The HR leader has honed his craft and grew by trial and error and learning from others.
Ryan Rutgers, head of talent at the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, studied finance and accounting with ambitions of being a CA, but in his final year of honours, he realised that he didn’t really want to do auditing for the rest of his life.
However, it was only when got a job at Allan Gray Limited, starting in the operations space and progressing through the ranks, that he realised exactly where his passion was.
As an organisational development specialist focusing on leadership development, Ryan was one of the pioneering candidates who went through Allan Gray’s in-house three-year leadership training programme. This soon led to the opportunity to head up that programme – and Ryan discovering his passion for working with and guiding people to grow and develop.
“I enjoyed that space, and while in the role, I got exposed to other aspects of organisational development and some interesting things started coming into my portfolio, including exploring development programmes that cut across teams as well as individuals,” he says.
In his 17-year career of which 12 have been in HR, he has taken advantage of opportunities to grow, including holding the role of organisational development manager at Allan Gray Limited and HR manager at the Foschini Group.
In his current role at the foundation, Ryan is responsible for the full HR spectrum from organisational design and development to change management to talent attraction and recruitment. He is responsible for HR strategy, governance and delivery of HR programmes and works closely with the leadership team to drive the strategy and design of HR systems to support the foundation’s objectives. He has designed and implemented a number of new HR systems and processes to improve efficiency and effectiveness.
Though it’s an unconventional path, having a financial background has given Ryan the edge as an HR leader.
He says, “Understanding the financial sustainability of the organisation has helped me in my decision-making. I think it has also allowed me to manage the financial resources that sit within the HR space really well.”
He also has a unique perspective on balancing the concerns of individuals with the needs of the organisation.
“My perspective has given me a different lens through which to view things,” he says. “I’m more open to challenging some of the harder conventional HR practices.”
Financial aptitude also gives Ryan the ability to make complex calculations, and this is especially handy when forecasting and long-term planning are at play. “For example, there is a lot of calculation that goes into an exercise like succession planning, which requires taking a long-term view, foresight and balance.”
The organisation often has to make important decisions about who will be a part of the leadership team in the future and this is where strategic HR input is most crucial.
He explains, “It’s not only about who will take on extra responsibilities but also who will fill their shoes when they retire or if they leave the company for whatever reason. It’s not just about identifying someone to step up into leadership roles but also providing them with relevant development opportunities so that they can acquire the skills needed to succeed in these roles over time.”
Steering the ship
Ryan believes that operating from clear principles is extremely important.
“Just as Allan Gray Limited is passionate about growing talent from within, we want to strive for similar growth at the foundation, so that when senior roles become available, we’re able to fill them with talent already on staff,” he says.
“At the end of last year, our CEO left and I think it's been great that we could use one of our internal heads of function as acting CEO. We still obviously tend to follow a recruitment process when vacancies become available, but it was more about if there were internal candidates who possessed the skills required to challenge for the role,” he adds.
In addition to aptly steering the talent ship, putting together the budget, understanding it, and being able to explain it has earned him credibility with his finance partners.
Ryan honed his craft and grew by trial and error and learning from others, such as the previous head of talent. He recalls that when he first joined the foundation, she told him that they were on a journey to make sure he succeeded her so that when an opportunity became available, there would be no doubt in anyone's mind that he was the right candidate for the job.
He says so much of what she did was very deliberate in terms of giving him exposure. For example, when they launched new HR initiatives or big communication sessions, she would say, “You have to do this.” And although it was frustrating sometimes, looking back on those opportunities now, he realises how crucial they were for helping him get where he is today.
Never too late
He says when he thinks back to his early years in the field, there are plenty of mistakes he wishes he could go back and revise.
“But I’ve come to realise that what's most valuable is the experience itself. The things we learn from our missteps give us the tools to grow – and even if we don’t learn what we thought we’d learn, sometimes it isn’t until you look back on your experiences that you realise how much you really did gain from them,” he says.
He adds that he has learned that staying positive and believing in yourself is the key to success, and it’s never too late to achieve your goals.
“While you should always be prepared for obstacles that may get in the way, they can be opportunities to overcome them and learn from them,” he notes.
A self-described family man, Ryan is based in Cape Town with his wife and three children.
“My beautiful wife has been by my side for the past 14 years and we have three children – two are biological and one we are fostering. We enjoy spending time together doing things such as going for walks in some beautiful hiking spots, playing tennis to keep my health and fitness side up, reading articles about what is happening in the world, or reading editorials to get a gist of what is going on in our country,” he says.