The head of human resources marvels at seeing her HR career blossom.
Getting into HR was a coincidence for Lindsay Burgess, head of human resources SA at Mainstream Renewable Power, who now heads an HR and business services department in South Africa for this international company.
She started off in marketing and communications and then ventured into recruitment by coincidence when she found a job doing admin for a financial recruitment specialist. She then quickly moved into consulting, which she enjoyed, as it gave her the opportunity to explore people’s motivations, interests and goals.
She later moved to an executive search and management consulting firm where she managed a team of recruiters while also working on projects with big clients, which included Mainstream.
She was seconded to Mainstream for four months in 2012, and, during this time, was retrenched from her previous employer and subsequently started her own consulting firm.
In 2014 Mainstream called her again to recruit for them. “I was there for about five or six months and then again in 2016, and the times that I was there became longer and longer, so I was there for nearly 18 months during my last contract, getting deeper into HR matters each time.”
In early 2018, Mainstream reached out to her again as there was no HR department in South Africa, and everything was run out of Dublin. This had worked in the past but, with the company growing, the need for local representation became more apparent. “Our GM said to me, ‘Won’t you join us permanently in HR?’ I told him that my background is in recruitment and executive search, and not straight HR, which I was concerned about. His response was ‘But I don’t want a typical HR person. I want somebody who's got the feeling for people, and cares about them.’”
With a little trepidation and some feelings of imposter syndrome, Lindsay agreed to join the company in a permanent role in 2018. She started off as HR business partner and was quickly promoted to HR manager, and has since then built her own team.
“We are now six in HR and I’m the head of HR and business services. I look after our communications and external relations manager as well as office management and the team there that supports administration and IT.”
Lindsay has completed a Get Smarter HR course and is busy completing a social science degree, with HR and psychology as her majors. “It’s been a fantastic journey and I love the fact that I still keep learning about people because I think the basics of HR is the framework on which we can work – but then we get to be creative and come up with things that are interesting and that help our colleagues to be the best they can,” Lindsay says.
Being in HR gives Lindsay the satisfaction of watching people develop and helping them to do that. “We work a lot with our high-potential employees – our future leaders of the company – with personal development plans that feed into our succession planning. To be able to see how many people we've been able to promote in the business because they have taken the opportunity is exciting. It’s hugely rewarding to have helped, in any way, to facilitate that growth.
“The opportunity is there to learn formally but also informally in the workplace, and just engaging with people and their managers to identify a position or next steps they want to take and make them ready for that is the best part for me.”
Lindsay says she is fascinated by people, as everyday is different because people react differently to everything based on their own circumstances. “My own learning from that is I’ve just been able to take a step back and hear the whole message – and sometimes what’s not said – to be able to help to facilitate somebody’s growth or solve the problem with them.”
Building her own HR team in South Africa is definitely one of Lindsay’s career highlights. “Up until March last year I was the only person in HR in South Africa and now we are six and number seven joins us in July. Bringing in a team who really are strong and competent and who love what they do makes it so easy and really rewarding to work with them,” she says.
Another achievement for Lindsay has been to watch the growth of Mainstream in South Africa: “For a long time we hovered around 30 or 40 people in the company, but we are now 121, and that's happened in the last year. We doubled in numbers and we are going to do it again within the next 10 to 12 months.”
She admits her job is not without its challenges, but how she has overcome them is much more important. “It has to be sustainable development. We don’t want to set anyone up for failure. Some people feel they are ready to take quite a big step in their career, and being the person that sits with them and says, ‘Here are the gaps, here is how we can address them, let’s look at a proper career path,’ is a particular challenge when someone feels ready to move.”
With the introduction of the hybrid model, and with the company’s rapid growth, keeping the culture of the organisation is important for Lindsay. “Keeping that feeling of camaraderie has definitely been something that we’ve looked at very carefully because it certainly was and is a challenge for us working at home,” she says.
Lindsay has her sights on completing her degree, which is near completion, and has already been looking at postgraduate qualifications when she finishes. She is also focusing on improving and working on a number of HR tasks, and now that she has a team, she feels she has the opportunity to do that.
When she is not busy formulating HR policies and making sure her staff is well taken care of, Lindsay spends her time cooking for family and friends. She enjoys exploring and trying out new recipes and has started a tradition in her home of making a new dish every Friday. Her favourite dishes are Middle Eastern and Indian food, which she enjoyed when she spent three weeks in India.
She also loves to travel and she takes any opportunity to travel anywhere in South Africa and internationally. “I love learning about other cultures and foods. I’ve been able to travel a lot in South Africa either through holidays or through work – I’ve been to some places that I didn’t even know existed – and having been exposed to so many different communities has been a wonderful learning experience.”
One thing that people don’t know about Lindsay is that she suffers from anxiety, which is something that’s been working hard to manage in the last couple of years. “Some people will be surprised by that because they do not see that side of me when they talk to or work with me. I think mental health challenges are often kept hidden or not talked about for fear of being labelled, but with the right tools and support, very little is insurmountable and people shouldn’t be afraid to talk about their own challenges.
“There are so many of our colleagues, friends and families who are in the same boat, and talking about how we feel and deal with these issues, can always help someone else – and ourselves.”