because of my condition, and they do understand that they have to be particularly vigilant,” says Tanya.
Tanya notes that the pandemic has also opened up possibilities to re-imagine what the workplace will look like post pandemic. She feels the company has been the most productive during the crisis. Even though people are comfortable working from home, she admits that it does pose challenges to HR, citing the impact that working remotely has on the social aspect as one of the challenges that would need consideration.
“While we have been far more productive at getting things done than we have ever been, we are also aware that being so far apart from one another has also reduced the opportunity to collaborate and innovate.”
Tanya's career journey is an interesting one filled with hard work and many lessons. She may not have ended up in Psychology, which is what she initially studied at university, but she has still been able to change people's lives as dreamed of as a teenager.
“What HR has done for me is offered me a really good balance of what my initial career aspirations were and what I learnt as I went through the business world” says Tanya, reaffirming that all experiences, regardless of their nature are important and that doors entered will ultimately lead one to where they are supposed to be.
“It is often the roads that are unexpected and challenging that lead to the most beautiful destinations.”
At the age of 22 Tanya had just completed her honours degree in Psychology. Her next step was to get into the master’s program. She eagerly began the application process, which entailed a rigorous interview with an esteemed panel of Psychologists. Unfortunately She did not get into the programme as she had hoped but in light of this outcome, was the realisation that “in order to help other people you need to have life experience and, at the age of 22, that was something I lacked” Tanya explains.
With that in mind, she accepted an offer to manage a small Ster-Kinekor cinema in Pinetown, where she had been working during the completion of her post graduate degree. She knew the job would be an opportunity to gain the insight she needed in order to fulfil her aspirations of becoming a clinical psychologist. Unbeknown to her, this would be the beginning of a journey filled with life-changing experiences and ultimately the path to her becoming the head of HR at Jaguar Land Rover South Africa.
One opportunity after another
In the years that followed Tanya managed different Ster-Kinekor theatres. The opportunities kept coming. She moved from Durban to Cape Town, where the company made her a provincial manager watching over the operations of all the branches within the Eastern and Western Cape. Not long after that, at the relatively tender age of 28, she became the Chief Operations Officer for Ster-Kinekor in SA and the rest of Africa, overseeing the entire business value chain for the company with 1,100 people reporting to her.
Once again she was presented with another opportunity - this one slightly different - of Motherhood. Tanya gave birth to her daughter and after taking time off from bonding with her newborn she decided to end her 12-year journey with Ster-Kinekor.
She took a role as a business strategist at a local family owned mining company, with values that appealed to her as a career Mom. Her role involved managing business strategies to grow the business from an operational perspective. One of Tanya’s first encounters with HR came after an HR manager left the mining company and Tanya had to pick up on the HR responsibilities while the company sought a replacement. Additional to her position as general manager of business strategy she was responsible for HR for the company which included a manufacturing facility and a gold mine in Kimberly. Juggling the two roles meant exposure to a blue collar unionised HR environment, where she dealt with end to end responsibilities of HR such payroll, recruitment, union negotiation and, training and development. Almost 10 years into her career, that was Tanya’s brush with HR.
18 years later
Many moons later, Tanya received a call from a recruiter that she brushed off, instantly telling the agent that she was not interested as she was not looking for a new job.
“That agent strategically dropped the name of the company in question, saying BMW was looking for new General Managers. After some convincing, I applied for the position of ‘planning and steering manager in HR’, which unfortunately was given to someone else,” she says.
“However, the HR director felt I was an ideal fit for the GM Talent Management and he wanted to offer a place in the company. Up until this point Tanya had never been officially hired in an HR focused position so their were questions around her suitability for the role. Tanya suggested the best way to address this would be to ‘put me in front of the MD.” I had an interview with the MD and received an offer within an hour of my interview.”
That was her first HR role, 18 years into her career.
During her time at BMW, Tanya says she learnt rapidly about talent and HR through various networks she had built. She executed the first integrated talent management strategy at BMW and, after the company centralised the HR function in 2016, she took over as general manager of HR operations for both the manufacturing plant and national sales company.
The role was demanding as they ran a 24-hour plant, one day she collapsed, and was hospitalised had to take a week off to rest.
“My doctor told me that if I want to have a long and healthy life that I’d have to make some changes, that’s when I moved to Jaguar”.
Tanya now works 10 minutes from the office in a role with the kind of autonomy that allows her to find a healthy balance between family, life and work. As the Head of HR she runs the full HR arm of the company and reports directly to the MD. When asked what she finds most rewarding about her job Tanya says it’s “knowing that I’m making a difference.”
“HR allows me to help people to be the best version of themselves they can be and in doing that bring the best value they can bring to a business, it's all about adding value, that keeps me going” she admits as she shares that this is one of the reasons some of the most satisfying moments of her career have been at Jaguar,” says Tanya.