The harder you work, the luckier you become, says HC exec Chanel Smailes


Chanel Smailes, HR executive at KAP Limited, is on a remarkable journey largely due to her unique mindset, unconventional background, curiosity and drive.

Human capital executive at KAP, Chanel Smailes attributes her success in leading people to the indelible impact of her father. He was an ardent proponent of personal development, and his influence shaped her journey. She recalls, “My father was a strong advocate for personal growth and development. He instilled in us the importance of constantly pushing ourselves to be a better person today than we were yesterday, to expand our horizons beyond what we could ever imagine. This mindset was ingrained in us from a young age, shaping the way I approached life.”

Chanel shares that what truly set her father apart was his willingness to grant her the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. “He understood that growth often comes from taking risks and embracing failure as an opportunity for growth. When we did make mistakes, he ensured that we faced the consequences, but he also used those moments as valuable learning experiences.”

These foundational principles have informed her career over the years and are even more poignant now with his recent passing.

This mindset was furthermore entrenched by her former CEO to whom she reported for 22 years. He truly inspired and instilled the personal desire to achieve and to grow beyond what you thought possible, and in turn afforded her many opportunities to further develop herself over their 22-year partnership. These opportunities provided by him are the foundation for her success to date.

Distinct mindset

Chanel’s journey in HR is marked by her distinct mindset and non-traditional background. Unlike many others, she started her career from the ground up in operations, steadily ascending the ranks over time. It is precisely her lack of theoretical knowledge that sets her apart and brings a breath of fresh air to the table. “When faced with unfamiliar territory, I make it a priority to conduct thorough research and explore innovative approaches taken by others. This curiosity and drive led me to my current role.”

She has fulfilled various operational and Human Capital roles within KAP for 22 years but recently took up the position of human capital executive: corporate services in July. Serving as a holding company, KAP is a diversified industrial group that comprises various sectors including industrial, chemical, and logistics businesses. Within its diversified industrial segment, the company manufactures timber products, automotive components and accessories, as well as mattresses and bedding components. The firm has 20,000 employees across the continent, with a significant presence throughout Africa.

Chanel is gradually settling into her new role. “I understand that I need to prove myself and earn the right to have my voice heard. I accept this challenge and embrace it,” she says.

Her immediate focus however is on innovation. “Ultimately, that is what matters. We need to ensure that our business strategy goes beyond mere numbers, figures, returns, and shareholders. After all, our employees are also shareholders. It is crucial to maintain this perspective. By incorporating these insights into a long-term strategy, we can establish a two-way flow of communication and collaboration.”

Chanel believes that her key contribution will be innovation at the senior level. “It's exciting to think about pushing boundaries and finding new ways to excel. It's important to show that we care before people will trust us. This trust is crucial, as it leads to opportunities for growth and financial success.”

Lessons along the way

Resilience within organisations and the ability to adapt, change, and learn have been her greatest achievements, adds Chanel. “Moreover, I am not driven by ego or status. If there is something I do not know, I am always the first to admit it and take the initiative to find out. I then return with a well-thought-out plan. These are the two aspects of my career that I am most proud of - my personal growth and my willingness to seek knowledge,” she explains.

Having navigated many twists and turns in her career, Chanel’s advice to aspiring HR professionals is multi-faceted.

First, she says, relationships are key. “In fact, they might just be even more important than knowledge itself. While hard work is undoubtedly crucial, never shy away from raising your hand and boldly saying, ’Pick me!’ No matter how intimidating it may seem, taking that leap of faith can open doors you never thought possible. I firmly believe that those who confine themselves to their comfort zones miss out on the incredible opportunities life has to offer.”

She adds, “It's all about your outlook. If you firmly decide that you can achieve something, undoubtedly, you will. There are no limits or boundaries holding you back. You can break free from any box society tries to put you in. Embrace your potential and pursue your dreams with a positive mindset.”

New experiences

When she isn’t working Chanel enjoys staying active, although it has been a bit challenging lately. “One of my ventures into the world of fitness is triathlon, although I must admit I'm not the fastest athlete out there, but nonetheless, I get out there, do what I can and enjoy it”

She explains that what makes her triathlon experience truly amazing is the incredible tribe of people she has surrounded herself with. “We come from diverse backgrounds all with our own story. This tribe has become like family to me, which is incredibly important. Although I lost my father earlier this year, I still have my very fit and active Mom, who remains an integral part of our day-to-day life. Spending quality time and engaging in various activities with her brings me immense joy.”

Chanel believes that it is important to keep striving to learn and never underestimate the value of acquiring new knowledge. “Personally, I find great joy in learning new things and meeting new people. That's just who I am.”

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