Steffanuti head of HR, Natalina Singh discusses the importance of giving back

Natalina is a firm believer that what you put out into the world, you get back 10-fold.

Natalina Singh grew up in a small community in the south of Durban. On completion of her matric, she was at a crossroads about what she wanted to further her academic interests in, but despite financial constraints and with the support of her parents, she registered for a Bachelor of Social Science, majoring in psychology and sociology.

Industrial Psychology ignited a spark in Natalina. “Being part of an organisation, interacting with people and making a difference was where I saw myself thriving, and that’s when I decided to pursue my studies further in HR,” she says.

She completed her studies and was presented with an opportunity at Kelly Recruitment. “I thought that since I didn’t have any experience in HR, this would be an amazing stepping stone for me and so my journey in HR began.”

Natalina later moved to Amalgamated Beverage Industries (ABI), the Soft Drinks division of SAB, as an HR officer. “Within nine months, my HR manager and the learning and development manager resigned, and I was the only one left in the department. I reported to the engineering manager who was willing to take a chance on me, and I was offered the opportunity to act in the role and prove myself. I acted for three months and was appointed into the role of HR manager.”

Natalina recalls feeling blessed to have received such an amazing opportunity so early on in her career.

She studied an MBA part-time because she did not want to be just a HR person. She knew that she needed to understand the bigger picture. “I see myself as someone who has an HR heart and a business mind. There are often decisions that need to be taken in HR and those decisions require you to understand the business in its entirety, to truly partner and deliver value.”

Challenges in a male-dominated industry
Natalina left ABI after nearly eight years and joined construction company, Stefanutti Stocks Building, where she is currently head of HR, KZN. But it wasn’t always plain sailing in the traditionally male-dominated industry.

Within the first couple of months, she doubted whether she was in the right place because the culture was completely different to what she had been accustomed to at ABI. However, she persevered, and after three years was promoted to the position of director – the first woman to be appointed to this role. She was also the only woman equity leader in the leadership team.

Natalina says construction is a very difficult environment and trying to ensure buy-in from her colleagues on people-related initiatives was a challenge. She worked with like-minded leaders to drive the people agenda and was ecstatic when initiatives were implemented, “I had to prove myself in terms of what I know about HR and how HR can add value,” she says.

“I had to build strong relationships, get my peers to trust me, engage with them and prove that what I was trying to implement was essential to the business and would definitely make a difference.”

Lessons learnt
Natalina decided to ride the waves and overcome the challenges that she faced: “I knew that I had made the decision and if I embark on anything, I always make sure that I finish it, no matter what it takes. I believe in not giving up, persevering, and pushing my boundaries.”
Even when she was out of her comfort zone she pulled through, as she believes that people only grow when they push themselves to take on challenges.

“If at that point in time I decided that I couldn’t do this and I went back to ABI, I would not have enjoyed the benefit of the vertical learning curve that I experienced. I would have been complacent, and I would not have had the exposure that I have had in construction. I have learnt so much about construction and it is such an amazing industry with phenomenal people,” she says.

Outside HR leadership
Natalina says that she doesn’t regret her late start in starting a family as she was very career-focused in her 20s. “I was studying and working full-time. When my friends were partying, I was working. I am now a mother to three beautiful children, two girls and a boy, and my family is my number one priority. I love spending time with them, exploring and travelling. They inspire me to be the best version of myself.”

She mentions how grateful she is to have a supportive husband as well as her parents, who help her tremendously with her children, especially when she is working. “You need all the support you can get with children, if you want to be career-focused and a go-getter. It really takes a village to raise kids.”

The power of giving back
Natalina believes in never forgetting your roots, and in always practising gratitude. “We can all do so much more in giving back, showing gratitude, and empowering people,” she says. “I have mentored so many people throughout my career and have seen them soar in theirs. Currently, I am mentoring two people, and I see so much potential in them. They have the right attitude. I have encouraged them to study further and reach for their dreams.

“One day I want to see them as HR leaders, winning and thriving in the corporate world. I am passionate about developing and mentoring people so that they can grow, not only for themselves but for their families too.”

She says that she fundamentally disagrees with what she calls comparative superiority, something that she sadly sees too often. “Comparative superiority is when we feel that our material wealth makes us superior to someone else. I believe that when one progresses in life, your responsibility as a human being is to take as many people as you can with you.

“We sometimes get so busy with the routine of our lives that we take the little things for granted. I am a huge advocate for paying it forward, making a difference in as many people’s lives as possible and random acts of kindness.”

Natalina concludes that she is a firm believer that what you put out into the world you get back 10-fold: “Make it count!”.