Linda Mayer, HR Director EMEAI, The Valspar Corporation

What do you love about Switzerland and why?
The quality of the lifestyle and the scenery. I constantly feel like I am living on the cover of a box of chocolates. I came from Australia which is a country renowned for its relaxed lifestyle, but Switzerland for me provides an equal if not better quality of life. I miss the beach but in Switzerland we have lakes and can go hiking in the mountains, which is wonderful. From a work perspective, being in the centre of Europe allows me to cover the region easily, the transportation works wonderfully which makes my job a lot easier and culturally it’s very diverse and international. I also have many fantastic Swiss friends.

 

What challenges are awaiting your business and how do you hope to overcome them?
The challenges are very much in the media and public eye as we are in the process of being acquired. The challenge is the fact that it was announced a year ago, and we are still waiting for completion. Things are put on hold, there is not the same focus on longer-term strategies as things may change. We are in ‘limbo’ if you like where legally we cannot form teams and talk strategically about the future because we are still competitors and the regulatory authorities are keeping us separate. Therefore, maintaining momentum and motivation for leaders during this time is a constant process to make sure they focus on what they can have control. I encourage constant improvement in the foundations of the organisation so for example in HR; ensuring all our grading structure is right, remapping the employees, look where we need to update policies and procedures and so on. For the Sales organisation, it must be a focus on delivery of the financial plan. We have plenty to do so we focus, not on other distractions.


 
How do you maintain employee engagement whilst a business is going through significant change?
I think we are fortunate in this region, the cross-over between Valspar and the business that is acquiring us is not as great as in North America, we have a different challenge. Overwhelmingly the focus on maintaining engagement is to keep a vigilant focus on development and career discussions. The message must be that individual growth never stops and does not have to be at the same pace as business growth. We are ensuring Managers keep those conversations alive and have developed tools to help build development plans, we are increasing the focus on how individual careers are being managed to maintain that buy in.

 

Being a sparring partner is a pre-requisite for a HR Division - what do you feel makes an effective sparring partner?
The tag “sparring partner” to me almost infers conflict. I think in the first part my approach is not one of conflict. I believe that HR also cannot be the preacher of values and virtues. The term “partner” on its own is what I look at and this requires compromise which I look for in a fellow leader. If you do not have that partnership ethos in the beginning then HR on its own will always be battling uphill, it must be a two-way street. Compromising whilst maintaining integrity and never losing who you are in the process. An honest and trusting connection will bring the best results. This is where you can strive to be. You can then be providing this open feedback, you can provide the ideas, the banter around trying to get to the best outcomes. Not sparring, not pushing against, but collaborating on and compromising.


 
What are your personal motivators?
I am either a very simple person or in my simplicity I am complicated, I am not sure which!?! Simply, I want to provide an environment where people can make mistakes and learn from them. One of my corner foundations in my leadership style is that I never want to stop people stretching themselves to learn. You must create a safety net for that to happen. It is a motivator of mine, to encourage people to push themselves to a point that they are at risk of making mistakes. That personal growth is amazing. Secondly, to uphold the integrity of relationships. I have a very strong sense of fairness and my motivation for particularly being in HR is to ensure that there is a balanced voice in the room. Decisions are made within a business and we know that those decisions will impact humans. We all have being human in common so it means that these decisions will affect people like us. I get inspired by turning business decisions into positive outcomes for everybody.
Also, a personal motivator is to prove that you can have fun, be relaxed and achieve great things. I think there is a misconception that the fun person who is great to work with and can have a laugh maybe isn’t necessarily always achieving as much as the serious person.

 

What attributes do you look for when choosing a recruitment partner?
The relationship must mean something for a start. They must show we are not a number and it is not just about generating that number, that turnover. I also look for comprehensive search options – not cookie cutters. I think the challenge is if you have internal recruiters, you can certainly do a lot inhouse these days so to find a partner for you to send a percentage of your search to, there must be something special that the external recruiters are doing that you cannot replicate. Also, a true understanding of the needs of the company and where the company is at and of the role, the line manager, so not presenting what needs to be solved but hearing what needs to be found. Lastly, flexibility, business changes, we have things moving all the time. Someone who has a view of the long-term relationship not just the one-off job but what the account means over a longer period.

 

What advice would you give to future aspiring leaders, and why?
First one is simply to be willing not to be perfect, if you are not making mistakes, you are not growing, do not strive to be perfect. Always be open to developing your leadership style, too many middle managers believe they have ‘arrived’ and it is not the case. Feedback is a gift, not a weight you have to hold onto, many people remember what one leader said to them when they were 22, hear it, deal with it, adapt if needed and you move on. Be ever-vigilant on creating diversity in teams and organisations, you will always get the best results with a diverse way of thinking and ways of being. Lastly, never settle on a candidate, hold out to get the candidate you want and force yourself to pick your potential successor every time you hire.

 

Who was your most admired person when you were in your childhood and why?
It is a funny one; Calamity Jane. Most people will not even know who she is I guess. I grew up with my Father, and had an interest in Western movies as I grew up on a cattle property there was a correlation between what was happening in my childhood and Calamity Jane, who was always this very capable girl in amongst all the boys. She could jump on a horse, she could crack a whip, she could rope a calf, shoot a gun – she could do all those things. I was growing up as a young girl riding horses, mustering cattle so I kind of thought I was like Calamity Jane. Now as an adult I am still Calamity Jane, I feel I am very resilient and capable; I can whistle, I can change a tyre, I can bake a loaf of bread and I can be a HR Director. One of the things it taught me was at the end of the day she put on a pretty dress and she was still a girl.
 
*Views and opinions contained within our Executive Interviews are those of the Interviewee and NOT views shared by EMEA Recruitment.*

 
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