Motus’ Michele Seroke is passionate about the upliftment of women in business and society

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Having achieved all she had set out to do as an HR leader, Michele Seroke is still passionate about people.

HR guru Michele Seroke has achieved what she had set out to accomplish in her HR career but is still passionate about her job and industry. She is presently the chief people officer of Motus, South Africa's leading automotive group, which employs more than 17,000 people globally.

Although Michele has held several strategic senior management and executive positions in HR, both locally and internationally, she initially started her career at Eskom in procurement as a buyer.

Owing to the need to be more commercial and more attractive to corporates, Michele went into procurement and logistics following her graduation from the University of Cape Town with a social sciences degree.

After much growth in procurement, Michele recalls the persistent calling toward people management. “Buying was exciting and critical to establishing Eskom as the lowest cost producer of electricity and one of the best-run utilities in the world in the 90s, but it was not people,” says Michele. Michele strongly believes that engaged and empowered people are the lifeblood of any organisation. She then asked her bosses to be moved into HR, and she has not looked back since.

Michele deliberately plotted her career, enjoyed success in varied industries spanning the public and private sectors, and worked internationally. “Consequently, I have been involved in diverse projects such as driving transformation at an early age at Eskom, facilitating culture transformation initiatives at ArcelorMittal, driving systems implementations, developing global people practices to being a member of the Motus Group exco.”

Michele has been with Motus for six years, during which she and her team have ably guided the group through not just the listing of the organisation on the JSE but through the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and what it meant for people practices and the company's value proposition. She says, “Establishing a new age business-informed HR function when Motus separated from Imperial has been one of the highlights of my career.”

According to Michele, an HR leader should have a solid understanding of their business, industry, and the imperatives driving the organisation and translate them into a people strategy that enables the business to create value.

Michele is passionate about the upliftment of women within business and society. “I am fortunate that I come from a powerful matriarchal environment, where women have always pushed and been at the forefront, hence my passion for gender issues and involvement in related projects,” she says. Michele also advocates for leaving a legacy through the development of next-generation leaders.


HR challenges and its evolution

Michele points out that the HR function's perennial challenge has always been how to remain strategically relevant and transform itself to gain the proverbial “seat at the table” as a valued strategic business partner. She recognises that the Covid-19 pandemic has been a game-changer in this regard and helped elevate the contributions of HR.

During the pandemic, the function was front and centre in helping organisations navigate this once-in-a-generation crisis. HR was called upon to preserve the health and wellbeing of employees and enable flexible work arrangements to drive productivity and preserve company profitability. HR was central to answering questions in these critical areas, like, how do you mobilise remote working? How do you facilitate the performance and productivity of people working in remote environments? How do we ensure employee connectedness?

Michele believes that the function should leverage the gains achieved through the pandemic and believes digital transformation should be the next frontier HR conquers.

Digital transformation is all-encompassing, impacts every aspect of an individual business, and represents the most significant organisational development and design challenge for any business. Michele believes that although technology is a crucial driver of digital transformation, people remain a critical component of the success of an organisation’s digital transformation strategy and she believes that in the end, organisations achieve results by how they get things done and how they treat their people.

Given that it is people who decide how technology is used and since people fall within the purview of the HR function, Michele believes that digital transformation presents the function with an opportunity to deliver more strategic business outcomes. She is concerned that if the function fails to get involved in this area of the business by ensuring organisations have digitally astute employees and enable cultures of digital adaptation, it will render itself obsolete, forcing it to remain under pressure to defend itself and its financial impact on the business. She, therefore, believes HR should educate itself on what digital transformation actually means and improve its readiness to take on the role of supporting digitally transforming organisations.

Michele at home

Many people would be surprised that this outgoing and self-proclaimed workaholic is actually an introvert who draws her strength and is happiest at home. “I’m all about work, and I wake up excited about what is next and how we can take the business forward, but I also need the recharge time at home,” she admits.

Michele enjoys everything about home renovations and says she will likely carry this interest into the next stage of her career post-retirement. “I binge-watch house renovation programmes and always imagine new projects and redoing houses,” she says.

She is also interested in subsistence farming. “We have this vegetable patch in our home village. It was thriving when my dad was alive, and he could sell produce to the community. I would like to get it going again and make it the village and community centre again.”

“I spend much time with my extended family and love being with them when I am not at work. I enjoy entertaining and just that vibe of creating concurrence and warmth.

She is also an avid traveller and travels with friends every two or three years. “Our last pre-Covid trip was a Mediterranean cruise starting in Venice through to Croatia, Greece and back in Italy,” she says.

For her, it is all about culture and savouring the experience when travelling. “I’m not big into shopping abroad. I am the typical tourist and the one who is on the tour bus and just drinking in the ambience, architecture, history, and museums. I also like to experience the local cuisine as I’m a keen cook.”

And the next stop? “Cuba and Ghana are the following countries on my to-do list. I would also like to explore going on an excursion to all the international museums.”

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