A leader can make or break

Starting out as a teacher, Winnie Pertet, has shot straight to the stars riding on a stellar career that has culminated into the role of a Human Resource Director. Her plunge into the HR industry was through the banking sector from where she grew into larger organisations. Her footprints of HR transformation in the banking industry, manufacturing sector and financial institutions are evidence of her multidimensional expertise. “I started   off my career as a high school teacher, where I taught English language and Literature. I  then joined Post Bank as a management trainee for a year and thereafter a role opened up where I stepped up as an instructor imparting staff with communication and supervisory skills,” says Pertet. This was only a beginning of a tremendous career as a HR expert. Leap by leap, Pertet has scaled the professional ladder to the pinnacle of excellence leading to her current occupation as the Lead Consultant and CEO of Serian Consulting, and chair of the National Employment Authority.

How she began

Pertet traces her growth to the transition she made from Post Bank to a commercial bank where she was exposed to the actual banking roles. At the time, the bank was undergoing a restructuring and she volunteered to work with the consultant who  was undertaking the process. “I supervised a team of administration staff   and my responsibility in leading this  team was crucial in establishing myself as a leader”.

Nine months later, Pertet moved to Delphis  Bank now, Oriental Bank as HR Manager and then KCB where she outgrew her position as HR manager, to become the Bank’s  HR Change Manager ,  then  the Bank’s training manager and then  senior HR Manager in charge of branches. “The experience I accumulated from working in the various banks positioned me for higher and more challenging roles in even larger organisations,” she says. Besides the banking industry, Pertet has worked  in senior HR roles with EABL, CocaCola Sabco,  UAP , UAP Old Mutual Group  before breaking away to establish her own HR consulting company, Serian Consulting that is still in its budding stage.

Launching into business

“Leaving employment to pursue a passion in entrepreneurship is never essay,” ascertains Pertet, who adds that heeding the call to break out of the comfort zone  and accept to take on a challenging and uncertain ground of self-employment takes courage. So, what was the pushing force? With over 25 years of practice in HR, Pertet felt that she had enough experience to sail her own ship, and work with several organisations in HR Management and establishing a HR firm was the ultimate way to go.

She admits that self-employment is a whole different ball game, and one has to wade through with an open mind, as challenges can come up unexpectedly. “For me new experiences each day are exciting and that’s what thrills me to pursue the best results for every situation,” says Pertet further elaborating that she gets bored by routine. Pertet who defines herself as passionate, persistent and results oriented is clearly a free-spirited mind and these attributes allow her to take challenges that come her way in stride.

The strongest tool in this trade however, Pertet says, is the networks she has established in her career. While people may take for granted the relationships they build in the office with colleagues while they are still in contact, these relationships become highly invaluable the moment the name ‘colleague’ is dropped. Her networks have played a big role in developing  a clientele base for Serian Consulting either through direct business or referrals.

HR as a strategic role

Today, HR has evolved into a strategic function. Everything HR does  must link into the Corporate Strategy  .  “The HR strategy in itself needs to be derived  from  the corporate strategy, else all the planning and implementation   of the corporate strategy  will be efforts in futility,” she explains. Asked what the implications of advancing technology are on HR, Pertet says; “In this era of automation, HR is exposed to so many potential changes but the one critical aspect of organisations that won’t change is relationships. We can automate everything but relationships with customers   staff and other stakeholders will always require  the human intervention and this is the determinant of a successful organisation.

Her view on leadership

Having held leadership positions in  various companies, Pertet embraces situational leadership and is of the view that leadership is a very delicate responsibility. “If not handled well, leadership can be a frustrating, spirit crushing and career killing vehicle, “she warns. When entrusted with a team of individuals to lead, one must be very careful and focus on  growing  the  individuals  as well as the team, as moves that may seem inconsequential could be individual dream killers.” The best approach to ensure this she says, is to be self-aware. She posits three tenets of leadership: self-awareness, developing others and getting the work done. Her advice to business leaders and employees is: always remember the power of relationships.

By CAROLINE MWENDWA

Caroline Mwendwa is the Editor, Management Magazine. Email: cmwendwa@kim.ac.ke

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