Old Mutual's Celiwe Ross and Nestle's Tania Hector reveal their biggest challenges

From wrong appointments and backfiring strategies to bad publicity, these CHROs share their lessons.

Celiwe Ross, human capital director of Old Mutual, and Tania Hector, HR director for Nestle East and Southern Africa, wiped away any delusions of C-suite glamour when they took the stage at the HR Indaba for their panel ‘Scraping both needs: Lessons on resilience from the boardroom’. 

For Celiwe, having Old Mutual as headline news fodder for all the wrong reasons has been her most, and perhaps most harrowing episode. Still fresh from the ordeal, of Peter Moyo’s high-profile firing and court challenges, she illustrated the very behaviours she says are key to surviving challenges in the C-Suite; being authentic, being human and dropping pretence when it is obvious to everyone in the room that there is a crisis underfoot. 

Ross shared that, what she has learned from the Moyo vs the board stand-off, is that “Corporate governance is hard, but ethics are easy,” adding that:

“The biggest challenge as an executive team member, is knowing that stakeholders, both internal and external, require your resilience regardless of how you may be feeling.  A public-facing crisis puts particular pressure on members such as the sales team, who have to contend with customers’ loss of confidence or other adverse reactions. As HR, we have to figure out how to support our people through such times.”

Tania, whose career has spanned many decades across different countries, says that in the HR field, there is no formula for addressing challenges. “People or situations don’t fit in neat little boxes boxes or Excel sheets, so you can’t apply a recipe, but you can be guided by your ethics and values when things get murky.” 

She further emphasises that most times you have to do the best you can, with the information at hand and be comfortable with the next best step, even if you can’t see all the way to the end of the road. 

Both women wear their bruises with pride and Tania says, after experiencing many failures, from hiring the wrong people and deploying strategies that backfired, it is important to accept that disappointment is part of holding an influential position. “Knowing that failure is around the corner helps you cope when it makes the rounds again. It still feels awful, but doesn’t take you out.” 

 

Celiwe clarifies that the HR role is not about being a social lubricant, but being able to make decisions which at times, run you the risk of being unpopular. 

“As an HR professional, you have to have a deep understanding of the business, a firm grasp of numbers, the ability to analyse data, spot trends and interpret their potential. Delivering this type of business value in this role is becoming increasingly important as technology offers us the opportunity to track data and deliver insights.”  

For her, the voice of the CHRO is an important one “Boards look for someone with the competence to contribute positively to a myriad of challenges, from succession planning to conflict and market growth.” 

When seeking talent, Celiwe says she looks for people who have experienced failure in their own career or lives, “This shows resilience, grit, patience and proof that they have some coping mechanisms ingrained, which makes them formidable team members.” 

She further emphasises that failure can shake your confidence, but don’t allow it to force you to operate from a position of fear, “otherwise that lack of confidence will lead you to make bad decisions.”