3 talent insights for right now from a globetrotting HR exec
With a career that has taken him from Australia to Japan to the U.S., and consulting to pharmaceuticals to fashion and luxury brands, Stuart Robertson’s winding career path has one constant: helping people reach their potential in their jobs and for their company.
“I wanted to do something around developing people, but I was also very interested in business,” Robertson said about his trajectory into HR. The native of Australia recently was named chief people officer for IT company AvePoint.
After earning his undergraduate degree in theology, a switch to sales and marketing just wasn’t fulfilling. That’s when he discovered organizational behavior and pursued a master’s degree from Macquarie Graduate School of Management in Sydney.
After four years as an HR consultant, he joined one of his clients, Pfizer, for more than six years. There, he was change lead for the Wyeth-Pfizer integration and finally global HR lead for the company’s worldwide regulatory and safety operations. His next move was to join Tapestry, a fashion conglomerate; he worked for Coach’s operations in Japan and Europe and for group teams for Tapestry in the New York City area. In 2018, he became senior vice president, head of HR in New York for Richemont, a luxury brands company that includes Mont Blanc and Cartier.
Those experiences tally up to living in several countries, managing teams in more than 70 nations and supporting employees on every continent except Antarctica.
His latest challenge will be to grow AvePoint’s operations now that it has merged with Apex, a technology acquisition company. He’ll work to expand AvePoint’s operations after its 19-year independent history and prepare for it to go public. AvePoint, the largest data management solutions provider for Microsoft 365, has 1,500 employees in 14 countries.
HRE: What is your philosophy about change management since you have worked in so many industries?
Robertson: It’s [about] actually creating a shared sense of ownership and responsibility among a group of constituents. [When people say,] “That person over there is going to do the change management,” that’s just totally false. Everybody needs to manage the change. My role is helping people to see the various human implications of significant organizational changes in a very proactive way.
HRE: What’s your charge for leading HR in the merger between Apex and AvePoint?
Robertson: You could say we’re in the software business, but we’re really in the talent acquisition business. It’s our ability to acquire, integrate, train and activate talent that will enable us to grow. Scaling our team means a lot of recruitment, onboarding, training, development and investing heavily in all of that as we shift from founder-led private company into a publicly traded organization. [We have to] identify, protect and drive core cultural attributes that make AvePoint who we really are at our best and drive us forward.
[We’re] at the stage where there are a number of priorities, and my focus at the moment is listening.
Robertson: In our space in the United States, in May this year, the unemployment rate was at 2.8%, which is pretty much a full employment market [at] pre-pandemic levels. The talent market is hot. People have different expectations now, and I think it is in three areas.
- What I’ve been impressed by recently is [that] people are taking a step back and saying, “What do I want to do with my life? The pandemic has caused people to ask really important questions in their life. They want to make sure that they’re in the right job [and that] their careers are heading in the right way. People are starting to be [choosier] about the jobs they have.
- The second thing is work/life balance. During the pandemic, we [got to] know our co-workers differently. We’ve been in each other’s living rooms, met each other’s cats and dogs and, if you’ve been in crisis mode, we’ve probably seen each other on video before we got ready for the day. It’s like all the rules went out the window and we just got to know each other very differently. I think that that’s created a new level of intimacy that is actually raising the bar on what it means to be human at work. People want more of that.
- The third thing is definitely related to flexibility. It’s giving people the right amount of flexibility and choice while still having a framework in place that enables the right level of performance and collaboration.
There will be times when we want to have people collaborate in person, and there will be probably more time that we’ll let people do whatever works best for them. Anyone who’s been vaccinated is working in the office one to two days. We’re letting people just be completely flexible up until after Labor Day. Then, we’ll come back to this after Labor Day and see what the future looks like, but we’re expecting hybrid work with a good amount of time to be working remotely.
HRE: What can you share about your personal life?
Robertson: I’m married and have three kids and we live in Connecticut. We like to travel. And there is a lot of barbecue on the weekends. That’s certainly something I learned here in America.
HRE: Tomato or vinegar-based sauce for the barbecue?
Robertson: Definitely tomato. And baby back over spareribs any day.