Happening By Chance

A coincidental journey into the world of People Management & Operations.

Clever, confident, articulate, and always with a smile, that’s how most will remember her. Our paths crossed in 1998 when we started our Bachelor’s program in Visual Communication. Never in the front, always at the back, researching, coordinating, directing, organising and delivering what she said she will. She is a born leader, and takes pride in her reputation as a creative problem solver and an out-of-the-box thinker, then and now.

In 2001, fresh out of university, a brave soul embarked on a journey from Kovai to Chennai to learn graphic designing. After lectures, to kill boredom, she decided to work part-time as an Event Manager. When an opportunity came by to move to Bangalore, she found a role as the Assistant Film Coordinator with an advertising firm. Not fond of the limelight and being a technical person, she decided to try her luck in satellite radio as a Radio Computing Software Programmer. As her career in media was taking off in India, her family had other plans. Marriage happened, and she had to move her base back to Kuwait. 

Life changed, and adjustments were made. A year-long search to find a break in the media did not take away her spirits. With no opportunity to pursue a career in media, she understood that she had to find other options. Without hesitation, when an opportunity emerged, she embraced the chance and dived into a world of uncertainty and decided to start from scratch.

Meet Richlene Edison, Senior H.R. Business Partner, at one of the world’s leading brand franchise operators in Kuwait. Today, Richlene is an insightful People Management professional with over sixteen years of experience. As a person who places her skills to work for the benefit of the organisation and the people, in our interaction Richlene will be sharing her path into the world of Human Resources and how it changed her life.

Join us in conversation with Richlene Edison & let’s find out, how did a person with a potential brilliant media career make it in the world of People Operations & Human Resources?

A conversation with Chippy & Richlene Edison, Sr. H.R. Business Partner, Kuwait.

CKChippyHow has life been? It’s been twenty years since we parted ways. So much has happened. Tell me how has life been and what have you been up to since graduation? Shall we take a walk down the memory lane.
REGood. I am good. It’s been twenty years already. Wow. Time flies. Where do I start ! From Kovai, I moved to Chennai to join a Graphic Designing course. The course was only in the morning and I was quite bored after my class, thus I decided to work part time. Fond worked at Blues Power, an Events Management company. I was delighted by the experience I was offered.
CKCHow long did you work here?
REI was there less than a year. An opportunity to move to Bangalore came about, and I started working for Saatchi & Saatchi in their Film Production division as Assistant Film Coordinator. We were only two of us, and I was assisting in coordinating all the films and it was an amazing time. We were on the sets, directing and it was so cool. I enjoyed my one year there. 
CKCFrom there you made an unusual shift.
REI went to Radio. 
CKCThat was bold.
REOh yes. What I realised with all of the jobs that I did was I did not like being in the limelight. I liked the technical side of things. With the Film Production what I loved was the fact that I was behind the scene, looking at the lighting, editing, and working with editors, I enjoyed that bit of it. 

So when the opportunity came in World Space, which was the satellite radio, I went for it. It was easier than live radio because we are programming and then it goes live, so I had a chance to learn how to program. And again, I tried both. I tried being an RJ and I was doing the programming at the back. Again realised, I enjoyed the programming and the technical side, so I started doing more of it. And I was really good at it. I worked here for over a year.
CKCWhere did you move to next ?
REKuwait. The typical Indian way, got married and had to move to Kuwait for good. I lived all my life here so it was not a strange land for me. If given a choice I would have stayed back in India pursuing a career in the line of Programming but I had no choice at this phase in my life. 
CKCWhat direction did your life go, after marriage? Did it take a different path? 
REIn 2004, after marriage I moved back to Kuwait. Ever since, I kept trying for a job in the same avenue that I had worked. Let me be frank, at that time, be it in Event Management, Radio or Television, it was quite difficult to get a break in the Middle East, especially for a woman. In Event Management, everything was overnight, and here it’s a very male dominated industry, not that in India it wasn’t, but it was easier for me to embed myself in India than it was here.

I tried the radio as well, the salary they were able to give me in the Radio station was not at par with the industry standards then. At the Radio station the Director told me, ‘Richlene, I cannot hire you because you have more experience than the people here, and I cannot pay you half as much as I pay them.’
CKCA creative person who is too qualified for a job.
REToo qualified and cannot get paid equally.  
CKCHow did you take all these rejections? Your forte is in creative fields, and you were great at it.
REHow did I take that?  I understood and did not waste my time thinking too much about it. I had to think out of the box.
CKCNow where are you at? Did you find a job? How did the search go?
REI came here in November 2004, until June 2005 I could not find a job. Obviously newly married, we have an apartment, in terms of financial contribution, I wasn’t doing much, so I put pressure on myself to find myself a start somewhere.  Instead of being prescriptive about what I want, it was more like, let me find a job. Oh and in terms of experience in Kuwait, I didn’t have any!
CKCWhat did you do next?
REI had to do something. I heard about a role in a company. They were looking for ‘Smart, Young girls with good language skills for Administrative Support’. I said to myself, fine, whatever it is, let’s go for the interview.
CKCIt was a start from scratch situation. How did you do? 
REAbsolutely. Start from scratch. I went for the interview. I was confident about my language skills. I had the ‘I can do,’ attitude. If you have knowledge of what you want to say, when given a chance, I say to myself, ‘I can impress the person that  I am speaking to.’ I also had the, ‘I will learn’ mentality. This is very important especially when you are starting. 

I remember saying, ‘I can learn, teach me whatever you want to teach, I will learn and I will learn and I will be good at it’. With this attitude I aced the interview, and they said fine. Let’s get her. I joined SMS International Co.
CKCWhat was the job?
REThe hire was for a Marketing Executive. The first job I did was a combination of administrative & marketing support. I went in there to be a Marketing Executive to help with the marketing of their company, their products, and they also said, you can be the receptionist,  you can be the admin support and all in all. It was a small company and I did a lot of roles there. I used to even order lunch for everybody there. I was like a back end person of the company. 
CKCNow you are the administrative personnel here.
REI was everything. I learned a lot and after one year they saw the potential in me and placed me in the product division. It involved interacting with the clients, project leaders, contacting the project leads and understanding their needs.
CKCWas there room for growth?
REAt that particular point, the H.R. personnel went away. So the company said, ‘Richlene, you start handling H.R. as well.‘
CKCThat’s how you got into H.R, a happening by chance.
REIt was not my preference and yes, that’s the first time I got into H.R. That was my second year with SMS.
CKCYou were working there without a clear career path. Now you are placed in a new position, that you don’t know anything about. Human Resources. How did you manage this role? 
REI started learning. About payroll, labour law, understanding recruitment and hiring. I taught myself. I read and learned and did it.  After two years in the role, they made me a Manager, just to keep me happy, as they were happy with the way I handled everything in the company. 
CKCWere you not happy? You said to keep you happy they made you a Manager.
REThe thing is you see, I don’t believe in getting a title if I don’t deserve it. I was a Manager there because there was nobody else. 
CKCWhy do you feel you did not deserve the title?
REDo I know everything about H.R.? No, I did not know. I learned everything that I could, and because of that I could support the company with everything they needed. Is that what HR really does? That was my question. There was nobody to help me or support me or tell me otherwise because no one else there knew what H.R. was. 
CKCSo you started looking for other options.
REI got an opportunity to work with my present company. There was a vacancy available for H.R. Coordinator. My company is one of the biggest companies in the Middle east. We own a lot of the retail brands and now we own home furnishing, beauty, food, we are a huge company. We have about 60,000 employees all around the middle east. We have established brands in Egypt, Russia, Turkey, Poland & U.K. We do have a back office in India as well.
CKCHow did the interview go?
REOh yes! I got the opportunity, came here, attended the interview and got the job. I was in a comfortable space and it was not giving me space to grow. I was a big fish in a small pond and here I became a small fish in the sea.   
CKCHow was the change?
REWhen I came here, it was amazing. It was not the Kuwait I knew. There were people from around the world here. It was a new experience for me. It was multicultural. It was a different world and it was fabulous. I felt I came into a different world. I saw the world here.
CKCWhat was your role?
REI came as a H.R. Coordinator for Fashion & Footwear. I worked with people from the U.K., South Africa, Australia, and many other countries, and I started seeing the world here. This was a new experience for me and it was a good start for me at that particular point.
CKCYou knew nothing about H.R. Whatever you knew was self taught. What did you do to fit in ?
REI started learning about H.R. I had to make myself knowledgeable. I love talking a lot and because of that I started building my relationships within my area. I was not afraid to speak to people, or approach them. Because of that the people who hired me started seeing potential in me. ‘She is not bad, she has already built relationships, she has already got people to listen to what she has to say, let’s help her’. Thus they placed me into a program seven months into my joining.  
CKCWhat was the program?
REH.R. Development Programme. The program helped me in developing an understanding of my career path, what do I want next. This changed my life and I started getting curious about H.R.. 
CKCTell me more.
REOur H.R. Department is huge. My division is the H.R. Business Partnering department. We are the connection between the different divisions and H.R. We are generalists and the others are specialists. We are the link between the specialists to the business. I talk to the business, if the business needs something, they tell me and I tell the specialist. I started getting interested and it piqued my interest in listening to the people.

I always liked psychology and if i didn’t do Visual Communication, Psychology would have been my second choice. I wanted to understand different people, their motivation, and try to understand where they want to grow, the progression, what ticks & makes them, how to support them, how do they learn. Many things that are interesting came about through this programme.  
CKCYou had potential for growth and you were doing well.
REIn 2008, when the recession hit, I was lucky to have been retained because my managers recognised that I had potential and I was interested in where I was and was interested in making a difference to the company and the individuals I look out for. They saw that and they retained me
CKCHow did things progress from here on?
REThat point we created a central function where we supported the whole business. Earlier, I was looking at just fashion, I started looking after the business, and started supporting the business. All happened because I had support from my manager and I had the interest as well. They kept pushing and pushing and pushing and I really enjoyed being in H.R. 
CKCEnjoy. That’s a strong word.
RECommunication is always my soul. I will not say I didn’t like H.R., but if I had been given a choice and knew what H.R. was early on, I might have even chosen H.R. as my job from the start. I think H.R. fits my profile and it fits me as an individual fantastically. Where I am today, I have to think both from the business and from the people perspective. This fits me extremely well because I can think from both aspects. I enjoy it.
CKChippyNow, what do you believe you are?
REEven here, I don’t want to be in the limelight. Everybody knows Richlene. I walk around my floors just to say hello so that people know who I am, and my presence gives them the confidence that I am accessible to them. That’s what I want to believe, that people think I am accessible and they can come and speak to me when they are having an issue and I can find a solution. 

People always think H.R. or be it H.R. Business Partnering is a division of blockers or policemen. These are words that people use when they think of H.R. I don’t believe that’s what I want to be or that’s what I want to portray. I always try to find a solution to the business if I believe that’s a business requirement.

I am supposed to be the individual that brings consciousness into business propositions. If there is something to do with the proposal from a people perspective, how is it going to affect the people, bring that side to the table. To be honest my boss trusts me with that perspective and for my boss and myself to work together, our working relationship has to be clear and upright. If we are in disagreement always, we are not going to get anything accomplished.

I am fortunate enough to forge a pact and build that bridge with my boss, and we work well together as my opinions are acknowledged and valued when it comes to People Operations. That’s a good boost for me. 
CKCHaving the confidence of your boss is a strength.
REYes. I was lucky to have lots of people who supported me during my journey. That’s been the best part. People have seen the potential in me wherever I have been. 

Antoinette Sullivan, my second Manager in my present company pushed me to the core. She used to be a hard taskmaster but now that I think about it, I can see that she was trying to push me to where she thought I should be. Antoinette made you work to your bone but she is the one who pushed me towards, ‘Richlene, you need to do this and you have to do it.’ She was someone who saw the potential in me and pushed me hard to get to where I am today, and throughout that whole time believed in me and made me believe in myself. She is still an inspiration for me in spite of not working together for a very long time. 
CKCWhat makes you happy about your work?
I really enjoy my job. I come to work and really enjoy my work. I WANT to come to work. I really like giving solutions to people, finding solutions for people.

There are difficult days when you have to terminate somebody, days where you might terminate somebody you know. But there are days where you help someone move from one brand to another because they had a problem and now they are flourishing in another brand.  There are days where you suggested one person should be part of a product and they are now flourishing well and they get a promotion because of your push. There are days when you say something to your boss and they make a decision for the company because of you. You feel absolutely valued.
CKCDo you get credit for your efforts?
REAlways remember, if you are a person who wants to be appreciated, praised or thanked all the time, H.R., is not the job for you. You work in the background. Nobody sees that you are the one pushing. I call this a game of chess. What do I move and where each day is my prerogative. Nobody sees your move. You talk to person A and then to person B, suggest a solution, now A and B are having a conversation, and the result is success. They get the credit. You are happy and content.

It’s not about the credit, it’s all about that person who is flourishing because of all the decisions that were made by us. And you feel proud inside, ‘Yes, that worked. That was the right decision.’ 
CKCWhen that works, it works for the employee, the employer and you. 
REThat’s what I believe, ‘if you have a happy employee, you have a happy company.’ They will work hard for you to get there. That’s why I love my job.
CKCYou started out as an H.R. Coordinator almost 13 years ago. How did you grow to be H.R. Business Partner. How was your career growth ? Is there room for more growth.
REH.R. Coordinator, H.R. Officer, Area H.R. Manager, H.R. Manager, H.R. Business Partner, & Sr. H.R. Business Partner.

There were steps in the last thirteen years and seven months in my career. It takes time to establish yourself and the more you learn, the faster you grow. Yes. Now, I am at a divisional view. I can see all my brands. There are two more steps that I can achieve and think about. One is the Director of H.R. Business Partner, and the next is the Chief People Officer, CPO. Everything comes through experience and it will not happen tomorrow. Maybe in ten years or less. 

The whole point in H.R. is about experience. You know the theory, you know what needs to be done, you know the thoughts of what has to be done. But the experience with dealing with people, difficult, easy, different nationality, different transformation, all of these experiences builds your view point. That’s what you need to bring into the team is a greater view. It is not just your view, the view of the team that you are looking after, you have to think that wide, I don’t believe I am there yet. The minute I am able to think that wide, I will be ready for the next step. 
CKCWhat is your contribution to your team now?
REI have come to a position in my career and within myself where I am confident enough to say, ‘I need this for my division’, ‘no, I believe this will not work for my division’, ‘I want and I believe for my division this is essential,’ and, I am able to say ‘my division needs this’. If you want your team to perform, they need you to voice your opinions. I have to voice, raise and create noise, that is part of my role. I believe changes have been made within the company when you raise those concerns.

Earlier in my career, there was a period where I was intimidated by everybody around and never had the courage to raise my opinions. I was silent in meetings, general or business, and I kept my views to myself. 
CKCYou were intimidated ! What motivated you to voice your opinion?
REI was always lucky to have people with me to give the right advice, good mentors in life who guided me to the right path at the right time. Before I became the H.R. Business Partner, my manager Perdy Tungate guided me. She also gave me a book, The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters. The gist of the book is about not listening to the other voice in your head. Everybody has this other voice in their head, when you want to do something, it says, ‘maybe you should not, or maybe you should skip’. The voice is always going to be there but it’s about tuning that voice lower, so you are not listening to it as much and you are listening to what you really want to tell yourself louder.

Perdy helped me with that. She believed in me, when I did not believe in myself. She told me I could do whatever I wanted to do and she used to support me in whatever I wanted to achieve. She did not micromanage, she used to let me be.
CKCYou stopped self doubting yourself because of that support Perdy gave you. Moral support.
REIt’s not just that. She supported me in such a way that it helped me to hear my voice. That gave me confidence and every time she spoke to somebody about me, she spoke highly of me. That gave me even more confidence. She supported me and I went from there forward, I have never gone backward.
CKCI think that’s a good way to help grow in an organisation. I am glad there was an Antoinette Sullivan and a Perdy Tungate in your life. Everyone needs people who believe in us.
REYes. Especially in my career, I have been lucky that in different intervals I have always had the right person to push me forward from where I was at that particular moment.
CKCNow, if somebody is to enter People Management & Operations, what would you genuinely suggest? What do they need to do, where do they need to start? How do they start?
REIt’s all about interest. Do you like talking to people, meeting people? If I am starting now, I would start with getting a degree or a certification in H.R.. There is SHRM, U.S., CIPD,U.K., when you are certified, you get more advantage. 

You have to be a good listener and in full control of the situation. You are going to listen to people’s problems almost on a daily basis and should be able to not absorb that negativity and sadness and must bounce back instantly whilst they are talking to you. 

You should not be a person who gets upset because somebody is upset. They should be able to think clearly. What is the solution you can give them while they are confiding in you? While they are crying, when you terminate them or for other reasons, how can you soothe them rather than crying and being upset yourself.

You should be a people person, but at the same time, at times a bit hard hearted as well. How do you get that balance is the question? You cannot be hard-hearted all the time. You should have a sense of empathy rather than sympathy.  You have to be all these to do this job. Last but not the least, don’t expect to be thanked or praised.
CKCHow do you personally do it all?
REI don’t know. I ask myself that question everyday. You have to make employees self-sufficient. That’s one of the things you have to do. With simple things like policies and procedures, how to do things, you cannot keep feeding them information, you have to make them self sufficient. 

Next,  You have to manage your time. Period. I have 7000 employees I look after all around the middle east. If there are issues with individuals, I have to look at it, these are people issues, salary issues, family issues, immigration and residency issues, I cannot say I will look at it tomorrow, I have to sort it immediately. Then and there, I have to manage time and prioritise. I am not saying I am perfect. It is about the right priorities being looked at. I need to clearly gauge my priorities and set them accordingly. 

I block morning one hour in my calendar, so no one can book out times. I have requested my stakeholder’s offices to book my meeting only at allocated times on set days. I have to have time for myself at work to get my objectives done. 
CKChippyWhat do you need most in your profession?
REResilience is essential. I have had situations where I have had to work hard to convince an idea or suggestion to the people at the top of the food chain. When I joined this division, I was at the lowest end of the chain and, a lot of people did not listen to you because you are only at a middle management level. Hierarchy vice, ‘who are you to tell me?’ is often an issue. So, you have to have the resilience to keep saying if that’s the right thing you need to say. You have to have the guts to open up and say it. You are the voice of their conscience, you have to voice for the sake of the people and your organisation.
CKCYou are the face of the company, for both the employers and employees. Sandwiched between everyone.
REThat’s right. There are days where I have had screaming contests with business leaders, and the next day is like, ‘hey how are you?.’ You have to be resilient enough not to take it to heart. And think of the cause, why you are doing this. For me, it’s always the greater good and how I can support the people.

To make it simple, I have had an individual who had an issue with a manager and who wanted to move out of the division. On the other end, the Business Leader in one of my brands needed an appointment immediately for a position. I arranged the interview for the position, spoke to the manager, re-assigned the individual to a new position. My job is to make a difficult situation better for all.

It’s all about the people, not you. What’s the greater good? The greater good is about helping that individual move to another brand and helping that guy to do well in his resources, so that everybody is happy at this point. It is not about you. You need to be that kind of a person where it is not about you. It’s about everybody else other than you. 
CKCPeople Operations is all about trust.
REEverything I do is about trust. If they don’t trust you, they will not do anything you request. I have been in this division for almost three years now. I believe I know every single person in my head office team.  Recently, I have had a new team mate join me. While we walked around the floors, I knew almost everybody by their name.  I have a lot of individuals in my head office and my colleague was surprised at the fact that I knew everyone by the name. I am open and know their names because I want to genuinely know each and everyone. I make that effort and it helps build trust. The fact that I can talk to you by knowing your name builds trust between you and me.
CKCHow did you build that trust? 
RE1. By delivering what you say. You say something, you deliver.
2. Point to note, when there is a circumstance when you are not able to, communicate that with the person.
3. Take accountability if you have messed up or done wrong.  
CKCYou are a working mother. Is there work-life harmony?
RELet me set this straight. I am a workaholic and I am good at both fronts. There are days I have had to bring work home, which I have to do because of a deadline and I will do it if my work need it. In general, I neither take home to work or bring work home.

At home being a mother, I have huge responsibilities. While my kids were growing up, I was lucky that my parents were supportive of me and were there for me and my children till they were ten years old. My mother took care of their studies and cooked for them. Being neighbours to your parents meant I could drop my kids whenever I had to work, or if I had to work late or needed a time out, my parents would look after my kids and I could work without feeling stressed out.
CKCYou have had incredible mentors who held you up when you needed guidance at work. Support from work and home are so crucial for women when they are working to achieve professional advancement. You had a great support system at home during early days of your career ass well. 
REYes. The comfort and support my parents provided cannot be dismissed, they have helped me to advance in my profession. My parents have moved back to India for good, and now my girls are old enough to look after themselves, almost. My girls support me and we are each other’s strength and support. I take care of my kids, and spend time with them. They cannot do everything themselves, I am there for them, they know that. I don’t have to worry too much now. They will always have me as their strong hold.
CKCYou take care of everybody. Is there anyone to take care of you?
REAgain that goes with resilience Chippy. I have a few friends and I hold them dear to my heart.
CKCOne last question, if you had a chance encounter with your 18 year self, what would you tell her?
REI would tell my 18 year old self, ‘Believe in yourself and stand up for what you believe and want’.
CKCThank you Richlene. This has been a long conversation. I am glad you took time and shared your incredible journey. You have always been an inspiration for me and I believe your journey will inspire many more.
REThank you Chippy and keep smiling.
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