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Spotlight on Steelite International`s Head of HR, Wendy Dean

23 July 2009

People Management magazine recently reported on Steelite International's very own Head of HR, Wendy Dean.

WENDY DEAN Chartered FCIPD Head of HR, Steelite International, tableware manufacturer for the hospitality industry

GETTING INTO HR was a bit of a fluke for me. I did a couple of other things after leaving school but then got seconded into an HR department and loved it from day one.  I’m interested in people and enjoy being around and helping them.  It’s a career where you get out what you put in.

GOING THROUGH A COMPANY SALE was one of the highlights of my career. When ANC Express was acquired by FedEx in 2006, it really strengthened me as an HR person. As part of due diligence, it was important to demonstrate that our people standards were as good as FedEx. This was intense, but gave me the opportunity to examine our policies in depth. A lot of the tasks I did there have helped me in my role since - if you have a good blueprint in HR practice all you have to do is adapt it to the company.

MY BIGGEST FEAR WHEN I MOVED from FedEx to Steelite International was that I didn’t know the industry. When you get to a certain level in HR, your personal development entails getting out of your comfort zone and doing something different Switching industries was made easier because the people here were happy to support and guide me, helping me get to grips with the business.

THE BEST PART OF MY JOB is being able to come up with new ways of doing things. My CEO is very forward-thinking and is keen to explore alternative ways of defining and implementing the HR strategy. We are part of the hospitality industry, so this involves trying to get people to think a bit more about delivering a fantastic customer experience. This is a great brief for me and very challenging. The current climate means that we have to think differently in order to stay ahead in our field.

STEELITE INTERNATIONAL IS a very optimistic company, where everyone really believes in the products, so the success of HR will be about getting people to continue to believe. I’ve changed the way we communicate by introducing employee champions in each part of the business. We meet on a monthly basis to discuss how we can improve things for them.

BEING AN ETERNAL OPTIMIST has helped me to get to where I am. I never think that something can’t be overcome. It really frustrates me when people are negative as I have a natural inclination to look at things positively.

HR IS NOT ONLY ABOUT people policies and procedures, it’s about getting involved in the whole of the business. That’s where a lot of HR people fall down – they think it’s only about people issues.

MY MANTRA IS TO ALWAYS keep things simple. When I was at ANC Express I had to create a new HR manual, but I made it too complicated. I understood it but no one else did, so I simplified it and, strangely enough, it started to have an impact.

CONFIDENCE IS ALSO IMPORTANT. Someone I worked for once told me that confidence is about perception – and this is true.  I’ve met some powerful people over the years who seemed very confident on the face of it, but who weren’t in reality. If you can learn how to display confidence, it can help you through difficult situations.

IN THE FUTURE I THINK HR will go in two directions: strategic and technical. An increasing amount of legislation will require more technical people, but equally, more strategic thinkers will be needed to think broadly about the business.

ONE OF MY BIGGEST AMBITIONS is to live life to the full. I don’t believe opportunities are simply given to you. You have to be open-minded and seize them when they come along with both hands. 

Interview by Lucy Phillips, People Management magazine