Parkinson Lee Executive search are delighted to be sharing a series of interviews with Business Leaders from across the region. Each month we will be publishing “an interview with…” that our Managing Partner, Lee Bhandal, has conducted with highly respected Executives from across the region.
Our sixth interview is with Andrea Preston, HR Director at Tes Global. Andrea is a member of the board team and responsible for creating and leading the people strategy, implementing successful wellbeing and flexible working programmes as part of employee engagement and talent attraction strategies, and driving inclusivity across the business.
Tes Global’s mission is to, power, school and enable great teaching worldwide, by creating intelligent online products and services to make the greatest difference in education. For more than 100 years, Tes has championed great teaching by working together with teachers to build trusted education solutions that help them to be the best they can be. From safeguarding and compliance, to staff and pupil management, their innovative and flexible software and services help teachers and school leaders worldwide to provide the best education to millions of children. Tes is a global company employing over 600 people across 10 offices, in locations including London, Sheffield, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Sydney, and Dubai.
In this interview, Andrea shares an insight into her impressive HR career, how she navigated through the challenges that came with the pandemic and her greatest professional achievements.
Interview with Andrea
Why did you choose a career in Human Resources? Were there any particular influences?
During my last year of studying for a history degree at Lancaster University, I did a psychometric style questionnaire that suggested suitable careers, and HR was one of the options.
I did some investigation into what HR entailed, the responsibilities of the function and the career path that came with it. It sounded interesting, it fit perfectly with my values and would give me an opportunity to make a real impact to both a business and the careers of the people within it. That’s when I made the decision to complete my CIPD.
Can you tell us more about your impressive 19-year career in the industry and your progression to HR Director? What have been the standout moments for you?
I began my HR career as an Advisor and worked my way through various roles and industries, which gave me great exposure to many projects and challenges that required flexibility, dedication and strong problem-solving skills. Since 2001, I’ve held senior/ board level positions and led the HR strategy.
I was fortunate in my early career to work for great managers who had more confidence in my abilities than I had in myself at the time – they pushed me to gain new experiences. One manager put me forward to set-up a new international office for the company, which was terrifying, especially without the international experience. The project was a huge success and since then, I have repeated this in many locations around the world.
What has kept you motivated and inspired throughout your career? And what is the most rewarding part of your role HR Director?
What keeps me motivated is knowing that I’ve made a difference to a number of companies’ and helped to progress the careers of so many people. Equally, my ability to find solutions that benefit both our employees and the business, for any given situation is a great motivation.
The most rewarding part of my role is growing and developing my team(s) current and former, and watching their careers go from strength to strength. I feel privileged to be able to help in some small way.
What do you think has been the role of HRD in the pandemic? How were you as HRD able to help your company through the crisis?
The role of a HRD in the pandemic has been to communicate pragmatic solutions to often new and challenging situations. At the start of the pandemic, we set up a weekly company broadcast to answer questions about working from home and hybrid working, to interpret changing government guidance, explain new concepts such as furlough and reassure colleagues about the future of the business. This was a really effective communication tool that kept everyone connected and informed.
Maintaining engagement across the business, whilst keeping morale going and prioritising the well-being of our employees was key. It was a completely unknown situation, but I personally feel that we acted fast, found solutions and overcame the challenges.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing a HR Director today?
It would definitely be the change of pace, there are always new situations that we need to adapt to, be equipped for and ready to face.
Equally, it would be avoiding a one size fits all approach, especially for a global workforce – it is so important to balance a global culture / values whilst respecting local employment practices.
How do you add value to Tes? What are your personal strengths that you bring to the role and organisation?
The broad experience I’ve had over the years across different sectors, has allowed me to offer a fresh perspective and a variety of solutions, which is extremely valuable when leading a HR function.
On a personal basis, my biggest strength is the ability to remain calm and identify key factors that are important. I have a very pragmatic approach to situations, which helps guides me in decision-making processes.
What would you say are the key qualities required to perform as a successful HR Director?
Absorbing information is key, which often includes conflicting data that requires more research to determine the most appropriate value adding people strategy.
I would also say having a level-headed approach and the ability to see other perspectives is key to building a positive and influential culture.
What has been your biggest achievement to date in your HR career?
In a professional capacity, it was opening an office in Brazil to extremely tight timescales, without the ability to speak Portuguese. Also being able to attract and retain employees with extremely niche IT and credit card expertise.
In a personal capacity, it would be the ability to present at large conferences – as an introvert that takes a great deal of work to overcome. To be successful as a HRD it is so important to keep investing in personal development.
Have you experienced any major challenges/setbacks that you have had to overcome in your career and how has that helped you become the HR professional you are today?
Early in my career, I experienced some prejudice about my working-class background and hint of a Barnsley accent, mostly when applying for new roles, which was hugely frustrating.
As a HR Director, leading the strategy, I have used my personal experience to ensure our workforce and culture champions inclusivity, where people are comfortable to challenge assumptions.
Who has been your mentor and what impact have they had on your career?
I am incredibly grateful that I met Kate Black, Managing Director at Agile HR Solutions, when I was starting out in my career. Kate was a great mentor; willing to listen and give me practical advice. Looking back, she really helped me build on self-confidence and encouraged me to apply for new opportunities. She also introduced me to champagne and now as friends, I still look forward to catching up with her for a chat and a glass of fizz.
What advice would you give to up-and-coming HR professionals looking to make it to the top of the profession?
Successful HR professionals must be comfortable with change and be committed to continuous learning and personal development – a growth mindset is essential to progression.
You need to be able to work outside of your comfort zone and understand that occasionally you will make mistakes, but in my experience, you can learn as much, if not more, from a mistake as a success.
What are your interests outside of your career?
I felt very fortunate during lockdown to have my golden retriever Bertie – both my husband and I enjoy walking and sightseeing at dog friendly places. I’m looking forward to going to the theatre, ballet and my favourite restaurants now that things have begun to re-open.
For more information on this interview or to discuss how Parkinson Lee could assist your organisation in hiring Executive or Board Level appointments, please contact Lee Bhandal on 07590 529 274 or firstname.lastname@example.org.