Q&A with Stephanie Nash, Chief People Officer at RedMart
Stephanie Nash sat down for a discussion with HQ Asia on her leadership journey, developing talent and how the Western work environment differs from Asia. Currently, she is the Chief People Officer of RedMart and before that, she held HR leadership positions at Allergan, Microsoft and BHP Billiton. Stephanie has worked in Singapore, the US, Australia and Chile.
HQA: Can you walk us through your leadership journey and how you got into the HR profession?
Stephanie Nash: I have been extremely fortunate. I graduated from university in New York, and moved to San Francisco where I started in a management development programme for a retail organisation. I had spent over a year with that organisation, and identified aspects of what I was doing and how I was spending my time in ways that I enjoyed and ways that I didn’t enjoy. I went through a self-reflective journey while I was working. I found that the attributes of my role that I enjoyed were hiring, developing, training and coaching. HR was the direction I started to lean towards. I had a friend who was working in a search firm. She sent me on an interview with a mining company.
I met the hiring manager and had a great discussion, great interview and I was offered an HR coordinator position. Upon reflection, I now realise that he hired me based on my potential. That is something we as HR professionals should take note of: we should look for demonstrated examples of performance, but we should also look for and identify attributes of potential.
HQA: How is leading in Asia different than in the US or South America?
SN: The sense of urgency is very real in Asia. There is a competitive spirit, in a positive way, because people are very oriented around growth, and they see growth as the means of survival. There is an impetus to take initiative and to take risks, with the appropriate level of support.
The pace of change is quick even though you might not see it in individuals. You can see examples of cities in Asia and how they’ve changed. In North America, where I worked for quite a while, when a company found success, the willingness to change reduced and the ability to move relative to competition was slower. But a company [in the US] also cannot afford to acquiesce, cannot afford to get lazy—so to speak— because the competition will outpace them and Asian competition will outpace them. I just think that there’s something in the DNA here in Asia which makes the growth mind-set prevalent.
HQA: What has helped you manage the diversity of roles as a HR professional?
SN: I think that one of the things that has served me well is the natural curiosity to understand the business that I am working in. What is our core purpose? Who are our competitors? How do we stack up relative to our competitors? Where do we see our core capabilities? Where do we need to evolve and build our capabilities? And to really spend time with people in the business, understanding their priorities.
Whether that is picking and packing in RedMart's fulfilment centre and going out with the drivers to make deliveries, or working in minerals exploration and going out to the field for three days' sampling, or going out with sales reps to aesthetics clinics at Allergan, to going out on sales calls with Microsoft, I’ve seen that the investment in understanding a business is critical, not just a necessity but actually critical. It’s an area that when I’m onboarding, I deliberately spend time learning and understanding.
HQA: How do you build a high-performing team?
SN: One of the things I look for when I think about the team is the diversity of experience. So it could be diversity of experience from the perspective of years of experience, it could be type of experience, or it could be in generalist or specialist roles. Having a sort of picture of what kinds of experience I would like to have on the team and then looking at who I have today, which experiences do they have and which box do they tick and what are we missing. Then I look for people who have the kind of experience that we need in the team. I also want team members to provoke different ways of thinking, to bring in new ideas, new best practices and controversial thoughts and ideas that are going to cause us to think differently.
I do think a blend of those who are early in their career and those who have demonstrated experience is necessary. Part of the reason is that we are moving at such a fast pace that we can’t afford to have everybody learn and catch up to speed, which can take years to develop. It’s about finding that balance between those who have experience and those who are gaining experience. And what are their aspirations because if they’re interested, they’re keen, they’re committed, we can get them to learn. I want my team members to feel valued for what they know and can do, and also feel invested in learning which adds experiences into their own portfolio.
HQA: What are 3 pieces of advice you’d give to an emerging Asian leader?
Be willing to put your hand up to ask for what you want, and ask for the kind of experience you want to have. Don’t wait for people to come ask you and come find you.
If you're in HR, think of the HR team as inclusive. For example, I’ve heard in my career many times: Oh, that’s a recruiter’s job or that’s the job of compensation or that’s the job of corporate. We’re all one team, we are one HR function, we all succeed together, and we all learn together.
Do what you say you are going to do. When you make a commitment, make it with the genuine intent to fulfil it and if you cannot meet that commitment, re-contract in advance of someone being surprised to avoid the risk of not meeting accountabilities.
HQA: Do you have any other final advice for emerging Asian leaders?
SN: Some of the attributes and behaviours that I would like to see more of in our emerging Asian leaders, is the ability to operate in ambiguous situations, responsible risk-taking and the courage to lead change. I would encourage one to feel more comfortable and confident to challenge the status quo, share thoughts and ideas, and to proactively offer solutions. This can be done in a respectful and constructive manner that will most likely result in a positive outcome for the business, organisation or community.
This article was first published on 11 January 2016, when Stephanie Nash was the Chief People Officer at RedMart, an online grocery and essential e-commerce platform headquartered in Singapore.