Women in Business Series – Interview with Helen Wyatt

March 10, 2017

Helen Wyatt

Chief Human Resources Officer at Cofra Holding

Helen Wyatt currently hold the position as CHRO at Cofra Holding, based in Zug. Helen has 30 years of Human Resources experience from the Consumer Goods and Information Technology industries as well as a broad and deep expertise in all facets of HR, coupled with strong business acumen and multi-cultural sensitivity.

Areas of Expertise:

  • Management of change/Organisation effectiveness
  • Talent Development
  • Diversity

Boards

  • Member of University of Greenwich Board (remuneration & Audit Committees)
  • Fellow of CIPD
  • FTSE 100 Mentoring Program Mentee

Philanthropy:

Meningitis UK (engaged on a personal level)

Previous organizations:

  • Unilever
  • Motorola
  • Hewlett-Packard
  • Firmenich

Education:

  • Bachelor of Arts, Business Studies, Greenwich University

In addition:

  • Married 30 years; three children: Charlie, Suzannah and James
  • Enjoys reading, running and politics

 

Interview for Helen Wyatt

  1. You have been in HR your entire career, what where the initial reasons you picked this field?

Yes, I have always been in HR. I studied Business and specialized in Industrial Relations, during my degree I spent a year with IBM in HR. I decided upon HR as a career because I was attracted by helping the business to acquire and develop the best talent.

 

  1. Do you have any experience with integrating smaller business’ into the larger corporates you worked for like Motorola?

Most of my experience has been with large Corporates like Motorola, Hewlett Packard and Unilever. I was at HP during the merger with Compaq and at Unilever when Best Foods was acquired. Most recently I was CHRO for a smaller privately held Family Business, 120 years old, based in Geneva.

 

  1. If Yes, what where the challenges that you faced surrounding that and the merging process with regards to staff and the general business?

One of the most common challenges is to be able to truly leverage the new skills and capabilities that are acquired. Often there is “organ rejection” of the new talents particularly when the organization cultures are very different.

 

  1. What advice would you give a business owner in order to cope with those challenges?

Be absolutely clear about how you want to leverage the new skills and capabilities you have acquired and pay close attention to the organization culture you want to create. The organization’s leaders will need to embody this in all their behaviors.

 

  1. What would be the best advice you would give to a business owner off the back of a restructure looking to retain/motivate their most valuable staff?

It’s vital to have an inspiring vision and a clearly communicated plan of how to achieve this which will engage employees. It’s also important that individuals understand how they personally can contribute and play their part to deliver the plan.

 

  1. What is your opinion on Fixed and flexible working hours? A lot of startups are now using the flexible working hour structure, do you think this is a hindrance or beneficial?

In my experience the more flexibility you give individuals the greater level of commitment, engagement and performance you get in return. So, I am a big fan of this approach. I once had a Director of Rewards role at HP reporting me which was staffed by two individuals who were job sharing, my experience was that effectively had 24/7 coverage for this role.

 

  1. Richard Branson famously has given his staff ‘unlimited holiday’ what are you views on this?

I think it’s important that individuals have clear holiday entitlement, otherwise in some cultures there could be unspoken pressure not to take holiday. I believe that you get the best performance when individuals are able to have good work life balance and that includes being able to take holidays.

 

  1. What would you see as critical components to a good employee?

Being clear about what is expected of them in terms of deliverables and being given the tools and the ability to develop key skills and capabilities.

 

  1. What would you say are the biggest challenges facing women in business at the moment and how would you counteract them?

One of the biggest challenges is that we still do not appreciate diversity fully, men and women are wired differently. Often women will have a different approach to a business challenge and will be able to achieve the same or a better result than their male colleagues, this isn’t always recognized or understood. Women should spend less time trying to emulate the male approach, it’s the end result which is most important.

 

  1. How do you balance family life and having such a high pressure job? Do you have any top tips?

I think it’s important to be clear on the priorities and focus on them, otherwise the workload can be overwhelming.  It’s also important to keep things in context. I often think of the Steven Covey quote “Nobody ever had on their gravestone, I wish I had spent more time at the office” life regrets are about relationships and never about the meeting you didn’t attend of the report you didn’t write.

 

  1. What would you say was/is your greatest achievement in your career?

I am not sure I would focus on one, but I am proud of the fact that throughout my career I have been able to stay true to my values of treating all individuals with whom I have been in contact with…. with dignity and respect. In HR you often have to do some tough things but if you are able to do this with humanity that’s important. I would say I am more Human than Resources.

 

  1. What advice would you give for a young female starting out her career?

Have a career plan, set yourself some goals and have milestones. I planned to be an HR manager by 30 and made it at 28, a Vice President by 40 and made it by 38, a CHRO by 50 and made I at 51. If you set the milestones you are often able to get there earlier.

 

  1. Who is your role model and why?

Peninah Thomson OBE, she is a mentor, coach and friend of mine. Peninah set up the FTSE 100 mentoring programme for Senior Female Executives.  This programme has been instrumental in getting more females appointed as NED’s to Boards. Peninah has truly made a difference and I really admire this.

 

  1. If you could go back and give yourself advice on the day of your graduation from university what would it be?

I would say make a career plan, but don’t  be 100% fixated on building your cv, be open to new opportunities and what life will throw at you. Take time to “smell the roses” and really enjoy your successes, but most of all remember that there is nothing more important than your health and family.

Quick Fire

  1. Red wine or white wine? White wine
  2. Favorite book? Pride and Prejudice
  3. How would your friends describe you in two words? Focused, thoughtful
  4. Life motto? This too will pass
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